Libraries' role in equalizing access to information

Publication Date02 Jan 2009
AuthorSusan E. Russell,Jie Huang
SubjectLibrary & information science
Libraries’ role in equalizing
access to information
Susan E. Russell and Jie Huang
University of Oklahoma Libraries, Norman, Oklahoma, USA
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to address the question of what libraries can do to help
narrow the digital divide that causes unequal access to information.
Design/methodology/approach – This study examines the continuing problem of digital divide in
the United States based on data collected from several national and organizational reports along with
our own survey.
Findings – The findings show that the problem of digital divide, which is specifically affected by
various demographic factors, still exists despite the rapid uptake of new technologies, which is
occurring among a majority of groups of Americans in the United States.
Originality/value – The study focuses on the important roles of libraries in today’s society by
looking at ways libraries can actively utilize and expand upon their work toward equalizing access to
information for the future benefit of those who remain disenfranchised by the digital divide.
Keywords Libraries, Communication technologies,Computers, Internet, Knowledgesharing
Paper type General review
Digital divide
In the past, many scholars have been drawn to the issue of digital divide and its
consequences. The digital divide, which is a world-wide social phenomenon, “refers to
the perceived gap between those who have access to the latest information technologies
and those who do not,” and it is usually measured by computer ownership and internet
accessibility (Compaine, 2001; Kargbo, 2002; Kastsinas and Moeck, 2002). In what has
become known as the “knowledge economy,” people are currently divided into two
groups: those who are “information rich” own the most powerful computers and have
better internet access to powerful streams of continuous information, whereas the
“information poor” do not (Cullen, 2003).
Digital divide in the US: narrowing but remaining
While the United States as a nation is depending more and more on advanced
technologies, equalizing accessibility has become an important societal issue. Statistic s
show that the United States is continuing the trend to narrow the digital divide.
According to data from the most recent national reports released by the US Census
Bureau, 70 million American households, or 62 per cent, had one or more computers in
2003, an increase from 56 per cent in 2001; 62 million households, or 55 per cent, had
internet access, which increased from 50 per cent in 2001. Many more adults used the
internet to access the online information in 2003 (40 per cent) than in 1997 (7 per cent).
More than half of adults (55 per cent) used e-mail or instant messaging for
communications in 2003, compared with 12 per cent of adults in 1997. About one-third
of adults (32 per cent) made online purchases, compared with only 2 per cent in 1997
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
access to
Received 29 July 2008
Revised 25 August 2008
Accepted 28 August 2008
Library Management
Vol. 30 No. 1/2, 2009
pp. 69-76
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/01435120910927538

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