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What is Digital Inclusion?

 
 
 

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While digital divide and digital literacy have entered into common use – and into discussions by policy makers – the term digital inclusion is still quite new. Digital inclusion is a much broader category that addresses the other two. Importantly, “digital inclusion” has been articulated specifically to address issues of opportunity, access, knowledge, and skill at the level of policy. Whereas discussion around the digital divide tends to focus on the access available to individuals, digital inclusion is meant to signal a focus on a practical, policy-driven approach that addresses the needs of communities as a whole. In short, digital inclusion is a framework for assessing and considering the readiness of communities to provide access to opportunities in a digital age.

The ubiquity of the Internet poses challenges and opportunies for individuals and communities alike. These challenges and opportunies have not been evenly distributed. Digital technology has opened new domains of exclusion and privilege for some, leaving some populations isolated from the vast digital realm. Even equitable access, however, is no longer enough - increasingly, digital life requires that users be more than users. Users are now content creators as much as they are content consumers.

Success in the increasingly digitized social and economic realms requires a comprehensive approach to fostering inclusion. Digital inclusion brings together high-speed internet access, information technologies, and digital literacy in ways that promote success for communities and individuals trying to navigate and partipate in the digital realm.

Digital inclusion has three broad facets: access, adoption, and application. These facets show the ultimate goal of creating digitally inclusive communities.

  • Access: Availability, affordability, design for inclusion, and public access.
  • Adoption: Relevance, digital literacy, and consumer safety.
  • Application: Economic and workforce development, education, health care, public safety and emergency services, civic engagement, and social connections.

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In order to achieve these goals, libraries promote digital inclusion in four significant ways:

  • By providing free access to public access technologies (hardware, software, high-speed Internet connectivity) in their communities.
  • By providing access to a range of digital content to their communities.
  • By providing digital literacy services that assist individuals navigate, understand, evaluate, and create digital content using a range of information and communications technologies.
  • By providing programs and services around key community need areas such as health and wellness, education, employment and workforce development, and civic engagement.

The Digital Inclusion Survey documents the extent to which libraries have met the challenges posed by digital technology. While libraries have done much to adapt to both the vast technological and social changes ushered in by the Internet over the past two decades, much more work remains for the future.

Libraries are emerging as a key community platform for digital inclusion - one that is critical in surmounting the gap in digital equity and literacy while simultaneously moving communities forward (see our Digital Inclusion issue brief for more details, including data from the Digital Inclusion Survey). 

The study builds on the work conducted by IMLS, ICMA, and the University of Washington in developing a Digital Inclusion Framework, and serves as a complement to the IMLS Public Library Survey that collects data (e.g., bugdget, FTE) about public libraries annually.

Funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and conducted by the American Library Association (ALA), the Information Policy & Access Center (iPAC) at the University of Maryland, and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).