The role of rural and urban libraries in closing the Digital Divide
Louisville, Kentucky (September 13, 2022) - Libraries across the county, like many other community organizations, were forced to shut their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic. But many people still depended on them for their day-to-day online resources.
Jeanne Daily is the Co-Director of the Sidney Community Library located in Sidney, Illinois, population 1,321. She emphasized the critical need for public internet access in her rural town.
“During the pandemic, we never shut down our internet access to residents who needed it,” said Daily. “A lot of people knew what our password was, so if they parked or sat outside our library, that was fine with us.”
Daily’s Co-Director, Rosemary McCarrey, also pointed out that libraries like theirs are so important because they often provide one of the only places residents can go to access public computers, or get basic technology training and support.
“Not everyone can afford a computer, and not everyone knows how to use a computer” said McCarrey. “We help people break down the barriers with technology.”
Residents in small-town America are not the only ones who rely heavily on the library system; it is also an important resource in urban areas like Louisville, Kentucky. Lee Burchfield, Director of the Louisville Public Library, attested to this when discussing the changes to the state’s largest library system after the pandemic.
“The pandemic forced the library to shut down all of its locations, and as a result it cut off what was a lifeline for many people in the city,” said Burchfield.
He points out that even though urban residents may have more reliable mobile connections than those in rural areas, that’s still not enough to meet today’s broadband needs.
“One thing that came out of the pandemic is that every elected official is so much more keenly aware now of how dependent the people they represent are on technology,” said Burchfield. “Also, how many people do not have the right access.”
In mid-2021, the federal government set aside billions of dollars in broadband-related funding, including programs focused on schools and libraries. When asked what kinds of improvements these libraries would like to see if they had access to this unprecedented government funding, they replied:
“I would like to update our computers and get the word out that we have the best computers and helpers to get you the information you need,” said McCarrey.
“If some of the money could be used to increase staffing to help the people who aren’t connected to schools,” said Burchfield. “That would be great.”
Though the pandemic is winding down, and everything is slowly starting to return to normal, it’s important to remember the huge role libraries play in closing the Digital Divide for all Americans. Watch the video below to learn more.