I’m just back from Philadelphia. Wow—the extent of the programming, meetings, and receptions is staggering. The Democratic National Convention basically took over Center City. A nirvana for policy and political types—familiar faces everywhere, but also many new ones. Here I’ll briefly report on aspects that are most relevant (or appropriate) to our ALA work.
This is a national election and so naturally enough the focus is on major national issues. Millennials are receiving considerable attention here in Philadelphia as discussed in a session hosted by The Atlantic. This session included Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), who intimated that Democrats have particular appeal to this demographic. There was also discussion of demographics more broadly, which included Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress and Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute. Of the many trends raised, the bottom line one is that the white electorate is shrinking by about two percentage points in each four-year electoral cycle—and this is the key electoral issue in the long run. For us, what are the implications for libraries and library staff in terms of resources and services offered, especially for helping increasingly diverse communities of people to engage in the political process?
There were some events closer to home, substance-wise. In particular, Siobhan Reardon, President and Director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, served on a panel about digital inclusion organized by the Media Mobilizing Project. This panel was keynoted by FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and included city officials from Philadelphia and New York and a representative of PhillyCAM (Philadelphia Community Access Media), which also hosted the event.
It was a really good session in articulating the problems of inadequate broadband access within the particular context of Philadelphia. Reardon really nailed some of our key messaging for libraries “as the true onramp to learning.” She pointed out that while broadband and devices are essential, basic AND digital literacy are needed, too, to make effective use of technology. She also acknowledged the importance of the E-rate program, advocated for school libraries, and explained how libraries are valuable resources in enabling distance learning.
In another broadband session, the focus was on the Hillary Clinton tech agenda. This session, held at the Business Forward Briefing Center, featured Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Sara Solow, Domestic Policy Advisor, Hillary for America, with two executives from Google and several other representatives from the broadband policy community. They emphasized the importance of broadband for everyday life and how improving broadband is featured in Hillary Clinton’s tech agenda. In her first 100 days, Clinton plans to introduce a jobs bill that would include broadband infrastructure. The intent is to build on programs already in place. While fiber may be desirable for the long run, not everyone will be on fiber in the near-term, and so we need to focus on practical solutions for today as well looking at the long-term. An important objective is to ensure that community anchor institutions (CAIs) have strong broadband capabilities, expanding the scope of CAIs to include train stations, subways, recreation centers, public buildings, and more.
The last event that I want to briefly mention is a reception held in honor of Vernon Jordan, Jr. It was a packed room (and unfortunately my photo didn’t come out very well) and pretty emotional. Jordan talked about his youth and his encounters with racial discrimination. He also talked about his work and friendship with the Clintons over the past several decades.
In sum, my time in Philadelphia was an exhilarating and exhausting experience. There were opportunities for talking about libraries and developing new relationships and collaborations everywhere, really just limited by my energy to pursue them. Next time, I will invest more time into the political convention enterprise. But for now, onward!