Residents without Internet access can still get most information they desire from public agencies. But as the offline population dwindles and online communication tools proliferate, the data gap between those with and without computers is widening.
That means some information is now provided by request only, and some isn’t available at all to those without computers or smartphones.
“Individuals who do not have access to a computer can request information from their school or at the district office, and a paper copy can be provided,” said Leigh Anne Neal, the Shawnee Mission school district’s associate superintendent for communications.
But recognizing the scope of the computer-savvy public it serves, the district has “focused on moving our communication paperless where we can but retaining printed options that go out more broadly on a limited basis.”
Delivered to every home in the district three times a year, “Inside: Shawnee Mission” is an example of the district’s effort to keep patrons apprised of news and events via hard copy. Examples of data exclusive to those with Internet or texting capabilities include board meeting agenda packets and school emergency and weather alerts.
Gordon Davis, an information specialist with the Johnson County Area Agency on Aging, said it relies on frequent mailings and telephone conversations to keep the county’s computerless seniors informed about support services it provides.
“But in today’s world, certain publications and certain information are now only available online,” he said.
That sends many people to the library, where staff can help patrons access online information and, better yet, teach them how to use computers, Davis said. But despite the fact that computers could open whole new worlds for seniors largely confined to their homes, many decline to adapt by dint of resources or resistance to change, he said.
For others, “the library has become the place for people to test something like the Internet, Facebook or ebooks” and then purchase a computer for home use, said Kim Beets, director of the Bonner Springs City Library. It offers 24 computers with public Internet access.
The Johnson County Library system offers 362 computers with Internet access across its 13 branches, said Marsha Bennett, community relations manager. Job seekers are among the many patrons the computers attract, she said, because many employers now accept online applications only. In addition, most state forms required to qualify for and remain on unemployment are completed online.
People of all ages and income levels rely on the Bonner Springs library computers, Beets added. And that information fuels the library’s own communications policy.
“We continue to do a lot of our traditional print stuff, marquee signs, word of mouth,” she said. “There’s probably not anything we put online that we wouldn’t communicate by other means.”