TILT #51 — A Tale of Two Missing Nets

A new month a new newsletter! It’s snowing here and January was a bit of a snow and ice beast. I am happy to be entering into the shortest month, Black History Month, and the month containing Valentine’s Day. I am a sucker for postal-type holidays.

Tweeting with the #BlackHistoryMonth hashtag will get you a little three-fist icon on Twitter, as seen in this PSA I made about Boston Public Library’s incredibly cool project crowdsourcing transcription for its collection of anti-slavery manuscripts.

The last days of WIkipedia’s #1Lib1Ref campaign are this week. It’s been really gratifying to see librarians from all over the world engaged in making Wikipedia better. For my part I’ve been trying to build up parts of Wikipedia that could use some love. I’ve been mostly digging around in public domain photo archives, adding images to pages and citations for those images. You can see my contributions here and my image uploads here. (interesting story about this WPA photo)

And I noticed a thing…. There have been studies that show that when women speak in a mixed-gender group, even if they are speaking a very small fraction of the time, they are perceived as speaking an equal amount of the time, or sometimes even dominating the conversation. Sexism, plain and simple.

As I was congratulating myself for uploading a whole bunch of civil rights images for various Wikipedia articles, my perception was that nearly all of my uploads were on or about African American or other underrepesented-on-Wikipedia topics. A quick reality check on my uploads indicates this isn’t at all true, it’s maybe over half, for this campaign. But it felt like a lot, a majority. That feeling is dangerous. And it’s an important thing for people like me — white, decently well-off knowledge workers who care about a better world — to keep an eye on.

Speaking of the phrase African American and other hyphenated-Americans, here’s a very good article on why the hyphen is a bad idea, even though many style guides still suggest we use it.

In Without a Net news I have two completely disparate stories:

  1. Thanks to the hard work of Eric Hellman, a crowdsourcing campaign, and the grudging acceptance of my publisher, I’ll be reclaiming the rights to my book Without a Net and releasing it under a Creative Commons license. Free.
  2. I led a program at my local library last night watching Verizon’s movie Without a Net and talking about the digital divide. Hatewatching may be too strong a term for what I did with this somewhat propaganda-ish fiberoptic commercial about internet and schools. It did spark some good conversations about inequality and some amusing stories about local internet ups and downs including the children’s librarian who sometimes loses her DSL signal because of her neighbor’s electric livestock fence.

At the same time, it’s clearly pushing the “children are our future, kids in other countries are getting ahead!” xenophobic angle of why we need technology, which I think is only part of the issue. The movie touches on things like income equality, but completely ignores issues like redlining in poor neighborhoods, institutionalized racism, and the role of companies like Verizon itself, contributing to these issues. Important movie, but only telling the self-serving part of the story. These situations are not simple and pretending they are does not help the people who need the help.

Some longer reads worth your time

As you move forward in this shortest month, please consider adding a citation to Wikipedia, reflecting on the complicated history of racism within librarianship, and ask yourself Whose Knowledge (a great project) is being reflected in the information sources we create, use, and promote.

I’ll leave you with an image from Chapel Hill Public Library’s series of Banned Books Trading Cards.

Today in Librarian Tabs is written irregularly by Jessamyn West who also maintains librarian.net. It’s also available in more-accessible format your inbox via TinyLetter. Thanks for reading.



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Jessamyn West

Jessamyn West


Rural tech geek. Librarian resistance member. Collector of mosses. Enjoyer of postcards. ✉️ box 345 05060 ✉️ jessamyn.com & librarian.net