"Free flow of information" has become a slogan and a virtue of U.S. democratic ideals. Yet, behind this free flow of information there is a long history of how US foreign policy, political and economic interests are intertwined within this slogan. UIUC professors Schiller and Sandvig locate and contextualize current U.S. state dept. of Information policy on "free flow of information."
The free flow of information precept attaches more specifically to US history. It was crafted by US corporate and governmental elites to serve foreign policy goals over many decades. Early in the 20th century, free flow was used to spearhead the interests of US submarine cable companies and, above all, US news agencies such as AP and UP (perhaps the Google of their day), which were trying to gain entry into markets controlled by entrenched European cartels. After World War II, vested in the raiment of human rights, free flow was used as an ideological club against the Soviet Union and China - even as it also served to help prise open "Third World" markets for cultural commodities including films, musical recordings, television programs and news
Nowadays you will find that there is hardly a day that goes by in which google is not in the media spotlight. Topics having to do with Google are limitless.
In today's New York times, Op-Ed Contributor Adam Raff, a co-founder of Foundem, an Internet technology firm, is asking people to demand that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) work toward "search neutrality." The premise of his argument is that in order to ensure equal access to the infrastructure of the Internet, FCC needs to impose regulations not only on Internet service providers but also on search engine companies. Raff points out:
Today, search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s new Bing have become the Internet’s gatekeepers, and the crucial role they play in directing users to Web sites means they are now as essential a component of its infrastructure as the physical network itself.
I think Raff is making an important argument here: search engines are a key part of the Internet's infrastructure. When we consider search engines as infrastructure it puts the Internet into a public utility dimension like electricity, telephone etc. If that's the case, then the public has a right to input into how search engines should work. I don't think there is any neutral search engine (sponsored links anyone?!) but it's worthwhile to think about search engine as public infrastructure.
Currently Google controls over 70% of the search market and over 95% of Google's revenue comes from ad revenue. So it's clear that search results are not all about relevancy but are related to how Google can generate more profit through the placement of ads. If search engines were part of the public Internet infrastructure, then what would it look like? Can we find a model somewhere? How about libraries as a model?
I am at a conference called digital labor: workers, authors, citizens in London, Ontario, Canada. The conference aims to examine social, political and cultural dimensions of labor that are shaped and disciplined by new digital technologies. While library professionals have discussed ad nauseam about moving library to digital there has been little discussion regarding labor issues inherent in this shift. I hope my blog posts provide an opportunity to think about labor issues within library community.
Vincent Mosco, Canada Research Chair in Communication and Society, Queen’s University, kicked off the conference as a keynote speaker and asked the audience to bring labor research closer to the center of communication research. He employs the concept of convergence. While the term is often used to describe technological convergence, Professor Mosco distinctively emphasized the convergence of unions across professions. By using the concept of convergence, he stressed that we should be able to advance labor interests and address current problems that are faced by technological changes, corporate concentration and rise of neo-liberalism. Professor Mosco pointed out specific successful cases of union convergence in mobilizing workers. Unions such as the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the Washington Alliance of Technical Workers (Wash- Tech) were successful in challenging the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation(CBC), in organizing workers in the wireless sector, and in winning against Microsoft. He argued that convergence is not the only option but rather one among many strategies that need to be utilized to address current labor issues. It is important to use the concept of convergence to help study communication labor within the broader communication scholarship.
The question then is how do we define knowledge labor? It is complex to define knowledge workers but there is conceptual and political significance in terms of answering this question. Professor Mosco addressed that conceptual significance guides us to think about who should be the center of research while political significance will help us to bring workers together across various occupations. In order to succeed as a political project, he stressed that we need to bring people together across broad spectrum and various level occupations. Professor Mosco emphasized praxis – theoretically understand labor and incorporate political dimension.
He suggests that we need to think about labor as an agency rather then dependent variable. The research should focus on giving voice to workers in order to create a political movement. By looking at what workers are doing in response to technological changes, neoliberalism, etc. we will see a resurgence of unions nationally and internationally. Finally he urged us to think fiercely global but also to bring the struggle home. He called for the inclusion of a global division of labor in labor studies in order to understand the complexities of a changing global division of labor. The scope of outsourcing labor has been expanding to legal workers, journalism etc and moving up the value chains. It is not just about US companies outsourcing IT jobs to low-wage knowledge labor in India but also Indian based multinational corporations in the US as a leading outsourcing industry. In response to this, he pointed out that resistance has been growing in China, India and around the world. The question is what’s next? Will knowledge workers of the world unite? Democratically or for democracy? Will library workers be a part of that struggle?
The Organization For Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is asking the public this question: "How can the Internet make the world a better place?" The results will be shown at their Ministerial meeting on the “Future of the Internet” in Seoul, Korea on 17-18 June 2008. The best youtube videos will be shown to ministers and VIPs. It's good that OECD leaders are willing to listen to ordinary citizens' voices, but it's interesting that OECD is partnering with youtube (owned by google). I can understand why OECD is using youtbube -- numbers of existing users, ease of use of the tool, etc -- but it would be better IMHO if OECD used an open and community-driven system rater than one owned by one commercial entity. We'll post the best videos here when they're announced.
Our bookmobile trip is over and we are back to our respective day jobs. However, there are still some stories we couldn't leave behind so we'll be posting a few more items over the next few days. Here's the first one:
Our visit to the Hoopa library on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation was unforgettable. We drove from Arcata to Hoopa around 8:30 in the morning. The weather was just about to turn to fall so we could feel a crispness in the air as the sun shone through the pine and cedar trees. The road (Rtes 299 and then 96) to Hoopa is incrediblly beautiful.
The library was small but well organized. Despite it being early morning, quite a few community members gathered at the library to see the bookmobile or to use the library. We could tell the community was tightly-knit because everyone knew each other and no one was a stranger to them.
One of our bookmobilista speils has been that anyone can download anay of the hundreds of thousands of books (the goal is 1 million!) free of charge; we thought that was universally a good meassge. However, Several Hoopa community members mentioned that not many people in the valley had computers and those that do have uneven internet access at best via the phone line. The library has 4 computers with DSL but the librarian mentioned that the internet connection was spotty and so she recommended that users get a magazine to read while waiting for larger files to download. As we've said previously, the digital divide is unfortunately alive in rural communities across the US. So a digital bookmobile was not the optimum solution for this community.
Regardless of their level of access to the information highway, in Hoopa the library IS at the center of their community and the community knew and cherished that -- that's the dream of every librarian! We interviewed several community members about what they thought was the role of the library in their community. Ms. Hayley Hott gave a particularly passionate response (see below).
Many librarians are struggling to know about the community that they serve, but we felt that this library was truly a success story. It might not be the largest collection or have an abundance of facilities, but it is loved and highly-used by everyone in the valley.
Our 2 week bookmobile trip has finally wrapped up with our last stops today in Willits and Ukiah (both in Mendocino county). We just got home to San Francisco. We are not able to write all our thoughts but we can tell for sure it was truly fun and learning experience.
We learned about the crucial roles that libraries play in rural communities. For many communities, the library is not just a place where you can check out books; it is the social, cultural and educational hub and more. People come to the library to join writing and knitting groups, book club, to fill out resumes and apply for jobs, submit their taxes, surf the Web, and on and on. It's been great to visit those 11 libraries over the last 2 weeks to see in person the central role that libraries play in their communities -- despite the budget cuts, staff shortages, lack of tech support, knowledge and infrastructure. Academic libraries could learn a lot about building and sustaining communities simply from observing small, rural libraries.
We'll write more tomorrow, and will post more flickr images as soon as we get a new camera cable (which I lost somewhere between Blue Lake and Willits :-) ).
Day 11 was one grueling day - driving and setting up/breaking in Hoopa Indian Reservation, Blue Lake and Eureka for the Oysters & Ale library benefit for WiFi. When we got back to the Arcata hotel around 9:30pm we were so tired that we decided to have a blogging/flickr-ing moratorium. It was worthwhile since we had a full day of excitement and interesting conversation with community members. We can't wait to blog about it when we get back to San Francisco.
6:20am this morning we got woken up from a sound slumber by a call from the front desk telling us that the bookmobile was about to get towed to make room for the Saturday farmers' market. James as the official bookmobile driver, got up, threw some clothes on and stopped the Man from towing us. Whew! Nobody can tow the bookmobile!!
Now we're up and on our way to Mendocino for a day at Willits and Ukiah before heading home. We'll wrap up the goings on these last two days tonight or tomorrow. Stay Tuned!
Fortunately we got our pimped out (or at least with a new radiator!) bookmobile back from the mechanic today just in time for our visit to Humboldt County Library in Eureka. The library building looked like a beautiful retreat place where you can smell of ocean.
Eureka has quite a different community compared to other libraries that we've visited on our tour. Many of the people we talked to already knew about Internet Archive (or Project Gutenberg) as well as issues of public domain. This is the first time it's happened to us over the last 10 days. We were at the library for 5 hours and a stream of people stopped by the bookmobile and gave kudos for our work. We didn't even need to talk about the importance of the public domain and why community has to support their local library. It was easy to see how much the community supports their library. Many library staff came out to see our bookmobile including the new library director, Victor Zazueta. He told us that he believes the library is an educational institution and "poor man's university."
While talking about open source software in the library, he mentioned that Riverside County Library and the City of Redding had contracted out the management and operation of their libraries to a private company called LSSI. It's shocking to hear about a library being managed by a private company. This is wrong on so many levels. The library is an integral part of any community and we seriously doubt that a private company could appreciate those roles as their main goal is making profit, not providing local history, education, knowledge commons, and cultural space. Victor told us that at Riverside, there were high school students working the reference desk. What a shame.
After breaking down the bookmobile we visited the library's local history and special collections. This is one of the most beautiful local special collections we've ever seen. The room was full of local history that are used by community members, historians, and scholars. We wondered if this collection would exist if the library were being managed by LSSI. Our two main messages this entire trip has been the importance of the public domain and supporting local public libraries. We hope our message resonates with each community that we've visited.
Tomorrow is our big day. We have 3 places scheduled - Hoopa, Blue Lake, and the Oysters and Ale Library Fundraising in Eureka. This will be fun and crazy! For more photo please check here.
This is bookmobilistas in action. Please check it out.
Day 8&9: We left Red Bluff yesterday and we are now in Arcata gearing up for tomorrow's stop at the Humboldt County Library in Eureka, CA.
Our time in Red Bluff reminded us the resemblance between our physical and our knowledge landscape. Red Bluff is a town of 10,000+ people but houses and businesses are so spread out that everyone drives their car (actually it was mostly trucks and SUVs which probably accounts at least in part for the poor air quality) which creates a feeling of disconnect from the community. We didn't see any active public places (parks, squares etc) where community members were getting together and sharing their space in common.We are witnessing the shrinking of public spaces where culture and community emerge. This is mirrored in the erosion of the public domain. As knowledge/information has become more and more hyper-commodified, the idea of public ownership of culture drifts into the fog of history. This bookmobile has been a great opportunity to remind ourselves and those we talk to about the importance of the public domain in the creation of culture and community.
In reaching the crest of our journey, we will have a busy few days coming up including being part of Oysters and Ale festival, a WiFi fundraiser for Humboldt County Library at the Eureka Marina on Friday. We've been ready for all kinds of technical difficulties and have backup plans for all contingencies *except* for our wheels. And wouldn't you know it, we've run into a blocked radiator in the bookmobile. No way around it but to get it in the shop for repair now! So far the bookmobile has been good to us so we are very hopeful. We will keep you posted.