Archive for April, 2008

The Phantom Tollbooth

Ok, so this has nothing to do with libraries and the massive amount of finals work I’m doing now, but I just discovered that The Phantom Tollbooth, one of the greatest movies ever made (no, I don’t love hyperbole at all), is NOT available on DVD. This is a travesty, people. Thankfully, someone else agrees and has set up a petition to re-release the movie. If you find yourself as appalled as I am that you are unable to Netflix this childhood classic, go ahead and add your signature. The petition site is a little funny, and it’s quite likely that signing it will have no effect, but you don’t need to give them your email address or anything, so it can’t hurt, right?

In lieu of blowing off finals-related stress this weekend with that excellent movie, I’ll just have to try to find a copy of the book in the library this afternoon.

(I have been on a serious YA lit kick lately. I’m not particularly interested in reading anything new, though; I’ve been revisiting the classic and not-so-classic books of my childhood. Anyone else remember The Dollhouse Murders? On the list for the coming weeks: James and the Giant Peach, The Borrowers, Anastasia Krupnik, and The Pistachio Prescription.)

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Twenty-four students at the University of Central Florida accepted a challenge from one of their teachers to go tech-free for five days. No cell phones, no email, no computers, video games, television, iPods (well, you could use your phone or computer for work or school, but that was it). Only two students made it through the five days. That’s not surprising. Hell, I don’t think I could do it. I’m not disappointed that students found it nearly impossible to leave modern technologies untouched for a week.

I’m disappointed by their weird crap attitudes about it. Few students even agreed to the challenge in the first place. The article quotes one student saying, “Why should I bother? It’s just pointless.” What happened to a sense of curiosity, a willingness to accept a challenge, a desire for experimentation? And students who did agree to the challenge? “This sucks. I better get a good grade.” Really, that’s what you have you to say about this experience? Pretty funny (sad?) to read, too, what the students did to “fill the void.” I especially like the kid who spent an afternoon doing donuts in his car. These are college students, yo. Whatever happened to reading a book?

I don’t know, maybe I’m too harsh. These are eighteen-year-old kids who don’t remember a world without the interwebs. It just seems to me that students should be more interested in something like this, in challenging themselves, in discovering how difficult it really is to disconnect yourself from the things we take for granted. It would be such a broadening experience, and isn’t that what college is supposed to be about? Or is it really just about getting good grades?

I don’t know, I’m kind of tempted to try it myself. In fact, one of my favorite bloggers is doing just that: Inspired by National Turn Your Television OFF week, she has decided to turn it all off. I look forward to hearing about her experience. And you might just hear something similar from me in the coming weeks. (Or, um, not hear anything coming from me, as the case would be.)

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Our panel discussion last Monday went well, despite our rather haphazard planning process. Of course, my foray into moderating exposed some of my lack of public speaking abilities: I completely jettisoned the whole introduction I spent the weekend writing in favor of letting the speakers get right to it, and most of the questions we came up with the previous week went unasked. Ahh, nervousness. No one thought a thing of it, though. Whew.

Our first speaker was Jessamyn West, who gave a presentation on access issues in rural Vermont. She used some interesting statistics from the Vermont Telecommunications Plan, showing the lack of basic infrastruction in much of Vermont, and she mentioned briefly the fact that Verizon and other companies that provide broadband access simply don’t have an interest in wiring this part of the country: It’s not cost-effective. Of course, private industry has no obligation to engage in projects that won’t make them money, but it did make me think of the process of getting telephone lines in most of the country. If I remember my history correctly, the US government essentially forced Ma Bell to cover the entire country with telephone lines. My communist-minded self doesn’t really see any reason our government shouldn’t do this again, but I will back up and say that I don’t really know a ton about current telecommunications policy in this country.

Jessamyn also talked about people who don’t really care to be connected, what she called the “information don’t care,” as opposed to the “information poor.” I think these people can get left out of the discussion sometimes when we talk about access issues. I have several friends who have no real interest in email or the web or being on Facebook or anything of that sort, and I’m going to go right ahead and say I think that’s kind of a travesty. Jessamyn talked about respecting people’s desire to remain disconnected, but I can’t help thinking about the economic limitations that people are accepting for themselves when they decide to remain disconnected.

Our next speaker was Susan O’Connor, of the Timothy Smith Network, here in Boston, in Roxbury, to be specific. The Timothy Smith Network is a philanthropic organization dedicated to providing community technology centers and training throughout Roxbury. Much of Susan’s talk revolved around the history of the Timothy Smith Network and the leadership and managerial issues involved in keeping centers open and providing training and access. She talked about the Open Air Boston initiative to provide affordable wireless access through Boston. Some points I found interesting: The Timothy Smith Network didn’t initially have a specific goal. They had money to spend and had to spend it, so they asked the citizens of Roxbury what would be most useful, and the citizens wanted computer centers. I think that’s a great example of a non-profit engaging in needs assessment and providing what people really want, instead of what a philanthropist thinks they want, and I also found it interesting that Susan didn’t talk about the “information don’t care,” probably because, working in a computer center, she’s not as exposed to those people?

Our final speaker was Pat Oyler, a faculty member at Simmons College who has spent significant time training librarians in Vietnam and working with them to build up their library infrastructure. She pointed out that the differences between rural and urban access in the US is very similar to that in Vietnam, although it sounds like the rural areas of Vietnam are far more bereft of infrastructure. The demographic that she talked about, too, is very specific: They are library students, so they clearly are invested in information technologies and access, and it’s hard to know how they might compare with the population at large. She talked about how most access in the country is through Internet cafes, and the connection fees are very steep for most of the people. I found myself curious to know what other kinds of access points are available, and how libraries in Vietnam might be working to change that.

Overall, it was definitely informative and through provoking. We did podcast the event, and as soon as it’s edited it will be available on the GSLIScast website. I’ll try to remember to provide a link directly to it when it’s up, too. I would love to hear some of your questions and thoughts about some of these issues, too. There is certainly more to say than we could cover in even the two hours that the panel ran, and I am already thinking of a follow up event. Because, hey, I’m not busy or anything, right? :-)

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The panel yesterday on the Digital Divide went well, though I kind of chickened out and neglected to deliver my carefully crafted introduction. Doh. I’ll have more to say about what was discussed when i have a few minutes (hopefully tonight), but I wanted to be sure to link to Jessamyn’s slides, which are worth checking out. We podcasted the event, and that will be available online soon. I’ll be sure to share a link when the mp3s go up.

You might also want to check out Jessamyn’s slides from a presentation she gave on OPACs (one of the topics I’m most personally interested in). I wish I could have seen that one personally!

I promise to share more information soon!

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Can’t believe I haven’t posted this here yet! Bad blogger.

If you’re in Boston on Monday, Simmons College GSLIS is hosting a panel discussion on the Digital Divide. Come and hear Jessamyn West of librarian.net, Susan O’Connor of the Timothy Smith Center, and Pat Oyler, Simmons GSLIS faculty member, talk about access issues in the US and abroad, and what librarians can do to make technologies accessible to one and all. I will be moderating (yikes!) but I promise I won’t talk too much. :-) This should be a totally rad event. Yeah, I said totally rad.

Monday, April 7, 3 pm in the Faculty/Staff Dining Room, Main College Building, Simmons College.

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