Ohio University

Ohio University Libraries co-hosts Interactive Panel Discussion, ‘Connected? Digital Inequities in Appalachian Ohio’

Published: July 29, 2020 Author: Kate Mason

Ohio University Libraries will host an interactive panel discussion on the digital divide in Southeast Ohio, “Connected? Digital Inequities in Appalachian Ohio,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6. The panel discussion, via Zoom, will highlight the digital divide in a region well known for lagging behind the nation when it comes to broadband access.

The Libraries will partner with Athens County Public Libraries (ACPL) and Appalachian Rural Health Institute for the panel discussion, moderated by ACPL director Nick Tepe. The partnering institutions share the common goal of helping their distinct communities become information literate, which includes digital access to information and information resources.

The online program stems from the 2020 research led by Dr. Laeeq Khan, featured panelist, assistant professor in the Scripps College of Communication and director of the college’s SMART Lab, exposing how digital inequality impacts the quality of life in Appalachian Ohio. 

According to Khan’s research team, “Not only do the [Appalachian] hills block wireless signals and make cables expensive to install, but regional poverty also drives away telecom investment,” which is just another layer associated with the disparities of broadband access between the different regions of the country.

That impact is especially evident in today’s unparalleled global crisis where broadband access plays an integral role in allowing individuals to have access to education, work and relevant information.

“We, as a society, are highly dependent upon internet for job applications, health care and all sorts of things that the ‘internet privileged’ take for granted,” said Dr. Kelly Broughton, University Libraries assistant dean for research and education services. “And in the current pandemic situation with all of our education needs being reliant on internet access and skills, it heightens our awareness of what is at stake.”

“Access is a huge issue for our public libraries patrons outside Athens, and even in some parts of Athens,” Becca Lachman, communications officer for ACPL, said. “It can literally mean being able to do your homework, or submit your work hours — or not, depending upon if you have access or not.”

Lachman added that for this region there is still a lot of work that needs to be done for people to understand just how much of a privilege it is to have access to the internet in a consistent way.

Panelists working to further that message at the event include:

  • Dr. M. Laeeq Khan, OHIO assistant professor in the School of Media Arts & Studies, Scripps College of Communication and lead author of “Digital Inequality in the Appalachian Ohio: Understanding how Demographics, Internet Access, and Skills can Shape Vital Information Use (VIU)
  • Claudia Cisneros Mendez, MFA student in Communication Media Arts and co-author of “Digital Inequality in the Appalachian Ohio”
  • Dr. Amy Wolfe, OHIO Chillicothe assistant professor and program coordinator of Early Childhood Education and parent of an Athens City School District student
  • Jan McGarry, OHIO instructor of Teacher Education in the Patton College of Education and an elementary school teacher in the Athens City School District
  • Austin Gilbert, ACPL library associate and former countywide tech trainer for “Guiding Ohio Online
  • Shelby Roberts, ACPL youth services librarian and local artist

“We really want this program to be as interactive as possible,” Broughton said. “So, while we do expect each of our panelists to talk a little bit about their research and their personal experiences, we really would like to hear from the audience… to ask questions and share their stories.”

The Zoom event is free and open to the general public, but registration is required.

ACPL is also providing a list of digital resources about digital inequity and digital literacy and an online technology training page.