The Digital Divide and its Implications for Collection Development :: Web Presentation



What is collection development?

  • What is collection development?
  • Why collection development policies are important.

What is the digital divide?

  • What is the digital divide?  
  • Does it still exist? Is it expanding? How has the definition changed with the times? What is its impact on library patrons?
  • The ALA and LSTA.

The digital divide and its implications for collection development.

  •  Collection development policy on acquiring digital materials
  • The limitations of digital collections.
  • The ALA’s Thoughts on the Digital World
  • What new and changing criteria must be addressed with regard to selection of materials?
  • How can we plan now for what will be needed in the future?
  • What steps must be taken to ensure continued fluency?
  • What steps must be taken to prevent the divide from continuing?

PowerPoint Presentation




Technology will not be denied.

We are bombarded almost daily with new or improved gadgets designed to make life easier, better, faster. This message is so pervasive it is quite easy to forget that this ease of access, this technology everywhere for everyone concept is actually a falsehood. There are many people for whom technology is completely inaccessible. Many who if presented with something technological would be unable to utilize it.

Children who do not have computers in their homes, attend computer classes at school or have parents who are tech savvy will be faced with many challenges when dealing with digital information. The same applies for elderly and adult learners who have never taken the time to learn computer skills or don’t own computers. This issue is compounded in areas which basic needs, such as clean water and food, are scarce or non-existent. Those who are information illiterate are so for many reasons age, race, gender, location and socioeconomic status chief among them.

Lack of ready access to technology leaves many citizens of the world in the dark about a great many things. All of the benefits of technology are denied to them, making resume writing, job hunting, apartment seeking, health information and more difficult, or in some cases impossible, to come by. The stuff of life, more or less, all placed at a distance. Over a divide so great that many cannot cross it.

It is the responsibility of libraries to bridge the digital divide?

What is collection development?

 The Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science (ODLIS) defines collection development as:

“The process of planning and building a useful and balanced collection of library materials over a period of years, based on an ongoing assessment of the information needs of the library’s clientele, analysis of usage statistics, and demographic projections, normally constrained by budgetary limitations.”

Why is it important?

 Collection development policies have existed informally since the advent of libraries. It was not until the mid 1950’s that the American Library Associationrecommended that every public library have a written selection and collection policy. (Johnson, 2009) Collection development policies exist to serve as a guide for both library staff and the patrons they serve. (Johnson, 2009) Its purpose is to articulate the collection goals and objectives of the library. (BPL policy) Articulating the goals of a collection sets a standard by which success can be measured. (Johnson, 2009) Having a set plan in place protects those responsible for the collection and its maintenance and guides them in making well-informed decisions with regard to the collection.

What is

 Former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Telecommunication and Communication Larry Irving, often credited with coining the phrase “digital divide”. (ODLIS) The digital divide is “…the gap in access to information resources and services between those with the means to purchase the computer hardware and software necessary to connect to the Internet and low-income families and communities that cannot afford network access.” (ODLIS) Simply put, it is a term that references the separation between people who have ready access to a personal computer and those who do not. (Johnson, 2009)

There are differing opinions on the current state of the digital divide.

Does it still exist? Is it expanding? How has the definition changed with the times?

Romelia Salinas’ 2003 article “Addressing the digital divide through collection development” in the online journal Collection Building provides both insight into the changing definition of the term as well as work ing solutions on dealing with the issue. Salinas contends that the disagree ment on whether or not the digital divide still exists stems from “…a lack of consensus on how the digital divide should be defined.” Some believe it “…is about access to computers while others think it is also about computer literacy.” (Salinas, 2003)


Salinas’ definition of the term circa 2003 coincides (roughly) with what ODLIS lists as its definition today. She agrees with Richard Chabran’s, Director of the Communities for Virtual Research (CVR) at the University of California Riverside, opinion that “The digital divide is about people not computers.” (Salinas, 2003)

Chabran has contributed much to the discussion of the digital divide. CVR deals directly with these issues by documenting the use of and access to digital information. They design programming to address the access issues that they find. He is on the side of the debate that feels the divide does indeed still exist and that its definition is changing and adapting with the times.

For Salinas, a crucial part of the digital divide is a lack of information fluency (aka information literacy). She describes information literacy as the ability to “…use critically and effectively these new tools to find information and communicate in a manner that fosters personal or community growth and health.” (2003) This is critical because yet another facet of the digital divide is expanding, which is relevant and relatable content. Those that offer the opinion that the digital divide has lessened or has been bridged completely do not consider that providing access to the information alone is not the solution.

The Children’s Partnership’s report, Online Content for Low-Income and Underserved Americans identifies four barriers to information literacy (or fluency):

“…lack of local information, literacy barriers, language barriers, and lack of cultural diversity.” (Salinas, 2003)

Without the skills to find and then utilize the important job, education and health information available on the Internet, the access means nothing. In short those wishing to eradicate the digital divide must concern themselves with providing access, providing information in multiple languages and skill levels, information relevant to different classes and backgrounds, literacy skills, information literacy skills and much more.

The ALA’s Library Services and Technology (LSTA) act states that:

“2008 statistics show that libraries hosted more than 1.3 billion patron visits. In times of economic downturn, libraries become even busier. More people, in more communities, in every state are turning to their local library for access to information and services to help them in today’s economy…. While Internet use has increased substantially in the United States, nearly  half of allAmerican households still do not have computers or Int ernet access.”

LSTA is a part of the Museum and Library Services Act of 2003 is the only federal program exclusively for libraries. It was signed into law by President Obama on December 22, 2010. With funding provided by this program, libraries across the United States are able to offer classes and workshops to assist those affected by the digital divide. The LSTA has lofty goals such as:

  • Facilitate access to resources in all types of libraries for the purpose of cultivating an educated and informed citizenry and encourage resource sharing among all types of libraries for the purpose of achieving economical and efficient delivery of library services to the public.

Though the policy is not explicit, it is clear that the funding, at least in part, can and should be used towards collection development. One of its main initiatives involves linking “libraries electronically and provid(ing) users access to information through state, regional, national and international networks.” Information and the tools with which you access it can now be considered part of the libraries collection. (Salinas, 2003)

The Digital Divide and its Implications for Collection Development



Collection development policy on acquiring digital materials

The information age is forcing us to redefine what a book is. Formally when one discussed books, they were referring to the printed word bound within a cover of some design. Now, when speaking of books you may be referring to Braille, audio books, ebooks, graphic novels (are they books are long format comics?) paperbacks or hardcover. Books can no longer fit into a neat box. (Library Journal, 2007) There are other digital materials within library collections as well. Journals, government documentation, photography collections and in some cases local businesses (such as neighborhood newspapers) house their archives within the public library.

As we adjust our thinking regarding books, we must also adjust collection policies to include their expanded definition.  What considerations must collection policy developers; maintainers and evaluators take into account when approaching their digital collections?

There are special considerations for acquiring digital materials. Some of which are:

  • Licensing and contracts
  • Storage, will access be on site or off
  • Does the acquisition of the digital version of a source render the physical version useless?
  • For non-fiction materials: currency and completeness  
  • Which format best fits the community the library serves (EPub, pdf books, MP3  or  MP4 audio files, etc…?)

(Johnson, 2009; Library Journal, 2007)

And specific to the digital divide:

  • How will patrons without home computers utilize these materials? Phone? eReader? Library computer terminal?
  • Which format would best fit what may be available to them?
  • Are materials available in multiple languages?
  • Is the digital collection diverse enough for the skill and interest level of all the patrons served by the library system?
  • Can patrons download the necessary software when they have the hardware?
  • Are we providing the necessary workshops and seminars to teach patrons with home access how to use our catalogs?

One of the most pressing issues regarding digital information that has been on library “hot topics” lists lately, the restriction of library ebook loans by publishing giant  and their distributor . This current debate has brought home the importance of dealing with questionable collection policy issues before you are forced to do so. All of the material I have read on this matter, from blog posts to Library Journal editorials, suggests that it was obvious that the issue of access to ebooks was always going to be an issue. It was inevitable, yet it was allowed to fester.

The ALA’s Thoughts on the Digital World

 “The advent of the digital world has revolutionized how the public obtains its information and how libraries provide it. Libraries help ensure that Americans can access the information they need – regardless of age, education, ethnicity, language, income, physical limitations or geographic barriers – as the digital world continues to evolve. Core values of the library community such as equal access to information, intellectual freedom, and the objective stewardship and provision of information must be preserved and strengthened in the evolving digital world.” (ALA)

Collection management staff will continue to have their work cut out for them.  In addition to providing patrons affected by the digital divide with what they need to thrive, they are faced with the Herculean task of predicting their future needs along with the needs of all library patrons. With work available in varied formats and home access computers, eReaders and other assorted digital devices’ limitations there are many factors weighing on every collection decision. The ALA has spelled out some of its goals with regard to information literacy, but more specific planning is needed to carry them out.

Consider the variables. There are some teen patrons who may have a cell phones, but no home computers. Which format works best for them? Apple products carry some distinct formatting limitations. Audio books in MP4 format are incompatible. But, the patron must be well versed in the ins and outs of their digital devices and skilled library catalog users to determine that. I considered myself more than competent in both areas, but still encountered problems when I first used my libraries digital collection. I downloaded several MP4 files to my desktop before I realized that they wouldn’t play on my Mac. In addition to that, in downloading the various programs needed for the different formats available in my local library systems collection, I became totally confused. Where were the files going? How did I get them onto the Nook? I went through a lot of frustrating trail and error before I was able to complete the task.

Imagine a user totally unfamiliar with computers attempting this same task. At what point would they have given up? How would they know the difference between their human errors and the limitations of their hardware? If they don’t have computer literate parents, who can assist them? Could those using computers outside of their homes complete these tasks before their allotted time was up?

Planning for the Futur

Programs like Richard Chabran’s Communities for Virtual Research need to be more widespread. The information gathered by this organization can be used and applied to other in other areas, however addressing issues region by region can be beneficial, too. African-Americans and Latinos likely have very different computer use issues. For instance, Latinos may encounter language barriers for non-English speakers as well as literacy barriers for those who can speak English, but not well. African-American communities may encounter literacy and usage barriers. They may have a home computer, but parents who are unable to assist them in using it. Therefore it follows that the criteria for change in both communities needs to be different. Though that is a broad generalization, it gets the point across successfully. As Chabran pointed out, you need people who are a part of the individual communities in on the planning and discussion about how best to serve their needs. That can be as simple as a survey of local patrons or as complex as hiring an expert in the relations and issues of the community you are hoping to server better. (TCLA)

This is, of course, where things get dicey. Collection budgets are shrinking yearly, and staff budgets in all fields are under attack. The need to do more with less is prevalent. Wringing out money in already tight budgets for new programming or specialized staff is not an attractive option in most cases. There are creative ways around these issues. The New York Public Library  staffs interns in various departments, with many of them serving in various collection development areas. Utilizing interns from diverse backgrounds can provide an opportunity to gain some insight on what may be missing from the services offered to their communities.

Borrowing staff from other departments or locations may work as well. New York City contains many immigrant communities with localized special needs. What are some of the things the library branches closest to these communities doing to serve them? Bringing those insights to another branch can teach its staff how to move forward with their efforts. Local outreach organizations my be interested in offering sensitivity training to collection development staff which can lead to some meaningful changes in library collections.

What steps must be taken to ensure continued fluency?

Remaining abreast of technological changes is important for all citizens. Most employers require basic working knowledge of the Microsoft suite of software, Internet search abilities and more. It is important for library staff to continually update their skills with software and hardware and learn as much as they can about new tools available so that they may determine what is useful for their collection.

There are a few ways to accomplish this. The ALA offers a host of  online learning sessions, which can assist library staff in furthering their knowledge on a given subject. Librarians may choose to enroll as non matriculated or no credit students at universities offering classes in new technology for librarians. The skills gained by either method will go a long way towards passing on these skills to patrons.

Along with keeping their personal skills up to date, collection management staff must become involved with digital access debates. The outcomes of theses decisions will have a direct impact on their jobs and collection decisions. While all library staff and patrons have a stake in the resolution of this problem, it is the collection management staff that will have to wrangle budgets to fit the stipulations of the decisions.

Along with this, there are the yearly threats to library budgets. This impacts libraries in general and the collection management team as well. Becoming active in library advocacy and making time to participate in debates and other opportunities to share opinions and facts can ensure that multiple perspectives on the issues are heard.

What steps must be taken to prevent the divide from continuing?

Many of the above suggestions can aid in hindering the digital divide. Combining them, in any variation, would be a great first step for any library. Currently, the topic seems to be gaining momentum. There are many works concerning the digital divide and there has always been talk of colle cti on development. But, there needs to be more consideration for where the two overlap. Who will pioneer new study into this specialized area?

The considerations for digital policies is a great start, but the decision between pdf and ePub ebooks is totally irrelevant to someone with neither computer or eReader to view them on. The talk around access, digital information and computer use needs to take into account those without means and access to a computer.

Library administration and collection management teams must:

Consider interns as a chance to open doors into a new community. See local outreach organizations as a chance to better your understanding of your patrons. Realize that there are computer users whose first language is not English or who cannot speak it at all. Keep in mind the different levels of education amongst computer users. How different interests impact computer use. Remember that a book is not always a book in the way that first springs to mind. Don’t forget that all of these things mean that access, despite being the main problem, is certainly not the only one.

We must remain mindful that the prevalent technology for all image is false. There are many people, residing much closer than you’d think, that face a very different reality. Their lives are not the better for it. I contend that it is the responsibility of libraries to bridge the digital divide and to continue their efforts to bring about digital equality in the areas of access, content and benefit to the lives of all library patrons.


Salinas, R. (2003). Addressing the digital divide through collection development. Collection Building, 22(3), 131-6. doi: 10.1108/01604950310484456

Pymm, B. (2006). Building collections for all time: the issue of significance. Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 37(1),  61-73.

Johnson, Peggy (2009). Developing Collections. In the (2nd edition), Fundamentals of Collection Development (pp. 103- 150). Chicago, Illinois: The American Library Association

Genco, Barbara; Kuzyk, Raya. Library Journal (1976) v. 132 no. 15 (September 15 2007) p. 32-5 Retrieved from WilsonWeb

Brooklyn Public Library. Materials Selection Policy. Retrieved from

American Library Association. Access to Information. Retrieved from

American Library Association. Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). Retrieved from

American Library Association. ALA Online Learning. Retrieved from

Teaching Change to LA. Framing the digital divide. Retrieved from



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