Libraries are a cornerstone to help bridge the digital divide.
Our public, school, and academic libraries offer high-speed internet and make it affordable and accessible to the estimated 865,000 households in Michigan that are disconnected due to the cost of subscribing to service or purchasing an appropriate device, a lack of digital skills, or other related barriers.
Continued investment in digital infrastructure and digital literacy must be planned for collectively and must include libraries.
As we have come to realize, gaps in internet connectivity impact our rural, low-income citizens, tribal communities, and communities of color disproportionately. This is where our libraries step up by providing computer access, hot spots, wifi, and education in digital literacy for those without or with limited service in their geographic region. Our world has become even more connected in the past few years and libraries continue to serve a significant and critical role in their communities in connecting citizens to this technology.
Earlier in June, when Governor Whitmer established the new Michigan High-Speed Internet Office, she stated, “COVID-19 has only confirmed how the lack of high-speed internet access can cause too many Michiganders to struggle in their ability to engage in online learning, to use telemedicine to seek needed healthcare, to search for a new job or to take advantage of all the online resources.” High-speed internet is a necessity in our educational, professional and personal lives and we must ensure that everyone in our state has access to an affordable, reliable high-speed connection that meets their needs and the skills to use it effectively.
Michigan’s State Librarian, Randy Riley states, “Our libraries serve as anchor institutions in each of our communities and hi-speed broadband in our libraries is crucial. We must be at the table and considered critical players in the deployment of this technology.” He noted that there are three important factors for why libraries must continue to provide access – library users become more comfortable utilizing technology when offered in a safe and welcoming environment like libraries; libraries provide high-speed access to families that don’t have it; and libraries play a huge role in digital learning and digital literacy – empowering library patrons to understand the positive and negative impacts of communicating in the 21st century.
Libraries demonstrate extraordinary impact in offering high-speed access and will continue to do so well into the future. As Tracie Hall, the Executive Director of the American Library Association expressed so eloquently, “We await a future where broadband access is no longer an on-demand luxury for those who can afford it, but a public service for all who need it.”