|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 28||October 25, 1997|
As we noted in the last issue of NetAction Notes, cyberspace activists are using technology in creative ways as a tool for empowering individuals who have historically been ignored or disadvantaged within our society. But without access to affordable technology, these tools cannot be put to work. Although the Telecommunications Act of 1996 includes a provision to ensure affordable Internet access for schools and libraries, implementation of that provision is still a long way off. Meanwhile, organizations like those described below are already working to promote widespread access to information technology.
From Computers and You in San Francisco's Tenderloin to Virtually Wired in Boston's Temple Place, drop-in community centers are bringing computers and Internet access to people who can't afford to buy a computer, including many individuals who are homeless. Along with more than 235 other affiliates of Community Technology Centers' Network (CTCNet), these organizations are working to ensure that computers and the Internet are available in neighborhoods where you won't find a computer in every home.
CTCNet is an umbrella organization with affiliated centers throughout the United States. Along with providing the basics -- computers, Internet access, and training -- CTCNet provides resources to assist its member organizations and help them expand the network of public computer centers. A complete list of CTCNet affiliates is on the organization's Web site.
Long before Vice President Gore began promoting the "information highway," our public library system provided the nation's "information infrastructure." And if the visionaries at Libraries for the Future have their way, public libraries will continue to serve that function as we enter the age of information technology. As the organization notes, there are no other institution in the nation with comparable experience in providing community specific information and working with local organizations.
Through its National Library Advocates Network, Libraries for the Future provides a range of resources to help individuals and organizations support their local public libraries. One excellent resource is a Telecom Toolbox that provides background information on national and state telecommunications policy issues, including the role of libraries in promoting widespread access to information technology.
Phil Shapiro, who is the Washington, D.C. Regional Coordinator for CTCNet as well as a volunteer at his local library, sees non-profit community computer centers and public libraries as allies in the effort to expand access to technology. He envisions this alliance in the article that follows:
Librarians as Allies
By Phil Shapiro
Those of us who care about using the Internet to build and empower communities would do well to realize how strong an ally we have at our local libraries. After all, many librarians consider themselves members of the "caring professions," right up there with teachers, social workers and health-care workers. I certainly consider them as such.
My experience as a volunteer in the District of Columbia Public Libraries is that many librarians strongly support community-initiated Internet training. But with their hectic schedules and other work demands, librarians are not in a position to initiate such Internet training.
As information professionals, librarians are ideally situated to support training initiatives that arise within the community. And you might be surprised at how much support they'll offer if you propose doing Internet training at the library.
Here in Washington, D.C., I'm a volunteer instructor in a weekly Saturday afternoon "Intro to Internet" class. The participants hear me explain basic Internet concepts and terminology. But they also hear how and why Internet skills can empower them to be more active participants in civic life.
I explain to them that the Internet empowers them to become much more informed health-care consumers, so that they'll have a fighting chance to engage their doctors in a conversation about their health care. I tell them that if they join a neighborhood mailing list, they'll be able to stay much more informed about neighborhood news. (And their voice will be heard by neighbors who care to listen.) I tell them that the Internet is one of the most powerful tools for people to organize about issues that concern them.
Admittedly, the classes I teach are one-part sermon, two-parts information. But the reason I volunteer my time is that I care a lot that people know these things.
And I can teach these classes only because I have had so much support from the librarians at my local library. Having worked side by side with librarians, I have a renewed appreciation for the profession. Librarians are a special breed -- people who care deeply about communities and their information needs.
If you haven't recently chatted with you local librarian, please put it on your calendar to do so. I can tell you that many of them are eager to hear from community allies -- people like you. And the bonds that you create with your local librarian can be an extra thread in knitting people together in your community.
Phil can be contacted at: ; or visit his Web site at: http://www.his.com/pshapiro/.
The U.S. Anti-Defamation League has released a new report, "High-Tech Crime: Extremist use of the Internet." The report documents how hate groups and racists are using the Internet, and discusses what concerned citizens can do to counter cyberspace hate speech. An Executive Summary of the report is available on the ADL's Web site along with information on how to order the full report.
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