Academic Information Service, University of Pretoria, South Africa
This 11-page paper was presented at the Library Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) Seventh Annual Conference, held in Pholokwane, South Africa, September 27 to October 1 2004, with the theme “Libraries and Democracy: The Vital Link”.
The paper examines the role of libraries in bridging the digital divide. It starts by defining the concept “digital divide” and describes contributing factors. It discusses the digital divide in South Africa and certain initiatives to bridge this divide, including those from government. It concludes by providing possible solutions to bridging the gap.
Factors discussed that contribute to the digital divide, in general, include gender, physical disability, physical access, lack of information and communication technology (ICT) skills and support, attitudinal factors, relevant content, age, and racial segregation. Contributing factors in South Africa mentioned within this paper include the apartheid legacy that promoted separate development, which provided inferior education and poor or no access to learning opportunities for non-whites; poor access to education in rural areas; high levels of poverty; and language barriers - the fact that there are eleven official languages in South Africa, while technology and software programmes are all in English.
The author mentions certain initiatives and projects, as well as government projects, explaining what each project set out to do. Initiatives mentioned include Translate.org.za; Linuxlab; Bridges.org; Y Day; The Amalgamated Banks of South Africa (ABSA) free internet access to the public early in 2001 (no longer active); UNINET, providing internet backbone support to universities and technikons; and Gauteng Online.
The paper concludes: “South Africa like other countries is affected by the digital divide...However a number of initiatives to bridge this divide is underway. It is imperative to bear in mind that this effort of bridging the digital divide might take decade. Because South Africa is alive with possibilities, this divide will someday be bridged. The government need to triple its effort in providing support and resources in order to bridge the digital divide. Libraries can make a huge impact on bridging the digital divide because they are institutions of knowledge. They must provide access to ICTs. By providing services they will be opening the door to global knowledge hence bridging the digital divide.”
LIASA website on June 28 2005.