Country connections

Library services in the 21st century rely heavily on electronic resources and the internet. We hear of the demise of the physical book and ebooks are being chosen as a preferred format by many people. Google has stolen much of the research assistance once done by Librarians. We are far from card catalogues, limited physical collections of books, and even library standards like the LCSH are being replaced by tags.

While the World Wide Web has increased and broadened information accessibility, it has also radically changed the working lives of Librarians. And there is more to come. Where will we be when a library can’t purchase an item whether it is physical or electronic and we have to subscribe to platforms for everything? How is that going to impact small town libraries and their people?

This all hinges on the internet for access and delivery and there is this widely held notion that this access is a given. But it is not so. Even in the not-so-remote parts of Victoria where I live and work, there are “black spots” where whole towns have no coverage other than dial-up.

Not only does this prevent any delivery and connection via web-based models, such as the online library catalogue, but it means that many people residing in these towns are well behind in knowledge, acceptance, and skills in using this form of information. More and more organisations are only offering online services now. Think about how you submit your tax return, book flights and shows, apply for jobs, etc.

And when a know-it-all interloper from the city breezes into town espousing the wonders and virtues of the internet, they are seen as some kind of snake oil salesman.

 Places like this still exist and are being used as such. Disability access, OH&S, even reliable electricity are not seen as important factors, let alone on any kind of priority list. Attempts at network access via 3G fail repeatedly. So trying to convert the stubborn country folk is a trial of proportions not appreciated by library suppliers from the cities where fast reliable connectivity is expected. Even trying to coax people into using the internet to order and reserve physical books is like trying to teach an aqua-phobic  to swim.

Library services provided to small remote towns with limited internet connectivity are a lifeline to a larger world. While these people value, want and need their regular book delivery, many are yet to catch on to the possibilities that are there waiting for them.

Will the NBN come to the rescue of these people? Or are they destined to growing disadvantage caused by the digital divide?

This is an interesting talk given by Philip Kent in September 2011 at Melbourne University about Research Libraries in the 21st Century.

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