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A little background: when I was younger and my dad was a technologist, every so often he’d go to Washington DC to go talk to some people about technology stuff. He was always super cryptic about it and we’d joke that he was a CIA informant. To this day I don’t know what he was doing, advising someone about something. Which is just my roundabout way of starting this post about talking to the White House last week.
By “White House” in this case I mean Valerie Green, the Director of Presidential Personnel at the White House. I’m not 100% sure how I wound up talking to her and Amanda Moose, her special assistant, about the incoming Librarian of Congress but I think it went something like this…
I have, as you know, been agitating about the incoming Librarian of Congress, making sure librarians get their voices heard about this appointment. The job is a lifetime position and is often given to late-career historians. James Billington was such a person. While he did some good things for LoC in his tenure, he probably should have retired earlier and there have been legitimate criticisms of some of the things he did and did not do. I made the Librarian of Progress website and wrote an article about this for Medium. The #nextloc hashtag? That one is mine. Medium is one of those online writing platforms. They employ me to do some writing. Other people also write for them who are not employed there, for example Jason Goldman, the White House’s Chief Digital Officer.
Jason wrote an article talking about what he was doing there and I responded. We tweeted back and forth a few times. I sent him a copy of my article when I wrote it. He emailed in early July that I should chat with Valerie Green. I said “Sure, happy to continue the conversation” and then didn’t hear anything until I got an email this past Tuesday asking if I was free for a phone call with Valerie the next day at noon. Noon wasn’t super convenient but when the White House says “Free for a phone call?” the right answer is yes. I have this to say about the White House: of all the people who I have had phone meetings with in the last year or so, they were the most on time and the most prepared. The forty-five minutes I spent talking to Valerie and Amanda were a delight and not just because I felt like I was advancing my cause, both of them were pleasant and smart people who asked great questions and seemed to value my time and their own.
We talked for about 45 minutes about what the job of Librarian of Congress entailed, where Billington didn’t help, what a new person could really do to change things, and why it matters. I felt listened to and they laughed at my jokes. One of the most interesting questions they asked, besides “Has your opinion changed about what the job entails after talking to people about it for a month?” (it has) was about whether I thought people would be really hostile towards basically any appointee in today’s political climate or if there were people who might please everyone (not who were they but just did such people exist). I got to tell them how much I thought certain high profile possible choices were going to be lightning rods (in a mannerly and polite way) and how I was very concerned that media industry people would be trying to stack the deck in favor of their people. I also told them that some people–loud internet people–would probably hate whoever got picked but if they at least felt listened to it would matter a lot. That is, I think a lot of people would be disappointed if the incoming LoC was another older white man, but that could be mitigated somewhat if that person had a serious plan in place for working on LoC’s diversity issues that was front and center of their early communications.
I gave them a long list of people to talk to, primarily people at smaller libraries or representing underrepresented groups in librarianship. They seemed to appreciate that I’d thought about this a lot but also wasn’t a zealot about it. We had a nice and reasonable conversation and I felt upbeat about it afterwards particularly about my biggest fear which was that the job would go to some industry hack who was determined to wrest the Copyright Office from the clutches of the library. All in all, a very good discussion.
I’ve been talking about this topic now in a few different places. Here is an article I wrote for Medium spelling out some of the things I only noted briefly on the Librarian of Progress site.
The Next Librarian of Congress
Librarian of PROgress. Let’s start the conversation.
People have been asking me, and they may be asking you, about the job opening for Librarian of Congress. I put together this little one-page website to give people a run down of the important issues as I see them. #nextloc
Reference question of the day was about finding public domain images. Everyone’s got their go-tos. If I am looking for illustrations or old photos specifically I’ll often use other people’s searches on top of the Internet Archive’s content. Here’s a little how to.
1. Check the Internet Archive Book Images feed on Flickr. What I often do is search (which finds the words that surround the images) and then click straight through to the book (which is always linked in the metadata) and then fish around. For example…
“Oh this photo is interesting”
“Here are all the photos from that book”
Book is readable here
Internet Archive page is here
I’m more used to the Open Library interface which is a different front end on the same content for the most part, it’s here.
More by Internet Archive on cricket or Open Library on cricket
The trick, I’ve found, is to try to get as close to 1927 as possible because you’re likely to have the best illustrations and still be out of copyright. Older books don’t have good illustrations because the technology was not there yet. Enjoy!
I went to the Vermont Library Conference last week and mostly handed out Vermont Libraries Passports but I also gave a short talk about Open Library in pecha kucha format. I’d never done one of these before. Twenty slides, twenty seconds each. Total talk is under seven minutes. You have to be brief and you have to practice. This was a session with six or seven presenters and we got to learn a little bit about a lot of topics. You can probably see what mine was about by watching my abbreviated slide show. I also learned how to make an animated GIF from a slideshow which is not as tough as you might think and quite useful.
I somehow managed to screw up the hashtag for my Connecticut Library Association slides so they’re at librarian.net/talks/cla15 instead of findable collocated with the CTLibs15 tag. I’ve rectified that here. I took some time off from public speaking in the last six months. Wanted to get some new ideas percolating. Was doing more writing and less speaking andtrying to do more listening. It was useful. I’m now back around. I filled in for a speaker who cancelled lateish at CLA last month in Groton CT and I’ve got a few more speaking gigs coming up including another CLA in California later in November. I’ve never spoken at that conference before and I am excited.
So here are my slides for my talk that I gave in Connecticut. Unlike past talks, I didn’t make a list of links to go along with it because I felt like most of them are Googleable if you need them (and I was pressed for time). Title, which I love, is Attitude: How to bring the empowerment divide by being more like Vanilla Ice. Enjoy. Feedback welcome.
It could have been the Avengers of librarianing. All these powerhouses working together to help increase low-income childrens’ access to good reading material. But I don’t think that’s how it worked out. Here are my thoughts on last week’s press releases about this new set of programs. Written for The Message.
Arenât libraries already doing that?
By: Jessamyn West,
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This has been a heady National Library Week for many librarians I know and me in particular. There’s been a lot of online agita and, unlike the way these things usually go, some things wound up changing for the better. Here’s a list. Apologies if I link too much to facebooky stuff.
- Someone mentioned that they found Demco’s “Spanish” spine label a bit troublesome since it had a sombrero and a set of maracas (Mexican, not Spanish, and still stereotypical at that) and misspelled espaĂ±ol (without the tilde). A few people complained to Demco. Demco listened, agreed, removed the items from their online store. Not all of their multicultural labels are perfect, but it was nice to be heard.
- ALA’s Banned Books Week poster which was put in the ALA Store this week got a lot of pushback. Does the woman look like she is wearing a niqab? What’s the poster trying to communicate? Andromeda spells out well what some of the issues with the poster are. People wrote to ALA. ALA listened. Took a while to respond. Came back with a few posts from the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom
- Statement on the 2015 Banned Books Week Poster
- How Do We Design a Banned Books Campaign
- Response Concerning the 2015 Banned Books Week
I particularly found some of the crosstalk interesting about whether objecting to a marketing poster was in the same family as objecting to something being in the library collection. I know we can be a mouthy contentious bunch, but given that, some of this discussion seemed to take place on new ground and it was curious to me how much my years in the MetaFilter trenches has helped me manage these sorts of discussions.
- Daredevil is a great show on Netflix about a blind superhero which did not have any descriptive audio which many found ironic. People complained. The Accessible Netflix Project started a petition. Netflix fixed it.
- After my last post about SpaceX, I decided to expand it into an article for Medium which I did with some nice photos and a lot of linking. A few days later, Flickr actually added an option for users to have public domain and CC0 licenses on their photos. This is, to me, a HUGELY great outcome. I wrote another short article about this.
- On a more personal note, Jason Goldman wrote a post on Medium to talk about how he was going to become the new White House Chief Digital Officer. I left a comment on that article talking about how part of getting people involved in civic engagement is helping them to trust the online world (i.e. doing the opposite of everything Healthcare.gov has done). This comment got a nod in Goldman’s next article now that he’s taken office. I am very very pleased about this.
Bonus link the #journalofneutrallibrarianship hashtag is a pretty good time if you like Twitter. And I wrote a nerdy article about research and Wikipedia that I think you might enjoy if you haven’t seen me blabbing about it all over the place for the past few days.
How to lie with Wikipedia
Sometimes people who license their digital content aren’t really thinking it through. They may have something else on their minds or copyright nuance may not be their thing. I think it behooves us copyright advocates and activists to (at least) politely try to push the envelope towards more open content licensing. Here’s the example I enjoyed from today.
This is interesting especially because Flickr uses Creative Commons licensing, but does not use CC-0 which is an intentional choice. Photos from cultural heritage organizations which are in the Flickr Commons have an additional “no known copyright restriction” option that is only available to specific accounts, not any Flickr user. There are many ways this specific issue can be resolved but just the fact that it’s generally a hurdle that has to be overcome indicates that there is still a good role for copyright reform advocates to play. More supporting links: Original article & SpaceX photos on Flickr.
So since I left MetaFilter almost a year ago, my goal was to spend more time “librarianing” I have a part time job with the Internet Archive running Open Library. I write for The Message a Medium publication, sometimes about librarianship and sometimes not. I write monthly for Computers in Libraries. I do my local technology instruction through the Adult Education program at the local vocational high school. In the past I’ve also done a lot of “How I do it” talks on the road at library conferences. I have not been doing that this month. Instead, I’ve been picking up more local tech instruction work, some paid and some unpaid. It’s been a fun busy week here and I thought I’d outline a few things I’ve done that people might be interested in.
I taught the last class of my college credit class on integrating technology for teachers at the vocational high school. Through a collaboration with a state university, teachers could take a one-credit continuing education class with me learning how to use the Google Suite of tools for education. We wrapped up with class presentations (ten minute slide presentations demonstrating some of the things we’d learned, Ian discusses pollinators above) and it was a joy to see how much people had learned and seeing them applying it to their own classrooms. I learned a lot and this gig also paid via grant money given to RTCC for teacher continuing education, coordinated through the adult education department.
Drop-in time had a bunch of new computer users who were at the “How do I turn it on?” phase of technology learning. There were a lot of people at drop-in time last week, so I grouped them together and got a few of them started with Google and a few basic commands: back, reload, scroll, click. Every so often when I was helping someone else, I’d hear peals of laughter from that part of the room as they took delight in things I’ve become jaded to such as custom 404 pages.
- I taught an iPad class in a “pop up” university in the local town. Some local folks started Bethel University a local skillshare program. I offered an iPad class. People could read the list of classes via a home made WordPress setup and RSVP via EventBrite. I had ten students, most new-ish to the world of iPads and we talked about a lot of iPad features, did some exercises together and I answered a lot of questions. Fun. Free for everyone. I donated my time. I got photocopies for free. The class was held in the library which donated the space. Win. Win. Win.
I also finished a Computers in Libraries article today about data collection and was pleased to see one of my local colleague, Amber Billey a metadata librarian at UVM, get listed as one of Seven Days’ Seven Vermont Women to Watch. If there’s a meta-story to this post it’s that staying local and working on the digital divide in your own backyard has been, for me, as satisfying as being on the road. And a little more calm.
By: Jessamyn West,
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The principals of all the local schools got together and did a parent safety evening at the school. I was one of the presenters. I think they were expecting a big turnout, but it was a small (but interested) crowd. I did two very short presentations
1. Ten apps in ten minutes. For parents who are not using mobile devices for social purposes outside of facebook, knowing what the various apps are and what they do can be useful. I just had a very basic slide deck and talked over some images of the apps. I had to learn to use Snapchat which was sort of hilarious.
2. “How the heck does this work” a short talk about things parents can control in their home internet environment and what they can’t. Obviously the standard line is that the best thing you can do is talk to your kids and this is more useful than just using technological tools on what is, ultimately, more of a social problem. That said, it’s good to understand what you can and can’t do with the technology.
Most importantly was, I think, people seeing and getting to know each other and getting to have conversations about what their systems were at home. One parent charged all the devices in his room at night, for example, so the kids couldn’t sleep with their phones. Another had a “no phones/devices before homework is done” policy. Another had a “two hours of screen time a night” rule. I was glad to be a “local expert” of a sort who could give people some perspective on what technology can look like form another direction. The newspaper wrote up a short article about the event. Feel free to use my slides for your own safety talks.
By: Jessamyn West,
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It’s been fun being able to follow along with the ALA Midwinter conference on a bunch of different social media fronts. I was just reading the Stonewall Book Awards press release (congrats everyone) and noticed the GLBT Round Table page where I read the press release about the blood drive that happened during ALA. And it made me happy. Both because there was a blood drive but also because there was the recognition of the discriminatory nature of the decisions regarding the eligible donor pool–nearly all gay and bisexual men can’t donate blood at all–and they not only mention this in the press release but there is a panel discussing this and related issues. Nice work.
ALA and LBC (Librarians Build Communities) recognize there are many restrictions regarding blood donations. Among those is the ban on accepting blood donations from men who have had sex with another man since 1977. This effectively removes all gay and bisexual men from being eligible blood donors. However, the FDA has recently announced plans to relax the ban to allow donations by gay and bisexual men if they have not had sex with another man in the past year.
From the onset, this ban has been controversial. While the government has imposed exclusions that limit or restrict the donor pool, the ban on accepting blood donations from gay and bisexual men is deemed by many as unjustified and discriminatory, unfairly prohibiting healthy men from donating much needed, life-saving blood.
In an effort to educate the library community about the issues regarding blood donations, the ALA Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) is sponsoring the discussion panel âBlood Donation: Facts, Fear, and Discrimination,â on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. LBC supports the GLBTRTâs panel discussion and encourages ALA members to both donate blood and attend the panel discussion to be informed and have their voices heard.
Amy Goodman from Democracy Now interviews Brian DeShazor the director of the Pacifica Radio Archives. He talks about finding a lost speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
So, this recording, this archive is an American treasure, and every citizen in America, I hope, understands that this collection, we want to be able to make it accessible to you, the public. We want it to be in the classrooms. We want it to be in high schools. We want universities to have this for their scholarly research and their scholarly endeavors. And that will make history change. It will be able to have us, the political left, if you will, the progressive left, the record of the activism available for history in the future. And if we donât preserve this deteriorating, fragile tape, then that history will be lost, and weâll lose the connection with our elders, like Dr. King. This very speech, this may have the quote that inspires somebody to take the next step in our fight for racial equality and justice in America.
I tracked the libraries that I visited this year, like every year. Previous years: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 (and this little list of reviews from 2003)
I went to thirty-six different libraries in seven states and two non-US countries for eighty visits total. A bunch more than last year, but some were just for ukulele practice or tech planning sessions at a friend’s library. Hereâs the short annotated list of what I was doing in libraries last year. Top three libraries are: my local public, my local academic and my summer local.
- Kimball – my local and also the place that hosts Ukulele Club
- Hartness at VTC – the best academic library anywhere near here. Good hours, great place to hang out.
- Carney – UMass Dartmouth – probably my favorite library building of all time
- Chelsea VT – helping with tech planning, I go here often
- Somerville West – did a talk and stopped by here another time. Lovely upstairs.
- Goddard – did some VLA website work here
- Fairfield/Millicent – One of the most amazing looking libraries in MA with some cool local lore
- Aldrich/Barre – Went to a few meetings, my favorite local library renovation story
- Mackinac Island MI – small and lovely with a great book sale and classic furniture
- NYLP/SIBL – keep waiting for them to close this but they haven’t yet
- Southworth/Dartmouth – they have a harpoon display here!
- Pierson/Shelburne VT – went to a meeting, small with a great puzzle collection
- St Ignace MI – killing time while stranded here, this is a great building where you wouldn’t expect it
- Atwater/Montreal – my favorite Canadian library
- British Library – got an awesome tour from Stella Wisdom
- ULU Senate Hall UK – got a great tour from Simon who no longer works there
- Rockingham VT – dropped off some things, stuck around to take a peek at this great place
- Guilford UK – one of the smaller local publics, nice with a watch museum next door
- Roxbury VT – helped with the automation project
- Artizan St UK – community center, small and busy
- John Harvard Library UK – had an odd section for Black Titles and a security guard
- Sunderland MA – great place to pass the time en route to or from Amherst
- Somerville MA – the other little library
- Boxboro MA – wifi to check email if you are early to visit Mom
- Boston Public – got a great tour by Tom Blake and saw some great stuff
- Sun City AZ – hanging out while visiting Jim’s folks
- UM – Duluth – Chihuly sculpture!
- NYPL/Epiphany – I always love the huge staircase in here
- Duluth MI – bizarre design but fun to hang out in
- Westport MA – great DVD collection, sort of an odd place
- Barbican UK – inside the funky Barbican, lots of great UK history books
- Varnum, Cambridge VT – stopped by randomly, folks were so nice and friendly
- Ashfield MA – gave a talk, enjoyed getting to see the place
- NYPL/Kipp’s Bay – small and in need of renovation but warm and welcoming
- City University, UK – stopped to check email en route to dinner, nice place, square dancing outside
- Vicksburg MS – neat renovation, fun kids area
Did not get to as many Vermont libraries as I had wanted to as part of my 183 project. Working slowly on maybe getting a statewide 183 project up and running with other members of the VLA. Looking forward to another year of library visiting.
By: Jessamyn West,
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I started 104 books this year and finished 102. This year’s goals were twofold: read more books than last year, and read more diversely. I got the first goal accomplished but sort of at the expense of the second goal. I tried to get into a good daily reading pattern, and dug in to some book series. This meant that when I finished up the books by Archer Mayor, I had just read a large number of books by yet another white guy from New England. I didn’t read as many books by women as I’d wanted. I read a higher percentage of books by non-white, non-Western authors but I still need to do a lot better. I’m really happy to have managed a lifestyle where I read almost every day, off screen, for 30 minutes or more. Now I need to get choosier about what I am reading.
average read per month: 8.67
average read per week: 2
number read in worst month: 7 (Jan/July/Sep)
number read in best month: 11 (May)
number unfinished: 2
percentage by male authors: 79
percentage by female authors: 21
percentage of authors of color: 8
fiction as percentage of total: 70
non-fiction as percentage of total: 30
percentage of total liked: 93
percentage of total ambivalent: 7
percentage of total disliked: 0
A few book-specific notes. I really enjoyed Archer Mayor’s books and am now caught up. I recommend them to anyone looking for a place-based set of cop procedurals. I read almost every book suggested in this Ask MetaFilter thread and I enjoyed most of them. I also read a bunch of YA-ish techie nerdish books like Soon I will be Invincible and Ready Player One which are great books that any people who spend a lot of time online will enjoy. Many of the graphic novels I read were published by First Second and I probably need to read more books by them. I also enjoyed some local New England books both fiction (The Lace Reader) and non-fiction (Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks). One of the things that is odd about reading this many more books than last year is that the books from earlier in the year seem like I read them forever ago and they fade into distant memory. 2014 seemed long in mostly good ways. I also have a few books that I am halfway done with and they have been halfway done for months. I need to find a new way to kick books more quickly to the “unfinished” list. Here’s a chart for this information instead of a long list of numbers. I’m more concerned with trends than specific numbers.
Previous librarian.net summaries: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004. My always-updated booklist lives at jessamyn.info/booklist and it has its own RSS feed which is mostly not broken.
If you’ve made a reading list for last year, I’d love to read it. Happy New Year.
As I mentioned last year sometime, I stepped down from MetaFilter. I’ve been casting around to find a few small jobs that equal one big job. I’m a lucky person in that I’m pretty employable in a general sense. But I also have a lot of smaller commitments to my local job and spending a big chunk of time away over the summer that I’m not looking for regular work per se. I had a gig writing for The Open Standard which vanished in a weird gamer-gate-related political thing (not having to do with me personally, I was just collateral damage) and I picked up some work writing for Medium which is part “platform” and part “community” in a weird way. Anyhow, I like it there so far. I wrote a piece about DRM that I am very proud of. It’s here.
Things That Make the Librarian Angry
I’ll be noodling around with my year-end lists like I usually do but I figured on the off chance you hadn’t seen this, you’d probably like it.
By: Jessamyn West,
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I needed to fix a thing with my reading list so I needed a widget-ready theme so I changed to this one and had a “to do” item to update and then a number of things happened, none of which are interesting. So it’s been a while and I have a few things to mention.
1. If you see something weird or broken with this theme, please drop me a note? I got very into working on it and then less into it and I’m concerned that I was not totally done.
2. You may have seen this amusing article that I was interviewed for a while back. 3 Ridiculous Misconceptions About Dating a Librarian. It’s amusing. I was asked to link back to it. I said I would. And then I haven’t updated my website since. Sorry about that. Here’s the link.
3. This is very important. I’ve spoken a lot about the Fair Use Best Practices documents that have been put out by the Center for Media and Social Impact. They have a new one out that you should read: Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use of Orphan Works for Libraries & Archives and other memory institutions I’m just digging into it. All of these documents have good advice and, most importantly, lots and lots of examples and processes explained by working librarians, archivists, and cultural heritage workers of all stripes. And then looked at by lawyers. Very useful with things you can put into practice. Lots of nice citations.
I’ve started a new gig writing for Medium this month, so I’m working on a few pieces about DRM and Buy Nothing Day and I’ll be sure to link to them here. My gig at the Open Standard came to an abrupt end when my editor was suddenly no longer working there after (maybe?) some GamerGate related stuff. I don’t know details but I was asked to put my articles “on hold” for the time being. It’s not quite like being fired. Meanwhile I’m working on a longer single-topic post about Ferguson and the library and what people are doing. When you’ve got the Annoyed Librarian’s non-crabby attention, you know you’re doing something right.
This title sounds fancy but mostly I needed to play catch-up and this seems like the best way to do that. Hi. In the past month I’ve done two public speaking type things that went well and some other stuff. I’ve been remiss in sharing them in a timely fashion. So now I’m sharing them in a list fashion.
- I went to Mississippi for the MLA Conference which was a great time. I led a facilitated discussion pre=conference which is the first real time I’ve done something like that. You can read the slides here: The Digital Divide and You which includes input from the discussion part of the afternoon. I stuck around for the conference and was very glad I did. I put some photos up here. Thank you MLA, the Mississippi Library Commission and especially MLA President Amanda Clay Powers for showing me a good time.
- VLA hosted a table at VT’s first annual ComicCon. This was a hugely fun event and terrific for library outreach. We had free stickers and reading lists, a display of banned graphic novels and people could get their photos taken in our “Vermont Comic Reader’s License” booth which netted a ton of delightful photographs (more on facebook). We also sponsored one of the special guests — Dave Newell, Mr. McFeely from Mister Roger’s Neighborhood) and he did storytime at the booth with puppets. I staffed the table one of the days. Such a good time. Huge shout-outs to other planners: Helen Linda, Sam Maskell and Hannah Tracy.
- Another MLA! This time the Massachusetts Small Libraries Conference (also the “first annual”) and I was the keynote speaker talking about how to Future-proof libraries. A combination of talking about what the challenges and unique positions small and rural libraries are in as well as some ways to nudge people towards getting interested in the online world. Notes and slides here. Big thanks to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners & the Massachusetts Library System.
- I started writing for The Open Standard, Mozilla’s new online-writing thing. My first article, After Some Victories, the Time Has Come to Legally Define âFair Useâ, has been up for a while now. I’d love to know what you think.
- Also I’m not sure if I was explicit in my “I’m moving on” post about MetaFilter but I’m still at least somewhat looking for work. I love Open Library and my local teaching but I’ve got a few more hours in my schedule and would be happy to do some more speaking, some consulting or some writing. I have a one-pager website that summarizes my skillset. Feel free to pass it along to people.
I gave a really quick “How to do an elevator speech” talk after lunch at MLA (the one in MA, not the one in MS) and it was really fun. All librarians should practice their elevator speeches. Here’s my one slide from that talk. You can probably get the gist of it.
I mentioned back in January that NYPL has said they were putting all of their handouts for their tech classes online. It took a while for them to get that sorted, but they’re online now and worth checking out. There is rarely any good reason to reinvent the wheel in tech instruction. While computers and the internet have changed a great deal, many old favorites like Mousercise still deliver. There are a lot of things people point to for good tutorials and lessons, but very few that have good information in a clear and easy to understand way. For anyone who is looking to actually spend money on tutorials, Lynda.com is the definite go-go. Otherwise the short list of worth-a-damn sites continues to be short.
If you’re on facebook there is a good group there that is low traffic where people regularly swap ideas for this sort of thing (or answer questions) called Technology Training and Libraries
I was at the Lake Superior Libraries Symposium last week talking about the digital divide. The theme was “bridges” which was perfect because “librarians bridging the digital divide” is the subtitle of my book, now three years old. The talk was a variation of the talk I gave in Michigan, plus it had slides. You can check it out here: Bridging the Digital Divide. I had a wonderful time in Duluth and have to thank the organizers for putting on a really excellent one-day symposium.
This image, though it looks super old timey, is actually from late 2012 and is what it look like: two guys laying cable through the woods using draft horses. It’s a very dramatic image just because of the colors but I think it also shakes people up a little “Wow, there really are places in the US that aren’t there yet….” I talked a bit about the culture of learning new things and about our roles as not just teachers but emulators of good technology practices.
And it was timely because I’ve spent this week enmeshed in terrible, confusing, and poorly designed websites as a result of a job shift. I’ll talk about this more in a separate post, but in an effort to get more librarianing in my life, I’ve moved on from MetaFilter and taken a small job at the Internet Archive working for Open Library. This involved a shift in health insurance and possibly some unemployment payments (going from full-time to part-time). And, since this sort of thing is all done digitally nowadays I’ve gotten to experience first hand what it’s like to feel beaten down by technology when you feel like your money or your livelihood is dependent on it.
I am fine, nothing is wrong with me, I have health care and am still well-paid, but the creeping dread that came over me when I was worried “Did I fill this out correctly?” “What does that phrase mean?” “Why isn’t this Submit button working?” and the inability to get timely help or support via the website (I seemed to always start these processes 20 minutes after the phone support ended for the day) just made me frustrated with our culture of bad technology and poor user interfaces and made me sad for people less savvy than me having to navigate these waters and being worried that maybe the problem was them. As always, we have so far to go.
I promised to write about this a few days ago and it’s been, quite a week. Short version: starting May 1st I took a job doing user support for Open Library. It’s very part time, very fulfilling and a lot of fun.
Longer story: MetaFilter, my internet home for over a decade and my employer for almost that long, has been going through some challenges. There was a severe financial downturn (the site is nearly 100% advertiser supported, allowing them to have nearly eight full time employees) and staffing was going to have to be reduced. You can read about some of that happened on Search Engine Land or Matt Haughey’s post on Medium because this was basically a weird “I wonder what happened at Google?” situation. We’d been facing decreasing revenue for about eighteen months and things weren’t improving. As the person in charge of running the site but not managing the money aspect of it, the last year and a half had been really bad for morale. Not knowing if your job was going away, getting gloom-and-doom reports from on high, not being able to plan for the future because you don’t know if there will be a future, are just destabilizing and not allowing me to do my job to the best of my ability. I have a longer version of this that I’d be happy to explain over a beer or two, but that was the general gist.
And ultimately, as much as I loved what I’d built–Ask MetaFilter is one of the best Q&A sites around, bar none, the moderation team is the best group of moderators there is, period–my “career goals” such as they are weren’t with website moderation, they were and remain with libraries. So when stuff started getting hairy in late 2012, I decided I needed a non-MetaFilter hobby, one that was library related, and I decided to talk to the Internet Archive about helping out with Open Library. Open Library, if you don’t know, lends ebooks worldwide. Worldwide. It’s a cool project.
I hadn’t known at the time that Open Library was a bit of a ghost ship, being kept alive and online but not really in active development. I put my head down and just started answering emails, reporting bugs, being the change I wanted to see in Open Library. And once the writing was on the wall at MeFi, that I could stay on as the oldest employee but in a work situation that was more “Everyone works all the time” which was no longer something I wanted to do, I talked to the Archive about getting an actual job-job. I made a data-based pitch “Look, I answered 7000 emails last year and rewrote the help pages and FAQ, user support is probably something that either needs more volunteers or a paid staff member” and they agreed to take me on as a part-timer to keep doing what I was doing, and maybe do a little more.
So I still answer emails, but I also attend staff meetings (via Skype) and have the keys to the Twitter and the blog. It’s weird working in a free culture type of place but still working with Adobe’s DRM nearly every day. I made a graceful mod exit from MetaFilter and I still continue to hang out there, because why wouldn’t I?
Long range I’m not sure what my plan is. I’ve got the same adult education job in my small town in Vermont and don’t plan to leave that. I still write a regular column for Computers in Libraries and I’m still on the road doing public speaking stuff about once a month (contact me if you’d like me to come speak at your event) which I may ramp up depending on how this all goes. I still have a lot of Vermont libraries to visit. I’m trying, despite my tendency to overwork, to take the summer at least partly off. And one of the things I want to do, oddly enough, is spend more time on my blog, writing down more of the things I am working on, in a place that’s mine and not MetaFilter’s.
That’s the news. I’m excited to get back to working more with libraries, all kinds of libraries.
I really never thought that I would turn into someone who gave “pep rally” type talks, but I was asked to come to the Somerville Public Library and give a short, inspirational talk
to their friends group at their annual appreciation day and was told I could talk about whatever I wanted. As you may have realized by now, this makes my little activist heart grow three sizes and inspires good work (in my opinion). This is the talk I gave
and I am very happy with it. The library posted this summary of the talk
(there’s no audio/video other than some blurry photos) which I think is pretty right on.
School Library Journal came out with their Diversity Issue a few months ago and it’s been on my “to read” pile since then. Their lead article Childrenâs Books: Still an All-White World? tells a depressing tale of under-representation of black children in US children’s books (they are the only ethnic group mentioned, I am presuming this goes doubly so for groups with smaller representation in the US) and ends with a call to action for librarians to make sure they are creating a market for these titles to encourage more books by and about all kinds of people.
I grew up in a Free to Be You and Me sort of world where my mother actively selected books for me to read with a wide range of ethnicities represented. I had dolls representing many backgrounds. My mother wrote textbooks where there were strict rules about being inclusive and representative and, living in a small town, I assumed this was the way the rest of the world worked. Not so. Reading this article drove home the point that while I may have been a young person during a rare time of expansion of titles and characters of color, that expansion slowed and the situation is still stagnant even as the US is becoming more diverse than ever. Another article in the Diversity Issue highlights research which indicates that “the inclusion of these cross-group images encourages cross-group play“. Sounds like a good thing. We should be doing more.
I have longtime family friends who live in Ashfield a town in central-west Massachusetts and that is about half the size of the town that I live in. Their library, the Belding Library, is celebrating its centennial with events all summer long and they invited me to talk about the future and .. where it is?
William Gibson’s notable phrase that I repeat often is “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed” which I’ve taken as reflective of the digital divide issues generally. I have neighbors struggling with dial-up. Singapore has 100MB broadband available for $39/month. These differences matter but and wind up, over very short time periods, enhancing divides that may have started out smaller. And for technology’s end users, sometimes it can be confusing why this isn’t all better or easier by now since in many other cases we really are living in the future that we had envisioned when we were younger. So I talked a bit about that, and why we’re not there yet, and ways to make technology attractive to people so that they can possibly dip their toes into a fun project before they get stuck being forced to use it for an unfun project like taxes or health care or filing for unemployment.
You can read my notes and slides here and you might also enjoy this story of how the Belding Library (somewhat controversially) financed their library addition in part by the discovery and sale of an original Emancipation Proclamation copy that they found in their basement.
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The Vermont Department of Public Service will hold public hearings to gather public input on the final draft of the 2014 Vermont Telecommunications Plan. The Plan addresses the major ongoing developments in the telecommunications industry, including broadband infrastructure development, regulatory policy and recommendations for future action. The Department will hold two public hearings in Orange County on the public comments draft of the Plan prior to adopting the final Plan. Middle Branch Grange, 78 Store Hill Road, East Bethel, Vermont, September 18, 2014, at 2:00 p.m.
I went to this meeting. There weren’t even going to be any meetings in Orange County, the county where I live, until someone showed up at one of the Barre meetings and suggested them. So there were two meetings in Orange County last week. One during the day in Bethel and one in the evening in Strafford. Unfortunately the weather didn’t totally cooperate so there was a local power outage for some reason and a forecast of a hard frost that evening. So a lot of the farmers who would have shown up at this even had to stay home and cover plants and do other things that farmers do when the weather starts getting cold.
I’ve been doing a lot of leisure-time stuff in keeping with my theme this month but today I went to work. I sat and listened to multiple stories of farmers and other neighbors struggling with digital disinclusion. I took some notes and I made a statement. This is the polished version of what I said.
My name is Jessamyn West, I’m a technology educator in Randolph Vermont and I wrote a book about the digital divide. I have three points I’d like to make
- We’re interested in results, not projections. A lot of the data we hear talks about when we’re going to have everyone online, or points to the number of people who have this technology available. I’d like to know why people aren’t online and what we’re doing to work with those people. Saying that most Vermonters have access overlooks the chunk of people with no access who should be the focal point of future build-outs. This report talks about how Burlington Vermonters have a choice of ISPs and overlooks that most of us have almost no consumer choice at all.
- And while we’re getting people access, let’s make sure they all have the same access. People talk about 3G and 4G as if they are the same as cable or DSL. They’re not. They come with bandwidth caps, overage charges, and a lot of concern about impending lack of net neutrality. Similar to how, back when people had dial-up, some people in more remote locations had to pay for the phone calls in addition to having to pay for the service. We’re seeing the same gap now with remote users only having satellite or cellular-based access. We should strive for everyone having equitable access.
- Most important to me is what we call the empowerment or the usability divide. I heard a person earlier say she wanted to get access to the internet so that she could run a website for her small business. Just getting access isn’t going to give her a website. She’ll need resources and likely some human help in order to be able to do that. And where does that come from? It used to be that the digital divide was just “People don’t have access to computers” and then it was “People don’t have access to the internet” and now that most people have access, sometimes only through their public library, we are still seeing participation gaps. These gaps align along the same lines as other structural inequalities like poverty, educational attainment, age, race, and disability status. The people not participating are already facing multiple challenges. We know this. We need to find a way to support those people and not reinforce those inequalities.
The hardest to serve have always been the hardest to serve; the challenge of getting everyone online is going to necessarily mean having a plan for those people as well as everyone else. Thank you.