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As someone who speaks often on the digital divide and related issues, I’ve developed a pretty standard answer to the question of why the digital divide matters. It goes like this “We are a democracy. People who vote need to have access to as much reputable information as possible so they can make these and other choices. The internet is becoming an important ‘place’ to find this information. Unequal access to the internet creates unequal access to government.” The real reasoning is much deeper with examples — FEMA forms online, job applications, required email addresses for access to certain products and services — but that’s it in a nutshell. So, I’ve been dismayed at the lack of hot and botheredness about this issue that I seem to see within our profession. And it was weird to try to adjust the talking points when discussing the digital divide in a country without a democracy.
However, once in a while I see librarianship’s higher-ups really going to bat for the underdog. Recently the ALA and others submitted statements to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing, “E-Government 2.0: Improving Innovation, Collaboration, and Access” lamenting the fact that as we move towards “E-Goverment” (ugh, it’s just government, don’t call it something else because you access it via a browser, do we call it telegovernment when you call someone?) libraries are often THE access point to government information and services and yet have neither a place at the table or a hand in the creation of the tools. This amounts to an unfunded mandate at a time when libraries are already grappling with budget cuts, CIPA and the shifting profession generally.
Public libraries serve over 97 percent of the total population. There are over 9,000 library systems and over 17,000 libraries including branches. Increasingly government agencies refer individuals specifically to their local public libraries for assistance and access to the Internet for citizen-government interactions. Yet public libraries are not considered members of the E-Government team. Libraries struggle with increasingly smaller budgets and expensive ever- changing technology in order to assist thousands of Americans on a daily basis because the public relies on them.
People in Nova Scotia were familiar with the issues I raised about the left-behindness of those still using dial-up. If you were on dial-up five years ago, or even two years ago, you could hope that some websites were still designed for low-bandwidth users. Now with the advent of AJAX as a way to increase responsiveness of websites, there is more code loading each time we visit a “responsive” page. Awesome for me in broadband-land, bad for my patrons up the road in dial-up town. So, what happened? How did we get here? How come we ALL can get dial-up and can’t get broadband?
Well, the reaons vary but they come down to a few key points, one of the major ones being regulations. This editorial from the New York Times — The French Connections (reg. required, sorry) — contains some heavy-handed language, but also some key truths about what is different about getting everyone on dial-up versus getting everyone on broadband.
[W]e’re lagging in new applications of the Internet that depend on high speed. France leads the world in the number of subscribers to Internet TV; the United States isn’t even in the top 10.
What happened to America’s Internet lead? Bad policy. Specifically, the United States made the same mistake in Internet policy that California made in energy policy: it forgot — or was persuaded by special interests to ignore — the reality that sometimes you can’t have effective market competition without effective regulation.
You see, the world may look flat once you’re in cyberspace — but to get there you need to go through a narrow passageway, down your phone line or down your TV cable. And if the companies controlling these passageways can behave like the robber barons of yore, levying whatever tolls they like on those who pass by, commerce suffers.
America’s Internet flourished in the dial-up era because federal regulators didn’t let that happen — they forced local phone companies to act as common carriers, allowing competing service providers to use their lines. Clinton administration officials, including Al Gore and Reed Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, tried to ensure that this open competition would continue — but the telecommunications giants sabotaged their efforts, while The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page ridiculed them as people with the minds of French bureaucrats.
I’ve mentioned it before but the ONLY reason that the schools and libraries of Vermont are mostly connected is because Howard Dean (with help from the Dept, of Libraries? I’m unclear on this part) made deals with the telephone companies and cable companies eager to move in to Vermont in a favorable regulatory environment and said “you want access, you wire our schools and libraries.” The question is, how to get this sort of attention for our rural populations now that the easy money and access has been taken? [thanks susan]
We talk a lot about what works in libraries, but our decentralized nature makes real data collection sometimes difficult and often onerous. This article, which I am still plowing through, came to me in the mail via the Sandy Berman Monthly Envelope o’ Stuff. It’s written by Douglas Galbi who is a sort of library fanboy but also a senior economist at the FCC and from what I can tell, a pretty smart guy. So, read Book Circulation per US Public Library User since 1856 and then click around a little to see what else is on Douglas’s library analysis page. Then, if you’re still intrigued, go check out his blog where you can check the latest issue of Carnival of the Bureacrats and especially enjoy the video of him talking to an older gentleman about why he doesn’t have high-speed internet access. I find it hard to believe there are other library fanatics out there who videotape their conversations with octogenarians and then blog about it, but there you go. Enjoy.
This week at work I went back to one of the teeny libraries to help them get their three donated computers running. There is a local insurance company that upgraded and gave the library their old computers. For a library that has two computers total, including the one the librarian uses for all her work, this is a boon. Sort of.
I plugged in the computers and turned them on and was greeted with a Win2K registration screen of the “enter your product key” variety. I asked the librarian if the computers came with software and she said “just what’s on them.” You may have read about this part in last week’s post. I asked the librarian to call her friend and see about the product codes and we’d try again. I work at this library about 90-120 minutes a week. This week I showed up and the librarian said that her friend has said the product key was on the side on a sticker. “Doh!” Sure enough, there were 25 characters and I dutifully typed them in. No go. Turns out the sticker on the side of the machine is a Win98 product code and somehow, mysteriously, these computers have Win2k Pro installed on them. No one knows how. I ran down the options with the librarian. 1) Buy an XP license or three from Tech Soup. 2) Hassle her friend to figure out wtf is up with the software on these computers. 3) Wipe the drives and install Ubuntu.
I’m pushing for #3 and the librarian just doesn’t want to do #2. My friend on IM is pushing for a fourth option, a Linux thin client solution where all the machines run off a central server. It’s an appealing idea but I’m not sure if I can even explain it in a way that makes it sound like less of a risk than a life rich with Windows nonsense. So, we start with #3 and figure we have #1 as a backup. I start downloading Ubuntu and it’s going to take two hours, minimum. My class starts in four hours and it’s an hour away, so this project is going to take at least one more week to accomplish. While I’m futzing with the computers I notice that one of them doesn’t seem to be running the monitor correctly, or not at all. I do a bit of brief troubleshooting and determine that both monitors work but only one CPU seems to work to run the monitor. I look in the back of the computer and notice the vent fan is pointed sideways. I have no idea what to make of this. I do know that if we want to get rid of this computer in any sort of approved way it will cost us money.
Meanwhile we’ve bought 50′ of ethernet cable to wire up the computers in the basement (we’ll pay the electrician to drill the hole in the floor and run the cable), cadged a donated switch from a friend, bought three surge protectors and carried three computers and monitors down a narrow flight of stairs. I spend the last 30 minutes of my time there uninstalling IM clients — well not uninstalling them but setting them not to autorun on boot and not autologin when they start. The librarian was getting a bunch of messages for studman1234 when she started her day. She’s a practical gal, but everyone’s got their limits. I didn’t have time to run Windows Update or do any defragging.
I told this story to a local friend of mine who said “Geez, you can buy a new Dell for less than a thousand bucks, what a headache all of that is.” I had to explain to my friend that the library runs on a budget of less than 20K so a thousand dollar computer (and I think it’s more like $500 now) is not really in their universe for now. I’m sure there are well-meaning people who would love to help the library out, but it’s tough to find the time to sit down and compose thoughful and considered letters to them when you’re open 18 hours a week.
So, I don’t want this to be an entire “looking the gift horse in the mouth” post, but mostly I wanted to highlight that there is a range of costs associated with “free.” Most libraries I know don’t even want to take tech donations because they’re concerned that just this sort of thing will happen. On the other hand most of them are running Gates Foudation hardware from several years ago and they’re thinking about upgrades and considering their library’s future technological directions. Meanwhile I bought an old IBM X31 Thinkpad from ebay and I’ve been messing with it in the evenings to get it running the way I like it with an open source OS and software. It cost less than $300, but that’s only really a bargain if I don’t count the cost of my time. Since it’s a hobby project for me, I don’t, but when I’m on the clock it’s nice if things don’t take forever.
…but thought you might like to see this anyhow. This is how my website looks on an iPhone. Their browser is really interesting looking. I hung out with Casey today as he waited to get an iPhone. As you know, I live in Vermont where they’re not for sale and can’t be activated. Hello digital divide, my old friend.
By: Mark Peter Hughes,
Blog: Lemonade Mouth Across America! Blog
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I’m sitting in a hotel room in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We arrived a couple hours ago and just came back from eating tacos and hot green and red chili. But I’ll blog about that once we’ve finished our time here. Over the past few days we were in Oklahoma and Amarillo, TX, so I’ll catch you up on that. Karen helped out with today’s blog. She wrote the section on Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, TX (below, in a different font).
OKLAHOMA CITY LOOKED OH SO PRETTY
We arrived in OKC from Dallas on Thursday evening. There, we stayed with our friends Rich Schwab and Margaret Mantooth Schwab. They were incredibly nice to us, and took the day off on Friday just to drive us around. Thanks, Rich and Margaret!
First stop in Oklahoma City, I was interviewed on “Read All About It,” a state-wide show about books and authors that's produced by the Metropolitan Library System for Cox TV. Now, I can’t say I’m used to being interviewed on talk shows, but boy-oh, this was fun. First, they put make-up on me (not sure why—isn’t the pasty-white look in?), then I hung out in the green room with other guests, including some way-cool local librarians, one of whom was doing a review on the novel Rules by my friend Cynthia Lord. Then they called me to the set. I was on for about eight minutes, interviewed by BJ Williams, the show’s producer and host. We talked about Lemonade Mouth and the tour, etc., etc. I think it went well, but who am I to say? It was my first time. I’ll get a copy of it whenever I can. :-)
Thanks to BJ Williams and Cox TV! Hats off to "Read All About It" -- what a wonderful way to promote books and reading!
Best Of Books
Later that afternoon we stopped at Best of Books, a terrific store in Edmond, OK, where Julie Hovis and Kathy Kinasewitz, the co-owners, were great to my family and me. The store has been in business for years, and it’s carved out a niche as one of the few independent booksellers in the area.
While there I ran into an old friend from Massachusetts, Meredith Pearlman, who had made the drive from Tulsa to see us--she moved to Oklahoma only three months ago. It was so great to see you, Meredith!
We made a stop at the memorial for the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. It was very moving. They have a place for kids to leave messages in chalk. Evan, Lucy, and Zoe each left one.
Uh-Oh. Oil Trouble!
We were driving around the city when suddenly a light started flashing on our car’s dashboard – it was an oil can. Uh oh, oil trouble. So we made a quick detour to the local Honda dealer, where Stephen Sponsler did a quick diagnosis – we were almost completely out of oil! Yikes! We must have a leak, but it must be a slow one because after he changed the oil he didn’t see the car lose any more. So, new strategy: We’ll check the oil every 500 miles or so!
While we were waiting for the oil situation to get resolved, we stopped into a local Barnes and Noble, where we met Chuck Ackerly and Dean Kraushaar. A cool way to spend the pit stop!
IN AMARILLO, WE GRABBED A PILLOW
On Saturday (yesterday), it was goodbye Oklahoma, and back into Texas. We arrived in Amarillo where, in accordance with the old classic song, we grabbed a pillow.
Karen wrote the next part:
Camping in Palo Duro Canyon
KAREN: On Saturday night we went camping in Palo Duro Canyon, near Amarillo, TX.
It was a wild experience. First, we set up camp at the bottom of the canyon (the 2nd biggest in the US)! We spread out our tent on the hard red dirt covering all of the ants and other variations on bugs. The minute we got there, we were all being eaten alive by bugs. I could tell right away that I could never have been a cow girl. Even though I’ve camped in the past and loved it, I was already dreaming of a comfy bed in the air conditioning. Lucy, Zoe, and Evan were complaining about being bitten, Mark was complaining about how hot it was (it was 7pm), so I knew it would be a long night especially when Mark announced to the kids that if they see a Rattlesnake, don’t try to poke it with a stick! Rattlesnakes, no one prepared me for this!! The kids started to freak...who could blame them? Next we had dinner, no fire of course because we were too hot and would have roasted even more. Who told me that it cools down in the desert at night??
That evening we went to an amazing musical show called “Texas” in an amphitheater actually in the Canyon. It was all about Texas history, songs and there were even fireworks!
I liked the show so much, I even started thinking it would be fun to be a real Texan. I was amazed at how the Texan settlers could live here! Ok, so I could make it one night, why not?!
I was up all night listening to various interesting sounds of wildlife. While the family snored happily, I kept thinking of all those Rattlesnakes. I swear I heard some close by slithering. Mark thinks I was imagining things, but I DON’T THINK SO!! The next morning Mark admitted that the park ranger warned him that there was a “bumper crop” of Rattlesnakes in the canyon this year. Enough said!!
The next morning, getting up at 7 am with 3 hours of sleep and all wet because there was a lot of dew all night (so much for comfortable sleeping in the dry desert), we rushed to pack up camp, eat and dress to be presentable because in one hour we were going to be interviewed by the Amarillo NBC TV station at Barnes & Noble! Can you believe this? The only time in my life that I was a actually going to be on TV is after spending a night camping full of dirt and bug bites…so much for any beauty rest! I’ll let Mark tell you the rest, I’m fading from exhaustion!
(I just re-read this and although it sounds like I had a miserable time, it was a great adventure I wouldn’t have missed. We really are having a great time. Our next camping trip might include bears. I’ll let you know if we go do it and I don’t chicken out!)
ANOTHER TV INTERVIEW!
MARK: Jeez, I can’t believe I’m still typing. This was an action-packed few days! So, in Amarillo, TX this morning the local NBC-TV affiliate (KAMR) was there to interview us! They have a weekly series on families doing stuff together, so our trip kinda fit in. (Note, this gig was due entirely to the amazing promotional efforts of my friend Tyler Jensen who, out of sheer kindness, sent out a funny email to media outlets all over the known world, telling them about our road-trip. Thanks, Tyler! You da best!) for the interview, Evan stole the show when he described the camping experience and gave an enthusiastic, detailed tour of the van. They loved him so much they ran out of videotape filming him. No kidding!
The series runs every Friday, part of the local evening news. Our story is scheduled for four Fridays AFTER this Friday. Faith, the local news anchor (she was the one doing the interviews!) promises to let me know when it runs, and how I can get a copy of it. I’ll get the word out when I have access to the video. :-)
KIMBERLY WILLIS HOLT
We were very lucky to meet up with Kimberly Willis Holt and her husband Jerry for coffee. Kimberly is the New York Times bestselling author of such books as When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, My Louisiana Sky and Waiting For Gregory. Such nice people! We ended up chatting for quite a while. :-)
Finally, here’s a picture of Samantha Adkins and Cassie Mason, two soon-to-be high-school seniors who we met in Amarillo. Among other things we talked about Harry Potter and his unknown fate—which will be known later this week. Nice to meet you, Samantha and Cassie!
Next stop: Santa Fe!
I skipped the debates that were covered on YouTube. I’m politically active generally, but I don’t get more or less active during election years. However, this event is as good a time as any to trot out the old Digital Divide topic and our perspectives towards it. In short, the digital divide is still with us and in some ways as people think it’s getting straightened out — more access to broadband for more people, more options for getting online at work or school or the library, more “affordable” broadband available — it becomes even more of a pervasive problem because people think it’s solved. Don’t have a computer or can’t afford one? Go use the one at the library! Can only get dial-up at home? Use the broadband at the library, they even have wireless! Don’t understand the internet? Need to type a letter? Need to learn to type? Go to the library, they do all that computer stuff now! This neglects a few very salient points.
1. While the library has computers and internet access, almost always, it rarely has enough computers. We learned this from the Public Libraries and the Internet report put out by the Information Use Management and Policy Institute at FSU that I have discussed previously.
2. The library very rarely has sufficient staff or volunteers to be available for novice computer users to help them with basic computer skills as a regular service that the library provides. Some libraries offer classes. Many will help you get a Yahoo account. Many have someone nearby the computers for basic questions. However very few have the sort of one on one tutoring available that is necessary for these novice users. It’s hard to teach adults to read in classes because many of them don’t read for a range of different reasons. Technology is no different. We have funding available for adult literacy in most places, where is the funding for adult technology literacy?
3. Technophobia and technostress. As with reading, many adults who cannot use computers have stress or anxiety about this. Many of them don’t learn to use one until they are forced to by having to apply for a job, interact with their government or because of a disaster. If we’re lucky, they learn because they have a new grandchild, a hobby that partially can be done online, or a remote friend that they would like to stay in touch with. Helping people learn technology is, in many ways about helping them get over technostress. I had a friend visiting recently who went to use her laptop at the local wifi-enabled public library (not my library, another library). She went to plug it in and the librarian warned her not to, saying that there was unstable power that could “blow up her computer.” She advised my friend, who was also a librarian, to charge the laptop at home before bringing it in to the library. My friend said she would, except that she was staying in a cabin without electricity and so this was impossible. Now, it doesn’t have to be a basic service of a library to offer electrical outlets to everyone who needs one. However, the sort of FUD involved in acting like plugging something into the wall is dangerous or to be avoided is the sort of “computers are hard” mentality we see passed on to patrons in libraries across the country every day. (update: or worse)
4. Many libraries that do offer broadband to the public have to offer a filtered version because the only way they can afford to pay for a broadband connection is by taking E-rate money that invokes CIPA regulations. That’s a shame. People on the other side of the digital divide have a much higher chance of their only internet access being filtered access, that’s not very democratic.
In short, we’re not ready to be people’s bridge across the digital divide, though I’m pleased as hell that we’re doing something, especially in the face of most everyone else doing nothing. Let’s look at broadband penetration rankings (full report). The US is 15th out of the 30 members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. So, every time you see more and more candidates on Twitter, Second Life, YouTube and whatever, keep in mind that while it may be cool that they’re reaching your demographic, they’re totally missing others. [thanks jen]
The Library Link of the Day today is an article in the Chicago Tribune called Training for the Poor Moves into the Computer Age. It’s an odd combination of two points
1. The digital divide is becoming more and more about technology literacy and not about technology access.
2. Gaming on computers is an important part of attaining that technology literacy.
I don’t know much about point #2. I like games generally but I am not a gamer (save online Scrabble which I suspect may not count). With a few exceptions most of the people I hang out with aren’t gamers so I’ve rarely been in a cultural area that is gaming-immersive. I’m curious, but it’s one of those things that falls outside the “things I have time for” circle. Jenny Levine has some good points in the article and I think the fact that ALA is mentioned in the same article as poor people needing technological literacy for finding better jobs and escaping the cycle of poverty is great PR for libraries.
That said, the article is confusing to me somewhat. It seems to be taking two disparate ideas and mashing them together as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I get the points that gaming and teaching technology through gaming is a great way to help kids with critical thinking skills and problem solving. However I strongly do not think that the best way to help older people — perhaps my age and up — learn technology has anything to do with gaming at all. So, the people who are in dead-end jobs and need to gain some level of tech proficiency to move to better jobs, they’re not the gaming demographic. I think, however, that as more younger people engage with technology they will bring gaming with them as they become people in my age bracket and that’s going to be an interesting shift. So, kudos for even talking about poverty and technology literacy, and nice job with xplaining why gaming is important, but I still wish this had been two separate (longer) articles instead of this one.