As new technologies are developed and increasing amounts of information and common tasks are moved online, Australian Libraries play an important role in equipping Australians to use these technologies. In 2012-2013, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that only 58% of Australian households with an annual income of $40,000 or less, had a home internet connection, as opposed to 98% of households with an annual income of more than $120,000 (ABS, 2014b, para 2).
Moreover, Digital literacy and e-skills: participation in the digital economy lists seven groups at risk of facing a digital divide due to low digital literacy, including Australians on a low income; Australians who have not undertaken higher education; senior Australians, rural Australians, Indigenous Australians, Australians with a disability and Australians from a non-English speaking background (Innovation and Business Skills Australia, 2013, p3). This gap between the technology ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is known as the digital divide and has sparked fears that new technologies will replicate existing socio-economic chasms (Wallis, 2007, pp. 261-262).
Many common tasks and forms are now only available online, such as job applications, receiving utility bills, entering competitions, Australian Passport renewals, Working with Children’s Checks, Police Checks, Tax File Number applications and e-Tax. Additionally, various government departments, for example, Centrelink and Medicare, promote the use of their online services to avoid lengthy queues. Whilst this benefits those Australians with access to reliable internet service, it disadvantages those Australians who are most likely to need to access to these services, such as low income Australians, seniors and the unemployed.
Public libraries have long prided themselves as being at the forefront of equal access to information ("Libraries building communities: report one: Setting the scene," 2005, p. 17). As society has progressed to include digital technologies, this community service has become even more crucial. The Internet and PC usage in Victorian public libraries: summary report, suggests that Libraries are uniquely placed to assist their communities, by providing free access to computers and the internet, as without this service, there is a chance these citizens would face disenfranchisement from society (I & J Management Services, 2012, p. 1).
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2014b). Household use of information technology, Australia, 2012-13: household internet access. Retrieved 9/8/2014, from AusStats Database http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/8146.0Chapter12012-13
I & J Management Services. (2012). Internet and PC usage in Victorian public libraries: summary report. Retrieved 22/9/2014, from http://www.plvn.net.au/sites/default/files/InternetPCUsage_SUMMARY.pdf
Innovation and Business Skills Australia. (2013). Digital literacy and e-skills: participation in the digital economy: executive summary. Australian Government Retrieved from https://www.ibsa.org.au/sites/default/files/media/Digital%20Literacy%20and%20E-skills.pdf.
Libraries building communities: report one: Setting the scene. (2005). Retrieved 4/9/2014, from http://www2.slv.vic.gov.au/pdfs/aboutus/publications/lbc_report1.pdf
Wallis, J. (2007). The social, political and cultural context of libraries in the twenty-first century: an overview Libraries in the twenty-first century: Charting new directions in information services (pp. 257-266). Wagga Wagga, Australia: Centre for Information Studies.