The Publishing Industry’s Silence on Net Neutrality

In recent days, there has been a flurry of activity on the issue of net neutrality. On Tuesday, we learned that 50 Senators have now committed to a bill under the 1996 Congressional Review Act that would block the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) December repeal of net neutrality rules. And, as the New York Times reported this week, more than 20 states and a host of public interest groups have now begun the legal battle to block the FCC’s repeal.

But observers agree: restoring net neutrality protections is going to be an uphill battle. Which is why the editors of Publishers Weekly have published an editorial urging publishers to join the fight.

Thus far, the publishing industry has been noticeably absent from the net neutrality debate—this despite widely expressed concerns that the FCC’s action could negatively impact free speech online, and in contrast to concerted efforts to preserve net neutrality by others in the publishing ecosystem—including the library community, authors groups, and dozens of media and public advocacy organizations, including Pen America.

Polls and public comments, meanwhile, show that the FCC’s repeal is broadly unpopular—and potentially dangerous. In comments to the FCC, a coalition of the nation’s major library associations, including the ALA, stressed that preserving an open Internet is “essential to our nation’s freedom of speech.” And, in a letter to the FCC, 1,838 members of the Authors Guild agreed, concluding that the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality protections “will harm the free speech of American writers.”

At PW, we recognize that publishers and their trade association, the Association of American Publishers, have limited resources and must prioritize the issues they choose to take on. However, supporting free speech is one of the AAP’s core policy areas. Which is why we believe publishers can no longer sit this one out.

With the battle headed to Congress, now is the perfect time for publishers to join the fight. “AAP president and CEO Maria Pallante is widely known for her policy acumen and her relationships in Congress,” the editorial notes. “And as widely recognized champions of free speech, a strong, unified statement from America’s book publishers can make a critical difference.”

Is the First Amendment Obsolete?

A special issue of Wired magazine released this week includes an article by Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science, entitled “It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech.”

In it she questions the relevancy of freedom of speech in the age of social media, arguing that “the most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech.”

Just one more challenge for librarians and publishers in today’s ever-complicated information landscape: the changing nature of free speech.

“[F]ree speech is usually understood as a vehicle—a necessary condition for achieving certain other societal ideals: for creating a knowledgeable public; for engendering healthy, rational, and informed debate; for holding powerful people and institutions accountable; for keeping communities lively and vibrant. What we are seeing now is that when free speech is treated as an end and not a means, it is all too possible to thwart and distort everything it is supposed to deliver.”

#FundLibraries: ALA Urges Library Supporters to Keep the Pressure on Congress

As the budget battle in Washington makes headlines this week, officials at the American Library Association are urging librarians and library supporters to keep the pressure on lawmakers to fund libraries.

“Thanks to library advocates, Congress did not follow the administration’s lead in March 2017, when the president made a bold move to eliminate the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and virtually all federal library funding,” writes ALA Washington Office Executive Director Kathi Kromer.

However, “while government may seem to be paralyzed,” she adds, library advocates must stay engaged.

“The challenge in 2018 is even greater than 2017: not only is Congress late in passing an FY 2018 budget, it’s time to start working on the FY 2019 budget. The president is expected to release his FY 2019 budget proposal in February, and we have no reason to believe that libraries have moved up on the list of priorities for the administration.”

In the coming weeks, ALA’s Washington Office will roll out more resources to help librarians make the case to lawmakers as part of the ALA’s #FundLibraries effort. But get ready: 2018 “is a time for all of us to take our advocacy up a notch,” Kromer says.

Idaho State Librarian Says Library Use Is on the Rise, but School Libraries Are Underfunded

In Idaho, Idaho State Librarian Ann Joslin told state lawmakers this week that library use—especially among Millennials—is on the upswing. However, she added, school libraries remain underfunded.

“School and public libraries have a significant role in promoting early literacy, and could do more if they were widely recognized as full partners,” Joslin told lawmakers, as part of her “annual budget pitch” to the Legislature.

According to a report in the Spokesman-Review, Idaho’s libraries are showing a significant return on investment:

“Idaho’s 146 public libraries were visited almost 8.6 million times in 2016, Joslin said, and total program attendance has increased 30 percent since 2012. Plus, the state Commission for Libraries’ emphasis on early literacy programs, including its “Read to Me” and summer reading programs, helped push Idaho to third in the nation last year for per-capita checkout of children’s materials from libraries, and sixth nationwide for children’s program attendance in libraries.”

The article notes that the Idaho Commission for Libraries has a state general fund budget of about $4 million.

Should the ALA’s Next Executive Director Be Required to Hold an MLIS?

Library Journal’s Lisa Peet has an interesting, in depth look at the ongoing search for Keith Fiels’s replacement as ALA executive director. The issue: whether the ALA’s next leader should be required to hold a library degree.

Concerns, Peet reports, include the “possible public perception of ALA devaluing its own professional degree if it were not mandated.” On the other hand, “a number of professional organizations are run by individuals with executive certifications that don’t include the degrees required by those professions,” and dropping the MLIS requirement would “attract a more diverse pool of candidates.”

ALA officials had planned to present candidates for the job at the upcoming ALA Midwinter Meeting, in Denver. But that is not happening, and it now looks like the delay could be significantly longer, as the ALA membership will now vote on the matter. The search for the next ALA executive director, Peet reports, “has been placed on hold pending the vote results, which ALA will announce April 11, and will resume, at the earliest, in May.”

After more than 15 years on the job, Keith Fiels (who does hold a library degree) retired at the end of July, 2017.

Happy Wikipedia Day! Wikipedia Turned 15 This Week

On January 15 (known by Wikipedians as Wikidpedia Day) Wikipedia turned 15. And to celebrate, the Wikimedia Foundation posted a delightful look back at Wikipedia’s history: 15 amazing things since the idea of Wikipedia was launched to the world on January 15, 2001.

“Before 2001, an encyclopedia could cost thousands of dollars, trees, water and ink, and let’s face it, was really really hard to carry around,” the piece notes. “Today we can reach millions of referenced articles, photos, illustrations, sources, and word definitions from anywhere we can reach the internet. And the volunteers who have been creating this amazing work for 15 years don’t charge anything for it. They want to share all knowledge with every person. Many of us have this opportunity right in our pockets.”

And while you’re here, check out this interview PW did with Wikipedia’s Jake Orlowitz last year. Fascinating stuff.

Syracuse iSchool Student Rounds up the Best Library Memes

Yes, memes are fun. But in the age of the smartphone, they are also an increasingly popular and effective means of communicating a viewpoint. On the Syracuse University iSchool blog, InfoSpace LIS student Samantha Mairson rounds up the best library-related memes of 2017. Enjoy!