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Librarian Blog

The digital divide

For 20 years there's been talk of the so-called "digital divide."

For most of that time, the divide has been thought to have been both racial and in terms of income.

Higher income folks and white folks were thought to be more likely to own computers and to have high-speed internet access.

Now comes the U.S. Census Bureau with results from its latest American Community Survey, and those findings confirm the conventional wisdom.

People who live in large metro areas are more likely by a high number to own computers and to have high-speed access than people in rural areas. Metro areas have high-speed access; rural areas don't.

No mystery there.

But, it's interesting to look at use. In Boulder, 97 percent of the population uses high-speed internet; in Laredo, Texas, that number is 70 percent. Guess which town has the highest povery rate.

So, we have to continue to talk as libraries about having computers with high-speed access because that digital divide isn't going away.

Nanowrimo?

What is Nanowrimo?

Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writers Month. It is a movement that started in the San Francisco Bay area in 1999 with 21 participants. Since then it has grown into a national movement with hundreds of thousands of participants trying to write a novel in 30 days. The challenge is write 50,000 words in 30 days, from November 1st to November 30th.

Why, you ask? Because of the challenge, because everyone has a story, because without a deadline some will never sit down and write. With Nanowrimo, there is no editing. You just write. It’s like the great first draft. But that’s okay. Out of first drafts have come some great books; such as “WaterforElephants,” “NightCircus,” “and “LookingGlass.”

Yes, we are already half way through November, but it’s never too late to start. Check out the books we carry that are Nanowrimo books in the Library. You never know. Even if you miss the date, it’s never too late to start writing.

From medium to cold

Billions of people world-wide are on Facebook.

Millions use Facebook's news feeds as their sole source for information.

And there's nothing out there that might slow those trends.

Here's what Facebook does, according to a Sunday article in The New York Times: It uses algorithms to figure out what you like to read/see/experience when you go to Facebook news sites. Then it finds more of the same and feeds that to you. You don't need to browse. You don't need to bother picking through things you might not want to see. Nothing uncomfortable or disturbing will pass your eyes.

And, so, all your biases, prejudices and preconcieved ideas will be underscored and amplified and reinforced, and it will be the same for everyone else on Facebook.

How is democracy going to work when all you access is, say, National Enquirer?

I see this kind of thing as insidious and harmful. Not to mention what it means for the future of newspapers, which is already pretty dismal.

To MOOC or not

It turns out that those massive online-only courses that made headlines a couple of years ago aren't as effective as you might think.

Jeffrey J. Selingo, writing in Sunday's education supplement to The New York Times, examines these kinds of courses and concludes that they have not been dismal failures, but they have hardly changed our national educational system.

Professors may attract hundreds or even thousands of students to online courses, but few participants actually complete them.

My experience may be typical. I have signed up for three MOOCs. I have completed only one of them. The two I did not complete were music-related, and they were too elementary. The course I completed was a general overview of physics presented by a professor of physics at the University of Virginia. It was hard, but very interesting.

I would imagine that, given the poor completion rate for MOOCs, most professors will not feel motivated to put in the time and work necessary to build these courses.

So, they may not die off because of lack of interest on the part of the dedicated few students but because universities and profs won't provide them.

More on 3D printing

Looking down the road, I think it's fair to say that sooner than later we will have a 3D printer available at the library for patrons to use.

Prices have fallen dramatically as competition has increased for the printers themselves, and that makes them look for attractive.

But, I've been doing some reading about care and feeding of 3D printers, and it seems that you surely get what you pay for. That's in terms of everything -- speed of printing, cost of materials, time involved, maintenance and ease of use.

The University of Nevada, Reno, just completed a couple of full years of providing 3D services to all patrons, and their report, explained in an article posted by Patrick Colegrove at Educause Review Online this past week, is favorable.

What they have learned is just what I said above, you get what you pay for. And what they paid was quite a lot, more than we could ever afford.

That doesn't mean we won't continue to explore this new frontier of library services. I see us getting into a maker space within the next 12 months, in fact. So watch this space for news.