Why Being Disconnected — and the Library — Matter

In the past week, two important assessments of how many Americans continue to be left out of the technology enabled information loop, and why that matters, have surfaced online.  In her address to the Kansas University School of Journalism Diversity Summit, librarian Jessamyn West shared hard hitting statistics about the number of Americans living Without a Net, what that means for their economic health, social security and other life needs, and why the public library plays a role in bridging this still enormous digital divide. West has pared the presentation down to 12 minutes, and you owe 34% of Americans that much time to attend to the video.

How much time and energy you then spend responding to Jessamyn’s data and analysis may be further informed by this second stark message from ground level and contemporary America. Doug Levitt, journalist turned singer/songwriter/storyteller, spent the last six years or so traveling the United States by Greyhound bus.  That’s the only available means of transport available to many who live out of sight and out of mind of the America that has developed a technical acuity and reliance on cell phones, smart phones, social media, and the Internet. His project, The Greyhound Diaries, intends he says, to give a voice to those who are “left out of the national narrative” because they not only can’t access that online flow of information and discussion, but because their voices are missing from that flow.

The possibilities these two messages present to public libraries are vast, and approachable.  How can we we help the voiceless get “home” to America?