Module 8: Barriers to Information Access Part 1: Geography, Language, & Disability
For the next two modules we will be examining the idea of the so-called Digital Divide,
or inequality in access to information. Although the idea of the Digital Divide (a jingoistic
and overused phrase but nonetheless the one that is in popular use) refers to the
Internet, the concept of unequal access also applies to schools and libraries. As you
study these two modules, think about how barriers to access may contribute to
information poverty and why information poverty matters.
Barriers to access and the "Digital Divide" defined
When discussing the Digital Divide, it is important to understand what this term means.
In general usage, it means a disparity in electronic resources and access to them. In the
early days of the Internet, access was generally limited to a small, elite group of
information users. In the very beginning of the 'Net, in the 1950s, only members of the
Department of Defense and a few universities in the U.S. could gain access to the then
quite limited electronic network. But as the Internet grew and expanded, more research
and educational institutions became part of the interconnected group of computers. By
the late 1980s considerable research in information science and computer science
indicated that this new technology had potential not only for resource sharing and
research cooperation (the original uses of the Net), but also as a form of communication
not seen before.
The World Wide Web is a relatively recent development, dating only from the early
1990s. Use of the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) allows for inclusion not just of
text and numbers as had been previous to the development of the Web, but of sound,
graphics, and entire files that could be retrieved and downloaded in a matter of minutes.
With the development of Mosaic, the first graphical browser, and the increasingly
sophisticated and low-cost personal computers, access to the Internet became available
to private individuals and not just universities and corporations.
With this growth came new opportunities in providing access to information. Prior to the
advent of the Web, most information was disseminated through libraries and information
provision agencies. But the Web permits individual users to locate information online
quickly and easily, without the intermediation of an information professional or
institution. As information professionals studied this new medium, they realized that,
although the Web presented new opportunities for information retrieval, there is an
inequity between information "haves" and "have-nots" that merits study.
Access to the Internet requires several things: Access to a computer and the knowledge