professional news and thank yous

future - digital divide images

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 ‘Fair Use’, 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.

how do to an elevator speech in one slide

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how the broadband sausage does or does not get made

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.

telecom meeting

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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talk: how do we get to the future?

How do we get to the future?

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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if we want to see more diversity in literature, we have to buy the books

school library journal graphic

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 Children’s 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.

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Another talk: why libraries are the best thing

its a great time to be in 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.

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