Final project brainstorming thread

Edit on April 6: I’m changing this topic to a brainstorming thread so that I can make a more direct and focused thread based on the prompt we talked about on the weekend: one first step, and one idea for the future.

Hi all, let’s use this thread to come up with a plan for the final project. As we discussed on our call this week, my idea is for us to create a resource space on with actually useful materials related to coronavirus and privacy, and perhaps other issues as well. These are the categories I came up with:

  • Privacy threats due to coronavirus concerns
  • Privacy issues in online learning environments
  • Privacy needs with emerging collective action, eg safely running mutual aid projects, organizing rent strikes, organizing unemployed people’s actions, and so on
  • Other library-related issues, like addressing fake news and disinformation
  • Positive helpful things to keep our morale up during this time

And a dissemination plan for all this that is not “send out another long resource list to our networks”. Figuring out how we address people’s needs at the point that they need it, sharing only one piece of information at a time, and so on. Who our audience is, how frequently we want to be sharing info, where, etc.

Let’s hear some thoughts about this and once we have an idea for the general framework, I will create a space on the wiki for it all.

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Posting a link to this article - I was reading a description of the new Barbara Ehrenreich book ‘Had I Known’ and the write up references her personal non profit - Economic Hardship Reporting Project - I think there are similarities in this pandemic to the instantaneous hardships experienced in 9/11. When I saw this headline I knew maybe someone was thinking the same thing. The author references the need for ‘centers’ that bring together the private sector as well as the government assistance available - although in this event the ‘centers’ will need to be virtual. I’m also voting that it looks like Adventure Time - Anyways, just throwing a thought out early - I’m imagining a website -


Heather, putting your ideas and Alison’s together made me think of the Indymedia article, where there used to be an Indymedia site for various regions for everyone who wanted to crowdsource information–like Facebook minus the externalization and monetization of the platform!–and I wrote in my notes on that article that this is something we need now. Maybe going back to that article for inspiration is a good idea, even if the project goal ends up being something quite different?

Because I hate to say it, but this pandemic poses a real opportunity for a lot of different things, especially libraries. I feel like an ambulance-chaser saying that, but I have a feeling this social moment could make or break libraries in the USA. Localized sharing of information and resources is our thing, and this is a big chance for librarians to make our voices heard in shaping whatever comes out of this.

(Edited at 4:54pm EST for additional thoughts added on at the end.)

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I’m interested in something like a threat model for when we reopen under various guises:

-Back again April 6 after first round quarantine expires
-Gone until the end of April (or back with limited services)
-A prolonged closure of services

What does public library service look like when we get back, and what are we doing to ensure that our ideals are still part of the conversation. How do you maintain privacy with social distancing? How do we educate all staff to work with the community digitally in ways that protect privacy?

I’m also happy to contribute on any topic related to fake news, information literacy, and how to discuss issues that have become politicized in a non-political manner.

I started drafting an outline here on the wiki:

I think you’re right. I am less inclined to do a crowdsourced resource, because there are so many of those out there right now and they’re hard to navigate, and more included to use our skills as information workers to make something curated and useful with a solid dissemination plan. I think that libraries offer a lot of what we need right now – free, trusted spaces that can offer vital information. But we will need to be demonstrating our value massively online right now, and when we get back to our buildings, we’re going to have a whole new issue of a massively traumatized population that is afraid of being in public spaces and using shared goods. It’s a real fear too, because we will probably not be getting adequate support from our management about making sure our libraries are safe to return to.

I think this is good framing, though I think we’d want to make it clear that open libraries in the first two scenarios are unsafe in all circumstances. And we don’t want to try to be offering solutions for doing those two things better, we want to be rejecting them outright.

I want to gently push back on this framing. These issues have always been politicized. I think partly what is needed here is a shift in our understanding of what the political is. We can avoid being partisan, but there is no way to be non-political. I think the way we should think about this is – how do we talk about things that are deeply political without alienating people, how do we talk about the way these issues affect people’s lives, and so on.

I was thinking about this more last night, and I thought of an example of creating/sharing a politicized thing that wouldn’t seem overtly partisan or alienating – if we wrote up something like “10 tips for getting a mutual aid network started in your community”. Mutual aid is an anarchist concept, I mean Kropotkin wrote an entire book about it. But no one has to know that by reading it. And within the piece, you’d be advocating collective action to address people’s unmet material needs and the failure of the state, but you wouldn’t have to come right out and be like REPUBLICAN SENATORS ARE IN A DEATH CULT AND THE DEMOCRATS JUST LET THEM DO IT. You see what I’m saying?


Do we want a project that we come together once and do it, or something that as a cohort we work to evolve or maintain?

These three links really excite me, and I wonder how they could be used to inform our practice? This is probably too wild of an idea.

What captures my imagination about these research questions is that they re-center the notion of bias in statistical datasets. Most good researchers will analyze their data for skew, distribution, etc, and identify those aspects of their data so that the users are aware of the limitations of the data, and it’s the ability to be used for broader statistical generalization. Perhaps we could take a look at these questions and apply them to some kind of data literacy framework? This field is just getting started so we would be there from the beginning

  • NYC Mayor’s Privacy Office
    I was at the NYC Open Data conference earlier this Spring and I sat in some of the sessions led by the Chief Privacy Officers and her colleagues. I think the idea behind this office is great, but the implementation leaves some things to be desired. The impression I came away with is that this office is just a risk management office to analyze the complex environment in which citizen and noncitizen data is gathered and shared by the city’s various entities. Don’t get me to wrong, that’s still great, but it doesn’t mean that they will try and reform corporate data-gathering practices. Can we look at the main areas where the city is working and try and see how more broadly these areas could be applied as a structure to reform data collection done on smartphones? Maybe with the help of the fair information practice principles?
  • Fair Information Practice Principles
    These seem great and is something I feel we could definitely think about as a group and apply to vendor agreements, push as a policy agenda for libraries, and also evolve our own set of fair information practices.

Ok, those are some wild ideas around data activism. Just thought I’d share my two cents.

These are the topics that resonate with me most, especially the supporting mutual aid work piece. I think you’re totally right, Alison, that it’s an anarchist concept that is also very accessible and down-to-earth and NEEDED now. I think providing simple and well-curated information about the infrastructure to do these things online and what can be done to do them more privately/securely would be HUGELY beneficial right now. People are so inundated with information, but I’m not seeing a lot that is really concrete like “so you’re using video conferencing software to teach? Here’s how to protect your students’ and your own privacy!” Most of it is just bringing up the problems with x technology which just makes people feel like protecting their privacy is hopeless.

I also think about many of my students (many of whom have extremely limited computer skills) who will now spending a lot more time online than they ever did before. I want to find ways to speak to that population and to provide them with some incredibly simple, concrete ways that they can protect themselves online. I’m not sure what that would look like, but I’m always thinking of our ESOL and developmental education students when I read privacy educational materials.

I feel this so much Marisa. I’ve long believed that libraries could be online hubs for community information and community content creation, especially in light of the decline of local newspapers. I know right now everyone is just trying to keep their head above water, but I see those same opportunities you do. I’d love to see us offer advice for libraries that may want to create local online communities or communication channels or social networks during this crisis that also protect the privacy of their patrons.

I think anything we do will need to evolve over time, but I think the overall goal should be something that we can start using immediately.

Love this idea. We will have someone from AI Now come and speak to us later in the course too, so we could ask him for feedback.

Yes totally. Let’s avoid just naming the problem and try to offer people resources that can help.


We should include some privacy instructions and information for everyone working or schooling from home. I know some public schools here have sent students home with Chrome books. Maybe we could have an outline of settings that can be changed to better protect their privacy while students are using. Similar to the instructions in the data detox kit. Same for working from home, but outline of what VPNs are and what information your institution gains when you access it from home.


Hey all - no idea if this is within the scope of what we’re looking to do in the course or not, but I figure the underlying motivation of it could at least be inspiring.

In the past few weeks, I’ve seen just how undefended library workers are against oppressive tactics of management. I’ve heard stories of unions failing their members, too afraid to upset mayors. I’ve heard of people struggling to interpret their contracts to see if there is anything in them to prevent their deployment during times of crisis (or if hazard pay or PPE is guaranteed to them if they’re working in those situations). I’ve heard of directors trying to squash internal dissent about being forced to go to work during a public health crisis; I’ve even heard of libraries that were told not to say anything at all about COVID-19 to patrons or students.

This all has made me feel, more strongly that ever, that we need some kind of mechanism for labor-oriented solidarity for librarianship. I am really struggling to see how that can possibly manifest within the bureaucracy of ALA, so this (and many other recent events/infractions) have led me to spending a lot of time thinking about how to reimagine a professional organization/conference to remove some of the usual trappings and crappy barriers to entry (and also the massive carbon footprint).

So, okay, I’m going to try to spin this into something feasible for the course. What I wonder is, can we cobble together some kind of event/webinar/mini-remote-conference where we speak to these issues as well as the other issues mentioned in this thread/in class (increased surveillance after coronavirus/other major crises; privacy in online learning environments; opportunities for collective action and how library workers can support it) and aim for some kind of broad intersectionality where this all weaves together…? Maybe even through the lens of conventional library ethics–anti-censorship, equity, all that good stuff?

Idk if any of this resonates.

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I think there could be some valuable topics like: how to handle emergencies within a bureaucracy - like something that provides advice for when an institution hits an emotional and community crisis but the lines of communication are all top down. How do we manage that? Can we feel something at the bottom of the communication chain but have an effective way to express it to directors, administrators? I don’t know, there may some logical way for us all to express ourselves without emotionally overwhelming our co-workers as well as community - and be able to be heard and also set new strategic (insert corporate speak) plans -


Definitely. It’s already in the outline here and we will get more information from our lecturer on Monday the 6th.

I’m definitely into this and I think we can have it “sponsored” by LFP if you want, use our social media to promote, etc. Can you write up an outline of what you’re envisioning and what needs to happen to make it real?

During our weekend lectures, I’ve scheduled an hour for us to just talk about final project stuff, so we can plan an agenda for that time to address a number of the topics we’ve been thinking about here.

I’m thinking about something that I think Abi said yesterday: that whatever we do now to respond to this crisis will be useful for the future crises that we are sure to encounter in our current age, including those related to coronavirus.
I like thinking about whatever we do having utility for the crisis we’re in, as well as preparing for the next.
One trend I’m seeing, and several of you have noted, is this wholesale move to tools of surveillance capitalism to conduct any type of civilized life that happens in collaboration with other people – learning, teaching, working, socializing, much of shopping. How do we help people cope with this in the moment, and also educate and prepare them to resist this in the future?

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Sure - I’m going to post it here so others can see/add to/comment on it.

Structure: Multi-day web conference - could be facilitated with Zoom or other less-cringeworthy products. Aim to have 25-30 sessions on 5 days, maybe, with socialization/break time built in? I have this idea of a Solidarity Week. We could also use a tool like Discourse or Canvas to facilitate/enable further discussion and share more resources. This could also take the form of prerecorded lectures combined with live Q+A.

Topics: (Question–do we want everything to be about COVID-19/present moment?) Anything in the broad libraries fighting surveillance/traditional LFP domain. Managing and navigating bureaucracy during a crisis. Collective action/solidarity during a crisis. Grappling with and reframing the current public image of libraries and library staff. Productive responses for reconfiguring public spaces and resources (mutual aid, 3D printing/sewing, etc). Confronting intimidation and censorship in libraries. Pushing back on “doing more with less” narratives. Navigating the call to serve vs. be manipulated through vocational awe.

I had begun work on a similar idea but would like to glom onto a larger effort because I feel there are many intersecting parts to library workers’ roles and treatment in all of this, and I think fusing something with LFP would be great. Anyway, we could clean up the preamble and refocus the call, and still use the proposal form I have here:

Let me know if this sounds even remotely like it’s on the right track/would be something you all might want to take part in.


I agree! I was thinking something easy to follow, perhaps like a checklist? One for working with vendors specifically for libraries or educators: making sure that the service/tool/technology is privacy-focused, and then a checklist for users: do you see an HTTPS? Etc. That would be an easy tool to provide that wouldn’t be outdated too quickly, and would easily be updated.

I like the idea of working to understand the ways that bureaucracy can fail us in an emergency, but I also see it as a delicate subject, since dismantling a bureaucracy can also leave a society vulnerable to authoritarianism–especially in emergencies. This article in the Times about the USS Comfort in NYC is a good example

I’ve been working with immigrant students and DREAMER students for a long time. And I have been researching language and culture, and also the cultural perception of information by immigrant students. Recently I’ve been working with our newly formed Immigrant Student Success Office and have been observing the kinds of daily information they need. The general domains they need are: legal information, Tax ID and work permit information, health care information, emergency grants, food insecurity, financial aid information, and scholarship information. I put together this guide after attending three or four DREAMER conferences and chatting with the non-profits and organizers.

I would really like to take this information I have above, look at the current research, and make a good threat analysis for undocumented students. I was also wondering how public libraries, like Brooklyn Public library could partner with us at Brooklyn College Library to investigate what kind of services our CUNY students are using at Brooklyn Public Library? Brooklyn Public offers a lot of services like Legal, IDNYC, etc… I have the contact right now for the head or coordinator of the immigrant services department. But I would like to get a more structured proposal.

And finally there is also the DREAM US ( scholarship that is only open to high school students. And I know there are many New York City high school students using Brooklyn Public Library, how do I reach them to help them obtain this scholarship? The scholarship is a free ride to any four year college. And some choose to go to CUNY, probably because they don’t want to leave New York City since their family is here.

Some of this work is privacy related. Anyways this is a jumbled mess in my head, but I got it out!

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For the short-to-medium-term efforts we talked about today, I’m trying to pull something together along the lines of Mallory’s excellent WEEK OF ACTION resource for #closethelibraries advocacy. Is anyone interested/available to help out?

EDIT: I began working on this here -