To what extent do community libraries address the concerns of the digital divide?

Abstract

A recent development in the provision of public library services has been the growth of community libraries, libraries which are delivered by volunteers rather than paid staff aided by professionals.  The development of such libraries raises a number of questions in terms of the traditional role of public libraries.

This exploratory study seeks to examine the potential impact this development has on the role public libraries have in addressing the concerns of the digital divide and seeks to establish to what extent community libraries have a role to play in addressing these concerns.

An inductive approach was taken in conducting this study, with conclusions drawn from the evidence collected.  Initially, evidence was to be drawn from staff surveys despatched to the libraries chosen for this study.  However, this approach was adapted as the process revealed a need to establish how community library services are delivered.  Subsequently, candidates involved in the management of the libraries were interviewed regarding how their services are delivered as well as on the ICT support they provide.

The results demonstrate that whilst there is a focus on providing access for users, there is a disparity in the support provided.  Both libraries do not provide training for volunteers on ICT and ICT literacy is not a pre-requisite for taking up a position at either library.  Consequently, whilst they do provide access to ICT for their respective communities, it is not clear that either library provides sufficient support to address a lack of ICT skills amongst users.

On the basis of this study, it appears that there is a lack of support for users in both communities and there is the potential for the digital divide between, and within, these communities to widen.  However, further research is required to assess the extent to which this is the case.

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