Category Archives: Research

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.

 

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.

Co-Edited JoCI Special Issue Published

The new issue of The Journal of Community Informatics was published this past week. I had the opportunity to co-edit the special issue with David Nemer (University of Kentucky) and Christiana Urbano (Simmons). The issue features selections from the 2016 Community Informatics Research Network Conference in Prato, Italy.

Here’s an excerpt from our introduction to the special issue:

The conference theme was “Engaging with Participation, Activism, and Technologies.” The papers in this issue highlight the conference’s overarching theme, which focused on advancing theory and practice in the development of Participatory Action Research (PAR) with a particular focus on helping to ensure that marginalized groups have a strong voice in their communities in the face of structural and cultural challenges. In doing so, the conference sought to help promote “a stronger focus on more meaningful and equal partnerships with community, civil society, and NGO organisations around the world.”

 

New Article in D-Lib Magazine

My colleagues and I have a new article that was published this past week in D-Lib Magazine. The article, which is co-authored with Sharon Strover (University of Texas at Austin), Brian Whitacre (Oklahoma State University), and Alexis Schrubbe (University of Texas at Austin) presents early findings from our Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) research grant, titled “At the Edges of the National Digital Platform” (grant #RE-31-16-0014-16) which examines wireless hotspot lending programs in rural libraries in Kansas and Maine.

Here’s the abstract:

Libraries straddle the information needs of the 21st century. The wifi, computers and now mobile hotspots that some libraries provide their patrons are gateways to a broad, important, and sometimes essential information resources. The research summarized here examines how rural libraries negotiate telecommunications environments, and how mobile hotspots might extend libraries’ digital significance in marginalized and often resource-poor regions. The Internet has grown tremendously in terms of its centrality to information and entertainment resources of all sorts, but the ability to access the Internet in rural areas typically lags that experienced in urban areas. Not only are networks less available in rural areas, they also often are of lower quality and somewhat more expensive; even mobile phone-based data plans — assuming there are acceptable signals available — may be economically out of reach for people in these areas. With older, lower income and less digitally skilled populations typically living in rural areas, the role of the library and its freely available resources may be especially useful. This research examines libraries’ experiences with providing free, mobile hotspot-based access to the Internet in rural areas of Maine and Kansas.

Read the full article here.

Digital Inclusion and Outcomes-Based Evaluation

I’m excited to announce the release of a new report co-authored with Angela Siefer, Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and published by the Benton Foundation, which highlights and seeks to address the core outcomes-based evaluation needs of the digital inclusion field. Here is an excerpt from today’s report release available at Benton.org:

In recent years, government agencies, private foundations, and community-based organizations have increasingly sought to understand how programs that promote digital inclusion lead to social and economic outcomes for individuals, programs, and communities. This push to measure outcomes has been driven, in part, by a larger trend to ensure that dollars are being used efficiently to improve lives rather than simply to deliver services. A new report, published by Benton Foundation, describes the challenges facing community-based organizations and other key stakeholders in using outcomes-based evaluation to measure the success of their digital inclusion programs and offers recommendations toward addressing these shared barriers.

Download the full report here.

SLIS Public Lecture: Checking out the Internet

This Wednesday, April 12th at 12:00 PM at Simmons College, Madison Bishop and I will be presenting a talk, titled “Checking Out The Internet” as part of the SLIS Public Lecture Series. Here’s the event info:

How do hotspot lending programs help rural libraries address the unique challenges of Internet connectivity in their communities? This talk will present findings from a research project to explore how mobile wireless hotspot devices—which allow users to access the Internet from any place with a cellular signal—shape internet access and use for the patrons of 24 libraries in rural Kansas and Maine. The research examines the practical requirements for implementing hotspot lending programs; the impact on users’ digital literacy and quality of life; the role of libraries in rural information ecosystems; and the relationship between library hotspot lending programs and other institutions, including schools, local governments, and Internet service providers. This project is being led by researchers at the University of Austin at Texas, Oklahoma State University and Simmons College and funded by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Presenting on this project will be Co-Principal Investigator Colin Rhinesmith, Assistant Professor in the Simmons School of Library and Information Science, and research assistant Madison Bishop, second-year graduate student.

YouthStudio: Promoting Just and Equitable Community Engagement in LIS

I’m giving a talk tomorrow here at the Association for Library and Information Science Education conference during the session, titled “Community Engagement and Social Responsibility: Frameworks for Pedagogy and Praxis.” The title of my presentation is “YouthStudio: Promoting Just and Equitable Community Engagement in LIS” (link to PDF).

In the presentation, I introduce the YouthStudio model as a critical pedagogical, participatory design, and ethnographic action research framework to promote more just and equitable community engagement projects in library and information science (LIS). The presentation begins by describing the origin story of the YouthStudio model, which dates back to 2013 when Martin Wolske and I first presented our Community Informatics Studio (link to presentation) at the 2013 ALISE conference and later published the framework in a paper for JELIS with Beth Kumar.

I am grateful to Martin for introducing me to studio-based learning in LIS and for allowing me to collaborate with him over these years to develop a critical theoretical and participatory pedagogical model to advance more equitable and just learning spaces in LIS community engagement projects.

New Paper in The Journal of Community Informatics

Martin Wolske (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and I have a new paper in The Journal of Community Informatics. The paper is called “Critical Questions for Community Informatics in Practice from an Ethical Perspective.”

Here’s a brief description from the paper:

Collaboratively developed through three years of conference workshops, this set of guiding critical questions seeks to further promote ethical practice in CI…These guiding critical questions affirm the need to state social justice principles more explicitly in community informatics. Unequal power relations will always be a factor and CI practice can benefit from guidelines to ensure these relationships are more equitable.

Many people from around the world contributed to the development of this framework over three years of Community Informatics Research Network conferences in Prato, Italy. I believe the framework is quite relevant and applicable beyond the scope of this topic. It was a real honor to work with Martin Wolske and many other colleagues on this project. I hope it will be useful and also elaborated upon.

New Post for Benton.org on Digital Equity Planning

bentonBrandon Brooks (Queens University of Charlotte), Angela Siefer (National Digital Inclusion Alliance), and I have a new blog post up on the Benton Foundation’s Digital Beat Blog.  In the post, titled “Digital Equity Planning in U.S. Cities,” we share preliminary findings from our study of digital equity plans in Austin, Portland (OR), and Seattle.  Here’s an excerpt from the post:

Based on our preliminary examination of the digital equity plans created by the cities of Austin, Portland, and Seattle, and through our own interviews with local policymakers, we offer these recommendations to federal policymakers, local governments, and other key stakeholders interested in creating effective digital equity plans:

  • Local governments should employ a central planning and coordination office with legitimate authority to facilitate digital equity planning.
  • Local planners should ensure that traditionally-excluded groups are included in digital equity planning.
  • Local decision-makers should use research from a variety of sources to inform digital equity planning.

We offer these preliminary findings and recommendations as key insights to assist local, state, and federal policymakers in creating effective digital equity plans.

Read the full post here.

New Article in Information, Communication & Society

ICSDr. Miriam Sweeney (School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alabama) and I have a new paper published in Information, Communication & Society. In the article, titled “Creating Caring Institutions for Community Informatics,” we develop a feminist ethics of care framework for researchers and practitioners in the field of community informatics.

Here is the abstract:

This paper explores the potential affordances of applying a feminist ethics of care approach to community informatics practices in public internet access facilities. As feminist technology scholars have long observed, technology and technoculture are strongly encoded as masculine, privileging traits such as scientific knowledge, rationality, objectivity, and distance. These characteristics are expressed in traditional infomediary practices in a variety of ways, including notions of expertise, ways of conceptualizing technology, emphasis on skills attainment, and deficit-based models of user behavior. In contrast, ethics of care emphasizes the importance of relational and situated knowledge, pluralistic voices and experiences, and relationships bound by mutual interdependence. Traditionally, caring has been feminized and thus necessarily excluded from technoculture and relegated to invisible and unpaid labor. Caring and associated affective labor practices remain an under-examined subject in infomediary practices. Public libraries and community technology centers are logical places to explore for care work, given that they share many characteristics of the spaces where care work has historically been performed. We argue that an ethics of care framework has several possible affordances for infomediary practices in these institutions, including highlighting the gendered power dynamics that define and shape existing practices; distributing care work and making existing care work visible; and envisioning a more holistic and ethical approach to engaging diverse publics. We translate Tronto’s seven warning signs for ‘bad care’ in institutions into seven positive guidelines for providing ‘good care’ in public internet access facilities, then contextualize these for community informatics institutions and practices.