please help me get more library content into SXSW

I have proposed two presentations for the SXSW conference in Austin Texas next March. There is a complicated series of steps to determining which of the proposals will actually get picked. Part of this determination (30%) is a very basic voting thing where you can thumbs-up or thumbs-down a particular presentation. Voting is now open. We are encouraged to use our powers of persuasion to get you to vote for our ideas. I would like you to vote for my ideas. Here is a link to all of the proposals. There are over 2000 of them and 300 or so will get chosen.

My two proposals are linked here

- How The Other 1/2 Lives – Touring The Digital Divide
- Curating Cultural Content – Libraries Save Your Ass & Etchings

Voting involved signing up on the website and then clicking the thumbs up. I’d appreciate it if you’d consider doing this. I’m pretty into both topics but the first one is nearer and dearer to my heart, while the second one seems to fit in more nicely with the SXSW gestalt. A few other library-themed things you shoudl check out

- David Lee King presenting on Designing Your Customers Digital Experience
- Heath Rezabek’s Connected Youth: Austin Public Library Teens Get Mobile
- Cecily Walker’s Can I Reserve This Book With My iPhone?
- Jason Schultz’s Reading ReInvented: Can You Steal this Book?
- Tiffini Travis’s Librarian Glasses or Stripper Heels about information fluency.
- Brian Rowe’s Digital Accessibility on Ebooks and Phones : #$@^ Kindle
- Bill Simmon is also proposing a panel which I may be on: Hyperlocal Focus: Growing A Vibrant Community Media Ecosystem

And a few presentations about books more generally…

- Allen Weiner’s Publishers Look To E-Reading to Reach Digital Consumers (curious about this one)
- Travis Alber’s The Future of Reading: Books and the Web
- Dharmishta Rood’s Networked Reading: Viewing as an Act of Participation
- Aaron Miller’s Books and the Twenty-First Century – The New Realm of Reading
- Bradley Inman’s Too Busy To Read? The Future Of Books
- Two related seeming panels: Kindle 2020 and The Book in 2050

Please vote early and often and for as many ideas as you like. There are a lot of great ideas in there on related topics like gaming and accessibility and web standards. Even if you’re not even considering going to SXSW, please take some time to vote up ideas you think should be getting exposure at a web geeks conference. Thanks.

class concerns with online spaces and content

danah boyd speaks at the Personal Democracy Forum about “The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online”

For decades, we’ve assumed that inequality in relation to technology has everything to do with “access” and that if we fix the access problem, all will be fine. This is the grand narrative of concepts like the “digital divide.” Yet, increasingly, we’re seeing people with similar levels of access engage in fundamentally different ways. And we’re seeing a social media landscape where participation “choice” leads to a digital reproduction of social divisions. This is most salient in the States which is intentionally the focus of my talk here today.

I suggest you read it all, it’s not terribly long, but if you’re part of the tl;dr generation, the salient point for libraries is this

If you are trying to connect with the public, where you go online matters. If you choose to make Facebook your platform for civic activity, you are implicitly suggesting that a specific class of people is more worth your time and attention than others. Of course, splitting your attention can also be costly and doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be reaching everyone anyhow. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The key to developing a social media strategy is to understand who you’re reaching and who you’re not and make certain that your perspective is accounting for said choices. Understand your biases and work to counter them.

Some Vermont library statistics, fyi

So, I gave a short talk at the Library 2.0 Symposium at Yale on Saturday. Put on by the Information Society Project, it was a gathering of people ruminating on the nature of future libraries. Only a few of the participants seemed to know our profession’s definition of Library 2.0 but that didn’t seem to matter much. There are some great summaries of the panel discussions on the Yale ISP blog. Most people there were academic, but I did get to hang out with Josh Greenberg from NYPL and see Brewster Kahle talk about the Internet Archive’s book scanning project. My general angle was that while we talk a lot about the “born digital” generation, there are still places here in the US — hey, I live in one — where the sort of network effect that is necessary for 2.0 sorts of things still eludes us. We each got about ten minutes and I could have used twenty, but you can look at my five slides if you’d like.

The whole day was worthwhile, but it’s somewhat ironic that we were encouraged to use twitter and blog our reactions while the room the panel was in had almost no wifi and no outlets. I don’t know why this sort of thing still surprises me, but I just felt that a high-powered panel would be able to receive high-powered tech support and handle things like this. Not so.

Today we got notification that public library statistics are available for Vermont and got a link to this page. No HTML summary so I’m going to pull out a few things that I thought were notable so maybe other people can link to it or maybe I’ll crosspost on the VLA blog.

  • Vermont has 182 public libraries, the largest number of libraries per capita in the US.
  • 174 of these libraries have Internet access; 160 of these have high speed access. Do the math, that’s 14 libraries with dial-up and eight with nothing.
  • Half of the public librarians in the state have MLSes or the equivalent.
  • 73% of Vermont library funding comes from local taxes; 27% comes from other local sources (grants, fundraising)
  • Eleven public libraries filter internet access on all terminals (as opposed to some libraries that offer a children’s filtered option)

The library that I work in serves about 1300 people and is open nineteen hours per week. We’re the only library at our population level (serving 1000-2499 people) that loaned more books than we borrowed via ILL. Ninety-six percent of the service population have library cards. I’m still reading for more details, fascinating stuff really.

brokenness and compassion

I’m a bit of a scab-picker as far as technology goes. I’m more interested in how stuff breaks than how it works when it all goes well. This is why I do more troubleshooting than tech creation. I’m good at it and I enjoy the problem-solving angles of it. As a technology instructor in a rural location, I sometimes feel like I’m dealing more with broken stuff than stuff that works. Given this, having an approach to brokenness that isn’t just “Oh, that’s not supposed to happen…” is key to helping people feel comfortable with technology. Leigh Anne Vrabel who runs the Library Alchemy blog has a concise post that summarizes a way to move forward inhabiting this sort of world.

Technology has to be supported by brotherhood, sisterhood, understanding and compassion.

And if I can paraphrase, I’d have to say “We’re all in this together and we haven’t all learned until everyone is leaning.” I’ve definitely been guilty of throwing up my hands trying to teach someone something because they had so much emotion wrapped up in why the computer “didn’t like them” that they couldn’t follow steps to do the actions they theoretically wanted to do.

Just like people who choose to live in the frozen north up here do so “for a reason” I think that most people who don’t know how to use a computer in 2009 — similar to people who don’t drive, who don’t have a telephone or who don’t have electricity — don’t know for a reason. For some people that’s an active reason, they’re not interested, they don’t see a need for it, they’re already busy enough, but for some people it’s a passive reason, they’re resistant to change, they’re easily frustrated, they have a disability that makes technology difficult and no one to help them with adaptive tech, they’re poor. As a technology instructor, part of my job is making technology a genuine option for people who have a need for it, not to sell it to people who don’t want to buy it. At the same time I explain what technology actually IS, apart from the television commercials and relentless boosterism about the promise of the Internet. That’s my interpretation of “technology with heart” [ttw]

does giving out laptops help or hinder the digital divide?

computer use relative to subsidized lunch program participation status

Interested in the actual educational effects of giving laptops to students? Some interesting conclusions from a paper by Jacob Vigdor entitled Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement (pdf). The study is a North Carolina-wide look at who has access to broadband, home computers and what the test score correlations are with these facts, if any. A few notable pullquotes.

[T]he introduction of home computer technology is associated with modest but statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores. Further evidence suggests that providing universal access to home computers and high-speed internet access would broaden, rather than narrow, math and reading achievement gaps.

[T]he introduction of high-speed internet service is associated with significantly lower math and reading test scores. Moreover, broadband internet is associated with wider racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps. One interpretation of these findings is that home computer technology is put to more productive use in households with more effective parental monitoring.

Students who own a computer but never use it for schoolwork have math test scores nearly indistinguishable from those without a home computer, while scoring slightly better than reading. Students reporting almost daily use of their home computer for schoolwork score significantly worse than students with no computer at home.

Students who gain access to a home computer between 5th and 8th grade tend to witness a persistent decline in reading and math test scores. There is little evidence that more intensive computer use for schoolwork offsets these negative effects.

Surprised? I was, a little [dweinberger]

Roxbury Vermont library now has indoor plumbing

I often refer to the Roxbury Free Library when I’m talking about the digital divide. It was easier to get this library set up with wireless internet access — which they’ve had for years now — than it was to get them a bathroom which they just got this week. Yay! Here are a few other photos I’ve taken of the library.

little pieces of things that might interest you

A few links that have been keeping me from inbox zero for the past few weeks.

  • “…the increased popularity of the Internet in America has not been correlated with an overall increase in reported sexual offenses; overall sexual offenses against children have gone steadily down in the last 18 years” Note: this does not say “oh the internet is safe!” It just says that the internet getting more popular doesn’t correlate with sexual offenses against children. More from the Research Advisory Board of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force
  • Speaking of Berkman people, I’ll be hanging out in the Boston area over the turkey weekend and likely going to this event that Saturday. Anyone in the area should consider going, it looks like fun.
  • Evergreen is gaining traction as an ILS that works even for big/complicated systems. The Traverse Area just went live with their Evergreen implementation. Doesn’t that look nice? More about Michigan’s open source ILS project.
  • I’ve been reading more lately. I read Cory Doctorow’s book Content (my review) and think it should be required reading for librarians or anyone else in the various digital content industries. If you’d like a copy, you can read it for free online, or if you’re a librarian or a teacher, you can request a donated copy from the website. I already gave mine away.
  • FCC broadband bill passed. This might help Farmer Bob [my generic term for the people over on this side of the digital divide] get broadband.
  • Pew Report “When Technology Fails” (and even really great technology sometimes does). The results will likely not surprise the librarians. “15% of tech users were unable to fix their devices” and “48% felt discouraged with the amount of effort needed to fix the problem.”

my job situation

Hi. This is an update on my work situation. My boss at the high school where I work let me know that they will be discontinuing drop-in time [and the accompanying library support that went along with it] effective, well, now. I know a lot of people haven’t really understood what I did there in the first place, so let me spell it out, in past tense.

I worked super part-time [somewhere between 5-10 hours a week]. I staffed a drop-in lab two afternoons a week where people who needed extra computer assistance could come use a computer or just ask a question. I also did outreach to local libraries who had tech questions. Over the past three years, I worked with maybe nine tiny libraries; a few I worked with regularly. I also, as a separate job, taught evening adult ed technology classes. I may still do that.

Drop-in time was never super popular and on occasion it was empty. The last Summer we didn’t have a lot of attendance and so we were going to not do drop-in time this Summer. I was looking forward to some time off. Instead, the program got cut entirely. Funding is tight all over and even though my total salary there was less than 10K, it’s money that could be spent elsewhere. I’m sure there are some politics involved, but I’m lucky to not be involved with them. My (former) boss is a wonderful person. Her boss is stuck between a rock and a hard place, I suspect. His boss is the school district superintendent.

I’ve often said during my 2.0 talks that we count the wrong things in libraries. That we measure door count more than we look at website traffic. That we pay attention to phone reference more than IM reference. That we ignore certain aspects of outreach and preference “traditional” library services. I kept meticulous stats at this job. I did 105 service hours this semester. I helped 32 people, many of whom were adult ed students needing extra help. Some were high school teachers. Some were librarians. Most were active community members and I could watch their improved skillsets directly impacting the community — the garden club brochure, the choral group’s mailing list, the hospital chaplain’s holiday card list, the vocational training woman’s email address book — in positive ways. I helped older people be less isolated. I helped uncertain people feel more competent.

However, there’s no check box for “improved quality of life” on the reporting forms at the vocational high school. I’m of two minds about all of this. It feels weird to feel sort of fired. On the other hand, I know it’s not personal. I’ve also been ramping up my public speaking and spending more of my time and attention elsewhere and was, in fact, looking at cutting back hours so maybe this is a baby-bird-out-of-nest situation. I need to move on, maybe. This is not about the money, I’m set for money, incidentally. I have other jobs, they pay well.

I am welcome, I am pretty sure, to scare up grant money and continue to work there, they just can’t pay me and no one has enough free time to help me with that. I don’t want to just volunteer and I’m a little frustrated that at this point that’s the only way the program will continue. I do fill-in desk hours occasionally at the local library. One of the other local libraries would like to hire me to do ILL and automation work for them, but I’m waiting for a contract, something more than a “yeah we’d like that.” People still call me with questions and it feels really wrong to say “sorry I’m not on the clock anymore…” I like this small community and have felt useful here, much more than I did when I was a public librarian, much more than I did when I was in Seattle.

I’ve felt, without being too grandstandy here, that I’ve changed lives in exactly that way we say that librarians do that. I’d hate to think that I’m looking at a failure of marketing or “proving my value” but there’s always that nagging feeling when something like this happens. Now I have to find a way to keep “changng lives” that outside of what had become my normal routine. I talk about the digital divide a lot, and this is me and my program falling right into it. The chasm is deep and wide.

Digital Divide event at Simmons, Monday April 7th

If you’re in the Boston area on Monday you might be interested in the Digital Divide panel and discussion happening at Simmons College at 3 pm. I’ll be there talking about the rural digital divide along with two other panelists — Susan O’Connor and Pat Oyler — who will be discussing urban and international digital divide issues. It’s open to the public and if you haven’t been to the Simmons campus lately it’s worth a look.

why exactly the digital divide matters

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.