Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Date of this Version

Spring 5-10-2021


Abstract: Since the digital divide was identified as a pressing equity of access issue in the mid-1990s, several demographic groups have consistently fallen on the negative side of the divide. One of these is older adults, or adults age 65 and over. Surveys by various organizations ranging from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to the Pew Research Center have identified systemic disparities such as income, geography, and education level as leading factors in the digital divide. These disparities further compound with age, race, ethnicity, language, and ability to keep some groups at a disadvantage when it comes to internet access and broadband service.

Libraries have played an important role in efforts to close the divide and provide free instruction and access to technology and information resources for older adults. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how many people continue to fall through the gaps in the divide. For older adults who have been especially vulnerable during the pandemic, lack of access to the internet and digital literacy skills are proving dangerous. This paper looks at why older adults continue to lag behind other groups in digital literacy and internet access, why it is an urgent social justice and health issue to close the divide for this demographic, and how libraries are finding ways to help older adults and commit to the core values of social responsibility and equity of access in the midst of a global pandemic.