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.
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.
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 â€œaccessibilityâ€ for help and information.
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 wasnâ€™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 â€œbufferingâ€™â€™ warning messages. So she waits until the day a provider extends broadband to her house.
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:
â— Accessing our forms and instructions online at IRS.gov. You can quickly download the latest products from our site.
â— Dropping by your local IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center.
â— 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.