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Seattle Librarian Finds the Digital Divide Has Changed His Job

Posted by Editor on August 8, 2011

August 8, 2011 – 5:46pm — birdie in LIS News

Dennis Carlisle is a librarian at the Rainier Beach branch of the Seattle Public Library, and he wanted to talk with me about the digital divide, which has pushed his job onto a different track.

I’d written recently about libraries adapting to technological change, providing books for e-readers for one thing.

But Carlisle said he’s just as much affected by the other end of the tech spectrum. He got a master’s in library science 26 years ago, and colleges shortly after dropped library and started calling it information science.

“The first half of my career, I was deep into reference.” Then people stopped calling and stopping by so much. They migrated to Web browsers. Libraries replaced shelves of phone books, atlases and maps with banks of computers.

Another group of people came to the library, people who didn’t own computers, or who couldn’t afford high-speed Internet access, people who often don’t know the first thing about using one of the machines.

Librarians became computer coaches, at least at some branches. Carlisle first encountered that at the High Point branch, and now at Rainier Beach.

“You would think many who need help are in their 60s, 70s or 80s,” Carlisle said, “but that’s not necessarily the case.” He sees mostly people in their 20s to 40s struggling with computers.

They are new immigrants, poor people and people who were born before computers became common in classrooms.They come in because so much of life has relocated to the Internet, people looking for jobs have to fill out applications online. People come in to apply online for subsidized housing, to take the food handlers test, or to join the social life on Facebook.

They ask, how do I print, how do I get an email account, what is email?

Carlisle said we wrongly assume everyone is marching together into a world of technological wonder, and it just isn’t true.

The library lists computer classes online, he said, but the people who need them most aren’t online to see the list, so he tells the people he helps about the classes, but that reaches only those who ask for assistance.

Carlisle said he doesn’t mind the change in his work: It’s still helping people, and he’s used to change.

Seattle Times has the story.

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