Thinking Digital and Acting Responsibly: Notes of an Activist Librarian.



As the new millennium and its innovations in science and technology approach, the African world community must address the question of how it will produce, use, and distribute information and technological resources. To ensure this process, a progressive agenda need to be formulated to provide a space (or simply an "Afrispace") to articulate the ideas and programs of the African experience in a post-modern digital environment.

Thus in this chapter I propose that African American information professionals unselfishly serve society as their ancient priest-librarians counterparts did in ancient Kemet, and that the African American populous of today embrace information centered technology as another opportunity to advance human social, economic and political wellbeing in the world.

Challenge and Clarification

The question of "thinking digital and acting responsibly" poses a special challenge to the African world community, and requires serious discussion on all dimensions of computer and information technology. And most telling in this examination is the public and private reports about the lack of computer access and usage among African Americans.

In a review of this issue, Diedta-Ann Parrish in Black Enterprise reports that in a 1995 U.S. Census Bureau investigation conducted by its education and social stratification branch, it found that 26.9% of white households had personal computers compared to 13.8% of African American households. And in the same year, the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) published a similar report showing that over 28% of white households had personal computer compared to 9.5% of African American households.

This obvious difference in personal computer ownership between African American and whites is often explained in relationship to household income. For example, in a 1996 survey conducted by the Quantum Electronic Database Services research firm, it found that when personal computer data is correlated with household income and social-economic factors, households with similar incomes are likely to have similar personal computer ownership patterns.

Their study showed that African American and white families with household income of $75,000 or more had nearly identical ownership rates, 76.4% to 74.64% respectively, and that families from both groups with a lower household income of $15,000 to $25,000 were less likely to own a personal computer.

However, according to Parrish, in another study, even at the low-income level, white households owned more personal computers more than African American households, 24% to 12% respectfully. The suggested rational for this disparity is that a higher number of African American households are at the lower end of the earning scale ($15,000 to $25,000), and also tend to have more children, making a personal computer purchase less likely.

These reports send a chilling signal to the African American community as we enter the next millennium. Thus, our challenged rest upon our ability to become computer and information technology activist with a people centered agenda that can advocate at least seven ideals: 1) information justice; 2) accessible and affordable technology; 3) open access to electronic information; 4) investment in community-based institutions; 5) public access to the information superhighway; 6) greater computer education; and 7) adequate funding for new information technology initiatives.

To reach this ideal, I call upon computer and information technology professionals to act responsibly by working with professional associations, the media, religious organizations and community technology centers to advance human opportunity.

Acting Responsibly

The impending information and telecommunications revolution is possibly our best chance to become masters and creators of our own destiny.

-----Tariq K. Muhammad Black Enterprise (vol. 28, no.8, March 1998, p. 13).

Professional Associations

Professional information associations have assisted individuals and organizations in navigating the dynamics of the information age for some time. To illustrate this process, I will examine three empowerment efforts: 1) the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the California Librarians Black Caucus (CLBC) 1997 public Internet conference, 2) the American Library Association information equity efforts of Betty J. Turock, and 3)...

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