[another edited post from a mailing list discussing digitally divided citizens. Some people were reflecting that their elected officials don’t remember being offline. In Vermont we have a different issue]
In Vermont where, at least where I live, â€‹our elected officials are themselves digitally divided and so can’t always make good choices for the populations they serve. So issues like:
- What does a good website look like?
- What is a “normal” way to use email?
- What is reasonable to expect people to do technologically in 2016?
Are all determined by people who do not have much of an idea of the normative expectations in the space and who have to make decisions about those things. So to these three points…
- We have Vermont Health Connect debacle, very expensive and costing the state a hundred million dollars. People managing the program didn’t recognize that a website without a LOGIN button was actually not a good website (among other things). I’ve written up my feelings at length here.
- I serve on a town board. We get notifications for dates and times of our meetings in postal mail.â€‹ We receive all of our documents in postal mail. This is inconvenient and wasteful (in both time and resources) but our town clerk is not that tech savvy and this works for her and the majority of the board. It won’t change until she retires.
Vermont recently changed their Open Meeting laws to tell towns with websites they needed to put notes from government meetings online within a few days of the meeting happening. Some towns opted to take down their website because they felt compliance would be too onerous. And all of these decisions happen at a town by town level.
People without a good understanding of the tech ecosystem are vulnerable to people who want to sell them things and can’t properly evaluate what they are being sold. I spend a lot of time just outlining what “normal” is to people and then getting a lot of aggravated “Well this way has always worked for us, kids today and all their electronic gadgets…!” pushback. So we do need to attack the problem of the digital divide from both (all) sides.
I’m wrapping up my Tools for Library Advocacy class this week. I’ll probably be writing down some of what I’ve learned trying to teach a CMS-evading online class–what worked and what doesn’t–but I had a small outline to share. The class was short, really short. Six weeks with two holidays (Memorial Day and King Kamehameha Day) and then grades are due over the July 4th weekend. Tough timing so I wanted to really compress things. I thought about advocacy and what are the essential parts of a good advocacy campaign, whether it’s putting out lawn signs or getting a new program at the library. I summarized it as stats + stories + good design + good tools. Added to this are, of course, good communication and partnerships which I wove in there as well as determining the appropriateness of a social media approach. The web address for my class won’t be up forever but this link should work for a while. You can see what we wrote and read and did on the syllabus.
Two specific items that I am pulling out for my own continued advocacy on digital divide topics are these (one from class, one not from class).
1. This comment on MetaFilter about what it’s like for a truly digitally divided user to try to apply for a job on a library computer. We know variants of this because we see it ever day, but I think it’s an exceptionally well-communicated single piece that should be shared and read widely.
2. This document from Bruce Clark, Queens University’s Digital Inclusion Project Manager about helping someone sign up for AT&T’s Access Plan, the low cost internet access that is available to people who need it, courtesy of the FCC. You’ll note that the process takes over a week and will help the user save $40 a month on her internet access, money she can spend on better food and more bus rides (her words).
Even though we know the numbers about digitally divided folks, and we see the promotions trying to get people signed up for service, it’s ultimately people like Bruce who make the last mile happen. Following up and following through so that people who have multiple challenges can get some assistance helping solve a problem.
Each of my students created an advocacy plan and we spent a week each working on stats and stories and design and tools. It was incredibly gratifying to see them putting work into things they cared about (some library-oriented, some less so) and effectively communicating a need for change. I hope I’m able to teach this class, or some variant of it, again.
I’ve been refining my library talks lately. The one I’ve given a few times over the past year has to do with the 15% of Americans who still don’t use the internet (no phone, no home internet, no work internet, nothing). How do we work on this issue? Part of the good news is that the new Lifeline Program guidelines from the FCC do include “digital inclusion” (that is, making sure people can use the tools not just have access to them) as part of what the program is supposed to accomplish. This is good. And people have access via their libraries. This is also good. But some of what needs doing is creating a safe place where people can learn technology without being harassed by messages of hazards and pitfalls and social gaffes, often perpetuated by people trying to sell you something. And this messaging starts with us, librarians and educators and people who see these 15% as part of our daily lives. Positive messaging is more important than we give it credit for. This talk goes into detail about ways to do that and important things to think about in our own speech.
I somehow managed to screw up the hashtag for my Connecticut Library Association slides so they’re at librarian.net/talks/cla15 instead of findable collocated with the CTLibs15 tag. I’ve rectified that here. I took some time off from public speaking in the last six months. Wanted to get some new ideas percolating. Was doing more writing and less speaking andtrying to do more listening. It was useful. I’m now back around. I filled in for a speaker who cancelled lateish at CLA last month in Groton CT and I’ve got a few more speaking gigs coming up including another CLA in California later in November. I’ve never spoken at that conference before and I am excited.
So here are my slides for my talk that I gave in Connecticut. Unlike past talks, I didn’t make a list of links to go along with it because I felt like most of them are Googleable if you need them (and I was pressed for time). Title, which I love, is Attitude: How to bring the empowerment divide by being more like Vanilla Ice. Enjoy. Feedback welcome.
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.