Libraries bridge the digital divide

April 9, 2024 in

by Kate Lasky
Originally published in the Grants Pass Daily Courier | October 2023

“Why do we need libraries when we have the internet?” I’m often asked this question. I’ve explained, summarized, and made the case for libraries, and through all the discussions I have figured out one important thing: Nine times out of 10, the folks who question the need for community libraries are often the same people who don’t use them — so how would they know?

My first response to that question is always, “Come visit the library in person and I’ll show you.” Not only will you see a stream of children gathering for storytime amid piles of books, but you’ll also witness a steady flow of adults using the library’s internet computers and Wi-Fi connection. Believe it or not, there are thousands of households in Josephine County that do not have an internet connection. And, if they do, many of them cannot afford a computer or device to access it.

Libraries provide free internet access to those who might not have it at home, bridging the digital divide. Last year, Josephine Community Library offered 50 high-speed internet access computers for public use across all four branches with a total of 8,400 logged users — a 48 percent increase in users over the previous year. Patrons also benefitted from 40 mobile hotspots available for checkout and an additional 10 laptops with the Microsoft Office Suite of apps for in-home usage. Wi-Fi access allowed folks to log 31,350 unique sessions connecting to the internet both inside and outside the facilities in Grants Pass, as well as the rural communities of Illinois Valley, Williams, and Wolf Creek.

While the internet has us believing we can summon answers to all life’s most pressing questions in seconds, libraries operate in the real world doing the day-to-day work of providing essential technology and internet access, while also fostering digital literacy skills among their communities.

We’ve all experienced the challenge of adjusting to new technology. Multiply that by the fact that five generations are currently in the workforce, then again by limited economic ability — and you’ll start to see the challenge of keeping up in today’s world. Without access to the internet and the ability to use a computer, folks cannot schedule a doctor appointment, apply for a job, complete a rental agreement, or file their taxes — all basic needs.

Every day, the volunteers and staff help individuals navigate the online world in a safe and welcoming space, regardless of age, ability, or economic status. Libraries ensure individuals have access to essential information for education, employment and health through digital resources, e-books, audiobooks, and online databases. More importantly, libraries provide digital support to protect patron’s personal information and promote cybersecurity awareness. The internet is flooded with unverified or unreliable content while libraries are a reliable source for anyone seeking accurate information.

Last month at the Illinois Valley branch, an elderly patron requested help replacing her birth certificate. She had no cell phone, no email address, and no computer experience. The branch manager created a ProtonMail email address that doesn’t require a cell phone number or backup email account. She and the patron navigated the US government vital records website together to successfully request a new copy of her birth certificate.

At the Grants Pass branch, a blind person was especially thankful after a library volunteer helped him with computer access to purchase a bus ticket. Another patron, who was somewhat frantic, needed help printing an IRS form.

In an increasingly digital world, the library is an essential community resource. Public libraries have emerged as vital hubs by providing technology, digital resources, and computer classes, serving as community centers where individuals can access the tools and knowledge necessary to fulfill their basic needs. The library is still the one place in the community where you don’t have to buy something to walk in the door and avail yourself of its riches.

While the internet is a powerful tool, it’s just that – a tool. Libraries help community members use that tool effectively. The internet can’t replace the “people-power” necessary to truly aid another person and offer digital coaching in a structured and secure environment for anyone who walks through the door. If you’ve been wondering how people use libraries or why libraries are still so vital, I invite you to visit any of our four branches. I will happily give you a tour.


Between the Pages is a monthly column written by Library Director Kate Lasky for the Grants Pass Daily Courier. Ms. Lasky has worked with Josephine Community Library since 2009. She holds a master’s in education and is currently pursuing her master’s in library science. To send comments or questions, email