Perfect time to start a library

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Everything’s going digital, or so they tell me. Books are outdated; newspapers obsolete. We print types are dinosaurs working in a museum — cute throwbacks, lucky if we’re still working at all.

So why would a couple of University of Iowa library science students be trying to open up a small community library to serve the southeast side of Iowa City? Haven’t they heard?

“I hope that it just gives people greater access to information and helps bring the community together,” organizer Cassandra Elton told me this week.

Not everybody has access to the Internet’s endless stream of information. The Digital Divide is real. According to a 2010 report by the non-profit Connect Iowa, just more than half of Iowa’s low-income households with children have broadband connections at home. One in 3 don’t have a computer. Among minority groups, only 37 percent of low-income households with children have broadband access.

The numbers might have changed a bit, but there’s no Googling going on in many of the houses south of Highway 6.

And Elton, 25, who also works as a paraeducator at Grant Wood Elementary’s after school program, says a surprising number of her students have never been to Iowa City’s public library downtown. By bringing the library to them, she hopes to hook the kids on reading and learning.

The group’s got 68 children’s books in its collection and counting, including a few books in Spanish, according to its online catalog. Other details have yet to come into focus — like where, exactly, the library will be.

It might be mobile, showing up at the neighborhood center and schools, or connected somehow with an after school program. The important thing is that it be easy to get to.

One thing Elton’s sure about, she wants it to be full-service, with computers and story time and ESL classes and “crafternoon” activities. All things that may already be available around Iowa City but, as Elton said: “They’re kind of all over the place.”

It’s good to see that someone is working to bring it all together for the families on the southeast side of town. Working to make sure the digital divide doesn’t become a societal divide, with some people zooming along the information superhighway and others left on the side of the road.

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