The library has sentimental value. These comments also reinforce that females are more likely to only associate books with libraries, whereas men are more likely to think of computers as well. Although males also have a tendency to associate libraries with only books and reference the Internet in passing, only a few women even mentioned the Internet. While males are more likely to include the Internet while naming uses of public libraries, females are far more likely to refer to only books.
This finding is consistent with previous studies that have found that women associate libraries with children and books Fidishun, and indicates that a binary exists for women, and not men, between libraries and the Internet. Although a clear relationship does not exist between this binary and the kind of nostalgia that people feel toward libraries, women's higher levels of nostalgia may reinforce the idea of the library as a place for books.
As libraries become more technologically saturated, library anxiety may increase in connection with technology anxiety e. In fact, women's perception of the library as mainly a place only for books may deter them from using libraries for Internet access. While they may continue to take their children and grandchildren to libraries, they do not often automatically connect libraries with the Internet.
Because women spoke more often of taking the children of their families to the library, it is of utmost importance that women without alternate forms of Internet access begin to relate the libraries positively with the Internet in order to 1 begin to reap the benefits for themselves and 2 allow younger generations to develop comfort with new technologies and Internet literacy. Among women, the greatest difference in attitudes between older generations ages 50 and up and younger generations below age 50 was their general comfort level with technology.
Three women who reported more confidence with technology also reported using the Internet at their places of work. Additionally, two respondents offered different views on the switch from card catalogues to a computerized database. While older generations tend to reflect on difficulties caused by the transition, not all are completely against these developments. Alternatively, younger generations displayed a general acceptance and taken for granted view of technology in their lives. This demonstration of both using and understanding technology by some older women shows that despite their initial discomfort with the transition to newer technologies, they are also capable of utilizing them when necessary.
Even though women from the younger generation used public access sites at a lower rate than men did, none of the respondents from younger generations reported high levels of discomfort with technology or computers, or at least levels high enough to cause the person to refuse to use technology.
The most anxiety from the younger generation was reported by a woman in her 30s. I don't have a site, I don't really know.
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On the other hand, the greatest confidence in using technology came from a woman under the age of 20, who recalled learning computer programs at school. I never ever ran into a problem of not knowing how to use a program.
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Additionally, the younger generation of women spoke about technology in a different manner than most of the older generation. They naturalized the Internet as something taken for granted in their lives. One woman under the age of 20 described how she did not have access to the Internet in her college dorm room, so she and her roommates would go to the downstairs lounge or the library next door to use it. Her assumption was that everyone should realize that the Internet is an integral part of life. In sum, the purpose of this research study was to understand the gendering of public access use using both quantitative and qualitative methods.
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Specifically, it explored gender demographic patterns of usage to illuminate structural inequality in the digital inclusion process and also the ways men and women differ in their attitudes toward public access. This research has shown that moving toward universal digital inclusion will require a nuanced understanding of how communities work. The same structures do not affect everyone in the same way.
The observations conducted for this study showed that men consistently outnumbered women in computer usage in public access sites such as community technology centers and libraries both in and This pattern was consistent even when taking into account ethnicity and age.
The only exception was among African American adolescents; black female teens used public access sites' computers more often than black male teens. Although this gender gap in public access usage had been reported previously Fidishun, ; Moe, , the differences found in this study are significant because, first, the overall percentage difference found was larger than had previously been reported, and has persisted for more than one decade. Secondly, we observed the gap as persistent over time from to and through almost all demographic breakdowns by age and ethnicity.
These results indicate that the gender gap in library Internet usage is not decreasing. Women and men are experiencing public access sites differently, and user perceptions and experiences vary by gender. Regarding general attitudes toward public access, both men and women see public access as the least convenient way to use the Internet, largely because of the hassle it takes to get to the library and because of preference for the most private usage situations.
However, those who do not have better options rely on public settings to engage these new technologies. Although access to the equipment computer and Internet lines is only one aspect of the digital divide, it is a necessary step to develop further digital skills and use the new technologies effectively de Haan, ; van Dijk, , While in general, women have shown many of the same frustrations as men with public access, such as concerns about privacy and transportation, they also have uniquely expressed nostalgia for the way libraries used to be.
These nostalgic reflections are often tied up in memories of visiting the library with their parents, particularly their mothers, and their children. Thoughts of computers do not seem to conjure up those feelings in our women interviewees. Perhaps computers inspire fond memories less often because, unlike reading books together or attending story time, computers do not encourage interaction with family members. Furthermore, because our women respondents were children before technology was integrated into libraries, their childhood memories of libraries do not include computers.
This particular finding that women feel nostalgic about books and libraries and do not connect computers and libraries with the same positive feelings can shed light on the idea of technophobia and generally negative attitudes toward technology. Our findings indicate that there are indeed structural factors that can create a positive experience for women.
For example, increasing the potential for positive human interaction around the site of the technology, particularly interaction with close family members and more assistance from librarians, could help increase positive associations with technology in females. Older users who did express a higher comfort level with computers often learned to use computers at work. This may indicate that exposure to computers allows women to build literacy and confidence.
In terms of structuration theory, we find that libraries, and librarians, have moved toward a more welcoming structure of public access between , when the idea was new, and , when public access is a visibly central and accepted part of library structure. An earlier report on the stage of this study Lentz, Straubhaar et al. The Austin Public Libraries and many individual librarians have changed a great deal in 10 years, so that their agency has restructured public access at libraries in a way that accommodates the increasing needs of a demographically varied patron base for access and support with computers and the Internet.
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However, these spaces remain gendered in ways that also have to do with the agency of their users, as they structure the space and shape this particular form of technology access through their usage of it. Libraries in Austin are not responsible for this gender inequality, which has been demonstrated by countless studies, but as it stands, they are not doing all they can to correct that imbalance—a goal of complete digital inclusion.
So more active structuring, or social shaping of the library access space seems called for. If the institutions and professionals want to reshape the image of this space, to restructure it, then more active outreach to women, particularly older women, seems necessary. Libraries need to address the issue discovered here, that many older users, particularly women, are nostalgic for the older structure of the libraries, in which books and reading were clearly dominant over other uses. As libraries answer the pressing call to reshape and restructure themselves to provide access to ICT, they also need to help women and older library users understand and navigate that transition.
Further research could investigate the phenomenon further in Austin and go beyond the city. Although participant observations are not randomly conducted by definition and therefore may not be representative of a phenomenon that occurs across all libraries all the time, our observations were very comprehensive. They were conducted in various sites, during various times of day, on various days of the week, and in different months to capture the flow of various publics. They also allowed us to compare the usage patterns at two points during a decade. In order to see if these patterns are representative of other library settings, future research could conduct a random survey that can include questions on demographics and attitudes toward libraries and technology.
Additional research can replicate this study to begin to determine if this is a local, national, or international phenomenon. Interviews and surveys can focus on how each patron started to use computers, why he or she came to the library, what he or she likes and does not like about the library, his or her comfort with technology, and his or her reasons for using computers.
Interviews with all women can inquire about reasons why particular friends and family members are nonusers. Gathering more information can help determine action plans that work toward including all people, including women, into an increasingly digital culture.
With the growing trend to digitize all aspects of contemporary culture, from commerce, television, and even reading through digital platforms such as Google Books, libraries likely will continue to provide a crucial need for Internet services. In disadvantaged areas, the public will continue to need free and accessible Internet access through the public library system.
But community initiatives cannot stop at merely providing access because of additional barriers to effective and fulfilling use. As many studies have shown that women are more likely to feel both library anxiety and computer anxiety, it is possible that the redesign of libraries to centralize technology has compounded anxiety in some female patrons.
Decreasing anxiety and increasing positive feelings toward technology could go a long way in providing a more comfortable environment for women. Her dissertation focuses on the effects of the Internet on the narrative form, distribution patterns, and audience relations of social documentary. Her research interests also include gender and technology. Her broad area of interest is media and social inclusion. Specifically, her research focuses on digital media access and the factors affecting media coverage of disadvantaged groups.
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