Randolph Author Publishes Book On ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’

People / May. 26, 2011 10:18am EDT

By Martha Slater
Randolph Author Publishes Book On ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’ By Martha Slater

Randolph resident Jessamyn West is the author of the new book, “Without A Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide,” published by Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO.

“It’s loosely about the problem we have in this country getting people the technology skills they need as the world is changing to require technology skills more and more,” West explained.

Millions of Americans—35% of adults—live without broadband access at home, and some sources say that 22% of adults still did not use the Internet at all. New government initiatives and services mean that Internet access and understanding is no longer an optional skill.

“Libraries are often filling in those gaps in people’s knowledge, so this is a book for librarians and other interested educators to help them get the lay of the land, as well as concrete skills for teaching people how to use technology,” West added.

“The book builds on my five years of doing drop-in time and adult education classes at RTCC, as well as my travel around the country talking to librarians about the technology situations where they live. Even in big cities and ‘well off’ areas, there are still people learning to use a mouse and learning to use email, in 2011.”

West has taught people to use computers since she went to library school at the University of Washington in 1993. She has been doing basic technology instruction here for five years and also works at the Randolph Public Library.

“It seemed unfair to me that there were plenty of programs in place for basic literacy for adults who don’t know how to read, but precious few for technologically illiterate adults,” West said. “Living in an area of the country where many people don’t have Internet access at home and don’t have personal computers makes me realize just how pressing the need is for librarians and other institutions to step up and take on this task.

“As more and more functions in our daily life require not just Internet access but technological understanding, we’re doing a poor job with the social safety net if we don’t have a societal mechanism to help people learn and refine these skills,” West concluded. “Libraries are one of the few places that offer free access to technology and, sometimes, technology instruction. I wrote this book to help them.”

“Working at RTCC as an adult education instructor—both in staffing drop-in time at the center and teaching a wide variety of classes, mostly to novice computer users—has really given me a solid foundation in explaining digital divide issues to people in places where there is not as much of a divide, or certainly not as much of a knowledge gap,” West said. “RTCC really decided they wanted to tackle this issue head-on and has been a great place for myself and others to share our knowledge.”

West noted that to people who live in places that have had broadband internet for a decade or more, “the idea of people living with dial-up or even without internet seems almost inconceivable, but to people in this area, it's their reality. I encourage people to not only take the leap to try to get some basic computer skills or assist other people in getting them, but also to talk to their legislators and internet service providers because increasing people's access to broadband is one of the simpler ways to increase people's ability to use technology to solve problems.”

“How you use technology is a personal choice, but it's becoming less and less of an optional thing as e-government and library content is becoming, in some cases, only available via a computer,” West added. “I encourage people to come by RTCC's drop-in time (Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3-5:30 p.m. until the school year is over) and make use of the public computers at the local libraries, or the free public wifi available there and at many local businesses.”

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