since 2004

Welcoming Wheeler – Help libraries remain beacons of 21st century learning

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2014 at 11:08 am

My prepared comments from the Voices for Internet Freedom Town Hall with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. I will post edited video here when it’s ready. In the meantime, you can watch the livestream here. I learned so much from all of the amazing speakers. Thanks to Center for Media Justice and Free Press for organizing this important conversation. Hopefully it’s the first of many with the commissioners.

Voices for Internet Freedom LogoJanuary 9, 2014 (Oakland, CA) Greetings Commissioner Wheeler. I’m here tonight as a public librarian, and I’m proud to say Oakland Public Library — like most libraries — is a beloved hub for digital learning, e-government, media participation and creation.

I’m also here because – despite great strides – more than 60% of libraries in California lack the bandwidth to meet public demand each day.[1] Including Oakland, where we’re years away from achieving ConnectED’s minimum goal of 100Mbps and light-years from seeing 1Gbps. (As of 2012, only 17% of California libraries had connections above 10-30Mbps).

Libraries and schools are the heartbeat of truly connected communities, but technologically too many rely on a virtual defibrillator to reboot each day and keep going.

Just today — Governor Brown released his budget proposing millions for high-speed Internet. It’s a step in the right direction but we need your support.

If I had more time, I’d tell you in-depth stories about the day I arrived to 50 people waiting outside for computers. Section 8 applications had opened. Entirely online.

Or the day I helped a mother, recently laid off, look for trucking jobs. She had 20 years of experience but every job listing posed a new challenge in technical know-how.

Or… I’d talk about the students who wait patiently for computers afterschool only to have the connection lag. How many hours have they spent watching the page load?

We all know what happens at rush hour. When you cram hundreds of drivers onto a single lane highway. You get a traffic jam. The FCC can help us widen the lanes.

As Chair, you can help libraries remain beacons of 21st century learning by:

  • Raising the e-Rate funding cap.
  • Streamlining the process while ensuring that funds go where they are needed most (based on community poverty levels and cost of service).
  • Reducing barriers to deployment.
  • And protecting an open Internet through Net Neutrality — so youth like Obasi Davis (who opened tonight’s event with a poem) can remain media creators, not just media consumers.

Libraries still provide the only reliable Internet access for more than half our patrons. Don’t let us flatline.

We look forward to working with you, Commissioner Wheeler. Thank you for your time.

Two Great Causes and Cute to Boot!

In art, cultural activism, indigenous communities, intellectual freedom, racial justice on July 19, 2012 at 10:43 am

First, I just love this poster by Oakland-based artist and activist Melanie Cervantes! She writes, “Hola Gatita sends messages of solidarity to Arizona and any where books about Chicana experiences are banned. La Gatita dice no to censorship.” Download your own copy here.

Second, this poster nicely coincides with Aunt Lute Books latest fundraiser. A small, indie press for 30 years, Aunt Lute needs support to publish a fourth edition of Gloria Anzaldúa’s groundbreaking book Borderlands/La Frontera, which Hola Gatita loves! If you have not read this book, you should. It is one of those transformational feminist texts that compels you to empathy, to action, to a vision of social justice in historical context, and to a deeper, more engaged humanity. Yes, it’s that good. (Among those critical books that gave me roots and taught me to dream when I was a teenager and newbie activist).

So DONATE to Aunt Lute’s crowd sourced fundraising campaign.

Aunt Lute will be giving away four limited-edition screen prints featuring Gloria Anzaldúa’s image and text from Borderlands created and donated by Melanie Cervantes of Dignidad Rebelde. “The 22 x 30 inch five-color screen printed posters were printed at the Serie Project earlier this year and are valued and placed at the $250 prize reward level… Every donation, no matter what size, brings us closer to our all-or-nothing funding deadline on July 28. Please consider viewing our campaign page, or passing this information onto friends.”

 

Oh, and read why Hello Kitty opposes SB 2281 in Arizona. Librotraficantes! Stand up for Ethnic Studies.

2 Pennies: Amy Sonnie on ALA’s ‘Most Frequently Challenged’ List

In censorship, intellectual freedom, LGBTQ issues, libraries, library associations, library profession, open access on April 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm

I’m reposting this interview I did today with my current publisher, Melville House. Read the full original post on their very cool blog MobyLives, covering all things literary, popular, unpopular, intellectually notable, common sense, illogical and … you get the gist.

Jason Bennett/MobyLives: Last week the American Library Association (ALA) released their Top Ten List of the Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2010. As we mentioned in our report, Melville House author, librarian, blogger, and activist Amy Sonnie (Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times) was #9 on the list for her book Revolutionary Voices, which was originally published by Alyson Books in 2000.

Curious about what all this means–and excited I could talk to someone who’s both a librarian and an author on this list–I decided to ask Amy a few questions about free speech in libraries, how books are “challenged,” and how it feels to keep company with Stephenie Meyer.

What does this list say to you about the state of free speech in this country and libraries’ ability to circulate books with sensitive topics?

It tells us something very profound: People either love or hate vampires and gays, especially those wayfaring penguins. Oh, and true stories. People either love or hate the truth. This year was an especially bad year for reality with my book and Ehrenreich’s exposé on minimum wage work causing such controversy.

But more seriously, I don’t think we should look for reliable social data in a list like this, but I do think ALA’s annual roll call provides a useful pulse-check. First, it reminds the majority of us who oppose censorship that there are real challenges in our own backyards. Most people I talk to don’t know this happens.

Second, the list and Banned Book Week give people a chance to really talk about democratic principles and action. To ask: freedom to do what, for who and where? Most people say they oppose censorship, but they apply ‘free speech’ and ‘open access’ differently, with children vs. adults for example. Many books on the annual list, like mine, are geared toward teens. This opens a needed debate about youth rights and free expression. Our society is pretty inconsistent in how we treat young adults. Courts debate this everyday when they sentence juveniles to adult prisons or let schools limit students’ Internet access. So why not gather the controversies and raise the issue for public debate? More importantly, why not ask young adults themselves? In my work with teens, that’s exactly the discussion I used this list to generate even before I was on it. Oops, I just revealed my bias toward young people having rights. (Gasp!).

What do you think about your own book’s inclusion?

I was shocked actually. I knew about the local challenges, but it was surprising because the book is ten years old! Why now? One obvious reason, I think, is the growing backlash to the small gains of gay rights advocates over the last 15 years. And I really mean small. We have a long way to go. It was kind of cool, though, to be on the same list as The Hunger Games. Those books are amazing. I wonder what Katniss would say about all this?

If ALA weren’t drawing attention to this issue by publishing an annual list, do you think libraries would be more likely to cave to advocates who want these books banned?

I guess it’s worth mentioning here that I am a librarian, in addition to an author/editor. I enjoy kind of a great vantage point. Do I think libraries would cave to the pressure without it? Some would. Most, I hope, would not. I have faith in libraries’ commitment to strong professional ethics. I know librarians who faced incredible odds to stand up for those values. My optimism shows here, though. In one of the cases involving my book, it was a library director who removed it from the shelves. Concerned local residents and librarians got the word out and turned up the pressure for a while. ALA’s public education just assures a broader audience finds out so they might be better prepared if a challenge comes their way.

With all the fanfare surrounding the ALA’s Top Ten List of the Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2010, I think a lot of people (myself included) are confused about exactly what it means for a book to be challenged. Can you explain a bit about the process and why it’s significant when a book is officially challenged?

Challenges are significant because they intrinsically elevate the objection of one person to the level of community-wide muzzle. What one parent objects to, another may not. If a public library removes the book, they remove it for everyone. This makes any challenge an issue of broader public concern regardless of whether it results in a ban.

Most libraries have a process for community members to state their objection to a particular book, movie, etc. This is usually a written “Request for Reconsideration of Materials.” It is what it sounds like — a resident or parent asks the library to reconsider keeping something on the shelf. Libraries typically take the removal of an item very seriously. Most often, there are already policies in place to guide what they purchase and keep. This policy is informed by broader professional standards, like the Library Bill of Rights, as well as localized needs, such as an explicit commitment to maintain multilingual materials, or — in the case of schools – a focus on educational value and age appropriateness. These can be fuzzy areas to apply and that’s where many challenges gain ground. Separately, if the library has a process outlined for reconsideration requests they are supposed to follow it. This may involve a committee meeting to weigh the needs of the broader community against one person/group’s request to restrict access.

Based on what’s reported to ALA, we know that most decisions uphold libraries unique role as a place of free, unfettered inquiry. But sometimes the materials are actually removed – this year in 53 cases that we know about. Two of those bans were on my book.

Finally, how does it feel to beat out Twilight on this list?

This might disappoint some people, but Twilight and my book actually had the same number of challenges. So, the love-drunk vampires and outspoken queers are tied. Take that, Mr. Falwell.

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