Over the weekend, startling statistics came to light that once more gives lie to the argument that libraries are no longer required in the digital age. A report in The Observer, citing the e-Learning Foundation, argued that one million children will receive lower grades than their peers due to a lack of internet access at home. The report refers to research that states that ‘1.2 million teenagers log on to revision pages every week and those using online resources were on average likely to attain a grade higher in exams’.
The report goes on to state:
The charity cites BBC research in which more than 100 students used the BBC Bitesize revision materials before their GCSE examination. The children were found to have achieved a grade lift compared to those who did not use the online revision guides. The BBC study says: “This is compared to factors such as teacher influence, which was found to produce no significant difference.”
It is clear that a high proportion of children are seriously disadvantaged as a result of a widening digital divide. As with the 9 million adults who have never accessed the internet before, these children are largely forgotten by those that are privileged to own a computer and an internet connection. An entire generation is being left behind and their existence is barely acknowledged.
For many of these children, there is a way out: their local public library. Libraries provide a safe environment for children and, most importantly, provide them access to the resources that are otherwise denied them. The provision of a free internet connection offers an opportunity for many children to keep up with their peers. Alongside a wealth of reference books and the assistance of trained staff, the provision of a computer terminal for children to access a host of online resources is vital. The library offers them the best chance they have of ensuring they are not left behind.
The support of trained and qualified library staff is also crucial. Professional staff are able to ensure that not only are the appropriate materials available online (as well as off-line) but that children can access them safely and securely. Furthermore, the provision of homework clubs supported by trained staff helps to bridge the gap between those that have access to a wide range of resources at home and those who do not. In short, the library is an equitable source of high quality educational and learning resources for all children and young people, regardless of the wealth or status of their parents.
Despite ensuring the disadvantaged aren’t left behind, public libraries are still being threatened with closure across the country. Not only public libraries, but also school libraries, leaving one million children further disadvantaged. According to The Observer, a study by BESA (the trade association for the educational supply industry) has revealed that:
“…due to budgetary pressures, schools plan to spend around 8% less on the provision of computers to pupils this year. Critics claim this will negatively affect after-school IT sessions, vital to those without the internet at home.
Only 60% of the 246 primary schools and 188 secondary schools surveyed said they were able to maintain their current spending. Yet nearly a third of schools will make extensive use of home access to the curriculum through the internet.
The belief that libraries are no longer required when ‘everyone’ has an internet connection is one of the driving forces behind proposed closures. Such misinformation is endangering the economic prosperity of an entire generation. Continue along the path of library closures and we will ensure that one million children will be left behind to satisfy those that hold the purse strings. Is that a price worth paying?