The Knowledge Gap: Implications of Leveling the Playing Field for Low-Income and Middle-Income Children
Type of work: Article (academic)
This study examines children’s uses of reading resources in neighborhood public libraries that have been transformed to “level the playing field.” Through foundation funding (US$20 million), the public library system of Philadelphia converted neighborhood branch libraries into a technologized modern urban library system, hoping to improve the lives of disadvantaged children and their families by closing the achievement gap. Using a mosaic of ethnographic methodologies, four studies examined children’s uses of library resources in low-income and middle-income neighborhood libraries, prior to renovations and technology, right after, and once the novelty had worn off a year later, for preschoolers, elementary, and teens. Results indicated that despite heavy library use across low-income and middle-income children, quality differentials in the way resources were used appeared at all age levels, prior to, immediately after, and stronger still following technology renovations. Taken together, these studies suggest equal resources to economically unequal groups did not level the playing field. Instead, it appeared to widen the knowledge gap between low-income and middle-income children.