So since I left MetaFilter almost a year ago, my goal was to spend more time “librarianing” I have a part time job with the Internet Archive running Open Library. I write for The Message a Medium publication, sometimes about librarianship and sometimes not. I write monthly for Computers in Libraries. I do my local technology instruction through the Adult Education program at the local vocational high school. In the past I’ve also done a lot of “How I do it” talks on the road at library conferences. I have not been doing that this month. Instead, I’ve been picking up more local tech instruction work, some paid and some unpaid. It’s been a fun busy week here and I thought I’d outline a few things I’ve done that people might be interested in.
- I taught an iPad class in a “pop up” university in the local town. Some local folks started Bethel University a local skillshare program. I offered an iPad class. People could read the list of classes via a home made WordPress setup and RSVP via EventBrite. I had ten students, most new-ish to the world of iPads and we talked about a lot of iPad features, did some exercises together and I answered a lot of questions. Fun. Free for everyone. I donated my time. I got photocopies for free. The class was held in the library which donated the space. Win. Win. Win.
- I taught the last class of my college credit class on integrating technology for teachers at the vocational high school. Through a collaboration with a state university, teachers could take a one-credit continuing education class with me learning how to use the Google Suite of tools for education. We wrapped up with class presentations (ten minute slide presentations demonstrating some of the things we’d learned, Ian discusses pollinators above) and it was a joy to see how much people had learned and seeing them applying it to their own classrooms. I learned a lot and this gig also paid via grant money given to RTCC for teacher continuing education, coordinated through the adult education department.
- Drop-in time had a bunch of new computer users who were at the “How do I turn it on?” phase of technology learning. There were a lot of people at drop-in time last week, so I grouped them together and got a few of them started with Google and a few basic commands: back, reload, scroll, click. Every so often when I was helping someone else, I’d hear peals of laughter from that part of the room as they took delight in things I’ve become jaded to such as custom 404 pages.
I also finished a Computers in Libraries article today about data collection and was pleased to see one of my local colleague, Amber Billey a metadata librarian at UVM, get listed as one of Seven Days’ Seven Vermont Women to Watch. If there’s a meta-story to this post it’s that staying local and working on the digital divide in your own backyard has been, for me, as satisfying as being on the road. And a little more calm.
As I mentioned last year sometime, I stepped down from MetaFilter. I’ve been casting around to find a few small jobs that equal one big job. I’m a lucky person in that I’m pretty employable in a general sense. But I also have a lot of smaller commitments to my local job and spending a big chunk of time away over the summer that I’m not looking for regular work per se. I had a gig writing for The Open Standard which vanished in a weird gamer-gate-related political thing (not having to do with me personally, I was just collateral damage) and I picked up some work writing for Medium which is part “platform” and part “community” in a weird way. Anyhow, I like it there so far. I wrote a piece about DRM that I am very proud of. It’s here.
Things That Make the Librarian Angry
I’ll be noodling around with my year-end lists like I usually do but I figured on the off chance you hadn’t seen this, you’d probably like it.
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
I was at the Lake Superior Libraries Symposium last week talking about the digital divide. The theme was “bridges” which was perfect because “librarians bridging the digital divide” is the subtitle of my book, now three years old. The talk was a variation of the talk I gave in Michigan, plus it had slides. You can check it out here: Bridging the Digital Divide. I had a wonderful time in Duluth and have to thank the organizers for putting on a really excellent one-day symposium.
This image, though it looks super old timey, is actually from late 2012 and is what it look like: two guys laying cable through the woods using draft horses. It’s a very dramatic image just because of the colors but I think it also shakes people up a little “Wow, there really are places in the US that aren’t there yet….” I talked a bit about the culture of learning new things and about our roles as not just teachers but emulators of good technology practices.
And it was timely because I’ve spent this week enmeshed in terrible, confusing, and poorly designed websites as a result of a job shift. I’ll talk about this more in a separate post, but in an effort to get more librarianing in my life, I’ve moved on from MetaFilter and taken a small job at the Internet Archive working for Open Library. This involved a shift in health insurance and possibly some unemployment payments (going from full-time to part-time). And, since this sort of thing is all done digitally nowadays I’ve gotten to experience first hand what it’s like to feel beaten down by technology when you feel like your money or your livelihood is dependent on it.
I am fine, nothing is wrong with me, I have health care and am still well-paid, but the creeping dread that came over me when I was worried “Did I fill this out correctly?” “What does that phrase mean?” “Why isn’t this Submit button working?” and the inability to get timely help or support via the website (I seemed to always start these processes 20 minutes after the phone support ended for the day) just made me frustrated with our culture of bad technology and poor user interfaces and made me sad for people less savvy than me having to navigate these waters and being worried that maybe the problem was them. As always, we have so far to go.