So, what does a Google Policy Fellow actually… do?

Guest post by Johnna Percell, 2015 Google Policy Fellow

I have spent much of my time over the past few weeks answering that question. From well-meaning family members curious about my unfamiliar career trajectory to strangers caught off guard by my answer to the classic DC introductory question – “And what do you do?” Typically telling them that I’m working at the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) not only adds to their confusion but also provides an excellent opportunity to talk about the important work of libraries.

Albert Einstein Memorial at the National Academies.

Albert Einstein Memorial at the National Academies.

What has been most surprising to me is how often my conversations with librarians tend to mirror the confusion of those unfamiliar with the field. My fellow librarians are already aware of the integral role libraries play in supporting the community, defending equal access to information, and bridging the digital divide. However, a surprising number of them don’t seem aware of the important policy work OITP does to ensure that libraries can best fulfill this obligation to the public.

As I wrap up my first month here at the Washington Office I thought I’d take some time to introduce myself, let you know what I’ve been doing with my time, and give you a little glimpse into the vital role policy plays in libraryland.

A little about me – I am a recent graduate of the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies where I received my MLS with a specialization in Information and Diverse Populations. During my time at Maryland I had the pleasure of serving as president of iDiversity, the first LIS student group that promotes awareness of diversity, inclusivity, and accessibility within the information professions. Prior to beginning my Master of Library Science, I worked as an Education Coordinator for the Community Corrections Improvement Association (CCIA) in Iowa, a nonprofit organization serving the education and housing needs of individuals with community corrections involvement. My work with CCIA confirmed my interest in working to empower underserved populations and introduced me to the role libraries play as a tool to facilitate greater equality in our society.

Here at OITP this summer, I hit the ground running my first day in the office with a visit to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to discuss the upcoming Lifeline Modernization proceeding with Commissioner Rosenworcel and Commissioner Clyburn’s staff. The following week I tagged along to the FCC Open Commission Meeting to hear the commissioners’ plans to reform and modernize Lifeline. Now that we have our hands on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, I’m working my way through the proposals to see where ALA should weigh in and what role libraries can play in supporting this potentially important step toward closing the digital divide.

In addition to getting a crash-course in FCC proceedings, I’ve been able to attend a number of panel discussions and presentations to increase my understanding of the policies we’re dealing with as well as getting a glimpse into how other organizations are working on these issues. A few highlights include:

  • Kids, Learning, and Technology: Libraries as 21st Century Creative Spaces: One of the first
    A capitol chair at the congressional briefing.

    A capitol chair at the congressional briefing.

    events I attended was a congressional briefing co-hosted by ALA and U.S. Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH). It was great to see so many people (including some familiar faces from UMD!) show up to discuss the important role of libraries in advancing digital literacy in teens and exciting for me to attend my first congressional briefing. Check out Charlie Wapner’s write-up of the event on the District Dispatch last month.

  • The Future of Wifi: Public or Private?: This panel was co-hosted by the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center and New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI). Panelists discussed the upcoming FCC sale of spectrum bandwidth which could impact the quality of current wifi service. If you’ve ever wondered how wifi works or who owns the spectrum bands, I recommend delving into the riveting world of spectrum sales and the 2.4 GHz band. This was all new territory for me, and quite a bit more technical than I’m used to, but the implications for a large organization providing public wifi could be significant.
  • Making Mobile Broadband Affordable: Another discussion hosted by New America’s OTI. This one covered a broader view of the two major FCC initiatives that hold the potential to increase the affordability of mobile broadband. In addition to the upcoming spectrum sale, panelists discussed the Lifeline modernization proceedings. FCC Commissioner Clyburn was on hand to give the opening remarks and champion the program she has worked hard to make more effective.
  • Symposium on the Supply Chain for Middle Skill Jobs: The National Academy of Sciences hosted this two-day gathering to discuss a variety of innovative pathways to increase employment and income stability of middle skill employees. A video recording will be available in a few weeks on their site. If you want to get inspired about the important things happening to improve this portion of the job sector, I recommend streaming a few of these conversations.

The rest of my time has been spent researching the important role rural libraries play in their communities to support the Policy Revolution! initiative. I am reading up on the relevant research and reaching out to some rural librarians to get their insight into the needs and opportunities facing the communities they serve. If you’re a rural librarian you may be hearing from me soon!

As you can see, OITP’s work reaches into many corners of librarianship – and I’m just barely scratching the surface in my time here. There is so much more going on in the office and all of this work has direct implications for the work of librarians everywhere. Though it is easy to overlook while serving the complicated and urgent information needs of the patron right in front of you, policy decisions in Washington can seriously facilitate – or hinder – the work you do everyday. Having a group of dedicated information professionals advocating for libraries and library patrons here at the nexus of policy-making is indispensable to information professionals everywhere.

So what does a Google Policy Fellow do? Her very best to help advance our field.

About Alan Inouye

Alan S. Inouye is the director of ALA's Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). Previously, he was the coordinator of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee in the Executive Office of the President and a study director at the National Academy of Sciences. Alan completed his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley.

3 comments

  1. Jeannette Davies

    WOW!
    Sounds like you have an amazing job! Openings in your department?
    Intrigued by your commentary and quest.
    The following paragraph reminded me of uniformed people who even ask me what I do as a librarian.
    As a library director, I wear so many hats and play many difference roles, it is difficult to capsulize a librarian’s role into an elevator speech since the profession has been turned on its head and we are more about assisting people navigate information technology, than just books.

    “What has been most surprising to me is how often my conversations with librarians tend to mirror the confusion of those unfamiliar with the field. My fellow librarians are already aware of the integral role libraries play in supporting the community, defending equal access to information, and bridging the digital divide. However, a surprising number of them don’t seem aware of the important policy work OITP does to ensure that libraries can best fulfill this obligation to the public.”

    What would you advise for someone who wants to work as you do to advocate for libraries in a similar role as yours and might you have any suggestions of what we can do for Banned Book Week? We are a small academic library that would like to engage our students with a new refreshing approach to the subject.

    Thank you.
    Look forward to hearing from you.

    Jeannette Davies

  2. Thanks Jeannette!

    I certainly am lucky to have this amazing opportunity at ALA as a Google Policy Fellow! Communicating the incredibly diverse and complex role libraries and librarians play in communities is difficult, yet so important for the future of our field.

    It’s essential that we, as a group, work to tell the inspiring stories of empowerment that happen in libraries every day. As we work to advocate for our wonderful field, I believe that it is just as important to convince your local stakeholders as it is to convince those here in Washington.

    A good place to start is the Libraries Transform initiative recently unveiled by ALA President Sari Feldman. Check out the Libraries Transform website for more information and resources.

    Thanks for reading!
    Johnna

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