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The Wednesday Evening Session: Facts in the Digital Age: Coping in an Era of Total Noise

Don Hawkins and Lee Rainie

Don Hawkins (L) and Lee Rainie
(Photo by Jim Tchobanoff)

The popular evening session was a conversation by well-known CIL speaker Lee Rainie, Director, Internet, Science & Technology Research, Pew Research Center and Peter Raymond, a serial innovator, entrepreneur, strategist, and creative technologist who has worked with cognitive AI and the Internet of Things.

Jane Dysart, Lee Rainie, and Peter Raymond

(L-R) Jane Dysart, Lee Rainie, and Peter Raymond
(Photo by Jim Tchobanoff)

Lee began by presenting some thoughts drawn from Pew’s recent studies. Many things are happening in our culture that are making it more of a challenge than ever before to find the truth. We are in a world of total noise. If you want to be an active, engaged citiizen, you will feel stupid all the time. In a world of total noise we have lost faith in institutions that give us the truth. The word of the day is agnotology, or the science of not knowing. It has created a lot of social challenge and struggle in a world of discerning the truth.

People who make policy are a rare species now. Personal relationships are affected; you judge people by which “team” they are on. Those on the other team are considered to be bad and lazy. Fake news makes life so different that people can’t agree on what’s going on. Polarization of the information environment affects many things; for example, where you buy things becomes a political statement.

The media environment has become part of the story. There is less capacity for institutions to promote the same facts ad share the culture. The environment has created a way for people to be nasty to each other. Online they will say things they would not say to someone’s face. 41% of Americans have been harassed and 66% have seen people harassed online. The tone of conversations is now much more nasty, less civilized, and more angry than it is face to face.

Social media platforms are based on a business model that emphasizes the most nasty and challenging content because the more you are inciting people the more they sell ads. One survey asked if truth will be in better shape or worse in the future; the results were almost evenly split; half of the respondents said that things will get better and half said they will not because this is tribal, and the trolls will always have their way. But we have changed over time as a culture; maybe we can draw some hope. The fake news people got new life because of the printing press and found new ways to promote their cause. And people believed it! The amazing thing about truth is that it is better arrived at by gathering evidence rather than by thinking about it. The best evidence is gathered dispassionately.

Librarians are entering the cyborg age where machines help us evaluate information. People like this and trust libraries because libraries have a lot of good will. Librarians, firefighters, and teachers have survived with their reputations intact in this environment.

Peter responded that we never thought that people would manipulate videos and make fake videos. Why do we enjoy opinions as facts? How are people to understand how you find truth and facts? We can no longer rely on things that we were formerly comfortable with.

Lee: This the first time we are thinking about how technology serves us before it becomes our master. The basic model is that if we give people good information, they will make good decisions. We are now learning that this is not true. If you are presented with a fact that doesn’t agree with your world, you don’t say you are wrong, you say that you will find a way to make it agree. As soon as Facebook put warnings on something, it became click bait for people who wanted to believe it. Trust is an identity marker more than it is the pursuit of truth: “I’m on this team and there is nothing that will move me off it!” We have a tribal attachment to media sources.

There are now new non-human actors involved with information flows; 56% of Tweeted links in popular websites came from bots. Some bots are partisan and others just send out information.

Peter: The idea of speed is interesting. We have gone through a cycle when you had to write something to being able to print it. Now we have bots that send you information.

Lee: An article in Science said that lies have 10 to 15 times more spread than the truth.
If librarians do their job well, they can be very helpful: there is a demand for them more than ever before. People are not sure their filters are set correctly; librarians are antidotes to echo chambers. If the libraries provide truth that is different from what people believe, that is a way to talk about things. It is a teaching moment because librarians are viewed as knowing what they are talking about. We are now learning about cognitive science enough to know what will favorably influence people.

Audience question: If there are two sides to something, and there is a war on truth, are they competing at the same level?

Lee: That is the dilemma of journalism; now they have to call out lies.  Fact checking is a thriving effort. We are developing systems to assess what authorities say when an event happens, but we will never be able to develop systems that always deliver the truth.

Peter: What is our peril? There will be an event that will change this and cause us to become sober. Moderation is the ultimate risk model. The words you put on a page are not as significant as those you choose to omit.

Audience question: We know that mistakes were made when we got rid of the Fairness Doctrine. What are the frameworks we need legally around slander, libel, and fairness? Where should we explore the research to deal with the fake news problem?

Peter: We have a responsibility to help and enable a well informed electorate. We hold certain truths that have been formed over the years. The electorate has a lot of power, and there is an accountability in that. Children are now embarrassing politicians on national  TV; they are the new educated electorate.

Audience question: What is the library’s role in individual change vs. societal change? How can a librarian reach an entire society or community instead of just being at an individual level?

Lee: The scientific revolution eventually spawned education; you had to know things that our ancestors didn’t need to know. There is a yearning for a new set of literacy skills: information and critical thinking. Libraries can think of themselves as creators for this. You must be clear about what you are saying and how your training has equipped you to answer questions.

Peter: Libraries are the most helpful institution I can point to. If you have an ability to connect to that community and a child brings something back to the family, will they be shut down? Give them the tools to ask better questions so they will find them by themselves. How can we help people frame great questions to take to libraries? Science is not the arbiter of absolute truth and facts. Libraries are the best ones to deliver information to create a well informed electorate.

Lee: A lot of lifelong learning is based on altruism; people learn things so they can help others.

Audience question: Many people are accessing information online, but people are also saying we must be proactive. How can we revise library space to make them more effective?

Peter: What you can do to interact with natural systems (light, etc.) helps us understand how much we can incorporate from biological systems. We didn’t even know what a room is until relatively recently. The ability to have flexible space is important, not where the walls go. What makes you the most creative or inquisitive? If you change the light or acoustics, you can change the energy of the room. How do you turn the physical space into a living lesson? Bring in kids and let them do the design–they won’t be constrained by budgets etc.


Lee: The most cited article in the Harvard Business Review said that many companies don’t know what business they are in. Libraries are in the knowledge, learning, and enchantment business. Think about spaces and how you can achieve those goals. Figure out how you best serve your community and help them share and enrich their knowledge.

Peter: You have a lot of power. Know what you do, understand your services and value, and have your community help you understand what they want. Those you serve are responsible for giving something back.

Toward Gigabit Libraries

James Werle and Carson Block

James Werle (L) and Carson Block (R)

James Werle, Internet 2 Community Anchor Program and Carson Block, Carson Block Consulting, discussed two levels of high-speed internet access: the technical level and policy level. Joyce Johnston, Department of English, George Mason University, reviewed the current issue of net neutrality.

James started by discussing a project to put a pilot toolkit for high speed access in at least 30 rural libraries. How do you manage your library connectivity, especially if you a rural librarian and don’t have a networking background, yet you are the access point for the community? Many rural libraries are not equipped to provide access. James and Carson developed a toolkit containing a self-assessment tool, advocacy program, and educational workbook. The self-assessment tool lists what you need to know, the equipment, etc. The toolkit doesn’t change as people come and go. Here are its components and processes.

Toolkit Components and Processes

After developing the toolkit, they visited rural sites to evaluate their environment.  State libraries were involved to get their cooperation and provide a contact for the local librarians. It took several hours at each location to describe the toolkit and develop an action plan to improve connectivity.

The toolkit approach is to examine the technology inventory, present questions first; and then additional information and resources in text boxes. They showed librarians how to do their own speed testing. Here is a typical example of a network diagram from the toolkit.

Network diagram

They also helped libraries set up E-Rate (a government program providing discounts on telecommunications to eligible schools and libraries) if they were not already members .

Joyce Johnston

Joyce Johnston

Joyce Johnston, Dept. of English, George Mason University discussed the issues surrounding net neutrality. Here is a definition.

Net neutrality definition

Net neutrality is under severe challenge now. There is no law in the US that protects it. It is supervised by the FCC as a public service. There is a strong move to transfer internet regulation to the Federal Trade Commission and change internet access to be like cable access is now. This will cause many problems; here is what we stand to lose

What we could lose

This is ALA’s position.

ALA Position

ALA Position - 2

You can become your own ISP, then you can guarantee access. The FCC has developed a proposal for libraries.

FCC library proposal

Net neutrality vs. internet censorship: Educating the community is a good idea; most parents have no idea that this is a problem. There will also be an effect on consumers. State laws need to be changed, but this is difficult to do (a few states have recently enacted laws to protect net neutrality). We don’t have a national standard and that’s what we need the most. Legal challenges have been filed. Will we take the issue of the dismal state of high-speed internet access on as a country and have a national standard, or will we continue to have a patchwork of state laws?

The reason the FCC wants to get rid of net neutrality is because it’s more important for businesses to make money than to have an educated citizenry.

Privacy, the Dark Web, and Hacker Devices

Brian Pichman

Brian Pichman, Director, Evolve Project, gave a fast-paced review of security problems that can occur when using the internet. There was too much information to summarize here, so check out his presentation on the conference presentation page. Or you can read my summary of his talk at last fall’s Internet Librarian conference here, which was substantially the same. Here is an abbreviated summary of today’s talk.

When you log in to a website, the owner can learn a lot about you just by using Google Analytics. Much of this is for good purpose, but some of it is malicious.

Hacking started in the days of dialup. Most people did it because they were bored. Then people wanted to meet in person and user groups were formed, and they still exist today. Hacking has evolved because of social media. “Hacktivism” refers to people doing good things to bring down bad sites.

The deep web is what search engines cannot find. The Dark Web is where bad things can happen. Tools for the deep web include anonymizing browsers (Tor) and Silk Road. Tor anonynizes what you are doing; VPN protects your connection. You can have several protection programs running at once.

Tools to become a hacker: Use the Tor Browser, Telnet to a BBS, use Kodi. Social engineering is very useful to hackers. Try it: call the library, ask questions a bout a user and see if they give out information. This works even if you have the best security possible. Use DOS scripts; they are available by putting  “DOS Hacks” into Google. Google is not always your friend–always be careful. Use dual factor authentication.

Create a security policy and change it as circumstances change.

Check out which gives you a credit card number that will work on e-commerce websites and which is easily changed in case of a large data breach.

From Makerspace to Solve Space: A Road Map

Makerspace Panel

(L-R)  Chad Marin, Brian Pichman, Peter Raymond, Mike Cimino, Tod Colegrove (Moderator)

This double-length session was a mini-workshop for those who wanted to know how to go beyond the “gee whiz” aspect of makerspaces, and make them into “solve spaces” to enable the creation of new knowledge and new intellectual property. 

Mike Cimino, Director of STEAM and Making, Fayetteville Free Library (FFL) Fab Lab, said they were an early adopter of making in libraries. Today, FFL has several makerspaces. In considering constructing a makerspace, it is important to start with the community’s needs and use them to start developing your makerspace. FFL has embraced STEAM learning as a core mission, developed a STEAM coding and learning center, and has become a resource for and partner with school districts and teachers. Currently they have the Fab Lab, Little Makers space (which is in a separate space but is being incorporated into the Fab Lab so families don’t have to be split up), and Creation Lab.

Peter Raymond, CEO and Founder, SolveOS, said that the library became his home when he was growing up because the librarians were able to satisfy his curiosity and let him be who he was. Libraries are a fascinating way to help communities solve problems. The best way is just to move in to a space and start making and then solving. We are in an entirely new world where we cannot predict the future like we have in the past. Peter showed a fascinating video of the space he established to bring people together to create solutions to their problems.

Chad Marin, Librarian and Innovation Manager, St. Petersburg College, manages the Innovation Lab (iLab). They have no budget so everything they do is grant-funded. You don’t need a huge space to create a lab. The lab enhances learning: classes come in to do creative learning–coding workshops, hackathons, etc. We are teaching students how to think like a programmer or an engineer, not necessarily become one.

Gadgets for Good

They launched a Gadgets for Good program and  invited people to bring in old technology, scavenged parts, and created new devices . They are building their own 3D printer. The iLab is everywhere–even outside (to test a drone they built). In the health care field, a student used a 3D printer to create a device to hold the bed adjustment control in hospitals. The hospital liked it so much that they asked for one for every bed (which was not practical because it took 8 hours to create each one).

Every chance you get, share what you do. Demystify STEM and reach out to colleges–you don’t need to be a scientist of engineer to do this. You can educate the public what to do when they see your data. Mistakes are proof that you are trying! Big things can happen in small spaces with little budgets.

Brian Pichman, Director of the Evolve Project, described the origins of the project.

Engage companies with stories and understand what your community wants by learning about their passions. Questions to ask:

Questions to Ask

The Evolve Project works with startup companies and coordinates them helping libraries build makerspaces.

Evolve Project

In the discussion period, atendees were asked if anyone is bored with their makerspace (i.e., people just come and play with Legos, etc., don’t talk to anybody, and then leave). A few hands were raised. The question is why are you bored? Can you get curiosity going again?  What is your purpose?

Here are a few other points that were made:

  • Out of hacking came the craft movement which evolved into the maker movement that is now full of families. Now we need to move into the area of solving. Have I understood and defined a problem and then defined who is working on it?
  • There is something natural about using recycled equipment. The crafting process is what makes it fun. We need to focus on what we want to be–maybe develop a “crafter space” and not just acquire technology for its own sake. This is about enabling the end user to create new things.
  • Look at opportunities. They are in front of us with today’s big challenges: climate change, water resources, community issues. Ask better questions before you get involved with machines, technologies, etc. Understand how you are going to use the technology.

The Wednesday Keynote: Digital Transformation in Libraries: Participatory Culture Hubs

Daniel Lee and Brendan Howley with Jane Dysart

Daniel Lee (L) and Brendan Howley (R) with Jane Dysart

Brendan Howley and Daniel Lee, Co-founders, Icebox Logic, keynoted the second day.

Daniel began by describing the digital transformation happening in public libraries, which expand the commons and are one of the last truly human places in a homogenized digital world that is becoming increasingly complicated: a “digital jacuzzi” or soup of contents. We should care about libraries’ role in mediating social and cultural change because they have diversity of voice, social equity, and transparency and accountability. Libraries are positioned to be a cornerstone and touchstone; they are a place where we can go and hear diverse opinions. In an open society, they are trusted repositories of community data. People participate in libraries; not “patrons”.  Libraries have a role to play in small business and entrepreneurship intelligence to help people start a small business, etc.

Brendan continued and said that we have the essence of the commons and all must have a learning experience. Our belief system must have an “oil change”. We are living in a culture of mass ADHD; there is accelerating media fragmentation. and  rarely an exchange of views. Libraries are not merely an antidote to “data-pointing” of human behavior in an age of Big Data. They are the heartbeat of human striving and are profoundly useful windows on our culture as well as contextual lenses for the communities they serve. They are curators and custodians of what makes us.  

Theories of media and alienation: voter apathy/cynicism about our ability to govern ourselves; libraries help people discover their individual voice. The problem with new media landscapes is that we are dealing with ever smaller audiences. Small data leads to “tribes” and local audiences. Everyone is a potential media channel and has a voice, which is a dissolver of “massification”.

What connects us all? Stories are a relational basis of the human network and are how we build relationships. Value networks drive community value co-creation. We are just beginning to understand how to co-create human value creation. Prosperity does not just deal with economics; it involves value and quality of life of the community.

Libraries are community data hubs. The OpenMediaDesk (OMD) projects share community dialog best practices. One of the first things we learn is pattern recognition. Librarians must tell “why”–why they are doing things. For example, one library used excess land to establish a barrier-free community access garden which was successful in bridging the generational gap between older and younger people. Storytelling is a community insight intelligence tool.

Icebox Logic focuses on learning by telling stories and establishing participating libraries as open culture hubs. A/B tests are powerful tools. We need to help introverts think creatively, learn to fail fast, weigh strategy, and be confident in their own abilities.

We are telling social stories and empowering the community as library advocates. The best local stories are cultural; they resonate most and network best because they are cultural and for everyone. Stories of the exceptional and the unique are all about local culture. They are about who we are and who we aspire to be. Stories of the exceptional in your local culture shared through library media are proof that the library is playing an exceptional community role. People don’t share numbers; they share stories.

Winning the ROI battle means sustainable funding. People respond when their stories are published in library media. Do this and you will see how much untapped loyalty and affection the community will reflect back to the library. The results are astonishing. The story is not about you; it is about your community: their achievements, aspirations, hopes, and dreams.

Demonstrating social media efficacy is easy if you know how. Even the simplest examination of social media metrics can reveal data that not most municipalities don’t capture, which has led to the creation of a “Digital Relevancy Index”: a capture of data showing how well your library is sharing its stories, how clean your website experience is for the users, and how your library’s media performance tracks vs. other libraries’ results.

In the fall, the OMD will be a part of a McMaster University third year course to train social science students as “citizen data journalists”. It will be a collaboration between the Hamilton, Ontario Public Library, Icebox Logic, and the university. The results will be published across the city.

Libraries aren’t buildings; they are the world, recast as searchable and safely experienced. They are not passive keepers of static culture; they involve personal growth, skills, and life transitions. Where else can these processes happen routinely in a public space? There is no underestimating the power of libraries to change lives.