Free Internet Access at Public Libraries

17 Mar

People on computers in library

Two things today have provoked my reflection on the importance of the service of free computer and internet access through public libraries. Today in my Information Services and Users class, a group of students presented the topic of serving special populations in libraries. Their presentation highlighted the specialized informational needs of aboriginal persons, prison inmates and the urban poor and how libraries can best serve these user groups. During the presentation, one girl brought to our attention the case of Kevin Barbieux, a homeless man who has been using his public library’s computer to blog at The Homeless Guy since 2007. I knew that the service of library internet access met the various needs of a diverse population, but the thought that this service provides Kevin Barbieux with a forum by which to voice his opinion on issues from public housing to best way to deal with pan handlers completely blows my mind. Public libraries are SO awesome. What better a way to address societal misconceptions and stereotypes than by facilitating a forum for people in the margins of society to communicate issues that matter to them?  Isn’t one of the noblest goals of public librarianship to provide equal opportunities to all? What a fantastic example of this goal in action in the heart of a Nashville library. Hearing about this case and then reading the Homeless Guy’s blog cause my passion and enthusiasm for public libraries to swell.

This enthusiasm that stayed with me all day until I read the article “Industry Minister announces reprieve of library Internet access program” from the Globe and Mail on the recent confusion in Canadian Parliament on whether the Conservative party government would revoke the Internet Service funding provided to public libraries and community centers. In the article, the government seemed ambivalent on the importance of continuing to fund such as program despite its obvious benefits to Canadians nation-wide. I’m not sure how much I believe Industry Minister Tony Clement’s comment that the cessation of the program was all just a misunderstanding. The most irksome quote from the article is “Mr. Clement said the money for libraries and community centres will be ramped down when more Canadians have the opportunity to pay for high-speed Internet at home.” Please tell me Mr. Clement when do you anticipate this miraculous day will come? Although the defenders of Net Neutrality are fighting for equal internet access across the board, it is pretentious to assume that one day high-speed internet at home will be a reality for all citizens. I wonder if Mr Clement is aware of the case of Kevin Barbieux’s Homeless Guy blog. I sincerely doubt that he is aware of this blog or the reality of the many citizens who depend on the free internet service of public libraries and community centers.  How can the Mr. Clement think he can justify the abolition of a program that provides an essential service to people below poverty line who might not even have a home let alone high speed internet access? I am glad to see in the article so much opposition by defenders of community rights. I admit that I only heard of this situation today, but librarians need to be proactive fighting irrational government decisions in order to protect the rights of our users! If we don’t, who will?

Lots of things to think about. I would love to hear your opinions on the matter.</p

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