New Co-Authored Book Chapter

My colleague, Dr. Bianca Reisdorf (UNC Charlotte) and I have a chapter that was just published in an edited volume, titled “Digital Inclusion: An International Comparative Analysis” (Rowman & Littlefield) by Massimo Ragnedda (Northumbria University) and Bruce Mutsvairo (University of Technology Sydney). The title of our chapter is “An Asset-Based Approach to Digital Inclusion Research in the US Context” and features some of the research findings included in my report, titled “Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives” published by the Benton Foundation in 2016.

Here is the description of the book from the publisher’s website:

“The volume examines the risks and opportunities of a digital society characterized by the increasing importance of knowledge and by the incessant rise and pervasiveness of information and communication technologies (ICTs). At a global level, the pivotal role of ICTs has made it necessary to rethink ways to avoid forms of digital exclusion or digital discrimination. This edited collection comprises of chapters written by respected scholars from a variety of countries, and brings together new scholarship addressing what the process of digital inclusion means for individuals and places in the countries analyzed. Each country has its own strategy to guarantee that people can access and enjoy the benefits of the information society. While this book does not presume to map all the countries in the world, it does shed light into these strategies, underlining what each country is doing in order to reduce digital inequalities and to guarantee that socially disadvantaged people (in terms of disabilities, availability of resources, age, geographic location, lack of education, or ethnicity) are digitally included.”

New Article in Public Library Quarterly

I am excited to announce the publication of my new co-authored article with Simmons SLIS alum, Christiana Urbano Stanton, entitled “Developing Media Literacy in Public Libraries: Learning from Community Media Centers” out today in Public Library Quarterly.

Here is the abstract:

“The rise of digital media labs and spaces for content creation in public libraries has been documented in the scholarly literature. However, fewer studies have investigated the outcomes of media literacy initiatives in community media centers (CMCs) and how they might inform similar programs and services in public libraries. This article reports findings from a study that used qualitative research to investigate the current goals and activities of CMCs across the United States. The findings show that the educational, social, and community benefits of these programs could be useful for public libraries to consider in developing or augmenting their own media literacy initiatives.”

I want to thank my co-author, Christiana Urbano Stanton for her excellent work on this article. This article would also not be possible without the assistance of Mike Wassenaar, President and CEO of the Alliance for Community Media, along with representatives from the ten community media centers featured in the article, including: Arlington Independent Media; Bay Area Video Coalition; Cambridge Community Television; Davis Media Access; Grand Rapids Community Media Center; MetroEast Community Media; PhillyCam; Sun Prairie Media Center; St. Paul Neighborhood Network; and “Community Media Center 10” (name anonymized to protect privacy of participant).

Mourning the Loss of James Werle

Last week, we lost a member of our research team and a close friend. Our thoughts and prayers go out to James Werle’s family and those closest to him. He will be missed. I hope that our work will help, at least in some small part, to continue his important contributions toward promoting broadband connectivity in public libraries and other community anchor institutions.

Here is the link to the announcement from Internet2.

Measuring Library Broadband Networks for the National Digital Platform

I am incredibly honored and excited to announce that last week I received an IMLS National Leadership Grant (#LG-71-18-0110-18) to work with my amazing colleagues Georgia Bullen and Chris Ritzo at New America’s Open Technology Institute and James Werle at Internet2 for the next two years to examine how advanced broadband measurement capabilities can support the infrastructure and services needed to respond to the digital demands of public library users across the U.S.

Here’s the description of the project from the IMLS website:

“Simmons College, along with New America’s Open Technology Institute, and Internet2, will examine how advanced broadband measurement capabilities can support the infrastructure and services needed to respond to the digital demands of public library users across the U.S. The project will gather quantitative and qualitative data from public libraries across the country to 1) understand the broadband speeds and quality of service that public libraries receive; 2) assess how well broadband service and infrastructure are supporting their communities’ digital needs; 3) understand broadband network usage and capacity; and 4) increase their knowledge of networked services and connectivity needs. The project deliverables include an open source and replicable broadband measurement platform, training manual to help public librarians use that platform, and a final report on the project.”

Visit the IMLS website to download our program materials to learn more about the project.

 

An Ethics of Care for Digital Equity

We had a great pre-conference workshop, titled “New Ways of Thinking About Digital Equity” at the Net Inclusion Summit in Cleveland yesterday. The workshop was organized and sponsored by the Center for Digital Inclusion at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s School of Information Sciences, where I received my PhD and was affiliated as a Research Scholar. It was a real honor to join a panel with such distinguished and talented individuals, including Emily Knox, CM! Winters, and Barbara Jones.

During the workshop, I presented an ethics of care framework for digital equity based on a paper that Dr. Miriam Sweeney and I published in Information, Communication, & Society last year, titled “Creating Caring Institutions for Community Informatics.” At the end of the presentation we had a great break-out session in which we asked folks in the room to respond to the following questions:

  • Where does ethics of care already exist? How does it exist and who is involved? What kind of training is happening in different disciplines producing infomediaries?
  • Where are the gaps in training for care?
  • How do we integrate an ethics of care into practice and prioritize it along with digital inclusion (i.e., access, skills and content)?
  • How might we emphasize the human rather than the technological aspects of digital equity?

Here are some of the responses and wonderful ideas from the workshop below.

 

Why We Need To Stop Questioning Women of Color

The most recent attack on Dr. Safiya Noble’s scholarship has led me to write this post. I wish I had written this post much sooner.

Not this, but this recent attack on Safiya’s scholarship over the past week involves yet another male computer science professor who used Twitter to openly attack the claims found in Safiya Noble’s most recent book, Algorithms of Oppression, which he also hadn’t read. The book was just published by NYU Press (go buy it).

For those interested in the details, please head on over to Twitter to read this thread for starters. However, the details of the attack are less important than the overall point I am trying to make here, which is this:

We as men (particularly White cisgender heterosexual able-bodied men in higher education) must stop questioning women of color (WOC) — particularly WOC scholars who continue to be silenced and oppressed by men — for having ideas that require us to think differently about what we know and how we know.

I should know why it’s important for men not to attack WOC scholars for having ideas: I was one of those men. More to the point, I was one of those men who questioned Safiya’s scholarship in the past.

I later learned I was wrong.

A few years back, Safiya and I were doctoral students and Information in Society Fellows together at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. During this time, I was one of those men (among others at UIUC) who questioned Safiya’s important work about what search engines say about women.

I know there were reasons why I questioned Safiya’s work, but the reasons did not have anything to do with the quality of her work.

Rather, I questioned her work because of my social location. I am a White cisgender heterosexual man from a privileged background. As such, my social location has allowed me to exist in and navigate the world in such a way where I have not had to experience forms of oppression, where people constantly question what I say and do because of my race and gender. In other words, my social location has assigned to me a significant amount of power and privilege.

In continuing to think back, daily, to why I even questioned Safiya’s scholarship at all, I would add another important factor:

During that time in my doctoral program, I didn’t have any men, particularly male academic role models, in my life that stressed how important it is to learn to listen to women of color and try to understand their everyday experiences.

I first learned to question not only what I know but how I know when I first heard Dr. Virginia Eubanks come speak at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, during my time as a doctoral student and teaching assistant. During her talk, about her research for her book, Digital Dead End, Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age, she shared three of the most powerful words that I heard during my doctoral program: “I was wrong.”

In her talk at UIUC, Virginia Eubanks admitted that she was wrong in the early days of her work with women at the YWCA in Troy-Cohoes, New York (which you can read about in her book). In response, she learned how to think differently in order to more deeply understand and respond to the everyday technology experiences of the low-income women at the YWCA. Eubanks explained how this approach opened up possibilities to highlight what she referred to as “alternative articulations” of the digital divide, which continues to offer — particularly for those of us who care about digital equity — ways to look at the strengths of women of color as a starting point for digital equity initiatives.

Hearing these three words from an academic, also a female scholar, was incredibly powerful for me at this time. I am still indebted to another woman of color scholar, Dr. Seeta Peña Gangadharan for introducing me Virginia Eubanks’s work.

This was a profound experience for me, particularly as a White cisgender heterosexual male emerging scholar from a privileged background, because it allowed me to question not only what I knew, but how I came to know.

I then began questioning my own past experiences including my failures. I began asking myself many questions about whether the decisions I had made were fully informed, and thus the most correct or even ethical at the time. As a result, I now know more deeply that many of my past decisions were not correct, ethical, or respectful. And, to those who I have hurt in the past as a result, I am sorry.

How to Stop Questioning and Start Listening to Women of Color

After admitting and accepting that I was wrong, I discovered a few ways to move forward.

I began reading the work of Black feminist scholars who Safiya and other women of color were citing and discussing in their scholarship. Through this process, which continues today, I began learning that there are multiple ways of knowing about the world. By understanding the perspectives of women of color, I could begin to see why men continue to question women of color and why it needs to stop.

I also began to recognize that I, as a White cisgender heterosexual man from a privileged background in a position of power in higher education, can use the powerful platform that I have to work toward changing these stereotypes and addressing oppression in academia and beyond.

More recently, I have begun to assign Black feminist scholarship in my classes at Simmons. This is because, as Patricia Hill Collins (2000) explained, “It is more likely for Black women, as members of an oppressed group, to have critical insights into the condition of our oppression than it is for those who live outside this structures” (p. 39). Collins’s writing, as well as the writing of many other Black feminist scholars, can be an incredibly important starting point for library and information science students in learning to develop the tools, skills, and knowledge needed to challenge the oppressive systems and structures that continue to impact our profession and the communities we serve in harmful ways.

My hope in writing this post is that it will ultimately serve as a call to other men, like myself, to begin questioning not only what we know but how we know. More importantly, I hope this post will cause other men to stop questioning women of color and to start asking ourselves critical questions such as, “maybe what I know is wrong.”

In her book, titled Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, Collins (2000) calls attention to other powerful Black women, such as Alice Walker and former congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who embraced a humanist perspective in working to support Black women’s empowerment. Men can and must join this effort to resist common stereotypes of Black women and embrace “the oneness of all human life” (p. 46).

I also hope this post will inspire other men to share their own stories describing when they realized that their way of thinking, and thus their actions, were wrong, as well as the steps they continue to take everyday to actively challenge the oppression of women of color.

References

Collins, P. H. (2000). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.

Eubanks, V. (2011). Digital dead end: Fighting for social justice in the information age. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Thank you to Vanessa Rhinesmith for encouraging me to write this post.

New Article by Sharon Strover on Rural Broadband

Sharon Strover (UT Austin) just published an excellent article over at The Conversation on the broadband challenges facing rural Americans. In the article, she mentions some of what we’ve learned through our research funded through a grant from the US Institute of Museum and Library Services to understand how rural libraries address the challenges of internet connectivity through wifi hotspot lending programs.

Here’s an excerpt:

In our work, we have found a lot of people on tight budgets figuring out how to use local Wi-Fi connections to download content onto their phones, so they use (and pay for) less mobile data. Public libraries, which generally have fast and free Wi-Fi, are popular options in rural areas. Many rural librarians have told us about people in their parking lots after hours simply using the library Wi-Fi. Those connections aren’t always the fastest, but are a testament to the efforts of public libraries over many years to provide their communities’ residents with computer and internet services.

Read the full article here.

Social Informatics Spring 2018

I’m looking forward to teaching Social Informatics again this semester at Simmons SLIS. I’m using my module on Critical Informatics at the beginning of the course as an opportunity to incorporate a few new topics this year, including Feminist Theories of Technology, Black Cyberfeminism, and Design Justice, building on other critical theoretical perspectives in LIS.

Here is the link to the syllabus for this semester.

COURSE SUMMARY
“Social Informatics” refers to the body of research and study that examines social aspects of computerization – including the roles of information technology in social and organizational change and the ways that the social organization of information technologies are influenced by social forces and social practices. This graduate seminar is for students interested in the influence of information technology in the human context, including cultural heritage, professional concerns, and social inequities. The course introduces some of the key concepts of social informatics and situates them into the view of varied perspectives including readers, librarians, computer professionals, authors, educators, publishers, editors, and the institutions that support them.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES
Upon completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Describe a variety of social, political, and economic contexts that shape information and communication technologies (ICTs) and their impact on society.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of social systems and how they interact with ICTs.
  • Discuss concepts that illuminate the intersections of race, class, gender, identity, ability, and ICTs.
  • Identify a range of ethical, legal, and policy issues that impact the design and use of ICTs.

The course syllabus is available under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Joining Boston’s Digital Equity Fund Council

The City of Boston just announced their new Digital Equity Fund. This initiative will be overseen by the Mayor’s Department of Innovation & Technology. I am honored to be joining the advisory board along with the following people: Alessandra Brown, Director, Roxbury Innovation Center; Turahn Dorsey, Chief of Education, City of Boston: Trinh Nguyen, Director of Workforce Development, City of Boston; and Sasha Costanza-Chock, Associate Professor of Civic Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Here is a snippet from today’s press release:

“Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced the creation of a $35,000 Digital Equity Fund, which will support the City’s goal of ensuring all residents have equal access to digital services. The Digital Equity Fund will provide support to community-based organizations that help Boston residents fully connect and participate in today’s media and information landscape. ‘A more connected Boston is a more equitable City, a more innovative City and a more prosperous City,’ said Mayor Walsh. ‘This grant program will allow more residents to connect digitally, and will encourage residents to grow their digital skills while increasing access to information.’

The Digital Equity Fund will explore ways to build individual and community capacity to:

  • Use the Internet, digital skills, and digital tools to pursue professional, educational, and civic endeavors;
  • Engage with the Internet safely and securely;
  • Develop needs-responsive, community driven digital skills building opportunities;
  • Increase broadband adoption among the roughly 1 in 5 Bostonians who do not subscribe to this service in the home.

In 2017, Boston will award one grant of $35,000 or up to two grants up to $17,500 each to nonprofit organizations that promote digital equity. By providing seed funding, the City hopes to identify promising strategies that can attract outside funding and further create a City where everyone has the tools and skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.”

Read the full press release here.