The term digital divide was coined in 1995 by Larry Irving, a one-time Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Telecommunications and Communications to focus public awareness on the gap which exists between those who can access to electronic information and those who cannot have the means to access to information. Initially this was the basic idea, defined primarily as the deficiency in technological access to information sources or ownership of the means to access information. The problem was diagnosed as a technological one, dividing society into two poles, i.e. between the “haves” and the “haves-not”.
However, such narrow definition of the concept of digital divide was questioned by many scholars and later the concept was defined to include also the lack of information literacy skills, the inability for users to locate, understand and how to use information intelligently. The causality of the digital divide problem has also been the subject of much controversies. Is it that the lack of access to information (and computers / Internet) that jeopardises one’s chances / opportunities in life OR is it that those who are already socially and economically marginalised in society that have less opportunities to take advantage of the Internet and digital world? There is undoubtedly a complex interrelationship between these two factors.
In the ultimate analysis, had it been just a technological problem, a digital solution such as access to computers and telecommunications would have bridged the gap. The digital divide has many other socio-economic, political, ethical and moral dimensions. Social inclusion, socio-economic equality, fuller participation and equal share of resources are some of the parameters to consider in dealing with this problem. A holistic and pragmatic approach would be recommended to address all its socio-economic and political ramifications.
Can libraries and librarians help to bridge this digital divide? How can we help to:
- Solve the connectivity problem: physical access to ICTs
- Improve ICT skills and support in educating users
- Change attitudes of users
- Influence the information-seeking behaviour of users
- Create local content for special categories of people and making same available to those who have the need
The LIS community needs to give a serious thought to this digital divide.