internet inside us – living at the library

As many of you may know, my long term goal is to be able to live in or at the library I work at. So I enjoyed this paragraph from the New Yorker Article about how the internet gets inside us immensely, though I worry my desires may become trendy.

“There is, for instance, a simple, spooky sense in which the Internet is just a loud and unlimited library in which we now live—as if one went to sleep every night in the college stacks, surrounded by pamphlets and polemics and possibilities. There is the sociology section, the science section, old sheet music and menus, and you can go to the periodicals room anytime and read old issues of the New Statesman. (And you can whisper loudly to a friend in the next carrel to get the hockey scores.) To see that that is so is at least to drain some of the melodrama from the subject. It is odd and new to be living in the library; but there isn’t anything odd and new about the library.”

Last day to comment on ADA expansion to include website accessibility

“The Department of Justice wants to broaden the authority of the Americans with Disabilities Act in regard to the Internet and specifically websites. Today is the final day for public comment on that proposal. Meanwhile, new data has emerged that shows far fewer people with disabilities using the Internet than people without. ”

Disabled folks have less internet access than non-disabled people. The access they do have is often more challenging because of poorly-understood or -implemented website accessibility features. I encourage you to comment, especially if you work in a publicly-funded library. Direct link to the proposed changes: Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability: Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities and Public Accommodations

Blogging Alone – Social Isolation and New Technology from Pew

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about any of the Pew Reports coming out. I’d like to mention that when I was finishing the copy edits on my book, they replaced every instance of “Pew says…” with “The Center says…” so, sorry about that. I vacillate about feeling like Pew tells it like it is, offering research instead of punditry about internet topics. Their researched conclusions so closely match many of my (knee-jerk) own, I wonder if they’re not more internet boosters than I can see with my own biases and blinders. The upshot of this survey: increased internet use is not making Americans more isolated.

In any case, their new report Pew Internet Social Isolation and New Technology is my second lengthy read for today. Be sure to read the interesting side note The GSS Controversy in which they consider that using the verb “discuss” to refer to people communicating with others may have eliminated non-talking options form people’s minds [i.e. texting and emailing].

Some have worried that internet use limits people’s participation in their local communities, but we find that most internet activities have little or a positive relationship to local activity. For instance, internet users are as likely as anyone else to visit with their neighbors in person. Cell phone users, those who use the internet frequently at work, and bloggers are more likely to belong to a local voluntary association, such as a youth group or a charitable organization.

some things really do change overnight

I’ve been getting over a nasty flu just on the backside of the MIT Mystery Hunt so I’ve been a little scarce. I also pretty much slept through most of the Inauguration festivities yesterday. However, I didn’t need to listen to speeches or see record crowds to know that some things are changing. I think Obama is as fallible as the next human being, but I’ve been encouraged at a few of the things that have happened this week, some intentional, some coincidental.

The first is Obama’s immediate revocation of Executive Order 13233, an order by the Bush administration that, according to the National Coalition for History, “severely limited access by the public to presidential records” You can read the offical text of the order on the revamped Whitehouse.gov which I recommend a look at.

The second good news this week was the Supreme Court declining to review “a Third Circuit Court decision last July striking down the Child Online Protection Act of 1998.” In other words, COPA was struck down by a US District judge, a decision which was upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and then contested by the Bush Administration to the US Supreme Court who, this week, refused to hear it. You can read the timeline yourself on Wikipedia. The Supreme Court’s failure to act is pretty much the death knell for COPA, a law that never took effect. While not as applicable to libraries as CIPA, the law itself does touch on whether or not restricting or prohibiting materials as “harmful to minors” is itself a problematic restriction on speech. U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed commented “perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection.”

is your library’s browser safe?

FreeGovInfo — whose guest blogger this month is none other than Ric Davis, acting Superintendent of Documents and Director of Library Services & Content Management at the U.S. GPO — points to a well-researchd report about vulnerable web browsers and the problems they pose. The article concludes that only 60% of web surfers use current versions of whatever browsing software they choose to use. This isn’t one of those “Hey, get Firefox!” articles, though it does point out that users of the Firefox browser are the most likely to be using a current version of the operating system — IE users are least likely — and part of the reason for this is that browser and plug-in version updating is built in to the system itself and turned ON by default. Read this article and then go make sure your library’s browsers are updated to the latest version. It’s important.

Understanding the nature of the threats against Web browser and their plug-in technologies is important for continued Internet usage. As more users and organizations depend upon these browser technologies to access ever more complex and distributed business applications, any threats to the underlying platform equate to a direct risk to business continuity and integrity.

a difficult time, a difficult task

I work occasionally as a fill-in librarian at a local public library that serves a community of about 5,000 people. This is the community I am moving to next month, up the road from where I live now, and while technically it puts me out of the “rural” designation, it’s still pretty rural. Last week and the week before there was a horrible tragedy that rocked the whole community. Short form: a local girl Brooke Bennett, went missing and her body was discovered a few days ago. The most likely suspect at this point is an uncle who is on the state sex offender list.

First off let me say that I’m quoting from news stories only. Our official staff position is “no comment” and I’m sticking to that. Here is why this is a library issue.

  • The initial reports, when the girl was simply missing, was that she had met a sexual predator online via her MySpace page. That garnered the predictable media outcry as well as some very good stories about safety online.
  • It also resulted in law enforcement coming to the library to take the public PCs. You can read the library director’s statements about this in this article in the Burlington Free Press. The librarians waited for a court order, and gave the computers to the police once they received one. The computers have since been returned. The library had an internet policy in place to guide their actions in this situation.
  • As more details emerged it became clear that the MySpace angle was not just untrue, it was the opposite of what people had thought. The person who abducted Brooke had actually logged in to her MySpace page to try to create a fake scenario where she was meeting a “predator” when in reality she was meeting him. IP addresses from these interactions were given to law enforcement by MySpace and were, as near as I can tell, instrumental in helping them determine the sequence of events of this crime and narrow down the suspect list considerably. The older articles still reflect the “internet predator” angle when, like most abductions, the criminal was someone from the victim’s own family.
  • And as far as data goes, danah boyd has a very good article about MySpace when DOPA was more on the table in 2006. One of her useful facts “Statistically speaking, kids are more at risk at a church picnic or a boy scout outing than they are when they go on MySpace. Less than .01% of all youth abductions nationwide are stranger abductions and as far as we know, no stranger abduction has occurred because of social network services.”
  • The accused man is being charged, as of this writing, with kidnaping. This is because kidnaping at a federal level carries a possible death penalty sentence and is, I assume, a bargaining chip. The law regarding this is one that I wasn’t totally aware of “the 2006 Adam Walsh law — named for another abducted child — allowed federal prosecution of such crimes when they are facilitated by the Internet.” Worth knowing for any of us who provide Internet access to the public, I think.
  • The library has set up a book display dealing with this very difficult topic — books on MySpace, the death of a child, dealing with grief — and encouraging conversations.

So, this is all incredibly upsetting and destabilizing to the community here. While I hope that you never have to deal with something like this at your library, there may be some instructive or useful pieces of information here that I felt might be worthwhile to pass on.

Help Pew be Pew with this future scenario survey

I was asked to fill out a Predictions Survey by the Pew folks. In it, they describe the modern-day status quo of technology and ask for predictions on where these technologies are going and how society uses them. At the end, they ask if anyone has friends or colleagues whose input might be useful. My input was along the lines of “I don’t even agree with your status quo statements” so I figure it might be useful for them to get other opinions. The link to the survey is http://www.psra.com/experts and you have to use the pin 9000 to log in to it.

wifi in a libraries, a uk forecast

By 2009, half the libraries in Britain will have wifi according to a new report form the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (pdf). One of the stated benefits is the fact that it will give libraries more flexible use of their space which is a real boon for tiny libraries. Just an update on the tiny libraries that I work with, out of the six that I work with and the one that is in my town, all seven have broadband now and three have wireless. When I started my job three had dial-up and none had wireless. I can’t take credit for all of this happening — I only helped directly with a few projects — but I think for the librarians having someone around to talk to about broadband/wireless really helped them feel more confident about taking the plunge with new technologies. In most cases the libraries are the only public internet in the town, it’s been a hugeleap forward in terms of rural access.

PACs in Vermont, a look at rural connectivity by the numbers

TechnoBiblio asks a question that I’ve also wondered: what’s a good PAC to patron ratio? However, he doesn’t just sort of idly ponder the question, he goes and looks it up and sees what some states are recommending. Our DoL minimum standards for public libraries are online here (pdf, please note the gopher_root in the URL). The minimum standards include these line items: “Has a computer for [staff] access to the Vermont Automated Libraries System (VALS).” and “Offers some free public access to VALS and the Internet.” I can tell you exactly what the libraries near me have, and what populations they serve.

  • Kimball Library, Randolph – serves 6,000 people, five PACs, high speed, wifi
  • Tunbridge Library, Tunbridge – serves 1300 people, two PACs +1, dial-up
  • Baxter Library, Sharon – serves 1400 people, +1, dial-up
  • Roxbury Library, Roxbury – serves 576, 1 PAC, dial-up
  • Ainsworth Library, Williamstown – serves 3200 people, 1 PAC +1, high speed
  • Calef Library, Washington – serves 1000 people, 1 PAC + 1, high speed, wifi

There are 190 public libraries (pdf) in Vermont. Thirty-two serve populations over 5,000. Between all the libraries, they owned 1,122 computers at the end of 2004, according to their 2005 Biennial Roundup (pdf). Out of these 781 were available to the public as of 2005 (pdf). My “+1″ indicator above means that there is a staff computer in the library frequently used by the public; I’m not sure if this is reflected in these stats. 159 of these 781 computers had public Internet access, 130 had high-speed access. This access to computers and fast internet is not distributed evenly. The last library I worked at had eleven of these public computers with high speed access and I’m sure the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington has this many as well.

According to the DoLs Biennial Report Supplment, the 32 libraries that serve over 5,000 people, have 341 public PCs. Also according to this report, these 32 libraries get 60% of all visits to Vermont public libraries. Contrast this to the 40 libraries in Vermont who serve populations of under 1000. They have 50 public PCs total among all of them. Eleven of these libraries offer high-speed access. Many of the libraries did not report their statistics so there is some skewing, but seven of the libraries who serve less than 1000 people have no Internet access at all, and 14 have dial-up.

The total operating income for all public libraries in the state of Vermont is $16,524,383 of which $10,914,150 is spent on salaries and benefits.

how responsible is the librarian for the internet?

Steven IMed me about the library director who was suspended with pay because of patrons — including a registered sex offender — allegedly viewing porn in the library. The City Commissioner is recommending that she be fired. I posted it to the Council list and was told the Washington office was aware of the situation. Rochelle wrote a few words about it, and now the entire affair has been slashdotted. The library has filters apparently, but they’re imperfect. The staff does walk-throughs of the computer areas but, apparently, they are imperfect also. Let’s also rememebr that this is Florida, the state that doesn’t let sex offenders into hurricane shelters and perhaps you’ll see what we’re up against.