We may not always consider libraries to be beacons of Web 2.0 engagement and technological tools, but the San Francisco Public Library is trying to change that perception.

Starting July 1, the San Francisco Public Library will no longer mail reminders for overdue books. The library is switching to e-mails, text messages and phone calls to remind people to turn in their books.

Two Important Steps Forward

The switch is part of an $804,000 plan to bring the San Francisco Public Library more into the world of Web 2.0. Soon, library branches in Visitacion Valley, Ortega and Golden Gate will also see an increase in public computers.

The library will also offer increased laptop rentals and wireless Internet access to meet rising demand, helping to bridge the digital divide that threatens to leave too many of our citizens behind. Library branches in Anza, Chinatown, Goldan Gate, Mission, Ortega and Visitacion Valley will be included in the expanded laptop-lending program.

While computer access and electronic databases have been in the San Francisco library for years, the demand for the services has surpassed the supply. That’s why the library plans to double the amount of public computers in branches set to reopen later this year.

Helping Bridge the Digital Divide

Many of the library patrons who use the free public computers and laptop rentals do not have home computers. The Excelsior branch alone loaned laptops 3,525 times from January to June, making up nearly half the loans made by all branches during that period. To help those unfamiliar with computers the Excelsior branch offers computer literacy classes on Saturdays.

Time for Guaranteed Internet Access

The laptop rental and the transition to all digital notifications are two steps in the right direction. But they are still just steps.

Libraries alone can’t bridge the entire digital divide. The reality is you can’t apply for a job, apply for college admittance or even successfully complete most K-12 homework assignments without high-speed Internet access.  We can’t fully transition to Gov 2.0 while a significant group of San Franciscans still has spotty, or no guaranteed Internet access. And a city that prides itself on inclusion can’t allow tens of thousands of families to be excluded from the growing digital economy.

The time has come to close the digital divide in San Francisco once and for all. That’s why Reset is pushing so strongly for guaranteed access to the Internet for all San Franciscans.


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