At a Well-Attended PLA, Librarians Show They Understand the Challenges of the Digital Information Age

Despite a nor’easter snarling travel on opening day, preliminary total attendance figures for the 2018 Public Library Association Conference, which closed last Saturday, stood at approximately 7,873, ALA officials announced this week. That’s down slightly from the roughly 8,000 that attended the 2016 show in Denver (and down by about 900 from last PLA conference in Philadelphia in 2012). But the numbers have to be good news for ALA, especially considering the weather pretty much foiled any last minute on-site registrations.

And ALA (and of course PLA) has to be especially pleased with its programming, which once again featured timely speakers both from the main stage, and throughout the professional program.

The show kicked off on a high note with Sally Yates, who praised librarians, and urged them to stay vigilant. “You all are the keepers of the gateway to the truth,” Yates said. “An informed electorate is essential to our system of checks and balances and to holding our elected officials accountable. But an informed electorate requires access to information, and the tools necessary to be able to determine what’s true, and what isn’t.”

For me, one of the highlights was hearing Lee Rainie, Director of Internet and Technology Research at Pew Research Center, talk about his research. We are in the thick of two, gigantic debates that we’re studying in this country,” Rainie told librarians. “There’s a crisis in truth, what’s going on with correct and accurate information and how it’s used. And there’s a crisis in trust, a substantial decline in large institutions that have the citizens trust.”

He told librarians that his data suggested libraries remain one of the few institutions that merits public trust, and said their patrons depend on them to steer them towards truth. “Facts matter,” Rainie said. “People want smart allies, and librarians are sort of at the top of everybody’s list.”

And in the closing Big Ideas session, author and net neutrality pioneer Tim Wu implored librarians to remain engaged in the fight for net neutrality. Wu stressed that laws and policies like net neutrality, which “are designed to ensure and guarantee a baseline for the free flow of information, are “as important, if not more important, than the First Amendment” in the digital age.

“It’s not surprising that the Russian government doesn’t respect net neutrality; that the Chinese government doesn’t respect net neutrality; that the most oppressive regimes are all opponents of net neutrality,” Wu said. “There is a pattern, and it is sad that this country has joined those ranks.”

No one would deny that ALA has some challenges. But when it comes to grasping on to the broader themes shaping our information world, ALA has also shown a consistent knack for timely programming. It may not always be a perfect as say Roberta Kaplan keynoting the 2105 ALA Annual Conference, in San Francisco, during Pride, the same weekend that the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. But this year’s PLA again shows that the library community knows what’s important, and recognizes the forces driving our information and cultural future.

Look for more great programming at the ALA Annual Conference in June—and if the promise of a good program isn’t enough to draw you in, this should: it’s in New Orleans.

Libraries Get a Boost in the 2018 Federal Budget, but it Comes with a Warning

As we were going to press last week, Congress passed the 2018 omnibus spending bill, which included significant federal funding increases for libraries.

Despite two straight years in which the Trump Administration proposed eliminating the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and with it virtually all federal funding for libraries, the 2018 budget includes a $9 million bump for the IMLS, including $5.7 million for the Library Services and Technology Act; and $27 million for the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program.

In addition, the ALA’s Washington Office reports, the bill included a host of other positive line items, including “an unexpected $700 million for Title IV education programs, which opens doors to new funding for school libraries. And, Congress also added a policy that will now make Congressional Research Services (CRS) reports available online to the public through the Library of Congress, something ALA has advocated for decades.

But the budget also came with a warning from President Trump, who told lawmakers “never again” after threatening to veto the bill on the morning he was to sign it.

“To protect federal library funding, we need to keep reminding Congress that libraries bring leaders and experts together to solve difficult problems, that we deliver opportunities, from academic success to work-readiness,” said ALA president Jim Neal, in a statement.”

Oh, and don’t forget that in November, there’s this little thing called the midterm elections.

Thank You, Wikipedia, For Reminding Us What the Internet Can Do

Between all the Russian bots on Twitter and the campaign to #DeleteFacebook making the news these days, it’s all too easy to overlook the wonders of the web. Luckily, an article on two teenagers who devote their free time to keeping the Wikipedia entries on the NYC Public Transportation up to date serves as a glorious reminder.

Though they’ve never met in real life, Ryan Ng, a 19-year-old freshman at Baruch College, and Shaul Picker, a 17-year-old high school student from Queens, are both part of the “fanatical world of Wikipedia supercontributors,” writes Stephen Harrison in the New York Times.

The article, which will appear in the Sunday Review this weekend, highlights the impressive contributions of the young men, both of who began contributing to the platform in middle school. (Mr. Ng, just to give you an idea, has created more than 17,000 pages for the site.)

Mr. Picker and Mr. Ng both “describe their described their motivation to edit Wikipedia as a mix of personal enjoyment and a desire for public service.”

The article illustrates the ways in which Wikipedia manages to be both educational and fun to use. It’s almost like a video game, according to Mr. Ng, except the payoff is a public good. Though he later admits that his time on Wikipedia has taken away from his schoolwork.

Friday One-Liners

Nieman: Will news organizations face Facebook-fueled blowback for using third-party tracking on their own sites?

Conde Nast Traveler updates their list of the world’s most beautiful libraries

Inside Higher Ed reports that Congress may be starting to embrace Open Educational Resources

12 Literary Plagiarism Scandals as ranked by the editors of LitHub

Librarian/archivist Stacie Williams highlights the impact of Linda Brown, who died this week, on her life and education

A look at how the Brooklyn Public Library is “broadening the definition of what it means to be literate” via the New York Times.

This barbershop in Michigan gives kids a discount when they read a book aloud to their barber via NPR

Public libraries are taking part in the guerrilla gardening movement via Atlas Obscura

A book club for death row inmates via Longreads

Captain Underpants is a hit at the Library of Congress