Wednesday, June 29, 2016

In West Virginia, the Digital Divide Just Got Wider

It will take weeks before a final account is made, but as of now, at least two public libraries in West Virginia are a total loss as a result of the flooding that occurred in the state last weekend.  I am sure when the count is over, several school libraries will be on the casualty list.  What scares me to death is that they won't be replaced.

The southern part of West Virginia is arguably the poorest, and this is the area that received the rainfall that resulted in heavy losses.  Many of the counties in this area did not have school libraries to lose.  Local boards made the tough decisions long ago to cut libraries and library positions in response to dwindling income.  Now, the decision would be easy not to replace damaged school libraries; there were no funds to operate the existing libraries and now there will be none to rebuild.

While I worry deeply about what this means to a profession I fiercely believe in, I worry more about what it means for society.  If knowledge is power, and digital access is our source of knowledge, a lot of students in our state are without the necessary tools to compete economically or scholastically against students from more privileged areas.  By no means are these children receiving an equal education to those in the northern part of the state.  How long can this disparity go unaddressed?
To ignore this issue is to be a willing partner in the oppression of the poor everywhere.

Today Hilda K. Weisburg wrote a post outlining the digital access disparities among affluent communities, the rural, the urban and the tribal.  She noted many key aspects, including poverty (the inability to afford home access) and lack of broadband in remote areas.  Her suggestion, (though certainly she did not suggest that this would solve all our access problems), was to call our legislators and ask them to enact legislation that helps alleviate disparity among school districts via ESSA.  This certainly is good advice, but it needs to go further.

When legislation is crafted, it needs to remove loopholes.  Money cannot be redirected to other purposes.  Kids need libraries and someone to teach them how to evaluate the rhetoric that is tossed about daily.  The essence of the school library in this scheme cannot be bypassed or redefined for the convenience of a district.  The language has to be firm.

Knowledge is power. Libraries exist to bring power to all.  Don't leave these poor communities in the dark.

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