Libraries and the other “Digital Divide”

Snarkmarket blogger and all around internet-wise-guy cum intellectual made an excellent point about a whole other “digital divide”:

“…it’s a battle within digital culture itself: the self-styled “punk” culture of hackers, pirates, coders, and bloggers against the office suite, the management database, the IT purchaser. Twitter vs. Raisers’ Edge. These are also reductions, but potentially instructive ones.”

As the library’s role is increasingly tied to providing information in formats other than books, and in being one of the largest providers of free internet in the United States, it begs the question: whose side are we on? We’ve always provided an environment that promotes literacy, and now that those literacies are context-related and ever-changing, it becomes harder and harder to define our role. We play out this conflict on a daily basis. Libraries have classes in using productivity software and in blogging or using digital cameras. On the floor, I will answer questions about applying for jobs online one second, and then teach someone about social networking on Facebook the next.

In the forward to the newest issue of “Digital Culture and Education,” Dana Wilber describes new literacies surrounding our interaction with new information technologies as being “deictic, or dependent on the context on which they are used at the moment they are used.” What context are we providing? Libraries are generally “conservative” institutions in the broadest sense of the word in two ways: we keep things for people, and we also tend to be slow moving in oder to do so. But as our role further includes helping people navigate the web, we go further afield into the hacker-pirate-blogger-remixer-of-participatory-culture territory. What context are we providing?

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