The Role of the Public Library in Bridging the Digital Divide in China: the User’s Perspective
|Author||Christopher Peter Clarke|
|Keywords||Digital divide public libraries information andcommunication technology user behavior China|
This study investigated the role that the public library plays inbridging the digital divide in China through analyzing the use of libraryICT by its users. The factors affecting use or non-use of the libraries ICTfacilities, the frequency of use by those who used them, and the type ofuse were explored in order to determine what variables are significant inexplaining user behaviour and to illuminate how individuals can beencouraged to use the resources and engage with the library’s ICT. Thestudy used two data collection devices. Firstly, a questionnaire wasdistributed to library users at28libraries in five provinces across thecountry. Secondly, short interviews were held with managers orlibrarians to collect data for objective variables. Binary logisticregression analyses were performed on the data to determine thevariables impact on use or non-use of the libraries ICT and the type of usage, whilst a multiple regression analysis was performed to establish amodel explaining the frequency of library ICT use.The findings indicate that use of the library ICT is stronglycorrelated with use of the other facilities in the library, the frequency oflibrary use, the ICT ability of the user, and the availability of other accesspoints. If users are more inclined to utilize facilities such as readingrooms, book lending, and making information inquiries more often theyare more likely to use the ICT. This, added to the high level of homeownership reported amongst the library user population recorded in thesample, suggests that a ’Matthew Effect’ is in place in China with the’information rich’ making use of public libraries as another access pointfor ICT, rather than the ’information poor’ using it. Public access ICT usewas also found to be strongly related to the availability of other accesspoints and the ability of the user, with those who gain access in otherpublic areas being more likely to use the libraries ICT than those who have home access. This indicates to some extent that the library isfulfilling aspects of its role in bridging the digital divide by providingaccess to those who need it, but also that they are not appealing to peoplewith lower levels of ICT ability as much as would be desired to close theskills and access gaps. The frequency of library ICT use was found to besignificantly related to frequency of library use, length of time using theICT, tasks performed, other access points, strength of online networks,previous success in using the ICT, and satisfaction with the hardwareavailable in the library. The tasks completed by users were alsodemonstrated to be impacted by demographic factors, usage of otherlibrary facilities, and the types of tasks users normally use ICT for. Inparticular, the length of time a user spent using the ICT had an effect onfour of the task types, with individuals who used the ICT for longer beingmore likely to perform those tasks. The tasks other than leisure were also linked to a set of other facilities at the library, indicating that ICT tasksmay be linked to broader library tasks.