Mary Gaver’s early school library impact studies inspired an avalanche of research that established the belief, “Every child needs a school library.” (1958). An awareness of the “equity issue’ has steadily grown as literacy research demonstrates proximity to reading materials results in children reading more, and children who read more, read better (Krashen, 2004; 1995). Information science research shows information is the raw material for knowledge building, and that intervention at the point of need is critical for young information users to become information literate. School librarians have also embraced digital literacy to provide digital access in an environment of instruction, application, practice, help, and revision. While access to digital content depends on bandwidth capacity and speed or the number of devices students can access, acquiring digital technology does not automatically result in digital equity. School librarians know that students do not have full access to digital content without developing multiple literacies. There is no equity without an education that provides access and opportunity.
I recently attended the Boston Regional Digital Equity Summit for educators, policymakers, the private sector, non-profits, government, and some school librarians, to re-define what equitable access means. The Summit, hosted by Bob McLaughlin of EDCO Collaborative, included stakeholders investing heavily in promoting digital equity. I learned that while the Internet originated in the United States, those living in households with an annual income under $30,000 a year are less likely to report internet usage, with only 74% of adults doing so now. (Perrin & Duggin, 2016) Eight years ago South Korea took on a cyber home and school initiative and now 98 percent of their population have broadband in the home. The U.S. ranks 17 th among the world’s nations for internet home access. Despite these statistics, 79 percent of American teachers require students to download online assignments. 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies require online job applications. Broadband is essential for economic growth, job creation, and global competitiveness.
Private and public sectors are stepping up to fund the purchase of digital equipment in urban and rural “deserts.”
- Comcast has signed up 500,000 economically disadvantaged families for Internet Essentials that offers internet access for $10 per month and a purchase price of $150 for a computer. Boston participates in the Internet Essentials pilot;
- The National Collaborative for Digital Equity wants to ensure all families acquire essential tools and skills to use technology effectively and could not exist without Internet Essentials;
- Connect Ed, an Obama White House partnership with the private sector, donates licenses for digital products and supports information literacy instruction;
- Community Re-Investment Act requires banks with branches in low-income neighborhoods to commit a percentage of their assets in the form of grants and low income loans. The Act is expected to yield funding estimated at $100 billion dollars for digital equity grants, loans and equity investments;
- Google and Comcast pledged their support for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ConnectHome program;
- Boston is the second city to hire a full-time Digital Equity Advocate tasked with increasing use of Wicked Free WiFi;
- The Smart Chicago Collaborative is a civic organization that improves people’s lives through equity of access, of digital skills, and of open access to data. Founded in 2011 byChicago and the MacArthur Foundation and City Trust, the goal is to seek digital equity for urban, suburban, and rural digital deserts.
Some guiding principles for promoting equity emerged from these initiatives:
- Provide children with devices that have keyboards;
- Go beyond boxes and wires;
- Seek funding at local levels;
- Develop initiatives resulting in economic opportunity.
- Common agenda. What is the shared goal?
- Shared measuring system to determine progress;
- Mutually enforcing but different activities that coordinate and align people to address gaps;
- Continuous communication; stakeholders talk and adjust their approaches while learning from each other;
- Dedicated backbone support to keep efforts going.
Collective impact is relevant to information and digital equity because equity is a systemic issue that involves cross sector collaboration. A problem such as digital equity manifests differently across communities that need to co-create solutions unique to their profiles. Collective impact builds an infrastructure for problem solving, providing educational resources and human capital. A scientific approach is needed to look at problems at the ground level and find solutions through local research in which practitioners experience the action research cycle of stating a problem, researching and implementing solutions, measuring impact, revising, and re-stating the problem in a continuous cycle of improvement.
School libraries have the potential to bring funding, expertise, and collective impact into their schools and communities to realize universal digital and information literacy. The time is right for school librarians to have a strong voice in the conversation, raising awareness of the need for equitable access to information and digital literacies. In so doing, they will re-define their role in bringing lasting social change in the way we educate youth for living and working in the digital age. The Massachusetts Study: Equity and Access for Student of the Commonwealth, commissioned by the Massachusetts legislature and supported by MSLA, can be the first step in this direction. The study will establish the current status of information and digital equity and explore how school libraries can realize their potential to bring about universal information and digital literacy in their schools and communities.
Krashen, S. D. (2004). The power of reading: Insights from the research, 2nd ed. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
Krashen, S. D. (1995). “The reading hypothesis, the expanded reading hypothesis, and the greatly expanded reading hypothesis.” School Library Media Quarterly, 23(3), 187-192.
Perrin, A. and Duggan, M. (2016). Pew Center Americans’ Internet Access: 2000-2015. Retrieved 31 March 2016 from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/06/26/americans-internet-access-2000- 2015/