A good old fashioned linkdump


Public domain photograph by: US Navy, National Science Foundation. Link.

I’m back at home after meeting with a lot of terrific librarians in four different states. March is the busy month and after last month my plan is “not getting in a plane more than once a month for work.” I’ll be speaking with my good friend Michael Stephens at the Indiana Library Federation District Six conference next week. I’ll do a wrap-up of the talks I’ve been giving sometime later but news for me is mostly having more free time to actually attend things and not just speak at them. Getting to go to programs at the Tennessee Library Association conference and the National Library of Medicine’s New England Region one-day conference about social justice has really helped me connect with what other people are doing in some of the same areas I’m interested in. It’s sort of important to not just be a lone voice in the wilderness about some of this stuff, so in addition to the SXSW stuff (and talking to a great bunch of library school students in Columbia Missouri) getting to attend library events as an audience member has been a highlight of the past few weeks.

However I’ve been backed up on “stuff I read that I think other people might like to read.” Try as I may Twitter is still for hot potato stuff [i.e. Google's April Fools Joke specifically, I felt, for librarians] and not for things that I think merit more thoughtful or wordy presentation. So, as I enter the first Thursday in over a month where I get to hang out at home all day, I’m catching up, not on reading because there is tons of time for reading while traveling, but on passing some links around. So, here are some things you might like to read, from the past few months, newest first.

the tools and the hammer/nail problem in the digital divide

“The way you talk about the [digital divide] changes people’s view of who is responsible for resolving it…. This issue has been around for years, but its meaning is in constant flux and is manipulated by political agendas.”

I’ve switched some of the tools I use for keeping current over the past few months. I’m finding that I use RSS less and less for keeping up on blogs and rely more on Twitter lists and searches to sort of keep my hand in. I also read a lot of print material still [some of my best "things to think about" things are still coming from the pages of Library Journal and Computers in Libraries magazines] and am trying to keep to my book-a-week plan for 2011. Oddly I also get news from seemingly random places like other people’s facebook walls and I made a little image-milkshake over on a site called MLKSHK. You might like it.

I have a standing search for “digital divide” on Twitter that just auto-updates itself onto my desktop via TweetDeck. The thing that is so interesting about this, to me, is how often the term gets used and for how many different things. This morning there are discussions about the digital divide and gender, how the EU is trying to narrow the digital divide (referring to access to broadband) and a report about how switching to online social services in the UK would adversely affect people who are digitally divided already, mostly talking about seniors.

Which leads me to the paper I read recently which was really pretty intersting and on topic: Who’s Responsible for the Digital Divide? Public Perceptions and Policy Implications (pdf) It’s not long, you can read it, but the upshot is that depending how we define the digital divide, we will develop different strategies to “solve” the problem. This is not just hypothesized in the paper but addressed scientifically. So if the problem is lack of compturs, we throw computers at the problem. If the problem is broadband, we work on network infrastructure. If the problem is education we design sites like DigitalLiteracy.gov and then wonder why a website isn’t teaching people how to use computers. Tricky stuff, endlessly fascinating, thorny problem.

Book is out, and some other things.

I don’t think I’ve taken two weeks off from this website since it started in 1999. A short explanation is in order. I received a box with five copies of my book in the mail on May 18th. The next day I received the news that my father had died. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere and I’m sorry if I should have told you personally and didn’t and you learned about it here.

So, what might have been a PR onslaught of epic proportions–I am very proud of this book and excited to see it done and almost perfect–turned into a completely different sort of set of weeks. I’ll write more about my father on my own blog and you’re welcome to read this thread on MetaFilter which has links to a lot of things to read about him including obits in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. We’ve also set up a memory page on 1000 Memories [free forever, I give these folks the thumbs up]. My father’s death was sudden but not totally unexpected. I had a good relationship with him which was hard-won because he was a difficult and somewhat complex man. I am doing okay, all things considered. I am well taken care of. I am his executor and there is a lot of work to do.

Yesterday I started thinking about the book again. I made a facebook page for it but it also has its own page which includes the full bibliography, web links and appendix. The local newspaper wrote a little article about it and I think I can get the local bookstore to stock it. I’ll be heading to the Oregon Virtual Reference Summit in a few days to talk about Ask MetaFilter and the digital divide. I have a small pile of stuff I’ve been meaning to put here, but wanted to let people know what was up first. Let me know if you liked the book. Thanks for being here.

A few talks, a few links

Talking about the digital divide in Connecticut is a lot different from talking about it in Texas, or even Vermont. Unlike most states I’ve looked at, Connecticut really doesn’t have a large population of people who live in an area where they can’t get broadband. I’m sure it has the same numbers of offline people, generally speaking, but whatever their reasons for being offline are, they’re not for lack of access. I admit, I played this for laughs a bit at my CLA since I know that people aren’t going to confuse broadband access with technological know-how and will still see that there is work to be done.

All my talks went well. Here’s what I’ve been up to recently

  • Last Thursday I was on a panel with some interesting people including the soon-to-be-president of ALA Molly Raphael. We answered some provocative questions about the future of libraries and mostly had a great time.
  • Friday I gave my talk about developing a technology curriculum for libraries. For those of you used to my usual stuff, this was a departure. Not heavily attended–it was in one of the last timeslots of the conference–but I was pleased with it. If you’re considering a technology curriculum, you might be interested in my short set of notes/slides. I got to present with Anna Fahey-Flynn who is Curriculum Development Librarian at Boston Public and it was really interesting to see how their tech instruction program is coming together.
  • Over the weekend I walked around in the sun in Massachusetts and then headed to CT for the CT Library Association conference. Before attending the conference I was interviewed for public acess TV in Manhattan about the Google Books project and copyright and a few other things. No idea when this will go live, but if you think you’ve seen me on tv talking about Google Books, you may have.
  • Tuesday I gave a talk about myths about the digital divide, similar to my Texas talk but with some local examples.

As usual, I also got to attend some great presentations including a talk by BPL and the Internet Archive [at MLA] about how they’re working together to provide digital access to library content via Open Library. This may be a personal thing, but I’m always excited when libraries test boundaries and tell us “We checked with our lawyers and they think this is an acceptable level of risk.” I also saw a CMS smackdown/comparison [Drupal vs. WordPress] by Polly-Alida Farrington and Shanon Clapp which was full of good information and delivered with a friendly “you can do it!” approach. I also saw John Palfrey’s closing keynote talking about the digital divide and some of what Harvard’s Library Lab has been up to, and the DPLA and other things. I’ve mostly seen him in contexts where he was talking to non-librarians so it was fun to see him explaining a lot of these big idea projects on my home turf.

I’m home for a bit, back to teaching my Know Your Mac classes, staffing drop-in time, filling in at the public library and waiting for my book to be in print [this week, here's hoping] and then travelling to Portland at the end of the month for the Oregon Virtual Reference Summit.

Notes/slides/audio from my digital divide panel at SXSW

This year SXSW got the audio up from the panels very quickly. This panel isn’t mostly me, it’s mostly my two co-panelists Fiona Morgan and Justin Grimes talking about the other non-library issues surrounding how and why people can or can’t get access to broadband internet. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you might like it. The panel went well, was well attended and started a lot of conversations that I think still need to be happening. I myself was without decent internet here at home for the past week since I got back from SXSW (I switched ISPs and had some in-between time where I “only” had access via my iphone and local wifi including, yes, the library) and it changed my life patterns more than I even thought it would. Interesting times.

Here are the slides (mine and Fiona’s and the text of my talk) and here is the panel page on the SXSW page which has the audio link after the blurb.

it’s tax time again…

And here is some advice I’ve pulled off of the VTLIBRARIES mailing list about tax assistance for people with disabilities. Here is an obligatory link to an article outlining the effect on some public libraries (in Maine in this case) who are dealing with the fact that people are not getting mailed paper tax forms unless they request them. Currently about 70% of Americans file their taxes electronically.

“Hundreds of the most popular federal tax forms and publications are available for download from IRS.gov for sight impaired individuals. These products range from talking tax forms to Braille formats, and are accessible using screen reading software, refreshable Braille displays and voice recognition software. Click on the links below to download these forms and publications:

Download Accessible Tax Forms (Braille and Text Formats)
Download Accessible Tax Publications (Braille and Text Formats)
Download Accessible Talking Tax Forms

Download Tax Instructions (Large Print Format)
Download Tax Publications (Large Print Format)

The IRS also offers customer service assistance for persons who are deaf or who have hearing disabilities. People with TTY equipment may call 800-829-4059, which is a toll-free number, for assistance.

People who are unable to complete their tax return because of a physical disability may get assistance from an IRS office, or through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) sponsored by the IRS. Taxpayers can find a nearby location by calling 1-800-906-9887 or checking the partial list on the IRS’s website.

Publication 907, Tax Highlights for Persons with Disabilities, explains the tax implications of certain disability benefits and other issues, and is available at IRS.gov.

Visit www.IRS.gov and click on the word “accessibility” for help and information.

VT library stats & pitiful stories from the digital divide

The Boston Globe [via Associated Press] has a short article comparing bringing broadband to rural America to the rural electrification program which finally wired up the last of Vermont towns in the early 60s. The story is what you would expect, except that it’s a little maddening that the options offered are 1. wait for broadband and suffer with dial-up, or 2. nothing. The byline of East Burke points to a town with a teeny library that is open 12 hours per week. West Burke has a larger library but it’s still not large enough to have a website. According to the VT Department of Libraries’ statistics it doesn’t have a single public access computer. Lyndon is the closest town with high speed at their library. Not too far, but still several miles.

Doing a quick autofilter on the DoL’s list shows 183 public libraries in the state of Vermont. Ten have dial-up internet access. Thirteen have nothing. Seventy-five libraries have no wireless internet access. It’s possible I’m reading the statistics wrong, but this is fewer libraries with internet than in 2009. I sure hope I am reading the charts wrong.

Dial-up user Val Houde knows this as well as anybody. After moving here four years ago, the 51-year-old mother of four took a correspondence course for medical transcription, hoping to work from home. She plunked down $800, took the course, then found out the software wasn’t compatible with dial-up Internet, the only kind available to her.

Selling items on eBay, watching videos, playing games online? Forget it. The connection from her home computer is so slow, her online life is one of delays, degraded quality, and “buffering’’ warning messages. So she waits until the day a provider extends broadband to her house.

“You May See an Increase in Patrons” – IRS kicks paper tax filers out of the nest.

We can talk about whether there’s really a problem with people not knowing how to use a computer in the abstract. I think my life is enriched by having access to and knowledge about technology, but it’s tough to make the argument that lack of access/knowledge makes other people’s lives worse. That is, until people suddenly need to find a way to get tax forms so that they can file their mandatory tax reporting, or they need to learn to do their taxes online. That is, if they know how to use a computer. The IRS sent this update in September (pdf). I don’t know about your library but many of ours don’t get paper forms either. Brian talked about the hilarity that is the IRS’s understatement “You May See an Increase in Patrons”

With the continued growth in electronic filing and to help reduce costs, the IRS will no longer mail paper tax packages that typically arrive in January of each year. If you still wish to use a paper form, the IRS has several options available to help you obtain paper copies of individual forms and instructions, including:
● Accessing our forms and instructions online at IRS.gov. You can quickly download the latest products from our site.
● Dropping by your local IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center.
● Going to your local post office or library (if they participate in the federal tax products program) [emphasis mine.

So hey, 2011 is around the corner. We should probably get ready for this.

summertime is when I am not writing a book

I mentioned it on my personal blog, but I’ve finished writing my book and submitted the draft to my editor, Barbara Ittner from ABC-CLIO/Libraries Unlimited. Assuming everything goes well, it will be available at the end of January. This is the first time since April of last year that I have not in some way been writing this book, though most of the actual writing took place in the last six months. I lenjoyed writing and I am enjoying not-writing. Here’s a little bit of reflection on the book writing thing.

1. The book’s title is Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide. The book is already for sale on Amazon. This is sort of weird, watching its sales rank soar and plummet six months before its even available. I set up an author page there, but I’m not sure what to do with it. I’m aware that the book is expensive. I’m aware that I could sell it more cheaply if it were self-published. I know I don’t really need any of the statusing that comes along with publishing with an established publisher. I’ll probably grouse that I could have made a better cover. However, I don’t think I would have written this book without an external deadline, even though I think in many ways this is the book I’ve been “meant to write” for some time now. So, thank you to Barbara for suggesting it and helping make it a reality.

2. I really cocooned while I was writing. I stopped reading my RSS feeds for about the first time ever. I kept my IM client off. I’d peek at Twitter and try to remember to keep adding things to my blog. I sort of checked out from my online and offline communities except for work and occasional Twitter updates. It was an odd thing to do.

3. I woke up every morning determined to write at least 1000 words and would tell myself “I chose this.” but it was still really difficult. Some days the words just flowed. Some days 1000 words would take eight hours. I type about 90 words a minute, when I’m on a roll this would all go fast. I had to keep reminding myself that in many ways I am the expert on this topic and so it was okay to speak from a position of authority and not have to cite statistics all the time.

4. I felt like I was becoming a total dullard. “How’s it going Jessamyn?” “Pretty good, I’m writing a book.” “Still?” This became easy because after a while I just didn’t feel that I had the free time to go out. I’m working on re-entry, it’s going okay.

5. The book has my voice which means I say that some things work and some don’t. I’m sure people will have strong opinions about some of it and I mentally prepared myself for a lot of pushback, more than I will likely get. I make a lot of assertions about how I see the digital divide and what I think is working and not working to mitigate it. I hope people don’t get bogged down in nitpicking. I hope no one that I mention feels that I was uncharitable.

6. I asked for and received a lot of help from people–editing help, requests for pullquotes, some open Twitter requests for information, proofreading–and it’s weird to me that only my name will be on it. I have an extensive “thanks” section. I’m sure I’ve forgotten as many people as I’ve included. It’s odd, in a lot of ways the path I’ve chosen has room for a lot of showboating, doing public presentations, talking on my blog about what I’ve been doing or thinking about, and yet I get timid when there’s actually a situation where it’s useful to be all BUY MY BOOK.

That is the report about the book. You can buy it or not. I think it will be good.

while I was away – sxsw

So, I may have mentioned earlier that this is the month I’m away giving talks and talking to librarians instead of typing on my blogonet. I’m partway done. I’ve been to Florida and Alaska and Austin Texas and I’ll be stopping by Portland Oregon next week and then I’m pretty much done. I’ve done a few talks you’ve maybe heard before but the biggest news is the panel that NYPL’s Jenny Engstrom and I did at SXSW on Tuesday. It was called How The Other Half Lives: Touring The Digital Divide [link goes to our slides] and it was a look at how libraries are dealing with people on the other side of the digital divide.

Some of this is stuff you’ve heard before but some is newish. We were lucky enough to give our presentation after the FCC released the results of their broadband study but before they actually released their Broadband Plan, so there was a lot to talk about but not too much to fight about. The talk was well-attended, well-tweeted and folks asked a lot of questions and stuck around to talk more. I’ve just gotten back from Texas so I’ll save more links and discussions for a little later. Thanks to everyone who showed up and who supported us in our desire to get this talk on the roaster at SXSW. I think we gave people a lot of food for thought.