Public libraries, public access computing, FOSS and CI: There are alternatives to private philanthropy

Siobhan Stevenson


In January 2007, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) announced its second multi–year technology grant program for America’s public libraries. The purpose of Phase II, Keeping communities connected: The next step is to help public libraries sustain the public access computing infrastructure laid down during Phase I. Now, as then, the goal of the program is to bridge the digital divide. But it is a digital divide as defined by Bill Gates and not the public library community. Situating Gates’ philanthropy within a critical policy frame, this paper considers two alternatives to Gates’ problem definition of the digital divide, and how knowledge of these might benefit those communities served by public access computing (PAC) services as found in public libraries. The two specific alternatives considered come from the Free Software Foundation (FSF), and Community Informatics (CI). Significantly, both social movements promote the potential of free and open software as an important part of any solution. Finally, the public library literature is reviewed for patterns in the community’s use of FOSS, and the argument is made for its use in the delivery of PAC services.

Full Text:



A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

© First Monday, 1995-2020. ISSN 1396-0466.