By: Anna Murphy
On Monday November 12, my Berkeley Carroll colleagues and I descended on Mohonk Mountain House for three days of unconferencing at NEIT (NYSAIS Education and Information Technology). NEIT (frequently pronounced “neat”) is an annual gathering of school librarians and technologists to share their ideas and explore new topics in their increasingly intertwined fields.
The NEIT Board, including several HVLA members, put together a fantastic program of keynote speakers. The conference opened with Jenn Schiffer from Glitch speaking about technoethics. She provided some great lesson ideas based on the numerous ethical failures within the tech industry. Surya Mattu, an investigative data journalist at The Markup, shared some of his fascinating data projects that illuminate the way tech companies use our data and often promote inequality. A recent project, The People You May Know, illuminates how Facebook recommends friends and can inadvertently connect people who would not like to be connected; sex workers and their clients, for example. The conference closed with a rapid-fire truth-bomb deluge from sci-fi author Cory Doctorow. While it may be tempting to use tech tools to surveil and limit students’ access to certain aspects of tech, Doctorow said that doing so may rob them of opportunities to develop vital critical thinking skills. The ubiquity tech surveillance has eroded trust, but trust is the most important thing we need to instill in our students. We need them to be able to come to us so we can help them process the distasteful and hateful things they are sure to encounter online.
For the smaller group sessions, NEIT follows an unconference format, meaning that sessions are proposed right on the spot, rather than planned months in advance. In fields where things are changing so quickly and the issues can be incredibly thorny, this model allows for more discussion, rather than simply listening to a polished presentation.
Sarah Kresberg of Allen Stevenson and I proposed a conversation on performing diversity audits of library collections. “That’s a Big Title for a Little Lady” (a comment she once received when introducing herself) was a session proposed by Sara Collins of Cathedral School where she and others discussed issues for women in tech positions at schools. Briar Sauro of Berkeley Carroll shared her work on developing systems for librarian evaluation. Jeannie Crowley of Ethical Culture Fieldston and Liam Webster of St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s discussed digital extremism and the challenges of standing up to hate online when it is shrouded in “humor”. Several conversations seemed to revolve around diversity and access in tech and libraries, raising questions and issues which hopefully librarians will continue to pursue.
NEIT is a great time to catch up with colleagues and reaffirm relationships within your school. It’s a phenomenally inspiring community event and I hope to see HVLA librarians there next year!
Many thanks to Camille Harrison, Briar Sauro, and Michael Truskowski for their additional reportage.