Talking telecom at Howard University

Founders Library, Howard University

Founders Library, Howard University. Image from Wikipedia.

Yesterday, I gave a guest lecture in an undergraduate course on communications law at Howard University. I provided a high-level overview of some of the most pressing telecommunications topics in the library community’s “policy hopper” today – including e-rate and Universal Service, net neutrality and spectrum policy. I even offered my standard patter on 3D printing and its policy implications. It may be a topic that’s only tangentially related to communications law, but I can never pass up an opportunity to proselytize the importance of pushing for legislative and regulatory frameworks that will allow the creative applications of 3D printers to flourish.

I grounded my talk in an overview of the E’s of Libraries®: ALA’s pithy shorthand for describing the myriad of ways in which libraries serve their patrons in the digital age. If you’re drawing a blank, the E’s stand for the education, employment, entrepreneurship, empowerment and engagement that libraries and library professionals facilitate in their communities. I suggested that ALA’s engages in the telecom space with a view to expanding the robustness, openness  and ambit of a single technology that serves as the lifeblood of the wide range of library services represented by the E’s: high capacity broadband.

College and University speaking opportunities for OITP staff yield a twofold benefit for ALA, and for libraries in general; they help to update young people’s perceptions of what libraries actually do, and they draw attention to libraries’ leadership in the area of public policy. I was heartened by how interested the students I spoke to yesterday seemed to be in the role of today’s libraries in their communities, and in the library community’s engagement in the hottest telecom topics of the day.

If ALA is going to accomplish the goals of its ongoing Policy Revolution! initiative – increasing the library community’s visibility and capacity for policymaking – we must seek more opportunities, like the one I had yesterday, to engage with the younger generations. In my experience, it’s not such a reach for young people to believe that libraries do cool things. Many, if not most, individuals in high school and college have been to a library recently and seen for themselves that it has things like computers and 3D printers in between its stacks of books. What’s more, young people today are deeply engaged in advocacy on behalf of the public interest – particularly in the online environment, through the use of social media.

Teens and young adults are predisposed toward supporting institutions like libraries that serve the diverse needs of their communities. Our charge is to give them the motivation, inspiration and ammunition – in the form of anecdotes and data – they need to do so. I hope my talk at Howard yesterday made at least a small contribution toward building a bona fide army of young and energetic library advocates.

I’d like to thank Dr. Yoonmo Sang, Assistant Professor in the Howard University School of Communication and OITP Research Associate, for the opportunity to address his highly engaged and inquisitive students.

About Charlie Wapner

Charlie Wapner is an information policy analyst for the Office for Information Technology Policy.

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