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NetGain, criminal justice, and Maura Marx

Well, it has been a tough week with the announced plan to attempt a rollback of net neutrality, House passage of the Register of Copyrights bill and ongoing deliberations on the federal budget for FY 2017 (yes, the budget year that’s already more than half over!). But there’s more happening and I would like to mention a few things here.

The NetGain partnership includes the Ford Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Mozilla Foundation, and the Open Society Foundation.

I participated in the recent NetGain convening on the Internet of Things held at the New York Public Library last week. The NetGain partnership — which includes the Ford Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Mozilla Foundation, and the Open Society Foundation — was created in 2015 to “address the challenges and opportunities of the Internet age [and] to strengthen digital society and advance the public interest.”

While the Internet of Things promises many opportunities and benefits, there are also potential dystopian outcomes as well. This convening focused on the possible downsides and especially their disproportional impact on those in society with the fewest resources. One big challenge for philanthropy (and all of us, really) is our organization into silos — the K-12 box, environmental box, library box, technology box, freedom of expression box, and so forth. By contrast, the Internet of Things is inherently “cross-box” and, as Ford Foundation President Darren Walker observed, the “Internet of Things can wash all of our boxes away.”

The panel of municipal officials pointed to another challenge: cities, or even parts of cities, are far from homogeneous. In higher crime areas, residents may view video surveillance as a priority for the Internet of Things, whereas in affluent areas, real-time parking information and services may be seen as a higher priority than crime prevention.

For libraries, the Internet of Things presents many opportunities. Just as the expansion of information access and creation from analog to analog and digital brought fundamental change to libraries, so too will the Internet of Things. The forthcoming change in information access and creation for libraries (and everyone) could be characterized as analog, digital, physical and geographical.

In a rather different substantive direction, I also attended the launch of a new initiative on justice, work and opportunity by the R Street Institute here in Washington. The core of this initiative is the premise that jobs for ex-offenders are critical for them to reintegrate into society. Society, however, erects barriers for ex-offenders seeking to obtain employment, which ultimately leads to high recidivism. The new initiative Justice for Work is “a coalition of organizations spanning the ideological spectrum which seeks to respond to proposals for mandatory, government-run background checks and fingerprint collection in private industry hiring practices.”

At this R Street discussion, the role and possibilities of entrepreneurship were highlighted. One of the panelists was Marcus Bullock, CEO of Flikshop, who developed a new business based on identifying a need while incarcerated himself. I am sure we all see the multiple intersections with libraries, such as the re-engagement in communities, job search, small business development and digital literacy. We just have to figure out what makes sense for us and who is willing to take the initiative to push ahead.

Finally, I want to note that today is Maura Marx‘s last day as deputy director for Libraries at the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as she prepares to take on a fabulous new opportunity in New England. During her tenure at IMLS, which included service as the acting director, Maura has worked tirelessly on behalf of the library community. Her notable initiatives include the national digital platform and advancing ebook access, the ConnectED Library Card Challenge and a concerted effort to focus and improve IMLS’ grantmaking and develop priorities through engagement with the library community. I deeply appreciate her contributions in moving the library community ahead at the national and policy level and wish her the best in her exciting new endeavor.

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Alan Inouye

Alan S. Inouye is the director of ALA's Office for Information Technology Policy. 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.

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