Category Archives: Library Issues

Plan, Prepare, Act

Warning: This is a very long post. There are lots of resources mentioned, laws referenced, and opinions given. If you’re looking for a TL;DR version for a tweet, here you go:

Recent immigration enforcement efforts by the current administration should be alarming to libraries & we need to have action plans in hand.

Read on for lots, lots more.

Table of Contents

Libraries and Immigration
Threat Models
Why Libraries?
How to Prepare
Laws Regarding Resistance
Call to Action

Libraries and Immigration

With the release on Feb 21st of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memos (one and two) detailing increased efforts relating to the efforts of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and related federal offices (Customs and Border Control ((CBP)) and the like), the threat that there may be immigration raids in libraries continues to grow. I have been trying to gather information about such threats since the initial increase in ICE raids began just a few weeks ago, and here is what I’ve discovered, links to resources, and some of my thoughts on the matter.

Since Trump took office, ICE and CBP have been on a much, much looser leash when it comes to the allowances they have to question, detain, and remove non-citizens from the US. Reports of mothers being removed from their children, removal of someone after a court appearance, arresting people leaving church-based hypothermia shelters, and the like have shown a willing disregard for humanitarian instincts and that no location should consider itself safe from the threat of immigration officers entering your space, questioning individuals, and potentially removing them for deportation.

Threat Models

As I see it, there are two threats for libraries that emerge from the current reimagining of US immigration policy. The first is similar to the threat that the PATRIOT act and other historical efforts have illustrated: the use of library-gathered information to target or identify an individual or group of people. That information could be circulation records, attendance lists for library programs, library card records, and the like. Libraries are aware of the threat to these sorts of records, there are State laws that outline limitations and protections for that information, and we have a history of protecting it. There are myriad resource that will give libraries tips on how to manage their technology in such a way to limit the information  they keep, and action plans that outline how to react to an information request.

The second threat is, however, a new(ish) one. That threat is to the patrons inside or around your library, and the threat that an “enforcement action” could result in ICE agents entering your building, asking patrons for proof of citizenship, detaining those that cannot provide such, and expeditiously moving those patrons into “detention centers” and from there to deportation and out of the US entirely. If we protect patrons information so closely, with so much effort and vigor, how much more effort must we put forth in protecting the patrons themselves? What are the limits of protecting individuals in your community?

Why Libraries?

Given libraries’ efforts in assisting  immigrant populations of the US, and that many libraries provide significant citizenship assistance, we should be very aware of the potential for a visit by ICE officers. Public libraries in particular should have an action plan for this, in the same sort of way that we had action plans for an FBI visit post-9/11 in regards to the PATRIOT act.

The Department of Homeland Security does specify “Sensitive Locations” within which ICE must meet a higher degree of legal proof before they are empowered to enter, question, detain, or remove someone. These include schools, hospitals, churches, and more:

it is worth noting that libraries are NOT called out in this list. It’s possible that they could be construed as part of “educational-related activities,” but in practice that refers to school activities that may take place after official school hours. I do not believe that any of the above categories affirmatively includes libraries.

Even if libraries WERE to be construed as Sensitive Locations, that designation only protects what ICE refers to as an “enforcement action”:

The question of what powers ICE and CBP can bring to bear is a complicated one. Within the borders of the US, ICE has particular limits to their operations. They cannot enter a private home without permission or a warrant, for example. However, there is special legal dispensation given in US law to what is commonly known as the 100 Mile Zone, that is, any area within 100 miles of the border of the US.

As you may note, that 100 mile zone includes enormous sections of the population of the US, including the entirety of Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, and most of the largest cities (New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, and more. Within this zone, CBP has more authority to pursue immigration issues. The memos linked above direct ICE to hire an addition 10,000 agents, and CBP to hire an addition 5,000 agents, in order to pursue immigration issues more aggressively.  I hope that it is obvious why this might be worrisome.

Finally, while we are seeking things to worry about, there’s the Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g). This allows the Department of Homeland Security to “partner” with local and/or state law enforcement and thus allow the local officers to act on immigration issues…effectively, a form of ICE deputization.  The memos linked above also direct ICE to more regularly use this in their enforcement efforts, increasing the number of officers available to detain and arrest immigrants even further.

How to Prepare

Given the combination of the broad powers assigned to DHS and the zeal with which the current administration appears to be going after immigrants, I believe strongly that it would be a dereliction of our duty to our communities to not consider how to respond to the potential of immigration officer activity in your library. This is a situation of not if, but when.

The resources linked below are almost all available in both English and Spanish, and most of those that are designed to be handed out to patrons are available in several languages.

A first step is being the information resource that your patrons need. Print and distribute rights cards for your patrons, so that they understand what their rights are here in the US, and how they should and shouldn’t interact with ICE agents. Here is a page with even more resources for patrons, many of which you could provide in your buildings.

This Community Raid Preparedness Checklist is a fantastic resource (with more coming from the same group), and outlines several steps that libraries should be looking at as quickly as they possibly can. NILC also has a presentation called Raids: What is Happening and How to Respond that was put together jointly with the Southern Poverty Law Center, and other stakeholders just a week ago that outlines the current state of things as well as possible responses.

The National Immigration Project has a variety of other amazing resources that libraries should have on hand, discuss, and implement where they can, including this FAQ that answers questions in a framework that I feel is very useful for libraries.

Finally, the most thorough response document I have found is this one, the Defend Against ICE Raids and Community Arrests toolkit, which has well-considered suggestions, resources, and ideas in it. It focuses on home raids, but much of the advice can be adjusted and used for public places.

ALA has a Libraries Respond page entitled Immigrants, Refugees, and Asylum Seekers with links to ALA statements on service to these communities, as well as a few external links to resources. Some of the resources are older than I would like, but there are links to more current news reporting on the current situation. I would prefer to see ALA taking a much stronger stance on this, but understand their limitations.

Laws Regarding Resistance

In classic Internet style, here is where I remind you that I Am Not A Lawyer. Luckily, my friend Kyle K. Courtney is a lawyer, and a damned good one. He is, however, not your lawyer, and this section is meant as a summary of possibly applicable laws and cases regarding interfering with federal officers. The more you know, the better off you are in developing your action plan. Take it away, Kyle:


The concept of resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating, or interfering with federal agents’ duties has been considered by the courts for decades, and is governed by federal statutes. It is important that you know and understand the law surrounding these actions. While we outline some of the major laws here, there are usually a large segment of ways you can be held or, of course, simply detained and later charged with misdemeanors.

Main Federal Statutes

18 U.S.C.A. § 111

This federal statute makes it a crime for anyone forcibly to assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate, or interfere with certain enumerated federal officers and employees while they are engaged in the performance of their official duties.

Note also that 18 U.S.C.A. § 1114 is critical to determining the official status of the person assaulted, so, in order to fall within the scope of 18 U.S.C.A. § 111, the person assaulted must be within the definition of government officers, etc. as defined in § 1114.

The statute provides for two offense levels:

  • simple assault—a misdemeanor
  • forcible assault—a felony
  • Enhanced penalty for a forcible assault that involves use of a deadly or dangerous weapon or one that inflicts bodily injury.

The elements of the offense of an assault on a federal officer are:

(1) a forceful assault;
(2) committed voluntarily and intentionally;
(3) against an officer employed by the federal government who was then engaged in the performance of an official duty or on account of the performance of official duty.

*Cases have found that § 111 does not require that the assailant be aware that the victim is a federal officer.

  • The scope of what a federal officer is “employed to do,” for purposes of determining whether an officer is engaged in the performance of official duties within the meaning of the statute, is not defined by whether the officer is abiding by the laws and regulations in effect at the time of the incident, nor is the touchstone whether the officer is performing the functions covered by his or her job description. Rather, the test is whether the officer was engaged in what he or she was employed to do rather than being on what the courts refer to as a “personal frolic.” There is no bright-line test, it is a case-by-case factual judgment.

28 U.S.C.A. § 1501

There is also a lesser offense of willful and knowing obstruction defined in 28 U.S.C.A. § 1501, making it a misdemeanor to obstruct, resist, or oppose any officer of the United States in attempting to serve or execute any legal or judicial writ or process.

A § 1501 violation contains all of the elements of a § 111 violation, except the element of force is required for a conviction under § 111.


18 U.S.C.A. § 1071

§1071 makes it a federal offense for a person to harbor or conceal any person for whose arrest a warrant or process has been issued under the provisions of any law of the United States, so as to prevent that person’s discovery or arrest, after notice or knowledge that a warrant or process has been issued for his arrest.

The federal offense of harboring or concealing a fugitive so as to prevent his discovery and arrest may be viewed as being comprised of three elements. Thus, in order for § 1071 to be applicable there must be:

(1) an act or acts of harboring or concealing done so as to prevent the discovery and arrest of an individual;
(2) a warrant or process issued under the provisions of any law of the United States for the arrest of the individual who is harbored or concealed; and
(3) notice or knowledge on the part of the person who performs the act or acts of harboring or concealing, before the performance of such act or acts, that a warrant or process has been issued under the provisions of any law of the United States for the arrest of the individual who is harbored or concealed

Sample Cases

The following caselaw is a sample of the enforcement of the federal statutes listed above. Some are specific to immigration and border patrol officers, while other are interpretations of the statutes for any enumerated federal officers and employees. There are even a few cases where third parties attempt to resist, oppose, impede, intimidate, or interfere with federal officers that are engaged in the performance of their official duties, namely arresting another party.

CASE CITATION SUMMARY
Bennett v. U.S., 285 F.2d 567 (5th Cir. 1960) In a prosecution for assault on an immigration officer, it is not necessary to prove scienter, that is, that the accused knew the object of the assault was a federal officer (Border Patrol officers in plain clothes on horseback)
U.S. v. Varkonyi, 645 F.2d 453 (5th Cir. 1981).

 

It is no defense that the accused was attempting to protect his or her private property from trespassers who were immigration officers.
United States v. Vigil, 431 F.2d 1037 (10th Cir. 1970)

 

Third person does not have right to assist in resisting the arrest of another if third person knows or has good reason to believe the person making arrest is government official authorized to make arrest and official is not clearly using unnecessary force.
United States v. Ulan, 421 F.2d 787 (2d Cir. 1970)

 

Demonstrating bystander, who voluntarily intervened and struck federal deputy marshal in attempt to prevent arrest of co-demonstrator was found guilty of assaulting and interfering with federal deputy marshal in performance of his official duties
U.S. v. Davis, 690 F.3d 127 (2nd Cir. 2012) Evidence was insufficient to support defendant’s conviction for misdemeanor of resisting arrest which showed only that defendant ran from a DEA agent and, when tackled to the ground, struggled against being handcuffed, primarily by putting their hands under their stomach. There was no evidence that defendant engaged in any conduct that demonstrated a desire to injure an agent or would cause an agent to apprehend immediate injury.
U.S. v. Steele, 550 F.3d 693 (8th Cir. 2008) When defendant’s mother gave federal officer permission to enter her house and defendant was extremely angry and made threatening gestures, a reasonable juror could determine that defendant was not justified in using force to resist arrest.
U.S. v. Span, 970 F.2d 573 (9th Circ. 1992) Defendants do not have a right to resist arrest by federal officers even if supported by probable cause
U.S. v. Cunningham, 509 F.2d 961 (D.C. 1975) Federal officers engaged in performance of their duty may not be forcibly resisted; the subject of officers’ action must submit peaceably and seek legal redress thereafter.
U.S. v. Beyer, 426 F.2d 773 (2nd Cir. 1970) Even if warrant of arrest or arrest itself had been invalid, defendant was not entitled to resist arrest by physically assaulting federal officer executing warrant
Darrah v. City of Oak Park, 255 F.3d 301 (6th Cir. 2001)

 

Federal court (applying state law) found that while arrestees have the right to use physical force to resist an unlawful arrest, third-party intervenors do not have the same right.
United States v. Heliczer, 373 F.2d 241 (2d Cir. 1967)

 

Bystander was guilty of assaulting a federal narcotics agent and interfering with agent’s performance of official duties because bystander attempted to kick one of the agents, even though bystander had opportunity to inquire of the agents about the arrest of another party, but did not do so.

“[A]s a general rule, he has no right to intervene if in fact a lawful arrest is being made by a federal agent, whether the bystander knows it or not, because, like the person being arrested, he is subject to [other caselaw] and to a great degree takes a chance in assisting another to resist arrest.”

Amaya v. U.S., 247 F.2d 947 (9th Cir. 1957) Defendants, suspected to be aliens by an immigration officer, were found guilty of who 18 U.S.C.A. § 111, when immigration officer entered a public café and commenced asking persons therein suspected to be aliens as to their place of birth. The officer was struck by the first defendant while questioning the man, who was edging toward the front door. As the officer attempted to handcuff the first defendant, a co-defendant jumped the officer and took his gun.
U.S. v. Cho Po Sun, 409 F.2d 489 (2d Cir. 1969) Two immigration officers, employed to assist in obtaining compliance with immigration laws, were assaulted by the defendant when they went into the kitchen of a restaurant where six Asian employees were present and asked the defendant questions as to his citizenship status.

*Note: The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the officers had no right to interrogate him, since he was neither an alien nor a person reasonably believed to be an alien whom they were authorized by 8 U.S.C.A. § 1357 to interrogate.

United States v. Cain, 413 F. Supp. 2d 197 (W.D.N.Y. 2006)

 

U.S. Marshals were arguably engaged in the performance of official duties when they were allegedly assaulted while assisting state officers in executing a state arrest warrant, acting pursuant to a MOU where state and federal officers worked together in apprehending persons with outstanding state and federal bench warrants.

Call to Action

I feel strongly that the aggressive pursuit and removal of immigrants, in the manner of the current administration, is morally wrong and inhumane. It is driven by racism and xenophobia, and has at its base some of the ugliest of human beliefs. In Stand, Fight, Resist I wrote:

Libraries are powerful forces for good. Now is the time to muster our powers, to stand brave against the people who seek to limit and reduce our rights and our understanding of the world….This country, and the people in it, deserve a better world than the one that is currently being forced upon them. Use your power as pillars of your communities, as the guardians of knowledge and the providers of help, use that power now to resist the normalization of fascism and bigotry, of hate and fear and greed. Stand for truth and knowledge, justice and equity for all. Stand for facts, and stand for those who are most at risk. Stand against the horrorshow revealing itself to us, and fight with those who are determined to create equity among people, justice in the face of the unjust, and love out of hate.

I’m not sure how to say it better than that. Libraries must stand for justice and freedom for all people, for the best parts of our republic. We need to continue to fight on the information front, to show that immigrants who come to this country bring with them the strength that will make the US better than it is now.

Concretely, libraries need a clear and direct set of policies that outline their response to an immigration enforcement action. We need to have those in place now, as quickly as possible. There needs to be a clear set of directives for your staff, meetings to gather feedback and to clarify your local threat model (libraries on borders will have very different sets of threats than non-border libraries), and connections made with local civic and non-profit groups that are already active in this space. You need to have meetings with your Mayor, City Council, and local representatives about this issue. We need to be ready to protect our communities.

As bad as things are in this moment, they are going to get much, much worse. The administration has a stated goal of the removal of all undocumented immigrants in the US, which amounts to over 10 million people. There is no way to do this humanely, or with respect for human dignity and agency. It is the equivalent of rounding up, processing, and deporting every single person in New York City and Chicago, combined. It is easy on the Internet to fall into Godwin’s Law, and until recently one could expect that comparison of a current practice to the Nazi Party was, in fact, somewhat hyperbolic. Rounding up 11 million people, placing them into “detention centers” and attempting to remove them from our society…I’m not sure there are comparisons other than the Nazis that make any sense of it.

We are better when we embrace differences, when the marketplace of ideas is a bustling mercado and souq. None of us is as smart as all of us, and we are going to need all of us if we are to find that future where the United States is still a shining city upon the hill. That light is dimmed now, and sputtering, but it isn’t dark just yet. Libraries are partial keepers of this flame, and we need to be prepared to protect the people in our communities when they are threatened, however and whenever we can.

Plan. Prepare. Act.

Tendencias y futuros en bibliotecas

UPDATE: here’s a link to a second post that includes video!

This morning I had the great honor of delivering the opening keynote for Los Profesionales en Gestión de la Información y la Documentación de América Latina and their 3rd Congreso International GID. In beautiful Cali, Colombia, a few hundred librarians and information professionals gathered from all across Latin America to talk about the future of libraries.

Here are the slides and a video of my slides, and there will be a video (I am promised) of the presentation later. I presented for the first time with a live translator, which was an amazing experience and I am in awe of her ability to do that so well. I took questions and answered via the same translator, and overall I think it went very well. Aside from a few technical difficulties, I’m very happy with the way this came together.

A Special Obligation to the Future

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, writing, and editing in the last few months that all revolved around libraries and the future of the Internet. It seems more and more obvious to me that there’s an opportunity for libraries as participants in the growing number of decentralized services on the Internet. These services are multiplying, and it seems to me that the future of communication is likely to be a better one if distributed services were more normalized on the Internet.

I’ve decided to share two essays about this topic. The first is
How Libraries Can Save the Internet of Things from the Web’s Centralized Fate over at BoingBoing, which is the highly edited and polished version of the much longer A Special Obligation to the Future over on Medium. Normally I wouldn’t share two similar pieces, but I feel like the shorter BoingBoing essay is the compressed and focused “official” version and there were things that I liked about the longer, more emotive original. So I’m sharing both here, and you can comment on, share, and critique either or both as you’d like.

I’m hoping these serve as conversation starters, and possibly as inflection points for thinking about the future of libraries in terms of their role as pillars of democracy and freedom. I’m going to be doing more work on this topic, speaking and writing and organizing over the next several months. If you’re interested in helping out and lending a hand, let me know.

And if you’re interested in decentralization in general, I highly recommend checking out Yochai Benkler’s work, especially Degrees of Freedom, Dimensions of Power. Also recommended is Phil Windley’s Decentralization is Hard, Maybe Too Hard.

They are both right, decentralization is amazingly difficult to pull off. This is why it needs help in the form of library infrastructure, political capital, and skills.

Thanks especially to David Weinberger, who was instrumental in both the conception and the editing of this piece. Also thanks to everyone who read and commented on the piece as it developed, you are all awesome.

Tor, Libraries, and the Department of Homeland Security

During an appearance on the LITA Top Technology Trends panel in 2014, I was discussing privacy of patron data, and mentioned that I thought it was a good idea for libraries to run Tor nodes on library servers. So when the Library Freedom Project launched their Tor in Libraries project, I was totally behind them…I even did a Tor workshop for Librarians for their workshop at ALA Annual in San Francisco.

If you aren’t familiar with Tor, I recommend reading the Wikipedia article. The TL:DR version is that Tor is a protocol and a network that is currently the best mechanism that we have for accessing information on the Internet anonymously. There are a few ways that one can use Tor, ranging from using an operating system that routes all your Internet traffic over the Tor network to just using the Tor browser, which just anonymizes your web traffic.

The way that Tor anonymizes your traffic is through a combination of encryption and blind routing,  When you initially connect to the Tor network, the connection is encrypted in much the same way that the connection to your bank would be, via a public key encryption system. When you make a request for a website through the network, the Tor protocol bounces the request from one network node to the next, encrypting the traffic at every hop. Once the traffic gets a couple of hops away from the originating computer, it’s impossible to know where the request came from. Eventually the traffic exits the Tor network, back onto the regular old Internet, and gathers what you asked for, then reverses the process to get back to you.

The result is that, under ideal conditions, it is completely impossible to track or trace what’s being transmitted via Tor. For Tor to continue to operate, it needs two sorts of nodes….relay nodes that act as the “bouncing” nodes for inside the network, and exit nodes that are the places where the traffic goes out of the encrypted Tor network and back onto the regular Internet. You need both, although a ratio of more relay nodes to fewer exit nodes is fine. The traffic that goes across relay nodes is completely anonymous…from the perspective of both the network and the individual server, it is just a random string of binary code. Only at the exit nodes does the traffic decrypt, and thus exit nodes bear the brunt of all of the requests going across the network. The traffic for the broader network all has to squeeze itself through exit nodes, and the fewer exit nodes there are, the easier it is for them to be monitored…although you can’t tell where the requests for the information came from without advanced knowledge.

So why am I talking about Tor? Because I wanted to set up the story that broke last week about the first library in the US to publicly go live with a Tor relay (a middle relay) getting pressured by their local police to turn it off. The police were, in turn, pressured by the US Department of Homeland Security. From the original article on the event:

In July, the Kilton Public Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire, was the first library in the country to become part of the anonymous Web surfing service Tor. The library allowed Tor users around the world to bounce their Internet traffic through the library, thus masking users’ locations.

Soon after state authorities received an email about it from an agent at the Department of Homeland Security.

“The Department of Homeland Security got in touch with our Police Department,” said Sean Fleming, the library director of the Lebanon Public Libraries.

After a meeting at which local police and city officials discussed how Tor could be exploited by criminals, the library pulled the plug on the project.

“Right now we’re on pause,” said Fleming. “We really weren’t anticipating that there would be any controversy at all.”

He said that the library board of trustees will vote on whether to turn the service back on at its meeting on Sept. 15.

That’s tomorrow, for those keeping track at home.

Why do I think that libraries should be running Tor nodes? I had a long discussion about this on Twitter recently, but let me use the freedom of more than 140 characters to try and talk through my thinking on this. Tor is, currently, the best option that people have for anonymous speech on the Internet. It is possible to create accounts without using your real name, it’s possible to use wifi at coffeeshops and your local library to prevent your IP from being recorded…but for real anonymity of network traffic, nothing beats using Tor.

Anonymous speech is important because it is a necessary component of the freedom of speech. The US Supreme Court has ruled again and again that the right to anonymous speech is a protected part of the First Amendment, saying in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission:

Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority…It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation…at the hand of an intolerant society.

Libraries have been concerned over time with the Freedom to Read, but to doubt the role of the library in the Freedom of Speech in the US is to fundamentally misunderstand the Library (and possibly speech itself). Speech is a necessary precursor to Reading, as creation is a necessary precursor to consumption. Libraries are and should be cornerstones of free expression in the United States, and have worked to provide access to the tools of speech for years and years.

For the Department of Homeland Security to use the boogie-man of “bad things happen on Tor” as a lever to get the relay turned off is the worst sort of fear mongering. Any tool can be a weapon, and any communications mechanism can and probably will be used to enable illegal activity. There is enormously more illegal activity on the open Internet, and yet libraries everywhere provide open and robust access to the Internet via both terminal and wifi. To paint Tor as a haven for thieves and drugs and child pornography is to misunderstand not only the Tor network but to, in my opinion, to mistake the forest for the trees. Yes, tools can be used for immoral and illegal things. But that does not make the tool either immoral nor illegal.

The only rational explanation for the DHS pressuring the library to shut down their Tor relay node is that the DHS doesn’t want individuals, including US citizens, to have more robust mechanisms for anonymous speech. Per the US Supreme Court’s rulings on the links between anonymity and freedom of speech, this indicates to me that the DHS is actively attempting to prevent free and open speech on the Internet.

That is not ok with me, and it absolutely should not be ok with libraries.  

If you have made it this far, please visit the EFF’s Take Action page on this effort and sign.

Leadership Roundtable on Library Innovation

Last week I attended the Aspen Institute Leadership Roundtable on Library Innovation, a gathering of 30 individuals from a variety of backgrounds (both library and non-library) whose goal was to have 3 days worth of discussions about how to make libraries in the United States more innovative. I don’t know if the entire list of participants has been made public, but the attendees were easily some of the smartest and most thoughtful people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with. As I mentioned in my initial post about the Roundtable, I was concerned about diversity in the voices in the room, and while I’m not qualified to truly judge how well that went, I did notice one particular bias that I am interested in calling out and pursuing as a part of the conversation. But more on that in a minute.

The roundtable opened day one with a presentation by John Seely Brown, otherwise known simply as JSB. If you aren’t familiar with JSB, take a second and look over his wikipedia page to get an idea of his importance. His speech was interesting and set the stage for a lot of the discussions that sprang forth over the next few days. Take a look:

Day two began with a presentation on Design Thinking from Michelle Ha Tucker from IDEO. I’m totally sold on human centered design as a key to rethinking the way libraries do what they do, and have done a number of workshops on process on that front. If you aren’t familiar, take a look at her presentation, framed well around library issues:

From our initial discussions about innovation considered broadly, we broke up into three working groups that set about considering what it would take for Libraries to innovate in different areas. The areas identified were Engagement/Access/Inclusion, Learning & Creativity, and Public Forum & Citizenship, and each group discussed what innovation in each of these areas looked like, how that could be translated into the library sphere, and what a project might look like if it attempted to instantiate that solution. I was a part of the Public Forum & Citizenship group, and we spent most of our time revolving around the problem of libraries acting in concert with one another and bemoaning the lack of overarching structures for working together…a common theme from the larger discussions of the Roundtable.

There were several of these emergent themes that repeated themselves during the week. The lack of some form of national organization that allowed economic centralization for libraries was maybe the largest though…the non-librarians in the room were flabbergasted to discover how very local the library economy is, and how much it prohibits collective purchasing efforts.

The largest tension in the discussions for me was the bias that I alluded to earlier, that of urban vs rural libraries. There was repeated use of a statistic that I’m still not clear on the provenance of, that 295 libraries in the U.S. serve 30% of the population of the country…obviously all of them in large urban areas. Anyone familiar with Libraryland could name the large public library systems included in those numbers: New York Public, Los Angeles Public, Chicago Public, Boston Public, Miami-Dade, Denver Public, and a small handful more. Given that there are roughly 9000 public libraries in the U.S., I understand the concentration on those areas of easy implementation…but I rankle more than a little at the lack of acknowledgement of the greater need for support in rural America. The poorest parts of rural America are much poorer than the equivalent urban poverty centers, and they lack nearly any support system for their poverty. In much of the poorest areas of the U.S., the rural south, the public library is the only place that’s accessible for educational resources beyond school age.

So while I understand striking with efforts where the highest number might be affected, I also want to keep reminding people about the needs of the rural United States. Let’s not forget those that need us most even while we try to maximize our efforts.

eRate

One of the largest discussions of the Roundtable revolved around the FCC and its eRate plans for internet access in libraries and schools. An FCC staffer was there to walk through the options for libraries, and to give us numbers on how bad library participation in eRate really is. Everyone in the room agreed why this was the case, the CIPA requirement for filtering. It was nice timing that just after our discussion of this issue, the ALA released a formal statement on CIPA that begins, in part:

“CIPA specifically requires public libraries and schools seeking e-rate discounts for internet connections to install technology protection measures, i.e., content filters, to block two categories of visual images that are unprotected by the First Amendment: obscene images and images of child pornography.”

and concludes

“CIPA-mandated content filtering has had three significant impacts in our schools and libraries. First, it has widened the divide between those who can afford to pay for personal access and those who must depend on publicly funded (and filtered) access. Second, when content filtering is deployed to limit access to what some may consider objectionable or offensive, often minority viewpoints religions, or controversial topics are included in the categories of what is considered objectionable or offensive. Filters thus become the tool of bias and discrimination and marginalize users by denying or abridging their access to these materials. Finally, when over-blocking occurs in public libraries and schools, library users, educators, and students who lack other means of access to the Internet are limited to the content allowed by unpredictable and unreliable filters.

The negative effects of content filters on Internet access in public libraries and schools are demonstrable and documented. Consequently, consistent with previous resolutions, the American Library Association cannot recommend filtering. However the ALA recognizes that local libraries and schools are governed by local decision makers and local considerations and often must rely on federal or state funding for computers and internet access. Because adults and, to a lesser degree minors, have First Amendment rights, libraries and schools that choose to use content filters should implement policies and procedures that mitigate the negative effects of filtering to the greatest extent possible. The process should encourage and allow users to ask for filtered websites and content to be unblocked, with minimal delay and due respect for user privacy.”

None of this is untrue, and I agree with all of it: Internet Filtering is a joke, a crime against the freedom of information access, a risk to privacy of the reading experience, and simply doesn’t work. However, the current opportunities from the eRate program are…well, if not once-in-a-lifetime, they are pretty close. The FCC is trying very hard to incentivize the construction of fiber to every library. All of them. eRate will pay for between 10-80% of the construction costs for fiber to the library, including things like huge fiber runs into rural areas and the hubs and switches necessary to make it work inside the building. And in places where the State has a matching program, the FCC + State match can pay for 100% of the costs.

This is like the Rural Electrification Act, except for the next-gen connectivity that will be needed by communities over the next decade. In rural areas, getting fiber anywhere is nearly impossible…it isn’t worth the infrastructure costs for providers to run the fiber. But if someone else is paying to run it, and it runs to a conveniently located place in a community like a library, the most expensive part of the work is done. This will enable communities to be connected that could never be previously. The FCC staffer was talking about future-proofing this construction by aiming for 10 Gbps connections to these libraries…a sort of super connectivity. This is important, potentially transformative stuff for communities and libraries.

So what are the difficulties? The first is the aformentioned CIPA rules about filtering…which some libraries are happily complying with now. Note that the rules for CIPA don’t say that you have to filter! They just say that you must “install technology measures”, have a policy in place, and hold a meeting with you constituents about said policy. It is possible to comply with the rules for CIPA at a very low level…blacklisting pornographic sites via DNS filtering on computers in your children’s area, for example. I believe it is possible to meet the letter of the law, not impede access to information, and use eRate funds to increase connectivity in areas that badly need it.

After talking at length to an FCC staffer about this program, I do honestly believe that connectivity is their goal. They aren’t out hunting for libraries that “fail” some CIPA test. If we can find a way to meet the minimum requirements for CIPA and not compromise our information ethics, we should do so.

The second difficulty in eRate funding is the application process itself. It is…non-trivial. In this case, I think we need to find models that libraries can follow, and that consortia need to focus on offering eRate application as a service to their member libraries.

Conclusions

The Aspen Institute will be producing a report from our discussions, with recommendations for libraries. The Knight Foundation produced a nice summary of our work on their blog, and I’m sure that more will trickle out as other participants write up their thoughts. I’m interested in working in the areas I know of rural America to try and use the new FCC eRate push to try and get more communities connected, and I’m very interested to continue these conversations over the next year.

Poverty, Libraries, Jobs, Me

A bit earlier today I saw a handful of librarians on Twitter posting a link to a Library Director’s job with what appeared to be an appalling salary of $7.25 an hour.

Each of these tweets have been re-tweeted a dozen or so times as I’m writing this, so people are sharing it. Heck, I clicked through when I saw the salary, curious what sort of place thought they could get someone for that price, and where you could possibly live on that salary.

The answer? Just down the road from where I grew up, that’s where.

Elliot county

So the marker there is the library in question, and the little town north of it that’s circled, that’s my home town of Olive Hill, KY. The library is in the county seat of Elliott County, KY, in a town of just about 600 people called Sandy Hook. Here’s a larger map to give you some additional context about just exactly where this is located.

Elliott County large

 

This part of the world is where I spent the first 22 years of my life, as a kid and teenager in Olive Hill and then as an undergrad at Morehead State University just down the road. If you check the Google Street View of where the Library in question sits,  it is right next to an elementary school where I played basketball as a boy.

So when I say this, I say it with the conviction of someone who knows: there is very, very little likelihood that anyone posting about this on Twitter has ever seen poverty of the sort that they have in Elliott County, KY. Hell, the entire concept of the “War on Poverty” started just down the road from Elliott County, an hour southeast in Inez, KY, where LBJ launched his famous efforts to eliminate poverty in the US.  Elliott County is the 49th Poorest County by Median Household Income in the entire United States of America. For some more reference, the median household income for Sandy Hook in 2010 was $14,313.

If there is anywhere in this country where kids need a library to help them dream, this is that place.

I was curious after seeing this tweet…

…so I decided to take a look. And if this news report is to be believed, it’s true…the poorest postal code in Canada (B1W, the Cape Breton – Eskasoni First Nation) has a median household income of $19,392 Canadian, or $15,401 US. So there is literally not a single place in Canada that is poorer than Sandy Hook, KY.

With that said: should a library director be paid $7.25/hr? No, of course not. But in this part of Kentucky, believe it or not, that is a decent salary. Not because it is objectively an amount of money that someone deserves for doing their job, but only because the area around it has been forgotten. This part of the world has been given up on by the former industries that sustained it, by the clay and the tobacco and the lumber that were the only reasons money ever flowed into the economy of the area in the first place.

This is a place that I love, this Eastern Kentucky. Even now, decades after I left, I can close my eyes and see the soft clay streaking the soil. I can feel the limestone bones that make up the gentle foothills of the Appalachians. I can smell the warmth of a tobacco barn on a Fall evening.

These are people that need help. I hope they find someone for that job that can not only show the children of Elliott County that there is a wider world, but that just maybe one of those kids will find a way to help save my Eastern Kentucky.

Adobe Digital Editions and infoleaks

Eliminate DRMThe online library world exploded today over the revelation that Adobe Digital Editions, software that is required for many library-focused eBook services, evidently leaks like a sieve when it comes to our user’s information. The TL:DR version of the story is that ADE appears to be sending in plain text to Adobe’s servers information such as: the book you are reading, title, publisher, which pages you have read and which page you are currently on. Much longer discussions about the leak and potential fallout here:

Andromeda and Galen then both went on to touch on some of the core problems with this leak, focusing on the conflict between Adobe’s action and the ethics of librarianship, and the possible role that ALA may have in bridging the gaps in libraries’ knowledge of these actions.

There are a few things I wanted to emphasize about this situation. The first is that several of the reports have noted that earlier versions of Adobe Digital Editions didn’t seem to “spy on its users” in the way that the most recent version (version 4) does, and recommend using earlier versions. The truth of the matter is that of course the earlier versions are spying on users…they just aren’t doing it in as transparent a manner as the current version. We need to decide whether we are angry at Adobe for failing technically (for not encrypting the information or otherwise anonymizing the data) or for failing ethically (for the collection of data about what someone is reading). It’s possible to be angry at both, but here’s a horrible truth: If they had gotten the former right and encrypted the information appropriately, we’d have no idea about the latter at all.

I think that Andromeda has it right, that we need to insist that the providers of our digital information act in a way that upholds the ethical beliefs of our profession. It is possible, technically, to provide these services (digital downloads to multiple devices with reading position syncing) without sacrificing the privacy of the reader. For example (and this is just off the top of my head) you could architect the sync engine to key off of a locally-hashed UserID + BookID that never left the device, and only transmit the hash and the location information in a standardized format. This would give you anonymous page syncing between devices without having to even worry about encryption of the traffic, as long as you used an appropriate hash function. I would prefer this approach, because (as mentioned above), if the entire communications stack is encrypted, it’s a black box for anyone attempting to see inside and verify what the vendor is actually collecting. There are answers to this as well (encryption keys that the vendor never sees at all, for example, and are totally local to the user’s device a la Apple’s latest security enhancements).

There are technical solutions that satisfy our ethical concerns. We need to insist that our vendors care enough about our ethics that the technical answers become a market differentiator. We need to insist that this is important and then we need to make them listen.

Code4LibDC Unconference Workshop

Monday and Tuesday of this week I had the opportunity to attend the 2014 Code4LibDC Unconference, where I had been invited to lead an introduction to hardware hacking workshop. Thanks in large part to the generosity of SparkFun Electronics, whose Education arm let me borrow the hardware necessary to run the workshop (15 sets of the Sparkfun Redboard Arduino clone, breadboards, wiring, LEDs, and sensors).

I decided that I wanted to try and reverse the normal order of pretty much every “Learn Arduino” workshop that I’d seen, so rather than start with a blank slate and have the students build a circuit to blink an LED, I decided that I wanted them to start with a working circuit that was a bit more complicated and then deconstruct it. As a result, I spent most of a day late the week before building out a dozen or so circuits that would light a series of 4 LEDs dependent on the value of a potentiometer, and then packing them up and hoping the TSA didn’t find them “interesting”. The idea was that the participants would immediately have a working thing, and then could break it, alter it, change it, and they would have something that was immediately useful rather than struggle to make it work from the outset. Judging from the reactions I got, I think that was a good call…the participants seemed to have a grand time deconstructing why the circuit did what it did. It also provided an example of how something very simple could be useful in a library…you could, with very little change, basically replace the potentiometer with a thermistor and have a temperature gauge, or with a microphone and have a noise indicator for “too loud” rooms.

We weren’t without problems (no hardware session ever is) but overall I felt like it went well, and I can’t wait to work on making this particular workshop even better. I really want to teach more and more librarians how to hack on hardware to benefit their libraries. A few of the participants really had a field day, with one group altering the simple 4 LED series to instead be a 4-bit binary counter, and another working out an algorithm that allowed for soft fades instead of simple on/off of the lights.

If anyone is interested, below you will find my slides from the workshop. They need work before I try to give this again, but I think they are a good start.

The Future of Things: How everywhere changes everything

This morning I was privileged to give a keynote address to the Homewood Public Library in Homewood, IL for their Staff Development day. It was the first time I gave this particular talk, and it was a distillation of an essay that I’ve been trying to write for some time. The thrust of both is that the technological changes coming over the next 5-10 years are likely to be so transformative that we (libraries and librarians) need to be thinking now, hard, about how we prepare for them. How do libraries continue to measure our value when our historical measurements become useless? How can we use open hardware to prepare ourselves for these newly-needed measurements? How will the continued and unavoidable drop in price, increase in processing, and lessening of power consumption of hardware be useful for libraries?

I don’t have lots of answers. But I think these are the beginnings of some interesting questions.

So here’s my slide deck from the presentation. I hope to have the essay/post/whatever it ends up being done soon. I really want to start talking about this with other librarians.

Things that made me think

I’ve been re-reading a number of posts the last few days, and a few of them just truly stand out as things that have changed or are changing my thinking about tech and libraries…just really, really great things. If you haven’t read these yet, go do so:

  • Living our Values by Meredith Farkas – Meredith has been someone in libraries that I’ve looked up to for a long time, and is one of those people that seem to grok librarianship in a way that I’m still stumbling towards. There are others in this group (Jessamyn West, Michael Stephens, Michael Porter, Karen Schneider, and so many more) that I am indebted to for inspiring me to start writing this blog in the first place. If you haven’t obsessively read Meredith’s blog from beginning to end, you’re missing a great resource on how to be a librarian in the 21st century.
  • Walking Away from the American Chemical Society by Jenica Rogers – When searching for words to describe Jenica, I find that the same words describe her writing: Brave, amazing, inspiring, fierce, and honest. To find all of that in a person AND to have that person be in a leadership role AND be public about said role? I’m not sure it’s ever been done this way in libraries. She’s doing leadership right.
  • Hardware is Dead by Jay Goldberg & How Low (Power) Can You Go? by Charlie Stross – I’ve been spending many, many processing cycles thinking about hardware, and the Maker movement, the future of technology and libraries. These two essays sparked whole new pathways, and helped me light new areas to explore. I’ve got a lot to say about this stuff, which I’ll hopefully be doing over the next year or so.
  • How to See the Future by Warren Ellis – I’m just going to quote a section of this, because it’s so good I can’t even use my own paltry words in talking about it:

Understand that our present time is the furthest thing from banality. Reality as we know it is exploding with novelty every day. Not all of it’s good. It’s a strange and not entirely comfortable time to be alive. But I want you to feel the future as present in the room. I want you to understand, before you start the day here, that the invisible thing in the room is the felt presence of living in future time, not in the years behind us.

Go read these. I’ve got nothing to say that even comes close right now.