Partnering with Tech

Event brainstorms how libraries and the internet industry can collaborate to boost economic growth

December 2, 2016

Economic growth via the internet

“What proposals and partnerships should libraries and the internet industry initiate to enable opportunity for everybody?”

This question was posed to three panelists at a policy hackathon, cohosted by ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) and the Internet Association on November 17 at Google’s Washington, D.C., office.

Chaired by ALA President Julie B. Todaro and with welcome remarks by Google’s Head of Global Industry Relations Carley Graham Garcia, the session included the Internet Association’s Chief Economist Christopher Hooton, ALA President-Elect James Neal, and Yelp’s Director of Government Relations Laurent Crenshaw. Ali Breland, a tech reporter for The Hill, moderated the conversation.

Panelists discussed the internet’s increasing role as a catalyst for economic growth, how it affects the future workforce, and what libraries and other institutions are doing to support individuals and communities as its influence and reach continue to grow.

Among the conversations taking place nationally include striking a reasonable balance between information policy (such as access to high-speed broadband and copyright), improving diversity in the technology workforce, and upskilling so that fewer workers are left behind.here-comes-everybody-invite2

“Libraries need to look beyond the programs and the funding,” Neal said. “We must forge radical new partnerships with the First Amendment, civil rights, and technology communities to advance our information policy interests and our commitment to freedom, diversity, and social justice.”

While the tech industry—and the internet specifically—has spurred economic growth, the opportunity generated has been uneven. People in certain parts of the country, particularly in rural areas, have not adequately benefited for several possible reasons: The technology available is insufficient for business growth, tech jobs are not coming to their communities, or they don’t have the necessary digital skills.

Libraries, of course, have been ahead of the curve, promoting digital literacy and aiding economic growth by offering tools for job seekers, access to market data, office space for start-ups and entrepreneurs, coding workshops for kids, and free Wi-Fi for everyone, among other services and resources.

After the panel discussion, audience members were invited to make a two-minute pitch in response to the original question: What proposals and partnerships should libraries and the internet industry initiate to enable opportunity for everybody?

The panelists judged the dozen or so proposals, including these two:

  • Libraries and schools ought to use M-Lab and other measures of internet performance data to gain information on local internet quality, which could help them work proactively with their service providers and communities to ensure they have sufficient broadband and are maximizing E-Rate support.
  • Libraries should work with internet service providers to create a data donation and generation bank, where library patrons with extra data can share it, and those who need more data can earn it through community service at their library.

Such creative thinking about future library collaborations can assist with expanding access to information, technology, and resources to help people in our communities get ahead. And national partners can be reminded of the value and trust libraries bring to communities.

Marc Gartler, supervisor at Madison (Wis.) Public Library and chair of OITP’s advisory committee, attended the gathering and said, “As a result of events like these, there are an increasing number of people and organizations in Washington that understand the value of America’s libraries.”

As ALA’s Libraries Transform campaign states, “Today’s libraries are not just about what we have for people, but what we do for and with people.”