Once in awhile, ALA does something well, and it is largely because of that (well, that and that I’m still a student and so my dues are cheap) that I am still a member. One thing they’ve done nicely is the new Legislative Action Center. Okay, so it’s not all 2.0. It doesn’t have RSS feeds. It doesn’t have permalinks to its different pages. It’s got a very long and funny looking url to its FAQ sitting there and running off the edge of the site. And it doesn’t validate (or doesn’t validate well?–I must admit that, although I know valid code is important, I have only a very dim idea of what it means).
So why do I like it? It’s got good information. The information is fairly easy to find (unlike, say, any given information on the main ALA website). Like most political action websites nowadays, you can set up a nice little account for yourself that will remind you who your elected officials are and a little bit about them. It even includes state legislators. It has a fairly comprehensive list of media outlets for your region (though I’d like to see a few more of the smaller papers listed–where are the Powell Tribune and Northern Wyoming Daily News?) Most importantly, however, it deals with timely and important issues and gives you good, solid talking points for phone calls to Congress and letters to the editor.
The hottest topic there right now is H.R. 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act, or DOPA (summary and analysis from Andy Carvin and LibraryLaw Blog), which is an attempt to withold e-rate funding from any school or library that doesn’t block social networking sites–you know, those things the kids are all so crazy about–MySpace, Facebook–could Flickr be next?
A couple weeks ago, the Powell School District here in Wyoming decided to block MySpace on all school computers. I wrote a letter to the editor, which was published in last Thursday’s Powell Tribune. It’s not available online, and I am reprinting it here in full, with some hyperlinks added for online consumption. If anyone from the Tribune has objections, please feel free to contact me. Thanks to Aaron for championing MySpace in librarians and for looking the letter over.
To the Editor:
I was sorry to read of the Powell School District’s decision to ban MySpace.com on school computers.
It is true that there is a lot of dross on MySpace.com (just as there is on the rest of the Web) and that it can be dangerous to get into detailed conversations with people you meet on MySpace (just as it can be dangerous to talk to strange people in the physical world). But there is also a lot of good to be found. Many young adult authors, including Sarah Dessen, Brent Hartinger, Lauren Myracle, and John Green (who won the 2005 Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature,
given each year by the American Library Association), have MySpace accounts. Even some libraries have MySpace accounts–check out the one for the Denver Public Library, http://www.myspace.com/denver_evolver.
Today’s teenagers, often referred to as “digital natives” are often as at home in the virtual world as they are in the real one. Sites like MySpace give them a place to socialize virtually, to try out new ideas and to make something of their own–to decorate their virtual space in the same way they might their room or locker. As school officials acknowledge, new sites like MySpace pop up almost every day, and schools cannot expect to keep ahead and ban them all.
Instead of banning MySpace, schools should embrace the possibilities of this new medium. Instead of trying to protect young people by sheltering them from the world, we should encourage them to explore it and educate them about how to do so safely. Whenever I hear of attempts to keep teens and kids away from online content, I’m reminded of the old rhyme, “Mother dear, may I go for a swim?/Why, yes my darling daughter/Hang your clothes on a hickory limb/But don’t go near the water.” You wouldn’t try to keep a child safe from drowning by not teaching her to swim. You cannot keep kids safe online by trying to keep them off certain sites.
Now get out there and say the same to the powers that be.