Libraries and Digital Equity Coalitions

In their Digital Inclusion Coalition Guidebook, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance has defined a coalition in the following way:

  • “Is a collective organization of organizations (e.g., local governments, libraries, educational institutions, housing authorities, community technology training and network providers, other social service and civic organizations, etc.).
  • Operating in the public realm, with a reasonable degree of transparency about its activities, governance and finances.
  • Function within a collaborative structure (formal or informal), that may include process for decision making, leadership responsibilities, rights and obligations of members, regular meetings, and open process for joining.”

If you work at a library and have been (or would like to be) involved with a coalition working to advance digital equity, please consider sharing your experiences in this 5-10 minute survey below about your library’s experience.

Findings from the study will be shared back with you (if you choose to include your name and email address), as well as in my book on Digital Equity Ecosystems for the University of California Press. Thank you!

Call for Submissions: 20th Anniversary Issue of The Journal of Community Informatics

The Journal of Community Informatics

Call for Submissions: 20th Anniversary Issue of The Journal of Community Informatics

Community informatics (CI) is the use of information and communication technology (ICT) to support community-defined development goals. It is a multidisciplinary field that includes researchers and practitioners from information studies, social work, rural sociology, public policy, urban planning, among other areas. Similar to social informatics, CI considers organizational use of ICTs across digital and physical spaces. However, CI is more concerned with how communities develop the social and technical capacities needed to promote ICT access, adoption, and use. CI projects are as diverse globally as they are locally. A common theme connecting them is community participation in ICTs to promote social action and social change.˟

On October 1, 2004, the first issue of The Journal of Community Informatics was published. It has since remained a free and open access, double-blind peer review journal featuring academic research and practitioner contributions at the intersection of CI research, practice, and policy. A wide range of submissions have been welcome, including research articles, notes from the field, points of view, reports, case studies, and more. As a way to celebrate the past 20 years of the journal, and to open up new avenues for participation, we invite original submissions in these traditional formats, as well as new formats including artistic works such as poetry, audio/video recordings, and visual artwork.

Information for Contributors

We are interested in short paper submissions of 1,500-2,000 words that reflect on any of the topics listed below.

  • The past, present, and future of community informatics
  • Reflections from journal article authors about the impact of their contributions
  • Personal/professional reflections on CI as a field of research and practice
  • Critical reflections on and interrogations of the need for community informatics
  • The role of JoCI and other open access publications in the scholarly communication ecosystem

Contributors should include a 200-300 word abstract that describes their submission. The papers will be non-peer reviewed and will be included as “Points of View” submissions (see Editorial Guidelines). Additional author guidelines can be found here: https://openjournals.uwaterloo.ca/index.php/JoCI/about/submissions#authorGuidelines

Important Dates

  • Submissions due: 1 May 2024
  • Publication issue: 1 October 2024


˟ Rhinesmith, C. (2019). Community informatics. In G. Ritzer (Eds.), Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology (2nd Ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

Community Informatics and AI

Lego Mesh Wireless Network(Lego Mesh Wireless Network at the 2011 Allied Media Conference photo by Colin Rhinesmith)

[Editorial re-posted from The Journal of Community Informatics]

In yesterday’s Op-Ed, titled “For all the hype in 2023, we still don’t know what AI’s long-term impact will be” written by Open University Professor John Naughton and published in The Guardian, Naughton argued that while many continue to speculate about how artificial intelligence will shape the future, “At the moment, it’s obviously impossible to say, not least because we always overestimate the short-term impacts of novel technologies while grossly underestimating their long-term effects.” Naughton went on to explain that answers might be found in three areas worthy of consideration.

The first area is AI’s role in augmenting human capability or what he described as “a new kind of ‘power steering for the mind’,” as flawed as it might be. The second is whether AI will be sustainable due to its extreme demands on natural and human resources. Third, Naughton asked “will it make economic sense?” As many critical technology scholars have underscored, magical thinking about technology must be countered by systematic analyses not only of how technology shapes society, but how society, including structural inequality, shapes technology and its consequences.

In this context, it is worth considering what the contribution of community informatics might be to further studying, analyzing, and understanding the long-term impacts of artificial intelligence.

While I hope this journal will publish more work on this topic in the years to come, I thought I’d share a couple of insights here in this editorial to get the discussion started.

In looking for inspiration to begin lightly engaging with this subject, I came across William McIver Jr.’s 2006 conference paper titled, “Community Informatics and Human Development” published in Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Following on the heels of the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis in 2005 (see Gurstein’s 2005 article for more), McIver argued that “community informatics has a specific role to play in contributing to the realization of the Millennium Development goals and the improvement of human development in general.” Yet, McIver cautioned against technological deterministic thinking.

Similarly, as critical information scholars such as Safiya Umoja Noble have argued, “An app will not save us.” Rather, as Noble reminds us, artificial intelligence technologies such as a Google Search reflect “the political, social, and cultural values of society.” It is within this context that the value and possibility of community informatics can be best understood.

In 2006, McIver explained that community informatics offers a holistic process for critically studying and understanding the implementation and impacts of advanced information and communication technologies (ICTs). This process, McIver described, includes the following steps: “(1) understanding the community context to which ICTs might be applied; (2) developing appropriate and sustainable models for the socio-technical systems into which such ICTs are to be integrated; and (3) selecting and appropriating ICTs based on knowledge gained from parts (1) and (2) of this process.” Even more importantly, McIver recognized the potential threats to society from advanced ICTs such as AI because of the reasons Noble points out so comprehensively in her book.

To address these threats, McIver argued that community informatics must center democratic, participatory, and consensual processes that resist “existing power relations and inequalities,” as well as “new forms of state repression.” This is the baseline. As McIver explained, community informatics must go further.

“More fundamentally, community informatics must empower communities that contemplate ICT-based solutions to develop their own productive forces within the information society so that they can control the modes of production that evolve within it and, thereby, have the possibility of preventing and responding to its threats.”

For almost 20 years, this journal has sought to study, understand, and explain how communities have worked to achieve these goals. Community informatics continues to offer a unique space, amongst the noisy hope or hype speculations about AI, to bring communities together—through research and praxis—to investigate and contemplate the social, political, economic, and community contexts in which AI might, or might not, be applied.

My hope is that the next 20 years of this journal will provide a fourth area to Naughton’s other considerations focused on the role of communities in shaping how AI will impact our world.

New Report Highlights Participatory Action Research Project with Tech Goes Home

Developing a Digital Equity Theory of Change with Tech Goes Home (Report)

Over the past year, my team and I at the Digital Equity Research Center at METRO co-led a participatory action research project with Tech Goes Home (TGH). The purpose of the study was to develop a theory of change for TGH, as well as an analysis of the challenges and opportunities facing community-based organizations in conducting equity-focused program evaluations as part of their their digital equity work.

We hope the findings from our study will help to inform state and federal policymakers as the NTIA’s Internet for All grant funding rolls out over the next five years.

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society published this summary that I co-wrote with Sangha Kang-Le (TGH) and Malana Krongelb (DERC). The article includes the following recommendations based on the findings from our participatory action research project.

For digital equity organizations, key recommendations include:

  • Allocating time, money, and intentional effort to capture insights and expertise from community members;
  • Engaging evaluation participants in their native languages; and,
  • Working with funders to balance reporting requirements with participants’ privacy and self-defined measures of success.

Policymakers play a critical role in supporting this work and should prioritize:

  • Set aside funding that organizations can use to conduct evaluation;
  • Technical assistance on effective program evaluation; and,
  • Allowing government funding to be used to compensate community members for their expertise.

(Image above by Becca Quon originally published on the Digital Equity Research Center website)

New Article in Mobile Media & Communication

I am thrilled to announce that my new article, titled “‘It’s one of the most important things we carry for us’: How mobile hotspots support people experiencing homelessness” was just published in the journal, Mobile Media & Communication. It will be part of an upcoming special issue on homelessness and mobile media.

MMC’s Social Media Editor, Nari Sawalha created this fantastic image (below) to be included on social media to help promote the article.

Mobile Media and Communication

Here is the abstract for the article.

Previous studies have examined the benefits and challenges of using mobile phones to support people experiencing homelessness. However, few studies have considered how mobile Wi-Fi hotspots support unhoused individuals and couples through public library lending programs. This paper seeks to address a gap in mobile communication scholarship by contributing insights from a qualitative study of library patrons who checked out mobile hotspots from the Boston Public Library in Massachusetts, USA. The findings show that although mobile hotspots provided many benefits for public library patrons in general, these devices facilitated mobile communication with a different sense of urgency for six people experiencing homelessness who also happened to be in romantic relationships. More concretely, the study found that mobile Wi-Fi hotspots reduced stress and anxiety for unhoused patrons because without the devices, patrons without fixed residences worried they could not be found; that hotspots kept unhoused patrons more connected, and therefore safer, in their tents despite the cold weather and a lack of electricity; and that unhoused patrons were concerned about their devices getting stolen because of their precarious situation. Although the unhoused patrons who participated in this study also shared their recommendations regarding how mobile hotspot lending programs in public libraries could be improved, they also mentioned that the benefits of hotspot availability far outweighed their challenges. The findings have implications for those working to address homelessness, including community-based organizations, government agencies, and policymakers who seek further insights into the positive role that mobile hotspot devices can play in supporting positive health outcomes for individuals and couples experiencing homelessness.