Improving digital inclusion in Native communities

Today, the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM) released the study, Digital Inclusion in Native Communities: The Role of Tribal Libraries (pdf). The national study is the first to provide comprehensive data on the structure, activities, and needs of tribal libraries as they improve broadband access and digital literacy in Native communities.

Key findings from the study:

  • One hundred percent of public libraries offer patrons access to the Internet, but only 89 percent of tribal libraries in the study sample were able to do so.
  • One hundred percent of public libraries offer patrons access to public computer workstations, but only 86 percent of tribal libraries in the study sample were able to do so.
  • At least 40 percent of tribal libraries in the study sample did not have a broadband Internet connection.
  • Only 42 percent of tribal libraries in the study sample were able to provide patrons with technology training, as compared to 87 percent of rural public libraries and 90 percent of all public libraries.
  • Only 15 percent of tribal libraries in the study sample received E-Rate discounts to help fund broadband connections, as compared to well more than half of public libraries.“Native communities are lagging behind the rest of America in digital access for Native citizens and thus are at a distinct socio-economic disadvantage,” said Dr. Letitia Chambers, board chair of ATALM, in a statement (doc).

Funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the ATALM Digital Inclusion study draws on data from a national survey of tribal librarians conducted by the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums. The report makes 35 recommendations for improving digital inclusion in Native communities and provides examples of how technology is improving lives of tribal citizens.

Posted in Digital Divide, Public Libraries Tagged with: , ,

E-rate never sleeps

As part of the American Library Association (ALA) Washington Office’s efforts to make sense of the recent E-rate Modernization Order (pdf), together with the Public Library Association (PLA), we hosted a webinar with key staff from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC): Jonathan Chambers, chief, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis; and Patrick Halley, Lisa Hone, and Chas Eberle of the Wireline Competition Bureau. PLA has made the webinar archive available:   Among other topics, the FCC staff covered the Commission’s decision and rationale for the Wi-Fi focus in this first Order and reiterated its commitment to addressing outstanding issues that are necessary to ensure libraries (and schools) have sufficient broadband connectivity to and within their buildings. Staff also explained a few of the options for connectivity adopted in the Order, including managed Wi-Fi services, procuring services from preferred master contracts, and encouraging school and library direct broadband connections. The FCC does not let us remain complacent, however. The Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM), released along with the Order, raises the critical question of how to determine the long-term funding level for the program. The staff made it clear that the decision to raise the cap, and to what level, must be based on well-defined data describing the costs for libraries and schools to get to the 1 gigabit connectivity goals adopted in the Order.

The Peabody Memorial Library (Maine), where the author wrote this article.

The Peabody Memorial Library (Maine), where the author wrote this article.

ALA and our partners in the library community are exploring scenarios to identify both the challenges and costs of connecting libraries to scalable high-capacity broadband. We know that the revised funding level of the E-rate program also must reflect the recurring expenses associated with the higher levels of broadband connectivity.

On vacation in Maine, I was able to participate in the webinar by using the Wi-Fi at the local library—the only free or otherwise available Wi-Fi within a good 12 miles. An important link for me, but critical for the residents of this community.


Posted in E-Rate, OITP Tagged with: , , ,

My conversation with a copyright troller

Troll dollThis week—just because I wanted to see what would happen—I impersonated a librarian at a rural public library that had recently received a “cease and desist” notice asking that the library pay a $250 fine because a user illegally downloaded a movie. The library received the notice from a “copyright troller.” Copyright trollers are companies whose sole purpose is to find alleged infringements on the Web for rights holders (like the motion picture industry). They can identify the IP address where an alleged infringing act took place, track down the holder of the IP address, and then send a scary legal notice asking for payment, or else—you will find yourself in court on an infringement charge! Because of the nature of this business, these companies have been stuck with the derogatory moniker “copyright trolls,” the repo men of the web.

Copyright trolls do not aim to sue alleged infringers, instead they use “cease and desist letters to cajole alleged infringers who, when threatened with legal action, feel fortunate that they only have to pay a fine. This saves the rights holders time and money—they can avoid going to court (because they never wanted to in the first place), avoid arguing their case and accruing legal costs, and avoid a court ruling that could go against them.

A library will receive a notice when copyright trollers find that someone using the library’s network has downloaded content, but because of a provision in the copyright law, third parties (like the library) cannot be held liable for the actions of their users. (For more explanation about this provision and how libraries should respond see Public access computers in libraries and liability concerns).

So back to my acting gig.

I was impersonating because I wanted to see what would happen if I told the copyright trolling company that the library was not liable for infringement. Would they put up a fuss? I was able to contact the company quite easily on the web. They placed their phone number in large font, right on the top of the home page. I was able to talk to a real person right away. (When your business is collecting money, you make yourself available and answer the phone). I talked to a nice man named Dan, and once I explained to him that we had liability protection under the copyright law, he was quite happy to dismiss the case. I then called the real librarian at the rural public library and told her the news. She was delighted that the problem was solved. Now that’s customer service!

In my conversation with Dan, he recommended that the library use filters to prevent access to peer-to-peer networks, or the library was likely to get more notices. I said “ok,” but really that suggestion did not sit right with me, being a librarian and all. There is enough filtering going on (see the CIPA report (pdf)), and I do not want to block access to websites and online tools that can be used for non-infringing purposes. This is akin to banning photocopiers in libraries.

Unfortunately, I know that some libraries would agree to censor. I know that some of their attorneys would recommend that the library censor. I know too many libraries that would willingly pay the cease and desist fine. Over time, we look like a bunch of pushovers, when really we should complain about these things. We have rights under the law and we have legal protections. Let’s use them with confidence! Don’t be a sucker.

Posted in Copyright, OITP, Public Libraries Tagged with: ,

How to advocate for libraries this summer

Rob Wittman with CRRL Deputy Director Caroline Parr

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) visited a Virginia library in 2012.

It’s August, and most political activities are moving to home districts for the summer. Fortunately, legislators return to local districts during this time, leaving plenty of opportunities for library advocates to schedule advocacy meetings or invite legislators to visit their local libraries. It is also an election year, so many legislators are campaigning for the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

Library champions can use this time to continue to advocate for library issues, such as federal funding, reader privacy and copyright reform, among other issues. Make sure that both candidates know what is happening in your library, so when issues come up, they remember what you are doing to serve their constituents.

One American Library Association (ALA) division is releasing a set of tools that library supporters can use to invite legislators and the candidates they are running against to visit their libraries. This week marks the beginning of District Days, a month-long advocacy campaign spearheaded by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). For the next five weeks while Congress is out of session, YALSA is encouraging librarians to invite members of Congress and the opposing candidates to visit their library.

The ALA Washington Office also provides helpful information on library advocacy. Advocates who would like to learn how to bring candidates in to their libraries can view the (free) archived webinar “They’ve Got to See it to Believe It: Getting Decision Makers Into Your Library.”

They’ve Got to See it to Believe It: Getting Decision Makers Into Your Library from ALA Washington on Vimeo.

Posted in Library Advocacy Tagged with: , ,

What will the future look like? Consumers may decide

Last week, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) hosted a panel discussion on IT and disruptive innovation featuring the authors of Code Halos: How the Digital Lives of People, Things, and Organizations are Changing the Rules of Business.

The discussion focused on the way in which consumers leave a code trail, or “halo” in virtually everything they do from personal finance to fitness pursuits to enjoying music. Thanks to the internet of things, predictive sites such as Pandora and Netflix, and industry-disrupting services like Uber and Airbnb, user data can be generated across the span of our day-to-day lives. This data can reveal surprising patterns about us; panel moderator and President of ITIF Robert Atkinson shared the example of how music preferences accurately predict political leaning. If you listen to Garth Brooks, apparently you are overwhelmingly likely to vote Republican, and Pandora has realized that selling user data on music preferences to political organizations can be a profitable business.

But what about the role of government policy and the protection of privacy? The panelists differed on the necessary approach to regulating the market in the digital age, though they agreed on one key point: legislation will not keep up with the rate of technology, and this will require placing a huge amount of trust in corporations to “not be evil.” To some, that may sounds like quite a paradox, but the panelists were overall enthusiastic about innovation possibilities outweighing privacy dangers. They suggested that because companies will rely on acquiring user data, they have an incentive to be transparent and play by the rules in order to maintain their customers’ trust and interest.

To assume that everyone can equally understand and navigate the internet and the growing wealth of digital information is a narrow and inaccurate perception

One argument presented stipulates that disruption actually gives consumers more freedom and privacy by facilitating their ability to quickly communicate with each other. It is easier than ever for individuals to collect and share information about products and services, and through sites and apps like Yelp and Tripadvisor, they can market successful businesses to one another. Could this be a way for consumers to regulate new emerging digital markets faster and more efficiently than government, which is slow to keep up?

Another argument is that while disruptive innovation makes consumers less able to remain anonymous to data-collectors, it actually allows them to enjoy more privacy from their neighbors. In small towns, for example, seeking online health information eliminates the concern of buying a book when the salesperson knows your mother-in-law, or calling your doctor who you will then see tomorrow at the PTA meeting.

However, many important policy questions remain. While the benefits of disruptive innovation are giving consumers more for lower costs, what becomes of jobs in sectors that are disrupted? What happens if the government were to digitize services to maximize efficiency (like customs offices at airports) and cuts thousands of jobs, often for working class citizens? Will these displaced workers benefit from IT innovation and new services, or will they be unable to afford access?

During the Q&A the topic turned to the digital divide. Questions from the audience focused on how those who are disconnected from the world of tech efficiency will fit into the new business frameworks that are being created by disruptive innovation. Panelists’ answers indicated that like any emerging innovation and infrastructure, IT will diffuse slowly from concentrated markets outwards, just as electricity, cars, telephones, trains, and film have in the past.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the conversation centered on consumers and industries. Libraries were not discussed as “third space” providers and access points to technology when discussing the digital divide. When I raised the question of how the authors saw libraries being impacted by disruptive technologies, they lauded the valuable public space libraries provide, but debated whether we will need librarians, assuming everyone will be able to find information online. Another thought that in the future libraries will downsize, getting rid of the stacks and just having computer access.

This fairly uninformed view of what librarians really do indicates the growing need for libraries to amplify their voices in communicating all that they offer, curate, and make possible in both print and digital resources. The E’s of Libraries, ™ facilitating education, empowerment, employment, entrepreneurship and engagement, are growing increasingly more important for a public in which digital literacy is still a significant challenge. To assume that everyone can equally understand and navigate the internet and the growing wealth of digital information is a narrow and inaccurate perception, as is assuming that librarians will not be needed in playing the role of information enablers and knowledge curators.

While there are many potential benefits in the decisions being made now in the “early days of the new era of commerce” it is clear that many more diverse discussions on the value of privacy, regulations, algorithm analytics, censorship, and security will need to happen to ensure positive development and social value added.

Libraries support the public interest in ways that the tech industry and market cannot, and going forward into an innovative, disruptive era could leave many trapped on the wrong side of the digital divide. Libraries are vital because they are institutions not driven by profit, and are thereby the best actor suited to teaching digital skills and helping the public understand the benefits and tradeoffs that come with using new industry-disruptive services. The unique space libraries fill in providing training and equal access to new tech will remain highly relevant, timely, and necessary as the digital revolution reinvents major sectors of society.

Posted in Digital Divide, OITP, Privacy & Surveillance Tagged with: ,


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