Wikipedia is turning off its lights beginning 8 am tomorrow to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), a move that’s inspired school librarians to turn the blackout into a teaching opportunity.
“I might make a quick button that says, ‘Can’t get to Wikipedia? Ask me,’” says Cassandra Barnett, former president of the American Association of School Librarians, and a high school librarian at Fayetteville (AR) High School. “I thought, my gosh, what a perfect opportunity to talk about the subscription databases we have. Or walk over to the shelves, take a book and show them an overview of their topic where they don’t even have to log on to a computer.”
News site reddit, and blog Boing Boing will be darkening their sites as well. The blog publishing service WordPress is offering plug-ins for users to black out their blogs and Google is adding a message on its site expressing its opposition to the antipiracy legislation. (Find a list of protestors here). The collective goal is to protest the two bills, which are aimed at stopping online privacy but also potentially grant the U.S. government the ability to shut down sites that are infringing on copyrighted content.
“The day-long blocking of websites highlights the outright denial of access to information these bills would likely impose. Ironically, for two bills that are supposed to combat “foreign” counterfeiting or copyright infringing, today’s demonstration highlights how they would likely hit home right here in the U.S, says Corey Williams, Associate Director of the American Library Association’s Office of Government Relations.
For school librarians the issue is of particular concern. “It’s hard for kids to understand proprietary information and what belongs to someone else, and proper etiquette for using it,” says Barnett. “We already struggle with that and if we have to worry about someone coming down on us for that, that’s more for us to watch.”
For some schools, such as Munster High School in Indiana, the January 18 blackout may not be an issue as teachers there tell students not to use Wikipedia in their research, says media specialist Twila Marsh.
But Carolyn Foote was alerting her students of the Wikipedia shutdown via Twitter. A school librarian at Westlake High School in Austin, TX, Foote notified teachers, too. “But I assume students are going to be surprised because they don’t all follow my Twitter account,” she says.
Whether or not the blackout works to permanently squash the bills, it promises to be a learning moment, says Foote. (President Obama stated Monday he would not support SOPA. PIPA is scheduled to come before the U.S. Senate January 24.)
“It’s interesting for students to understand the power of an Internet blackout by large groups as a means of protest,” says Foote. “A number of students won’t have ever experienced a large entity like Wikipedia saying they’re blacking out for the day.”