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Ties That Bind II: A Report

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Building community computing networks and encouraging libraries to participate in the process has been a goal of the ALOT program for several years. As well as individual grants to innovative libraries, we have also sponsored face to face meetings and conferences since 1993. A year after the initial Ties That Bind conference in May 1994, Apple Library of Tomorrow and the Morino Institute sponsored a second conference: Ties That Bind - Converging Communities. It was held in Cupertino, California, May 2-5, 1995, and attracted librarians, community networkers, teachers, politicians, and community development workers from forty two states and seven countries.

We had planned to move the venue to another city, away from either coast, but the facilities at Apple were available to us at no charge, and previous attendees were enthusiastic about returning to Cupertino. Because the 1994 conference had filled so rapidly, the Morino Institute and Apple made a special effort in 1995 to invite people who were not online, organizations that did not hear about it until after it was filled, and certain policy makers and foundation representatives. However, only a small percentage responded to the outreach program, and we then began advertising it on electronic mailing lists and Usenet groups. Signups went a little more slowly because we had raised the attendance fee from $25 in 1994 for two days including meals to $150 for three days and meals in 1995. By the conference we were totally booked and had to turn some people away. A number of attendees came on scholarship, and several foundations sponsored the attendance of community networkers already funded for other projects.

Sam Sternberg of the Canadian Free-Net Association was invited to serve as the conference scribe, and he did an excellent job of recording many sessions and lining up other volunteers to cover the multiple tracks he could not attend. His long summary is available on the World Wide Web at www2.apple.com/alot/tiesthatbind95.html. Some of the notes contained in this summary are taken from Sam's documents. In addition, there are proceedings available on the same web page and as a single ASCII file on ftp.apple.com in the alug/communet directory. The file is called ties95.

The conference was set up with a core of keynote speakers: Howard Rheingold, author and communicator; Larry Irving of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration; Mario Morino, one of the conference sponsors; Marcia Sharp of Millennium Communications; John Niles of Global Telematics; and Dan Atkins of the University of Michigan. After the announcement went out electronically, dozens of other potential speakers and presenters suggested new topics and new tracks to fill in the other time slots on the three days. One change from the 1994 conference was the addition of tutorials. Eric Theise gave one on "First Steps on the Internet" at the same time that several of us gave an introduction to community networking. I began with an overview of the problems and the models, while Richard Civille of the Center for Civic Networking urged organizers to think sustainability and to plan for independence and not just concentrate on technical issues. Community networkers representing start-up, well underway, and mature projects spoke. Lauren-Glenn Davitian of Burlington, Vermont was followed by Patrick Finn of La Plaza Telecommunity in Taos, New Mexico (they just received a three year Kellogg grant for a virtual library project), and finally Frank Odasz of Big Sky Telegraph in Dillon, Montana.

In the afternoon, Eric Morgan, systems librarian at North Carolina State University, gave an excellent tutorial on publishing with the World Wide Web. Eric's work is the core of a new ALOT publication on web publishing for librarians (and others), and it will be available online, on disc, and in paper format from the Apple Library Users Group. Catherine Weldon of Boulder Community Network also presented an excellent paper on working with the community to publish information on the WWW. This, too, will be in the web publishing document.

Besides the keynotes speeches and tutorials there were birds-of-a-feather (BOF) sessions on various topics. Peter Harter and Tom Grundner from National Public Telecomputing Network led a BOF for Free-Net administrators and other interested parties. For financial reasons they are shifting from a free system to the option of a fee-based or hybrid community system.

All meals were included in the registration, and this served to keep people together, moving out of a session to continue the talk over food and drink. Then a brief pause, and the next session would start. For some, there were too many options: one of several tracks, a trip to the demo room, or just hang out in the eating area to share information with new found friends. The demo room was upstairs and contained six workstations on an Ethernet connected to the Internet. There were dialup phone lines for BBS demos, and each person could have thirty minutes to show their web page, BBS, or community system. When demos were not taking place, attendees used this for email access, though that had a lower priority than people doing show-and-tell sessions.

The first evening began with a town meeting led by Howard Rheingold. While it began on a downbeat and rather alarmist note about censorship, government control, fragility of existing systems, the audience began to come up with ideas and action plans to help these fledgling networks grow and flourish. For me, the whole conference was concentrating more on how technology was serving communities, and that it was important but not central to the health of the communities.

The wealth of choices for attendees trying to choose a track to follow included talks on economic development, different ethnic groups online, health systems, freedom and control, other media, rural issues, education, community information needs, and wireless technology. The library panel included Joan Durrance from University of Michigan (she is one of five library school faculty in the U.S. who is teaching about community networks); Charlie Hansen and Cheryl Cormicle Knox of the Flint Public Library ALOT project; and Steve Helm of Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library in Blacksburg, Virginia (the first ALOT site to receive an Internet Server package). As usual, some of the best information was shared in the halls and over dining tables, and while I was beginning to wind down from the success of this second conference, some people began asking me about the time and location of next year's Ties That Bind conference!

In 1996, ALOT will help plan and sponsor a one day pre-conference prior to the Public Library Association conference in March 1996 in Portland, Oregon. May 14-17, 1996, the La Plaza Telecommunity Foundation in Taos, New Mexico, will hold an international conference on the practical, nut-and-bolts side of community networking. Apple Computer will be sponsoring this in lieu of having another conference in Cupertino. In addition there are regional conferences planned for the Four Corners area in the Southwest (November 1995; write Richard Civille) and in South Carolina in April 1996 (write Professor Stephen Bajjaly at U. of South Carolina)

Apple Library of Tomorrow for 1996
Lots of changes here at Apple. ALOT is now part of the Network Outreach group within Knowledge Systems (where the Apple Library is located organizationally too), a part of the larger Advanced Technology Group. Our focus for 1996 will have two parts:

  1. Continued support of community networking where libraries are involved in a significant way and support for a May 15-17, 1996, conference to be hosted by La Plaza de Taos Telecommunity in New Mexico. La Plaza, a 1994 ALOT site, has recently received an NTIA TIIAP grant for rural health care and a Kellogg Foundation Grant for an ambitious virtual library project. Check out their World Wide Web page at laplaza.taos.nm.us/comnet96.html where details on the conference are. In addition, we are assisting in the planning of a Public Libraries Association pre-conference on community networks next March 1996, in Portland, Oregon.
  2. Close ties to the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow program at Apple. ACOT is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and you can find out more about it by checking the new WWW site atg.apple.com/acot/index.html; where the document "Teaching Learning & Technology: A Report on 10 Years of ACOT Research" reside. If you don't have Internet access, you can order a copy from the Startingline catalog, part number L01567A. We are investigating the ways that ALOT and ACOT can collaborate in some of their new projects outside the United States.

Though we are not having a call for proposals in 1996, we did make an interesting ALOT award to the Charleston County Library in South Carolina. The Charleston Multimedia Project will integrate and make accessible the vast array of material related to the historical legacy of the Charleston area. Focus areas will include Charleston's Colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil War source materials, African-American History and Salaver, and the Historic Preservation of the city's architectural heritage. After the devastation of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the project planners realized that they could not take for granted the continued existence of the historic homes and buildings. The library will serve as a clearinghouse for material housed at the South Carolina Historical Society, an oral history project being developed by the library, the College of Charleston, and the Avery Institute of African-American History and Culture. Because much of the existing material is available in only one spot, the creation of World Wide Web pages and database interfaces through the Web will be the primary method of making the information available elsewhere in Charleston, surrounding areas, and to the Internet public.

Other organizations that have expressed interest in participating in the Charleston Multimedia Project include the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society, the Penn Center, the Charleston Museum, the Gibbes Museum, the Charleston County School District, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Charleston Visitors Center, the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs, and South Carolina Educational Television.

For Mac Webmasters: A Work in Progress
Eric Lease Morgan has recently completed the following document: Teaching a New Dog Old Tricks: A Macintosh-Based World Wide Web Starter Kit Featuring MacHTTP and Other Tools. Depending on how you view the work, it could be a web document, a file for ftp over the Internet, an Adobe Acrobat .pdf file, or a printed book. It will be the core of a work on World Wide Web publishing for librarians and community networkers.

Steve Cisler is a Senior Scientist at the Apple Library. He coordinates the Apple Library of Tomorrow program.

See Also