Anne McFarland
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Anne McFarland
Jamie McClelland
Phil Shapiro
Shava Nerad

On the Night Shift:
No Time for Policy
Anne McFarland is Associate Law Librarian for the University of Akron and works with ACORN, Project Connect, and Cleveland Heights-University Heights, OH, Community Network.
Anne McFarland

I work a fulltime job, have a ten-hour a week commute and a family. What is so important about community networking that moves me to work on it during the night shift? Well, first of all, I'm nosy. I like to know what is going on. Furthermore, I like to have some sort of say in what is going on. An online community is one way to do that -- a unique way at that. My current interest is in forums that let us hear so many more voices than the print "letters to the editor" did.

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I always wanted to be a policy wonk, part of the community networking establishment. After all, I'm an academic law librarian, venerating the think piece, the law review article. My emailbox is stuffed with policy material that I should read. Material from the American Association of Law Libraries. Material from AFCN. Material from the Communet listserv. I leave the material in the mailbox, hoping to have time to read it. I never do. Eventually, with feelings of great guilt, I delete it.

Not only that, my job involves acquiring material for a law library. Thus relevant material arrives all around me, but I never have time to read it. So I have abandoned my wish to create policy and to be part of the community networking establishment.

I put my limited time on the building of networks. I've created them on both ends of my commute. The first one, based on the Free-Net model, was built in my work community, Akron. It was a true grass-roots effort that took four years of monthly meetings and the construction of an entire computer system to bring online a text-based system. The greater Akron area is about 750,000 in population, and the Akron-Summit County Public Library has assumed the benefits and burdens of running the system.

The second network is at the home end of my commute. A few people joined me around a table, and in two years we had a network that included a forum, which we call SpeakEasy. This time we didn't have to build the system. We just bought space from an ISP, and we are web-based! CH-UH Community Network is a nonprofit organization with five intrepid trustees. Its communities are probably about 80,000 in population, and I am eager to see how the forum turns out.

Do my colleagues on these projects talk about national policy? Not really. Why? We don't have enough time. We don't have enough information because we've deleted all of those posts, remember? Should we talk about national policy? Of course. What would help those of us on the night shift to identify the policy issues, act sensibly with regard to them, and maybe even get in our two cents to the policymakers?

We need a librarian to collect the material for us!
We need one continuing publication that summarizes the issues.
We need electronic access to that publication.

And here's a final thought. That type of publication can be phenomenally expensive. I regularly see newsletters springing up with price tags anywhere from $150-$1,000 per year. Some are from publishers that have been around for awhile, but others are from desktop publishers with no prior track record. Maybe if AFCN and CTCNet pool their efforts in producing such a publication, it could be a fundraiser!