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Digital Inclusion Week: How Libraries can Bridge the Divide

Izzy Oneiric

Izzy Oneiric

Izzy Oneiric is the New Orleans Public Library's Digital Literacy Librarian.

Once considered a luxury, the internet is now a basic utility and devices to access it are necessities. But, not everyone has access to the internet and internet-enabled devices, or the skills to use them successfully. During the pandemic, lack of access to high-speed internet, devices, and the skills to use them made it difficult –– if not impossible –– to participate in school, work, civic engagement, and socialization, and highlighted just how many facets of daily life have migrated online.

To bring awareness of the critical need for “digital equity,” the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), hosts Digital Inclusion Week every year. The occasion was designed to highlight individual communities’ work on digital inclusion in order to raise awareness of solutions addressing home internet access, personal devices, and local technology training and support programs. This year’s Digital Inclusion Week’s theme is Turning Our Moment into Movement and is held from October 3-7. 

The New Orleans Public Library is proud to join NDIA in promoting awareness of digital equity and inclusion. 

 

What is the Digital Divide?

The digital divide is the gap between those who have affordable access, skills, and support to effectively engage online and those who do not. As technology constantly evolves, the digital divide prevents equal participation and opportunity in all parts of life, disproportionately affecting people of color, Indigenous peoples, households with low incomes, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, and older adults.
 

Digital equity is a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy. Digital equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.

Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). 

This includes five elements:

  1. Affordable, robust broadband internet service
  2. Internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user
  3. Access to digital literacy training
  4. Quality technical support 
  5. Applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration.
Parts of Orleans Parish have some of the highest rates of digital inequality in Louisiana.

Digital Inclusion must evolve as technology advances and it requires intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional and structural barriers to access and use technology.

Parts of Orleans Parish have the highest rates of digital inequality in Louisiana, according to census data, which shows that more than 80 percent of households in some Algiers neighborhoods do not have a desktop or laptop computer, and 79 percent not having any internet access at all. Parishwide, more than 33 percent of households do not have a computer, 26 percent do not have internet subscriptions, and 59 percent are not using internet at broadband speed.

How the Library is bridging the Digital Divide

Because technology evolves so quickly, it can be difficult to keep up, but here at the Library, we’re working hard to ensure all New Orleans residents have access to technology and skills to participate fully online. 

Through our Take Home Tablet program, patrons can check out a Samsung A7 Lite tablet with an unlimited data plan from T-Mobile. Tablets can be checked out for up to six months, and double as Wi-Fi hotspots for up to 10 devices. 

We offer classes on a variety of topics including Microsoft Word, online job searching and internet safety, as well as an ongoing workshop series presented in in partnership with AARP and the support of the Friends of the New Orleans Public Library. Digital Skills for Seniors 50+ is designed specifically for people 50 or older. Every month, AARP’s expert Senior Planet instructors explore a different technology-based topic like online safety, affordable home internet, cloud storage, social media for job Searches, and how to use Zoom. 

If you can’t attend a class or want additional support, we also offer individual, hour-long technology instruction and resume/job help through our Book a Librarian service. Patrons can request up to two sessions each month at the Library location closest to them. For more information about any of these programs, please contact the Adult Learning and Education Department at 504-224-8720, or email digilit@nolalibrary.org

The Library is dedicated to closing the digital gap in our communities and is always looking for new ways to promote, teach, and expand digital literacy and access.

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