How libraries can save the Internet of Things from the Web's centralized fate


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Barlow and many others assumed that the greatest threat to this nascent new world was governmental interference. Instead, commerce and capitalism have led us to extreme corporate consolidation of the major services of the Internet. Cyberpunk had it right all along…

Yes! And I for one would like to welcome our decentralized new librarian overlords.


The only issue I have with this is the assumption of political lobbying power. That side of the business has its own issues of centralized v. decentralized strengths and weaknesses.

When librarians get together, whether it’s through the American Library Association, or a more ad hoc network, yes, we do have some amount of clout. You’ll notice when it happens because every news organization uses it as an opportunity to run “not your grandmother’s library” and “even the librarians are pissed off” kinds of stories. Like any lobby, we have power in numbers.

However, those numbers are spread out across the country, some in more tenuous political situations than others. I grew up in a town and a time where the internet was first coming into our libraries. The Christian Coalition showed up in force to fight against a library levy. There were protesters outside the branches during election season (who dropped their kids off at the library unattended to keep them busy, unaware of irony.) There were rabble-rousers coming in to show off to the local news how they could look up porn websites on library computers (they curiously always had the URLs memorized.) There were big red signs in people’s yards that said “VOTE NO LIBRARY PORN.” I still have one. I keep it as a reminder of what I’m up against on a bad day.

The work done at the Kilton Library is librarians fighting the good fight. It’s a noble thing, and it’s a coup for freedom of access to information. It is something that is in keeping with the highest ideals of the profession. But we’re still in a time when some libraries in the country are fighting to keep the lights on. Like our state of congressional politics, there are safe districts and there are vulnerable districts. Those vulnerable districts might not always be willing or able to join the fight.

Earlier this month, the public library in Plainfield Illinois had an issue on the ballot. They had a good plan, they had community buy-in, they had fantastic ground game. The week before the election, they suddenly had opposition, from Americans For Prosperity. The goddamn Koch brothers brought the robo-call hammer down against a local public library trying to replace an aging building.

Public libraries have a few folks in their corner politically, there are State and National level professional organizations, there are groups like EveryLibrary, who offer fantastic support and advice to public libraries in the political sphere. And hey, if the Senate decides to do their damn jobs, we’ll have an ally in the Library of Congress.

So a decentralized system is a safe system, for the system. But when individual nodes of our library system come under the kind of brute force attack I’ve seen happen politically, it isn’t some random server taking a hit, it’s an entire community. And sadly, the state of funding being what it is, these are often the communities most in need of their library. Securing those is going to take a lot more work.


One of the ad hoc library groups might form a digital organizing committee, recruit some other professionals and coordinate regional support to a carefully selected community engagement piloy project or two. I’d consider joining and volunteering.


As you noted, there are groups that are working to protect libraries at the local level…I have worked with EveryLibrary before, and am very familiar with those issues. The lack of an over-arching story nationally for libraries is one of the reasons I think this approach might be interesting to try…


The braincrack that I’m currently working out is how to get a bigger-picture setup going in my neck of the woods. Politically, libraries are getting targeted from an “any tax is a bad tax” crowd, and while they’ll occasionally give you a target to fire back at, they’re almost always a nameless, faceless bunch. The big annoyance of that is that it’s an ideology, not a specific instance.

What I really want is to get the local public services banded together, not just libraries, but police, fire, developmental disabilities groups, parks, you name it. Get everyone in on the ad buy, show storytimes, show computer help, show job prep, fire and rescue, kids’ safety, green spaces, let the people know that “your tax dollars at work” are the reason they get to enjoy living in a civilized society.


Something that can work well for raising a flag and rallying the faithful is to pick an issue or two which will be reliably opposed by the discredited forces of reaction and hate.

So you mentioned the folks who attack the library because pornography. That’s a solid, winning basis for a project.

For example, a library sponsors an open source diy after school program. Recruit and train college interns to staff the program with pro bono supervision.

When the attack comes, use it to raise money and increase alignment for expansion. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The devil is in the details, but not much of a devil. It’s doable.


How did the author drag IoT into this - it isn’t mentioned either conceptually or directly in the article, even. And… IoT is inherently flawed, corporate-controlled, proprietary, insecure, privacy-invading trash.

So i am at least temporarily glad to see librarians haven’t made any claims about your car or your “Nest”, etc., (at least in the article) but if they do, they need some education in a hurry. You can try to rout that junk through TOR or a (good) VPN all you want, but until you have something actually in the control of the owner in the first place, have fun with that concept. (Say, some device you made, or something with open hardware and software, but i wouldn’t be calling your Pi and Arduino prject “IoT” in the first place.)


Thanks @griffey for writing this. I’m really encouraged by the work of Kilton Library to set up a TOR Router (and their policy of running linux terminals for the public is an awesome move as well!) It’s hard to translate these important aims of decentralisation and non gate-kept information to practical steps that are palatable to risk-averse local government entities (i.e. most public libraries). Worth mentioning some of the more “baby step” things that libraries can do to to preserve their users/communities freedoms as espoused by the Library Freedom Project too, eg: The Library Digital Privacy Pledge


well I didn’t read all that so I figure that entitles me to an opinion, I figure if the librarians are trained as super secret ninja assassins and they kill the CEOs of any corporation that makes internet of things appliances that contain security holes then the world will be a better, more entertaining place. The end.

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