the problem with digitally divided government

 saying "democracy begins with you, get out there" in from of local high school

[another edited post from a mailing list discussing digitally divided citizens. Some people were reflecting that their elected officials don’t remember being offline. In Vermont we have a different issue]

In Vermont where, at least where I live, ​our elected officials are themselves digitally divided and so can’t always make good choices for the populations they serve. So issues like:

  • What does a good website look like?
  • What is a “normal” way to use email?
  • What is reasonable to expect people to do technologically in 2016?

Are all determined by people who do not have much of an idea of the normative expectations in the space and who have to make decisions about those things. So to these three points…

  1. We have Vermont Health Connect debacle, very expensive and costing the state a hundred million dollars. People managing the program didn’t recognize that a website without a LOGIN button was actually not a good website (among other things). I’ve written up my feelings at length here.
  2. My state representative shares an email address with her husband, that is her only point of electronic contact. They’re both lovely people, but they’re not just citizens, they are sort of like role models and this is not a good tech lifestyle to model. Our local local library has a privacy policy to account for couples or even families with shared email addresses. Which is sort of good, people deserve privacy, but also bending over backwards so people don’t have to get themselves an email address which is normative in 2016.
  3. I serve on a town board. We get notifications for dates and times of our meetings in postal mail.​ We receive all of our documents in postal mail. This is inconvenient and wasteful (in both time and resources) but our town clerk is not that tech savvy and this works for her and the majority of the board. It won’t change until she retires.

Vermont recently changed their Open Meeting laws to tell towns with websites they needed to put notes from government meetings online within a few days of the meeting happening. Some towns opted to take down their website because they felt compliance would be too onerous. And all of these decisions happen at a town by town level.

People without a good understanding of the tech ecosystem are vulnerable to people who want to sell them things and can’t properly evaluate what they are being sold. I spend a lot of time just outlining what “normal” is to people and then getting a lot of aggravated “Well this way has always worked for us, kids today and all their electronic gadgets…!” pushback. So we do need to attack the problem of the digital divide from both (all) sides.

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there are multiple digital divides, still

(cross-posted from an email list I am on)

> I’d be very interested in helping to support (or start) a research project
> that more critically investigates the state of the digital divide in
> communities and see how that compares with the more recent digital divide
> stats we’ve been sharing.

I’ve maintained in the past that the gap is shifting but not really that much. The big deal seems to be that we want/need things that are quantifiable and we’re getting further into the mess of qualitative concerns with people and their internet access/usage. From a library perspective it’s looked like this….

People don’t have expensive computers – we helped this with access to tech from the Gates Foundation and some maintenance/upkeep assistance from WebJunction/others
People don’t have broadband – E-rate and consortium level pricing has closed this gap, nearly every public library in the US offers some form of broadband
People don’t have real broadband – this is still an open issue but it’s being worked on. In rural VT where I live I’ve seen my maximum-possible internet speed increase gradually while the amount necessary to use the internet takes leaps. More libraries offer gigabit connections.

The qualitative gaps I am seeing are more troubling​ in a sort of internet mythmaking way​

People say mobile broadband = broadband – this is a culture thing (because people who sell you mobile want you to believe this) and more than anything this is not true for homework and should be aggressively pushed back against​ while we still try to increase people’s mobile access​
People say a phone is a computer – again, mobile is GREAT but having a phone gives you a much smaller range of creative options than a computer​,​
and people need to be clear about that (and not say we’re solving digital divide issues giving kids phones/tablets​, we’re eklping but just shifting the goalposts​)
People​ are afraid/stubborn/traditional – they ​have a level of timididy with technology (this is often ​o​lder people where I live​ but not always​) which keeps them from using technology to solve their own problems.

This, to me, is the real digital divide in 2016. They have to pay someone for help, they don’t have the money, the​y​ don’t have options because their communities do not have this level of free tech knowledge available. They are vulnerable to people trying to sell them things. ​They are vulnerable to relying on “closed” communities like​​ facebook to do everything online. ​ Media only heightens this anxiety​ and makes them feel at risk,​ and phishing and other scams increasingly targeted towards them amplify this issue.

So if you’re going to address the knowledge/empowerment/inclusion gap you often get into less-quantifiable areas. Which means less money for studies and/or fewer vendors willing to foot the bill since the answers are rarely going to be “Just make a new website to help these people!” and more often “ISPs need to create better tools to help people resist threats and make their systems more secure, but not at the expense if alienating people” I look at gmail and some of the basic things they built in (phishing alerts, hiding all the huge cc lines in email, very user-friendly login screens and help files) and then the things they didn’t (large text and or high contrast versions, “low fi” versions for older users with accessibility issues) and I feel like some pushes in the right direction can get better UX layered on top of decently functioning technology and it helps a lot with the empowerment divide we’re seeing.

tl;dr I’d be happy to help with a project like this.

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self serve support, what I learned about using numbers in facebook’s hashtags

I support Open Library. We don’t offer a lot of support but we do offer some. If you don’t understand a thing, a person will help you with it.

Nowadays most “free” products only offer self-serve help pages or forums if you have a question. I had one today. I made a post on Instagram. Instagram posts automagically to Facebook. I used two hashtags #meta and #1977. The first one auto-linked on fb and the second one did not. I checked the help files and it seems to say that you can use numbers in hashtags. So what was going on? My hypothesis was that numbers were somehow reserved in the internal mechanisms of the thing. So I did a few experiments.

1. Does it even work? The #meta hashtag (which fb auto-linked) generated this URL: https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/meta. You can link it and go read some stuff. If you make a new URL with 1977 you get a decently ugly error page.

something went wrong facebook errorигры винкс

2. You can search for either of these tags in the search box and find posts using the string of characters #meta or #1977. Huh.

3. Maybe dates are a special sort of number that’s eliminated? I tried a few more hashtag options: love1 and 1love work. OneEightSeven works but 187 does not. In fact, I could find no combination of only numbers that wouldn’t produce that ugly error message. And, though it took me a while to find a combination of letters that resulted in no hits, I did still get a response when I did that, not a failure.

we found no results

Conclusion: facebook’s help files are missing the useful piece of information that you actually can’t have a hashtag that is all numbers. This is part 47 of why we will still need librarians or their equivalent in the age of Google. I hope this is helpful for someone. The end.

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Advocacy topics: stats + stories + good design + good tools

I’m wrapping up my Tools for Library Advocacy class this week. I’ll probably be writing down some of what I’ve learned trying to teach a CMS-evading online class–what worked and what doesn’t–but I had a small outline to share. The class was short, really short. Six weeks with two holidays (Memorial Day and King Kamehameha Day) and then grades are due over the July 4th weekend. Tough timing so I wanted to really compress things. I thought about advocacy and what are the essential parts of a good advocacy campaign, whether it’s putting out lawn signs or getting a new program at the library. I summarized it as stats + stories + good design + good tools. Added to this are, of course, good communication and partnerships which I wove in there as well as determining the appropriateness of a social media approach. The web address for my class won’t be up forever but this link should work for a while. You can see what we wrote and read and did on the syllabus.

Two specific items that I am pulling out for my own continued advocacy on digital divide topics are these (one from class, one not from class).

1. This comment on MetaFilter about what it’s like for a truly digitally divided user to try to apply for a job on a library computer. We know variants of this because we see it ever day, but I think it’s an exceptionally well-communicated single piece that should be shared and read widely.

2. This document from Bruce Clark, Queens University’s Digital Inclusion Project Manager about helping someone sign up for AT&T’s Access Plan, the low cost internet access that is available to people who need it, courtesy of the FCC. You’ll note that the process takes over a week and will help the user save $40 a month on her internet access, money she can spend on better food and more bus rides (her words).

Even though we know the numbers about digitally divided folks, and we see the promotions trying to get people signed up for service, it’s ultimately people like Bruce who make the last mile happen. Following up and following through so that people who have multiple challenges can get some assistance helping solve a problem.

Each of my students created an advocacy plan and we spent a week each working on stats and stories and design and tools. It was incredibly gratifying to see them putting work into things they cared about (some library-oriented, some less so) and effectively communicating a need for change. I hope I’m able to teach this class, or some variant of it, again.

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TILT – today in librarian tabs v. 3

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 21.19.39

Before I forget, I’ve actually started a Tiny Letter, also called TILT though it’s a bit more essay-ish than these posts. Subscribe if you like this sort of thing in your inbox. Infrequent messages, well-designed and lovingly delivered.

Been thinking about the workplace a little this week. Here’s my top five.

  1. This isn’t about libraries but it’s a thing many librarians should read. Why it’s better for a workplace to avoid a toxic employee over hiring a superstar. The Harvard Business Review lays it out. We in libraries all know it, but this is science to support our many feels.
  2. I really wish the DPLA would mix up their front page a little but I did learn about their new Source Sets from our local Vermont contact when I was at VLA. Curated primary source documents with teaching guides and links to more information. Here’s one on the food stamp program in the US.
  3. Stanford University Libraries puts out a useful annual Copyright Reminder document for faculty and staff. Their new one is out and outlines key copyright issues for 2016.
  4. Being dedicated to accessibility should also include knowing how to find useful things for our patrons that our libraries may not have. With this in mind, it’s worth making you aware of PornHub’s launch of described audio of their most popular videos. You can find it by searching for the “narrated” tag. An earlier web project called PornfortheBlind.org is still online as well.
  5. Very exited to see the results of the IMLS funding to help the Indigenous Digital Archive get up and running. You can follow their Twitter account to stay abreast of developments.

I pay no more than top legal price food stamp image.

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