ALA: The FY2019 Budget Battle Is Underway

It's go time: this week, the American Library Association’s Washington Office kicked up its effort to save federal library funding for FY2019. In a March 6 District Dispatch post deputy director of government relations Kevin Maher announced the release of two “Dear Appropriator” letters now circulating in the House of Representatives, and ALA is urging librarians to contact their local representatives and urge them to sign the letters by March 19.

The letters are important tools in the fight for securing support for library funding. “The more signatures we get on these Dear Appropriator letters, the better proof we have of the wide, bipartisan backing for federal library funding,” Maher explains. “For many members of Congress (especially those not on the Appropriations Committee), signing these letters is the best opportunity for them to show their unequivocal support for our nation’s libraries.”

The effort includes one letter for FY2019 Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funding, which calls on Congress to provide at least $187 million, and one letter for the for FY2019 Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program, which asks for level funding (in FY2018, that was $27 million).

A strong effort by librarians garnered a significant number of signatures last year and yielded positive results. But, Maher suggests, more support will be needed in FY2019.

As previously reported, the Trump administration has once again proposed the elimination of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, along with virtually all federal library funding. And compounding matters for FY2019 are the recent tax cuts, which are expected to explode the federal deficit in the coming years. The deficit, many suspect, will be used by the GOP majority as justification to slash spending on domestic programs.

Librarians and library supporters are urged to visit the ALA Washington Office’s Action Center, and check the ALA’s Fund Libraries page. There you can track whether your representative has signed the FY2019 letters, see your representative’s history of support for libraries, and access other resources.

Senate Poised to Vote on Bill That Would Alter ISP Safe Harbor Protections, Alarming Censorship Opponents

The U.S. Senate could soon vote on the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), a bill aimed at fighting sex trafficking, but which critics say would serve mostly to silence free speech online. The bill already has passed the house, and sources say the Senate could vote any day now.

Specifically, in an effort to deter advertising for the sex trade, the bill seeks to amend Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA), which shields network providers from being held liable for content generated by users. Critics of the bill understand the desire to combat sex trafficking, but they say the amendment of Section 230 would force online platforms to police their networks and censor their users.

In a piece for Publishers Weekly, UC Davis librarians (and PW contributing editor) Peter Brantley recently wrote about threats to Section 230, which included FOSTA:

"Critics point out that our current laws are already sufficient to prosecute bad actors; Internet-centric legislation is not necessary. And that some technology companies are suddenly willing to...accept changes to Section 230 fills other tech firms and civil rights attorneys with concern, if not outright dread—after all, if the threat of sex trafficking can yield such concessions today, what’s next?

These issues get to the very heart of the concerns for the next generation Internet. It was obvious 20 years ago that a hosting platform such as AOL could never effectively wield ‘intermediary liability’ for the vast amount of content its users post. Yet today, with Congress and the European Union ratcheting up concerns over ‘fake news’ and the growing power of the largest Internet companies to frame social dialogue, there are breathless demands for such accountability.”

Groups like the EFF are urging the Senate to reject the bill.

“The array of online services protected by Section 230, and thus hurt by FOSTA, is vast,” EFF’s Joe Mullin writes in a post this week. “It includes review sites, online marketplaces, discussion boards, ISPs, even news publications with comment sections… By attempting to add an additional tool to hold liable the tiny minority of those platforms whose users who do awful things, FOSTA does real harm to the overwhelming majority, who will inevitably be subject to censorship.”

New Center at the University of Michigan Information School Will Fight ‘Fake News’

To address the growing concern over fake news and information literacy, the University of Michigan School of Information has formed the Center for Social Media Responsibility—and has hired Garlin Gilchrist II, one of President Barack Obama's former social media managers, as its executive director.

In a release this week, Gilchrist said the center is ready to fight the proliferation of bad information online and on social media. "Our job is to create tools, and to use, and make our research usable to media makers to media consumers to platform companies, to make sure we deal with this ongoing threat of more difficult-to-understand and potential misinformation,” Gilchrist said.

Launching the center was one of Thomas Finholt's goals when he took over as dean of the UM School of Information in 2016.

“From the earliest days of the Internet, technologists envisioned the benefits of broader access to the means of public communication,” Finholt said. “However, we now also see the challenges arising from such unedited and unhampered access: harassment and bullying, a credibility vacuum, a race to the bottom in competing for attention and a triumph of mobilization over persuasion that threatens to fracture our society.”

LJ names its 2018 ‘Paralibrarian’ of the Year

The editors of Library Journal this week announced that Orquidea Olvera of the Monterey County Free Libraries (MCFL) has been named 2018 Paralibrarian of the Year. The award, sponsored by DEMCO, Inc., recognizes "the essential role of paralibrarians in providing excellent library service.”

'Paralibrarian' refers to those working in libraries who do not hold an MLS degree—a large and growing number (in fact, LJ’s release notes that non-degree personnel make up the largest pool of employees in the library field).

“Orquidea has reached far beyond the confines of the library walls to help bring voice to all in the Monterey community,” said Rebecca T. Miller, editorial director of Library Journal and School Library Journal. “Her dedication and creativity on behalf of her community illustrates the depth and range of contributions from this critical workforce in libraries around the country.”

DPLA Unveils Site Redesign

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) unveiled a fresh new design of their website on Thursday. The organization worked with Postlight, a design firm that has helped to create digital platforms for Vice, Entertainment Weekly, Barnes & Nobles, among other clients.

The redesign focuses on the structure of the DPLA website with the end user in mind (e.g., library patrons, researchers, educators, and students) as opposed to the community reps, developers, publishers, and librarians who comprise DPLA’s network of partners. Organizational information for partners can now be found on a separate site called DPLA Pro.

The main website “combines the same core features and functionality that veteran users will recognize with new tools developed to enhance the DPLA experience for new and returning users alike,” according to the press release announcing the redesign.

Pew: Audiobook Consumption Continues to Climb

Pew Research Center on Thursday released the results of a study on the reading habits of Americans. The survey, which was conducted in early January, found that nearly one-in-five Americans now listen to audiobooks.

“While shares of print and e-book readers are similar to those from a survey conducted in 2016, there has been a modest but statistically significant increase in the share of Americans who read audiobooks, from 14% to 18%,” according to Pew Research analyst Andrew Perrin.

With that in mind, anyone looking to develop their audio collection might want to check out PW's Spring 2018 Audio Announcements.

State Net Neutrality Laws Show the Folly of the FCC’s Unpopular Repeal

The state of Washington on Monday became the first to pass its own version of Net Neutrality for consumers—and as we reported previously a number of other states are currently advancing similar legislation, bringing action in the courts, or otherwise pushing back.

Raise your hand if you saw this nightmare coming: one reasonable, popular federal policy being replaced by 50 new state laws which differ from state-to-state. The FCC certainly did—which is why its repeal order includes a provision prohibiting states from passing their own Net Neutrality laws. That provision of course is being laughed at by state attorney generals, who say that a federal agency like the FCC has no legal authority to tell them which laws they can or cannot pursue.

In addition to Washington's action, Oregon recently passed a law requiring companies doing business with the state or any local government to adhere to Net Neutrality principles. And governors in Montana, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, and Vermont have all signed similar executive orders on the issue.

Roslyn Layton, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told NBC News there was a reason why “the policy-making for Internet regulation" is at the federal level: because it's “not practical to have 50 sets of Internet rules” and that “different rules in the 50 states will be bad for consumers and for business.”

Of course, that’s not an argument for outlawing states from protecting consumers via their own Net Neutrality laws. But it’s just one reason why the FCC never should have repealed Net Neutrality rules in the first place.

Friday One Liners...

An article on Travel & Leisure’s website looks at the small town of Monowi, Nebraska, population one, where the town’s only resident, 84-year-old Elsie Eile, serves as mayor, bar owner, and librarian of the town’s 320 square-foot library, which houses a collection of 5,000 books and magazines...

A concept born on the twitter feed of Florida-based librarian Kristen Arnett is now an illustrated essay published on the McSweeney’s website:Literary Pet Names Using Puns Unworthy of Their Namesakes pairs illustrations of animals with delightfully awful puns (for example, an insect hitching a ride on a mocking bird is accompanied by the caption “If I had a bug, I’d name her Harper Flea”).