The (Other) Digital Divide

When people discuss the digital divide, they are usually talking about how race and class differences contribute to one’s ability to access and use computers and the Internet. But in my opinion, there is another digital divide among professionals, one that separates those who make their living creating technologies and those who make their living using (and teaching others to use) technologies. And from what I’ve seen online,  if you want to make people angry fast, all you have to do is place them on one side of the divide when they (or someone else) believes they belong on the other. In a riveting post by Cecily Walker of the Vancouver Public Library, there’s hard Twitter evidence of just such instances. All you have to do is call a librarian who codes a computer engineer, then wait for the thunder.

But why is this such a hot-button issue? Why can’t we all just get along?

I think the answers to those questions have a lot to do with ego, pride, power, and privilege, but I also think this issue has its roots in stubbornness, on both sides of the divide. For instance, LIS types might not be able to build a better website than someone who has a degree in web design and years of work experience, just as a software developer might not necessarily be an expert in teaching others how to use it.

But never fear. I’m here to let you off the hook, library people—it’s OK. You can’t do everything. You can’t know everything. You can’t be everything to everybody. And honestly, who wants to?

Everybody doesn’t want to work with the production side of tech; some of us prefer the user side, showing people where the @ symbol is and helping them download books. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The LIS community prides itself on being inclusive and innovative, so what better way to prove that than by being accepting of  diverse aptitudes and personality types, as well as different skin colors, religious beliefs, and sexual identities?  Diversity in STEM and LIS is not about encouraging people to enter fields that don’t interest them…it’s about showing them that doing what they want to do is possible.

Like all great organizations, libraries are built brick by brick, with each brick serving a unique purpose while also supporting the entire structure. That’s why we need IT specialists and reference librarians and custodians and payroll clerks and marketing specialists. We can’t do it all. Even though librarians are the ultimate generalists, we can’t do it all. And sometimes, it’s nice to devote ourselves to just one career at a time.

What do you think, fellow hackers? Are library people STEMers? Or are we in a league of our own?

Categories: Big Picture, Technology

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