One of the duties I had at the last library for which I worked was helping to get patrons onto computers. For adults, this wasn’t generally a problem: they either presented a library card to me or pulled out some form of photo identification (which ranged from your standard driver’s license or passport to less traditional booking papers following a jail stay).
For teenagers and children, however, it was a different story. In order to get onto a computer to do work, they had to have either their library cards or a photo ID. A school ID would work, as would a driver’s license.
Anyone who has worked with teens or kids knows what this means. Many kids never had the opportunity to get onto the computers and internet, despite needing to do homework or research. Because they didn’t bring their IDs or simply didn’t have one — being that they’re maybe 12 or 13 and don’t HAVE identification like that — they were denied access to something they needed in order to complete assignments for school. Most of these kids, the ones who came to the desk begging me to break policy, were there because they have no internet access at home.
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The kids most harmed by these policies, which tend to be common in public libraries, are those who are the poorest and most needing of access. And kids who did bring their ID to do work still had barriers through which to plow: computer access is time-restricted in most libraries, as there are an inadequate number of stations to allow for the number of people who need to use them.
Some statistics before going further: in households where the family income is $30,000 or less in the United States, only 54% have access to broadband at home. For those who make under $20,000 a year (which is the rough poverty line for families of three), 1/3 – 33% – do not go online at all.
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So why is it that, despite these numbers, the publishing industry takes on initiatives meant to reach poor kids and improve their literacy in ways that show a clear lack of understanding about the real problems these kids face? How come publishers and politicians choose to ignore those who work with children and teenagers struggling with access — to books, to reading, to technology, to a host of literacies, including digital?
Recently, Simon & Schuster announced a change in a literacy program they’ve been offering since 2003. “Cheer on Reading,” which put physical books inside cereal boxes, shifted from a print focus to digital one. Now, when kids open up a box of Cheerios, rather than getting a book to read, they’re given a code to access a digital version of a book which they can download (via proprietary software, no less). While this initiative saves the publisher on the cost of printing and distributing a physical book, it in no way allows poorer kids — those who are most in need and most likely to benefit from this kind of access — access to them.
Link to the rest at BookRiot and thanks to Felix for the tip.