Chicago office bridges the other 'digital divide'

Internet access and accessibility, though used interchangeably, are not the same.

So Chicago, which is constantly adding information and features to its World Wide Web site (www.ci.chi.il.us), is opening a public information office this summer to help people take advantage of its online resources.

The new office, which will be at city hall, will be equipped with two computer terminals, with room for two more. But officials say access is not the point: People without Internet connectivity at home or at work already can find terminals at the city's 79 public libraries or 50 ward offices.

More important, office staff will be available to help visitors navigate the Web site.

"The office is geared for people who may not be as sophisticated in the use of the Internet but would like to find something out," said Julia Stasch, chief of staff in Mayor Richard M. Daley's office.

Online resources include a searchable database of city contractors, a list of awarded contracts and a directory of minority-owned businesses. In the near future, the city will add downloadable purchasing specifications and information on approved zoning actions.

In years past, people looking for such information often had to file requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Now they can find it immediately, at least if they are Internet-savvy. The new public information office is intended "to make more of city government open," Stasch said, by filling that gap between access and accessibility.

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