Barrier: Illinois Library Charges $1 for Computer Access,281NWS2.article

An article by Angela Caputo gets me thinking about learning and libraries this morning, and frankly, I am a little scared:

That’s the computer-access rule at the Sauk Village public library.

And it’s drawing criticism from one local school board member who challenges the policy as another barrier to technology for some of the region’s poorest children.

“Seventy-six percent of our kids are from poor families … Their parents can’t afford to buy technology, and they’re computer illiterate too,” said Marvin Perez, who sits on the Community Consolidated Schools District 168 board of education.

“Why do you charge kids to use computers?” he said.

Officials from District 168 and the Sauk Village library say they’re not convinced the library bears responsibility for offering free computer access to schoolchildren. But in neighboring south suburban library districts, technology programs for students are flourishing by design.

And this:

Library director Nanette Wargo — who maintains there never was a firm deal — said the library has little interest in increasing computer access for children anyway.

“You can do a lot of learning without a computer,” said Wargo, who said the usage fees merely are a way to offset the cost of maintaining the library’s four computers on a tight budget. She points to neighboring communities such as Harvey and Dolton that also charge similar fees.

The lack of interest in enhancing access to technology, particularly among children unlikely to have it at home, has Perez scratching his head.

“We’re being left behind,” Perez said. “Our schools are not doing anything. Our library is not doing anything.”

This troubles me on many levels. I feel for the young people that won’t get access to technology at their library when nearby programs are flourishing. I also worry about the long range effect this type of thinking will have on the library itself. “Our library is not doing anything” and “You can do a lot of learning without a computer” are a strong, telling statements that fall on opposite sides of the spectrum.

Think of all the opportunities these young people will miss with an attitude like that. I agree that books, discussion, journaling, etc are all ways to learn — and I use them in my classroom – but access to the wide world of technology, thriving social, learning communities, instructional games, and digital libraries of information has totally changed the way many children will experience the world.

Public perception of the library and the changes in the way kids learn and meet the world SHOULD be on the minds of the library staff and governing bodies at this library. What does this mean for the future? Will the kids that couldn’t pay for internet access even care about the library in ten years? What do you think?