LFI.4: Week 9, police surveillance

In our discussion today, we talked about how we as library workers can make interventions against the use of police technologies, and technologies that serve the police (like Amazon Ring). I’d like to continue the discussion about what those interventions can look like:

  • How can we talk to our neighbors about these technologies?
  • What would you put on a flyer, poster, or sticker in your neighborhood to warn people about these technologies?
  • How can we create greater transparency around police tech by civic participation? I’m thinking about FOIA, budget hearings, and the like.
  • What are other interventions that help our communities understand what’s happening and what can be done?

Anytime I get a question about library funding or resources I try to point patrons to budget hearings and to submit testimony to support library funding (and gently reminding them that political participation doesn’t end at voting). The next step would be to get patrons to look at the larger town/city budget and let them find ways to get angry about other allocations. In years past, we’ve justified the library’s budget by showing how little of their tax bill goes to the library - without ever pointing out which departments get the largest slices of the pie. I wonder if we’d be able to convince the finance department to do a program at the library to explain the budget to patrons - with a stack of FOIA forms in the back when the answers aren’t sufficient.


I would LOVE to see more libraries offering this kind of programming. It’s good civic engagement! It’s not at all partisan! And so few people know where to even begin with looking into local finances!

@AlisonI think libraries have to walk a thin line here. It can read as criticism of a city in a way likely to harm the library. I don’t envy library directors who have to navigate things like this!

I have been thinking of your question: “How can we talk to our neighbors about these technologies?”
I have begun to drop comments about Ring and the police into casual, neighborly conversations to see what kind of reaction I get. So far, its only, “I did not know that.”

I see I have notes on a class for my library (I forgot about them!) about Civic TEchnology. It is mostly how we can use it for good, bridge the digital divide, etc. Like this site: https://galecia.com/civic-tech/getting-started and this quote: “civic technology – the use of technology to improve how citizens, businesses, and other groups engage and conduct business with their government.”

I’ll be working on a class that also includes the cons of using technology to conduct business with the government.

@samlee, if only I got questions about library funding!

I think this is true in some places, but certainly not all places. And I also think that as librarians, we tend to be much more risk averse than the times call for. We can always think of a million reasons why not to do something, but rarely do we think of as many reasons why we should do something, and how to be braver and more creative to do the thing.

My town used to have this yearly “Citizens’ Academy” they offered to residents for 8-11 weeks that taught people about how the town worked. They’d tackle a different department every week and talk about how it functions, what it does for the town, etc. But whenever the PD department’s week would come up, they’d have the highest attendance and it’d be this weird glorification/fawning of the PD. It felt like this weird worship/extended ad to increase taxes, but only for the PD. If I were to do a program with the finance department, I would have to navigate that carefully, but I think it could be done if we looked at things from a purely civics education side.

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Wow that is really wild Sam, and yeah I think you’re absolutely right. I think especially keeping the budget together and comparing departments rather than isolating them would help people see for example how much more money PDs get.

Ours is an entire 8 weeks Citizen Police Academy though they bring in other departments (especially services to people in need). https://myboca.us/256/Citizens-Police-Academy
On the week they mentioned cybercrime, I mentioned that I worked at the library and we had classes on it too if they wanted to learn more. 2 days later I was asked not to do that again. It was inappropriate to bring up our services when another city department was reviewing theirs. I’m trusting yall with that info!

Grrr - why would the PD be the best department to help people mitigate cyber crime risks? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had patrons come to me after getting the run-around from PD about filing an FTC report.