After submitting written testimony to the Working Group On the Status of Vermont Libraries, I was asked to come to the meeting to give oral testimony. I decided that instead of summarizing my written testimony, since there was only ten minutes, I’d do a bullet point style summary. This is that. I should note that while I do refer to the State Library, technically is is the Department of Libraries under the Agency of Administration. Below are my four points. Continue reading “Oral testimony for the Working Group On the Status of Vermont Libraries”
[image credit: Library of Congress]
I was asked to give testimony about technology for the Working Group On the Status of Vermont Libraries. this is what I wrote.
My name is Jessamyn West. I am a librarian who lives in Orange County Vermont. I have a technology background, an MLIS, and I have worked for and with public libraries since moving to Vermont in 1997. I’ve written a book about technology instruction called Without A Net: Libraries Bridging the Digital Divide and I do public speaking on technology topics nationwide. I run the website and other technology for the Vermont Library Association, a professional association for public librarians in the state. I am the elected Vermont Chapter Councilor for the American Library Association.
My main work has been helping small rural libraries and their patrons learn to use technology to solve problems. I started as an outreach librarian at Rutland Free Library where I taught email classes using a flip chart and began my current work in 2005 when I was hired at the Randolph Technical Career Center as an Americorps worker. This is a regional tech ed facility serving many “sending towns.” RTCC wanted to do some outreach to those sending towns and so my job there was a combination of teaching local technology classes in their adult education program, doing direct outreach to the rural libraries in those towns, and what I called “Drop-In Time” which was an open session where anyone in the community could come ask technology questions on a weekly basis.
Drop-In Time started because we were finding that the people who signed up for our basic technology classes sometimes didn’t have the basic technology skills—vocabulary, mousing skills, keyboarding—to take those classes. We would also sometimes get referrals from the state’s vocation rehabilitation people and the local adult basic education program. Over time that job morphed into what I do now which is a similar Drop-In Time on a weekly basis as a library assistant with Kimball Public Library in Randolph Vermont. Since the beginning of COVID I will also occasionally do tech support email exchanges or Zoom/Skype/Teams/Hangouts technical support which the library employs me for, at library assistant wages.
I’d like to briefly address what I see as the main issues in the areas the Working Group on the Status of Libraries in Vermont has asked about. Continue reading “Testimony for the Working Group On the Status of Vermont Libraries”
I have mentioned elsewhere that doing less public speaking was an intentional decision. I took some time off and now I’m slowly taking some time back ON. I did a great webinar for the folks at WiLS on how to teach online privacy in the library, my usual talk. Then I made two new talks, one at the request of a local senior residence and one for a local Lifelong Learning Institute. Different and all new topics and both of them I’m really happy with. If you might be interested in me giving one of these talks at your event, do let me know.
First, a talk on my quest to visit all of Vermont’s 183 libraries. You may have read about the guys who are doing this in Boston. I am jealous of their website but also maybe not in total agreement that rating libraries is good for morale. I did a talk with some library history, some library trivia, and a few good jokes about Vermont. You can see my slides and notes here or read the entire talk here.
Second, the talk about scams is more of an outline that I talk over (so no built-in narrative it sort of flows where the conversation takes it. People are concerned about the ways people rip people off and this is especially the case in the online world where a lot of people, particularly older people, can feel out of their depth and not at all sure if they’re doing the right thing. I wanted to give sensible, practical advice that wasn’t just stuff like “Never click on an email attachment!” because, quite frankly, that is dumb advice.
Next week I get on an airplane to give a keynote talk at the MD/DE Library Conference. I’m pretty excited. If you see me there, please say hello.
[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’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.