ALA Policy Corps Member Spotlight: Todd Carpenter

This year 12 library and information professionals were selected to participate in the inaugural ALA Policy Corps, which aims to develop a cohort of advocates for libraries and librarians. Of those 12, three are ALCTS members. During the week of National Library Legislative Day, we are featuring ALCTS members of the Policy Corps. Today we’re speaking with Todd Carpenter, Executive Director, National Information Standards Organization (NISO), Maryland.

Headshot of Todd CarpenterWhat is your past advocacy experience? What policy issues are near and dear to your heart?

As a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL), my local library, I have been involved in pursuing state bond funding for the award-winning Storyville children’s literacy centers in two BCPL branches. At NISO our work frequently touches on policy-related issues. We have regularly responded to various requests for comment and public calls for information by the government regarding information technology for libraries, scholarly communications, and more broad information management issues. NISO’s work is often used in policy and decision making, both locally, in our industry, and even in regulation.

Obviously, I am most concerned with changes in technology and the policy issues surrounding that technology. There are ways in which technologies are applied and used to share information that are subtly and—to the user—imperceptibly governed by policy issues. Unfortunately, few involved in the policy arena fully understand the technologies for which they are setting policy.

What policy issue did you focus on as part of your application?

I prepared commentary on the barriers that the removal of net neutrality would have on small business. Many entrepreneurs turn to the library and its resources when launching new ventures. The creation of toll “fast-lanes” on the internet backbone puts those new companies at a serious disadvantage when trying to reach customers via the internet. We have seen the tremendous economic value created by internet entrepreneurs—including, I should note, two graduate students who were studying bibliographic citations on the internet (whose work eventually became Google). Because innovation would be hampered by the loss of equal, unencumbered access to the internet, I argued that the FCC should not abandon the net neutrality rules in place at the time. The internet has become the marketplace and, sadly, it is becoming a place where only those with means can compete.

What policy issues do you think will be most important for ALCTS members to advocate for over the next 5 years? What strategies can ALCTS members use to advocate for these issues?

Key issues I see for ALCTS members include:

  • funding (funding, funding, and funding)
  • infrastructure for information sharing and competition
  • security and privacy
  • information literacy.

I would say the key strategy is focus. People often put forward a laundry list of issues and concerns, which then get muddled, confused, or diminished. Yes, there’s a world of priorities—heck, I just listed several—but which is most critical? Which will have the greatest impact? Which will really move the dial in serving our goals? What are the real barriers to our success?

To advocate for these issues, first, get involved. You can use your voice to contribute to the conversation. Far too often people sit on the sidelines and don’t engage thinking their voices can’t do anything. That’s wrong. Second, advocate in your community—be that with publishers, suppliers, or patrons. Respectfully talk with them about your concerns, and explain the importance of the issue for you and for them. Finally, get and stay focused. Settle on one or two things that you care most about, and address those issues with passion.

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