Saturday, September 30, 2006

My Library Hobby...Part 2-Academic Libraries

Today's African-American student is in a stage where they have had great gains in the access of information. Despite what political affiliation, you cannot ignore the fact that the "No Child Left Behind" Act imposed by President Bush has given African American students easier access to information at a younger age. Currently, our society is witnessing the trend of African American students entering college with some of the same to similar computer skills as the average (white) college student. Because of this, we as educators and staff members of institutions of higher education should move towards instruction that will exploit this trend in the shrinking of the information access divide. There are several ways that one could implement techniques that would succeed, but there is one particular avenue that every institution of higher education has is a library. It has been documented that the integration of library use into course work and school curriculum has exponentially increased the success rates in all levels of education. In the following text, you will learn in what way the divide in information access has become smaller and some ways that you can implore your academic library to aid in your endeavors
Though Information Access and Digital Divide are two terms that have been used interchangeably in the common sect, the two terms are very distinct in meaning and when used in practice. To start, Information Access is just a small part of the Digital Divide that has plighted most of the free world. Digital Divide works on a larger scale, depicting entire societies and countries that suffer from the disparity and knowledge of modern technologies such as cell phones, computers, fax machine etc. Conversely, Information Access (or the lack there of) refers more to the access to these same type of technologies on a smaller scale and mastering of these technologies to obtain and transmit information. For instance, the fact that third world countries do not have access to electricity and we here in the United States do, would be an example of the Digital Divide. The fact that some elementary schools have computers with access to EbscoHost Databases and another schools have computers without access to these databases, would be an example of the divide in Information access. Both schools have access to the technology, but the access to the information that can be obtained with the technology, is lacking.

This Digital Divide and the divide in Information Access here in the United States is steadily on the decline. With concern to the Digital Divide, 94% of African American College students have access to a computer at home and 71% have access at their school as opposed to 97% of white students with home computer access and 81% of school computer access.. Access to information is very close as well. In this case, access to information was measured by the numbers of those who have access to the Internet. 89% of African American college students had home internet access and 70% had internet access at their school with the corresponding numbers of white college students being 94% and 81%, respectfully. The shrinking of the Digital Divide and divide in Information Access could be attributed to many different things but one area that id definitely at the forefront is that libraries, public or other wise, have jumped into the digital age in efforts to close the divide in information access. Looking at public libraries, where African American students have greater access to free technology, over the past ten years have made leaps and bounds in this area. In 1995, The Mary Ann Mongan Branch of the Kenton County Public Library system in Covington, KY, an urban area, boasted only a handful of computers that were only reserved for adult use. In 2005, the number of computers skyrocketed to close to 100 terminals just for public use. That is just in one of their branches and does not include computers used by staff members.

Access to Information perpetuated with equal momentum. In reading The University of Wisconsin's Murphy Library's 1994 annual report, and academic library, we find that the preparer mentions that its library's access to GPO, which offers online access to the Congressional Record and the Code of Federal Regulations, was one of their accomplishments in the previous fiscal year. The annual report goes on to convey the fact that OCLC FirstSearch, an online service that gives library professionals and end users access to a rich collection of reference databases, continues to have heavy usage, numerating over 3,000 searches. That was 12 years ago. In Victoria College's 2003-2004 Annual Report, they give example of Murphy Library's prediction of moving towards access to information rather than ownership of it. In this report, the following is reported: -CD ROM networks are 'dead' technology. -They provide off campus access to over 80 electronic databases and over 35,000 electronic books. -1/2 of library database usage comes from off campus locations -Electronic databases give users access to over 22,000 magazine journals.

Currently with ever-evasive trend of instant messaging that has permeated teenage culture, libraries have started to integrate this phenomenon into their services. In the summer of 2006, Northern Kentucky University's Steely Library initiated its first instant messaging reference service where patrons from around the world have the ability to send an instant message, to have one of their research questions answered. Kenton County Public Library has incorporated RSS feed onto their websites so that their patrons can get the most up to date information about books and other materials and services offered at their library. More and more libraries are incorporating Blogs and texts messaging into their repertoire of services.

Because the Digital Divide and divide in the Information Access, with concern to African Americans, African American students should capitalize on this trend. We as African American staff and faculty members of institutions of higher education should aid our students to capitalize on this trend. Here are a few different ways to do so

Visit your academic library Though a number of faculty and staff members know the value that libraries hold and suggest that their students use every advantage that libraries (public or academic) have to offer, they themselves do not actively use the library on a regular basis. Libraries have changed dramatically over the past 10 years so the items that you are used to using just a few years ago may no longer be available.

Find out what your research librarians have to offer Take an inventory of all that your library has to offer students. Innovations such as email reference services, Online Interlibrary Loan applications and instant messaging service are things that your students could use, but you may not know of.

Implement coursework that will cause students to use reference material Just suggesting that your students use the library may not be enough of a push to get your students to USE the library. The implementations of computers in most academic libraries are already enough to get students into the library, but implementing library use in coursework implants a since of need and urgency for students to Use the library. Today's African-American student is in a stage where they have had great gains in the access of information. Because of this, it is imperative that we as educators and staff members of institutions of higher education implement and encourage instruction that embraces library use and exploits this trend in the shrinking of the information access divide. Do not let this opportunity pass us.

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