lehreonline.net - Prof. Dr. Ulrich Hoinkes

Adriel Watt

The Digital Divide, a social threat for the 21st century.

The goal of this presentation is to examine the nature of the digitial divide in the early 21st century as a social threat and to look at the role libraries play in addressing the threat. I will first examine a number of definitions of the digital divide and discuss the metaphors used to describe the problem. Then I will discuss the demographics of the digital divide. Next I will explore the notion of a spectrum of users of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Finally, I will discuss possible solutions to the problem focusing on what libraries can do to help.

Originally, the digital divide referred to the digital “haves” and “have-nots”, i.e. those who have access to ICT, and those who do not. The focus has, however, moved from physical access to skills/usage.Using ICT is not enough, one must also possess the skills to operate the technology and most importantly the information literacy to navigate through the vast online environment to solve one's problems.

The digital divide as a metaphor is problematic. It suggests that it is possible to “build a bridge” and allow those on the wrong side of the divide to cross over. The problem is, however, fundamentally social. Another metaphor that is often used is the idea of the “information rich” and “information poor”. This is closer to the reality. The division is between those of higher and lower socioeconomic status. Since the digital divide is a mirror of social inequality, some prefer the term “digital inequality”.

The demographics of the digital “haves” and “have-nots” are as one would expect. The “have-nots” tend to be senior citzens, those with a low income, the less educated and rural residents. Age and income seem to be the biggest factors influencing a person's use of ICT. The main reasons non-users in developed countries cite for not going online are a lack of interest and difficulty in using ICT. In developing countries physical access is still a major problem.

Most scholars of the digital divide prefer to view the problem as a spectrum. There are those who do not have access to ICT and at the far end of the spectrum there are those with access and very well developed skills. In between there are those who have access to ICT, but rarely use it or have minimal computer skills or mainly use ICT for entertainment. This is connected to the idea of the knowledge gap, the idea that those of higher socioeconomic status get more out of the mass media than those of lower socioeconomic status. The most important factor in solving this problem is education.

Libraries can help in bridging both the access gap and the skills gap. For those without their own ICT, the library can be one of their main access points. For those who possess ICT, the library can be a place to learn the skills needed to use ICT effectively. Many libraries offer courses on a range of subjects including computer skills and information literacy.


      • Born and raised in California.
      • 2013 to present librarian at the Department Library of the Department of Romance Languages at Kiel University
      • 2012 B.A. in Library and Information Science (focus cataloging and reference services) HTWK, Leipzig
      • 2005-2012 teacher of English as a foreign language and translator.
      • 2002 B.A. in German (focus linguistics)