Creating Technology for Social Change

Liveblogging #PPDD17: Inconsistent Information Access Across Alabama Public Schools and Libraries

I’m in San Diego at the Partnership for Progress on the Digital Divide (PPDD) 2017 conference. PPDD engages a broad diversity of individuals and organizations to spearhead a multi-associational, multi-disciplinary partnership among scholars, practitioners, and policymakers to make significant contributions in closing the digital divide and addressing the many other challenges and opportunities presented by the digital age. I’ll be here speaking about some of my ongoing research on Mapping Information Access and liveblogging the other panels as I can.

This liveblog represents a best-efforts account, not a direct transcript, of the lecture, presentation, and/or panel.

Today, most of the panels are smaller, discussion-oriented breakouts, so I’m not liveblogging them like I did yesterday. But I do want to take a moment to provide some notes the research I presented today, which extends work I performed while a graduate student at Civic.

In brief: I’m presenting results from some of the work on Mapping Information Access that I’ve done with my collaborators Emily Knox at UIUC and Shannon Oltmann at UK. In 2014, our friend Shawn Musgrave helped us use MuckRock to issue FOI requests to every public school system and library district in Alabama seeking records of book challenges and Internet filtering configurations. This project has already yielded one peer-reviewed publication on using open records laws for research purposes and we are currently preparing more articles for publication.

My presentation at PPDD17 has to do with a subset of this project that compares Internet filtering configurations across schools and libraries to illustrate commonalities and discontinuities across implementations. Our unique, rich dataset of documents help us see, with startling specificity, the anticipation and articulation work (to borrow terms from the tradition of Leigh Star’s infrastructural studies) performed by filtering systems and the people who use them. We demonstrate that, despite nominal compliance with a standard regulation (CIPA), filtering implementations varied widely and wildly between institutions, and introduced significant inconsistencies into the stream of information access through public institutions (with potentially troubling political consequences).

If you’re interested in the documents and arguments from this talk, the slides for it can be downloaded in PDF form here. If you have more questions, just drop me a line or hit me on Twitter @peteyreplies. And if/when our findings are published as a paper, I’ll make sure to update this blog entry (or create a new one) to share it.