Why the Senate Vote to Save Net Neutrality Is More than ‘Symbolic’

By now, you’ve likely heard the news that the Senate on Wednesday voted 52-47 to block the FCC’s repeal of Net Neutrality rules. The vote came under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress in a timely fashion to block agency rules with a simple majority vote. The measure now heads to the House of Representatives.

In a statement, ALA president Jim Neal said he was pleased with the result. “Strong net neutrality protections are good for America’s libraries, good for our nation and, according to polls, what voters of all political persuasions support.”

Neal’s correct, of course, especially when it comes to the part about the polls. A poll released last month showed 86% support among the public (where the issue has consistently polled, in fact). And Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz this week even tweeted that one of his colleagues told him that calls were running 6000 to 10 in favor of preserving net neutrality rules.

But if you take a look at the news coverage of the vote (InfoDocket’s Gary Price has an especially impressive roundup, as usual) there are a few characterizations I take issue with, which I think should be addressed.

First, news reports continue to refer to net neutrality as “Obama-era” regulations. While it’s true that net neutrality rules weren’t officially codified until 2015, under President Obama, the underlying principles of net neutrality actually go back decades, and in terms of U.S. Internet policy, have been followed since the dawn of the broadband era. And that matters. Because if there is one principle that seems to guide the current administration, it is that if “Obama” is attached to it, it has to go. So for reporters to continue to tag net neutrality as “Obama-era” policy is inaccurate, and potentially antagonistic.

And second, news reports continue to refer to the Senate vote as “symbolic.” Does the CRA effort face long odds? Perhaps. But this legislative effort to preserve net neutrality is anything but symbolic—in fact, it is democracy in action. Not only did this bill get a vote in the Senate, it passed. And according to a report in the ALA’s District Dispatch newsletter, 160 members of the House currently support this effort to save net neutrality—that’s more “yes” votes than “no” at the moment—with about 190 members still currently marked as undecided.

Does that sound like a symbolic fight to you? In an election year, on an issue with broad, bipartisan, and vocal support?

Yes, the bill would still have to be signed by President Trump. But I don’t see why that should be seen as insurmountable. It isn’t like net neutrality is one of the administration’s core issues, right? And it isn’t like the president has never changed his mind. As Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey said in an interview with CNN last week, to veto a bill on an issue with an 86% favorable rating among voters would likely create “a political firestorm throughout this country.” He may have a point.

But even if this legislative effort to block the FCC’s repeal ultimately fails, observers on both sides of the aisle agree that Congress, at some point, will likely need to weigh in on net neutrality. And this effort forces every member of Congress to put down a marker for the voters to see. That’s hardly “symbolic.”

How Climate Change Is Threatening Archives

New research suggests that a majority of archives in the United States are at risk of degradation from disasters and rising temperatures, according to an article recently published by Pacific Standard magazine.

The article highlights the findings from a study of 1,232 archives, led by a team of archivists and climate scientists, which found that 99% of the archives were at risk from climate change, with a reported 90% of those surveyed “expected to experience a swing of at least 1 degree Celsius, and 7.5% projected to face a variation of 10 degrees Celsius or more, under a high-emissions scenario.”

These aren’t just hypothetical scenarios anymore. Eira Tansey, one of the lead researchers in the study, knows this from firsthand experience. She is a former archivist at Tulane University in New Orleans who was working there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The reporter for the Pacific Standard article also spoke with Jeff Williams, the director of the Health Sciences Library at New York University in New York, who was there in 2012 when Hurricane Irene left the entire basement of the library building, including a cabinet of oversized archival documents, underwater for several days.

Given that earlier this week the Anne Frank House announced that researchers have revealed two pages of hidden text in one of Anne Frank’s notebooks and Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” the newly published manuscript from novelist Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960), made next week’s best seller list, now seems like a good time to bring up the the importance of preservation.

Education Week Offers a Stark Look at the Declining Ranks of School Librarians

In an eye-opening piece this week, Sarah D. Sparks and Alex Harwin at Education Week report that American schools—particularly those serving black and Latino students “have seen a precipitous drop in their school librarians since the Great Recession.” And, the article notes, the evidence is mounting that “the loss of school librarians could put schools at a disadvantage academically.”

According to the report, the nation’s public school districts have lost 20% their librarians and media specialists since 2000, dropping “from more than 54,000 to less than 44,000 in 2015,” with the “most dramatic drop” coming after the 2008 recession.

Further, the federal data show districts serving students of color have been the hardest hit.

“Districts which have not lost a librarian since 2005 are 75% white,” while the 20 districts that have lost the most librarians are “on average 78% percent minority student populations.”

Swedish Consortium Announces It Will Cancel Elsevier Journals

Another hat tip to Gary Price at InfoDocket this week, for pointing us to a decision by Sweden’s Bibsam Consortium to cancel its contract with leading journal publisher Elsevier as of June 30.

“In order to take steps towards the goal of immediate open access by 2026 set by the Swedish Government, the Bibsam Consortium has after 20 years decided not to renew the agreement with the scientific publisher Elsevier,” the release states. Since 1996, the Bibsam web site notes, the National Library of Sweden has negotiated license agreements “on behalf of Swedish universities, university colleges, governmental agencies and research institutes,” which, in 2017, totaled more than 35 million euros.

“Increasing costs of scientific information are straining university budgets on a global scale while publishers operate on high profit margins,” said Astrid Söderbergh Widding, president of Stockholm University, chairman of the Bibsam consortium steering committee, and head of the negotiation team, in the release. “The current system for scholarly communication must change and our only option is to cancel deals when they don’t meet our demands for a sustainable transition to open access.”

The Week in Libraries, May 18, 2018

Among the headlines grabbing our attention this week:

Are you a librarian heading to BookExpo? Join us in the Librarians’ Lounge!

In American Libraries, Peter Coyl wonders if librarians are in the midst of an identity crisis?

Congratulations to Matthew Dames, who has been named University Librarian at Boston University.

From the EFF, The Supreme Court says your expectation of privacy should probably not be subject to what’s in the fine print.

The Hollywood Reporter confirms that actor Elisabeth Moss is set to play writer Shirley Jackson in the upcoming thriller Shirley.

Librarian Kristen Arnett’s latest for LitHub on “how to run storytime without boring everyone to death (or suffering a nervous breakdown).

Boston Public Library Put Its M.C. Escher Collection Online, So It’s Time to Redecorate Your Dorm Room, via Gizmodo.

PW’s web editor David Varno was interviewed this week for BookMark’s Secrets of the Book Critics series.

From Buzzfeed, Twitter Is Going To Limit The Visibility Of Tweets From People Behaving Badly. OK, but what if it’s you know, the leader of the free world?

Tech Fix columnist Brian X. Chen at the New York Times compares the data Google has on him to his Facebook data.

From Smithsonian, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum took out a loan to buy some Lincoln Artifacts, now it may have to selll those artifacts to repay the loan.

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