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Archive for the ‘open access’ Category

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.

D.C. Court Delivers Bad News for Net Neutrality

In law, net neutrality, open access on April 7, 2010 at 8:49 am

According to the DC Circuit Court, it’s OK for Comcast to block, slow down or otherwise obstruct access to content like YouTube and music sites. This is very bad news for users. Given that telecom corporations have already restricted user access to certain sites, it is not hard to imagine the cascade of censorship corps will now feel emboldened to pursue — for profit and/or political reasons.

Urge the FCC to Continue Fighting for Users’ Rights.
Act Now at SavetheInternet.org.

Read more:

U.S. Court Curbs FCC Authority on Web Traffic
New York Times, by Edward Wyatt

“The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dealt a sharp blow to the efforts of the Federal Communications Commission to set the rules of the road for the Internet, ruling that the agency lacks the authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic flowing over their networks. The decision specifically concerned the efforts of Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, to slow down customers’ access to a service called BitTorrent, which is used to exchange large video files, most often pirated copies of movies. But Tuesday’s court ruling has far larger implications than just the Comcast case. The ruling would allow Comcast and other Internet service providers to restrict consumers’ ability to access certain kinds of Internet content, such as video sites like Hulu.com or Google’s YouTube service, or charge certain heavy users of their networks more money for access. Google, Microsoft and other big producers of Web content have argued that such controls or pricing policies would thwart innovation and customer choice. Consumer advocates said the ruling, one of several that have challenged the FCC’s regulatory reach, could also undermine all of the FCC’s efforts to regulate Internet service providers and establish its authority over the Internet, including its recently released national broadband plan.” >FULL ARTICLE

Read the decision (US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit)

Additional Coverage (gathered by Benton Foundation):

Court Backs Comcast Over FCC on ‘Net Neutrality’ (WSJ)

FCC’s Net neutrality plans in turmoil (USAToday)

US internet reform plan hit by court ruling (Financial Times)

Google, Skype Set Back as Ruling Puts Web in ‘No-Man’s Land’ (Bloomberg)

Key Takeaways for Libraries from FCC National Broadband Plan

In broadband, community partnerships, information policy, library funding, open access, telecommunications reform on March 18, 2010 at 7:56 am

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts (here and here), the FCC’s National Broadband Plan came out this week. The 360-page document is a worthwhile read. Below are some key takeaways related to libraries and our constituents.

The FCC writes, “If this plan succeeds, every American community will have affordable access to far better broadband performance than they enjoy today. To do so, the plan makes recommendations about reforming the E-rate and the Rural Health Care support programs. Second, non-profit and public institutions should be able to find efficient alternatives for greater connectivity through aggregated efforts. … Schools, libraries and health care facilities must all have the connectivity they need to achieve their purposes” (See Chapter 2, Goal 4).

Of particular note is the reminder that, “Over half (51%) of African Americans and 43% of Hispanics who use the Internet do so at a public library.”[1] The three primary issues inhibiting equitable Internet access are affordability, digital literacy and relevance. All three of these issues impact library services. And as more and more basic social services move online, libraries must continue to address the literacy gaps and whittle away at the perception (by 19% of people surveyed) that the Internet’s merely a “waste of time.”

To this end, the plan calls for capacity-building among community partners stating, “…public computing centers provide more than just free access to the Internet. They provide supportive environments for reluctant and new users to begin to explore the Internet, become comfortable using it and develop the skills needed to find, utilize and create content.[2] Patrons of these centers overwhelmingly express the value of the personnel who staff them and can offer one-on-one help, training or guidance”[3] New LSTA grants and training programs for library personnel are key components of the plan.

The plan also calls for the creation of a “Digital Literacy Corps” to support programs that close the digital knowledge divide. Chicago Public Library’s CyberNavigators program is one successful example. Libraries across the country should harness this opportunity to shape new local programs and promote existing models. The plan asks Congress to increase funding for IMLS, which, if accomplished, will open incredible avenues for community partnerships, literacy programs and equipment upgrades.

Other highlights include recommendations to ensure greater affordability and speed, increase competition and consumer protections, restructure the E-Rate program, expand rural broadband access, and improve public safety and communications access for people with disabilities. The FCC found that, “An important and cross-cutting issue is accessibility for people with disabilities. Some 39% of all non-adopters have a disability, much higher than the 24% of overall survey respondents who have a disability.”[4] Major barriers include the lack of accessible websites, software, equipment and the connection speed needed to use crucial adaptive tools like VoIP. As any librarian will tell you, many people with disabilities only have access to basic adaptive equipment at their libraries. The plan concludes, “The federal government must promote innovative and affordable solutions to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to communications services and that they do not bear disproportionate costs to obtain that access.”

The Broadband Plan was shaped by input from all corners of the U.S.; yet, it was a broad grassroots effort that assured rural and Indigenous communities, people of color, low-income residents and small businesses were heard. These groups collected stories from digital “haves and have-nots,” met with FCC Commissioners, hosted teach-ins, and garnered media attention to educate the public.

There are a number of outstanding issues and next steps to ensure this plan is implemented. Libraries should not miss the opportunity to partner with these community-based groups and localize our policy advocacy work. Our local communities will be better served for it. One step in this direction: yesterday the California Library Association’s (CLA) Intellectual Freedom Committee signed the grassroots Digital Inclusion Pledge. Representing 3,000 members in California, CLA joined dozens of other state and local groups. I encourage other local libraries and associations to do so as well.
NOTES:

[1] See National Broadband Plan, Chapter 9: FN 77, Jon P. Gant et al., National Minority Broadband Adoption: Comparative Trends in Adoption, Acceptance and Use, Jt. Ctr. for Pol. & Econ. Stud. 3 (2010) (Gant et al., National Minority Broadband Adoption).

[2] See National Broadband Plan, Chapter 9: FN 89, American Library Association Comments in re NBP PN #16, filed Dec. 2, 2009, at 3.

[3] See National Broadband Plan, Chapter 9: FN 90, Dharma Dailey et al., Broadband Adoption at 27–28.

[4] See National Broadband Plan, Chapter 9: FN 10, Horrigan, Broadband Adoption and Use in America at 24, 7.

National Day of Action for Affordable, Open Internet: What Librarians Can Do

In activism, broadband, community partnerships, information access, library profession, media justice, net neutrality, open access on February 14, 2010 at 6:12 am

On Monday February 15, a national coalition of grassroots groups will lead a National Day of Action calling on legislators to defend an affordable and open Internet.

As a community committed to information access and equity, librarians have an important role to play on these issues. While our professional associations advocate for open Internet access on Capitol Hill, there is a great deal individual librarians can do in our own communities.

Tomorrow, members of the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) will conduct delegation visits with congressional reps across the country, host community forums and hold local press conferences to highlight the need for universal broadband and Net Neutrality.

Here are a few things librarians can do to support the National Day of Action on Monday:

  • Get your library or organization to join the hundreds of groups who have signed the “Digital Inclusion Pledge” calling on the FCC and Congress to define broadband as a universal service, and create rules that protect an open and non-discriminatory Internet. Available in English and Spanish.
  • On Monday, February 15th, call your Congressperson. Let them know that “you support MAG-Net’s call for an affordable and open Internet.” You can do this as an individual, or speak on behalf of your library. Though major media corporations have promised not to block content, their questionable practices have already come under scrutiny by federal regulators and advocates. Comcast has arbitrarily blocked file-sharing traffic across its network and penalized users with slower speeds. Similarly, Verizon blocked a text-messaging campaign over its network. We can’t simply trust that these ISPs will do the right thing – we need rules to protect our communities, and our Internet. Read more background here.
  • Attend one of the community events near you in Philadelphia, San Antonio, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, and Whitesburg, KY, where organizers are hosting a “Digital Quilting Bee!” Download PDF with details.
  • If you’re not in or near a city where an action is taking place, participate virtually. Join the conversation on Twitter (@mediaaction, @mediajustice) or on MAG-Net’s Facebook group page.

Right now, we have an opportunity to build coalitions with hundreds of community-based groups working to advance public information access. Like librarians, these grassroots groups are knowledgeable about the information barriers faced by their local communities and savvy advocates when it comes to information policy making. We are natural allies if we break through the silos librarians often fall into within our institutions.

Want to know more about open Internet, Net Neutrality and the need for universal broadband?

Why small businesses need open Internet

Why musicians need open Internet

Why open Internet is a civil rights issue

Open Internet is Crucial for Equity, Opportunity, Innovation

In information access, media justice, net neutrality, open access, racial justice on January 15, 2010 at 7:13 am

I definitely recommend reading this important brief filed by a broad coalition of racial justice and information freedom groups, including my organizational alma mater. Background:

January 15, 2010 – In an historic day for the Federal Communications Commission and the Internet, the Media Action Grassroots Network, ColorofChange.org, Presente.org, Applied Research Center, Afro-Netizen, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Native Public Media and Rural Broadband Policy Group submitted a range of grassroots stories and comments from urban, rural and struggling sub-urban communities in response to the Commission’s notice of proposed rule making “In the Matter of Preserving the Open Internet and Broadband Industry Practices.”

The groups’ comments speak to the urgent need for an open and free Internet for low to no income, rural, Native American, African American and Latino communities.

“Like telephones, the Internet is increasingly an essential part of everyone’s daily lives,” says Malkia Cyril, Executive Director of Center for Media Justice, which coordinates the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAGNet). “Ensuring strong rules to keep the Internet free and open for communities in the midst of a widening digital divide is fundamental to a vibrant and representative democracy, and cultural and human rights.”

The groups say without strong “Net Neutrality” rules to keep content on the Internet accessible to all, communities most in need may end up “virtually redlined” from of the innovation and opportunity that springs from a free and open Internet.

“In a democratic society, every idea must have a chance to flourish and all people should be able to access legal content equally and without fear of foul play,” says Amalia Deloney, MAGNet coordinator. “People use [the Internet] to find jobs, access health services, obtain education resources, advocate for representation, increase connection, and its an important tool to build strong and healthy communities in low-income neighborhoods of color.”

The groups’ comments can be found online here.

Weigh In on Open Internet Access

In information policy, net neutrality, open access, telecommunications reform on April 16, 2009 at 9:10 am

ife-latest1The Internet for Everyone Coalition is asking for public input on the importance of universal Internet access. The brief survey asks for public recommendations to the Federal Communications Commission and the Obama Administration.

Free Press explains: “President Obama and Congress have tasked the FCC with developing a national broadband plan by the end of 2009. We want to be sure Washington is committed to finding people-powered solutions to bridge America’s digital divide… By taking the survey, you’re ensuring that people outside of the beltway have a say in America’s national broadband plan. Your top recommendations from the survey will help determine our next steps as Free Press and the InternetforEveryone.org coalition work to shape better Internet policy.”

Take the survey here.

I took it in under 5 minutes.

Change.gov Joins the Creative Commons

In copyright, creative commons, elections, information access, open access on December 2, 2008 at 8:25 am

cclogoYesterday, Change.gov announced its content will be copyrighted under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license — the most open of the CC licenses. This means content posted by the transition team, as well as any content submitted by visitors to the site is open for sharing, editing, mixing, and so on. Or as Ars Technica wrote: “Rip, Mix, and Govern.” This move for Obama keeps with his promise of “transparency.” Yet, it was a bit of an oxymoron for a government site geared toward public participation to fall within an “all rights reserved” copyright in the first place. Most .gov sites are in the public domain (the most open of open).

We can only hope (and continue pressing) that Obama remain accountable to this promise when it comes to critical public interest issues — not least of which include reversing the FISA Amendments Act (signed by Bush and supported by then-Senator Obama) and removing permanent mandatory gag orders under the PATRIOT Act. More than those topics later….

In the meantime, information advocates have posted a few principles toward an even more Open Government. See http://open-government.us/

Read also:

Change.gov’s Newsroom Blog on the new copyright

Overview of CC licenses

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