Jean Armour Polly is internationally known for her early 1990s contributions welcoming nontechnical users to the Internet and helping them take their first network “baby steps.” She is truly one of the first “Mothers of the Internet” and was inducted into the 2019 class of the Internet Society's Internet Hall of Fame .
A popular and sought-after voice evangelizing use of the nascent Internet, she helped foster new online communities in settings as diverse as public libraries, k-12 schools, and Indian Nations.
As connectivity grew, search engines were emerging, but trustworthy and good content, especially for children, was difficult to find. Polly, a professional librarian, soon focused on hunting and gathering networked resources, and under her brand as Net-mom® she helped families and educators learn to find and safely use the Internet’s best sites.
IMPACT ON PUBLIC LIBRARIES
- The growth of now-ubiquitous public access Internet services in public libraries can be directly traced back to Polly’s early work evangelizing the Internet, experimenting with making computers available in libraries, and disseminating her findings online, in print, and at conferences.
- In the 1980s- early 1990s Polly worked tirelessly to encourage librarians to let go of their 19th century paradigms and embrace the developing online world. This did not always go down easily, and at that time, many librarians viewed the Internet as a threat.
- Polly enthusiastically interpreted the technical side, bridging the gap in an engaging, easy-to-understand style, encouraging library professionals to see the emerging value and begin to explore.
- She was a popular Library Journal columnist and spoke at conferences in 20-plus US states, including Alaska and Hawaii, bringing her vision of the Internet's promise. Polly inspired a generation of public librarians to change their trajectories from building solely print-focused collections to the notion of building digital holdings as well, in addition to starting public access computer labs so that everyone could connect. This sea change, which Polly helped lead and develop, transformed public library service in the US.
- Others took notice. Polly was recruited to work at NYSERNet as an Internet Ambassador and evangelist to newly-networked communities. This led to talks at library and non-library Internet conferences discussing her early work with libraries as well as Indian Nations (the Oneida Nation of New York had the first native website online, predating even the White House’s site. Polly also worked with the Onondaga Nation School, as part of her Project GAIN initiative—see below.)
- She represented these stakeholders online and by speaking at Internet conferences such as InterOP, EDUCAUSE, and CPSR. This brought libraries to the attention of Internet policymakers and caused them to think beyond its use on campuses and in commercial enterprises. This cross-fertilization also highlighted the need for librarians to become involved in both policymaking and development of resources and finding-aids.
- In 1992, while working for NYSERNet, she co-founded PUBLIB, the first online listserv for public librarians (archives at https://www.webjunction.org/documents/webjunction/PubLib_Overview.html) so that like-minded librarians could discuss policy, pitfalls, opportunities, and Grand Challenges associated with public libraries and in particular, computer labs in libraries. PUBLIB is still operating today.
- The Internet is no longer considered as a competitor to public libraries but as a trusted and critical partner to the provision of library reference and other services. The old 19th century library paradigms are gone, and librarians are now techies themselves, as programmers and policymakers, working alongside other IT professionals.
IMPACT ON FAMILIES AND EDUCATORS
In 1995, at the time Polly started her Net-mom® brand, use of the net by children was controversial and families and educators had many fears. Her work, both in print, online, and at conferences (such as the National Parent Teacher’s Association), not only helped parents and teachers discover the net’s many child-friendly resources, but gave them confidence to safely introduce their families and students to Internet use.
As Net-mom, she created an encyclopedic printed and online directory of the best Internet resources for children (Osborne McGraw-Hill 1996 and five subsequent editions). This was very important in the pre-Google landscape.
Parents and teachers praised the book and its recommendations. Polly’s work with Internet safety led to many speaking engagements in the US and overseas, notably in Germany through Bertelsmann, Malaysia through INET, and Japan through the Japanese Ministry of Education and Gunma University. The series of six editions (plus Chinese and UK editions) sold more than 250,000 copies worldwide.
SHORTLIST OF PUBLICATIONS
Polly, Jean Armour. Net-mom's Internet Kids and Family Yellow Pages, 1-6th ed., Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 1996-2002. The Net-mom series of books has sold more than 250,000 copies over the years. It has also been translated into Chinese.
Polly, Jean Armour. Essential Guide to Apple Computers in Libraries, Series editor Vol. 1-5 and author of Vol. 1 and Co-author Vol. 2. Meckler Publishing Co, 1986.
Polly, Jean Armour. Project GAIN; a Rural Success Story. Internet Trend Watch for Libraries, v1 n5 November 1996.
Project GAIN was an early proof of concept experiment (1993-94) that Polly envisioned and managed. It cobbled together grants from the Kaplan Foundation, Apple Computer, and NYSERNet. It studied four rural public libraries and one Indian nation school (Onondaga Nation) that had been given a SLIP Internet connection, hardware, software, and training as part of the study. It was highly successful and results widely disseminated in print and video form.
Polly, Jean Armour. Standing Stones in Cyberspace: the Oneida Indian Nation's Territory on the Web. Cultural Survival Quarterly, 21.4 Winter. Also https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/standing-stones-cyberspace-oneida-indian-nations-territory
Polly helped the Oneida Indian Nation of New York become the first Indian Nation to claim territory in cyberspace.
Polly, Jean Armour. Surfing the Internet: an introduction. Wilson Library Bulletin, v66 n10 p38-42, Jun 1992 or https://eric.ed.gov/?q=EJ447456&id=EJ447456
Jean is known for her June 1992 article "Surfing the Internet," published in Wilson Library Bulletin, and subsequently released for anonymous FTP in December, 1992, where it was quickly downloaded worldwide as one of the first layman's guides to Internet use. It was a short, easy-to-use introduction and helped popularize the term “Surfing the Internet,” soon embraced worldwide (See RFC 2235’s Internet history under the entry for 1992 https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc2235 as well as in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s Internet timeline exhibit.)
- In 2002, Polly was named the first recipient of the 21st Century Librarian of Central NY award, given by the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University.
- In 2003, she received a Syracuse Post-Standard “Person of Achievement” award for her Net-mom Internet safety and other activities.
- She may be unique in having been the recipient of two Apple Library of Tomorrow awards (one at Liverpool Library, one at NYSERNet).
- In 2019 she was inducted into the Internet Society's Hall of Fame.
Author, librarian, and mom, Jean Armour Polly has tinkered with Internet accounts since 1991 and has participated in and facilitated online telecommunities since the mid-1980s, when she tele-moderated a very early online discussion group for the Apple Library User’s Group librarians on The WELL.
In 1993, Jean became one of the first two women elected to the Internet Society Board of Trustees (she and Internet Hall of Fame inductee Susan Estrada were elected at the same time).
Under her Net-mom® Internet safety brand, Jean has lectured in Japan, Germany, and Malaysia as well as around the US As a freelance writer she has worked for the following companies: Microsoft; CommonSenseMedia.org; America Online; The Bertelsmann Foundation; Children's Television Workshop; Disney Online; MCI Foundation; The Morino Institute; and TCI.Net.
She has also been a television and radio product spokeswoman for GuardiaNet, Ask Jeeves for Kids, and Ameritech.net. She appeared in video and voice-over on Cruise Control, an online safety CD-ROM jointly produced by Ameritech.net, the Urban League, TechCorps, and The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Jean has been a columnist for Becoming Family magazine, Library Journal, and online venues such as Ask Jeeves for Kids and FamilyClick.com.
She is also a veteran of many radio media tours and satellite media tours as well as a memorable QVC appearance. For over a year, Jean also co-hosted a popular Syracuse NY radio show with John Levine, author of the bestselling book Internet for Dummies.
In December 2004 Jean was Nomcom-appointed to a two-year term on the Interim At Large Advisory Council to ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). She spearheaded development of an At Large website and innovated online voting for the ALAC. She held one of three North American seats and represented the Domain Name Service concerns of Internet end-users, including families and young people.
She has also served on the Board and on the Advisory Council of ICRA (Internet Content Rating Association, now the Family Online Safety Institute), a group promoting content labeling of Internet resources by their authors.
Jean has also functioned as a finals judge in many student website competitions, notably the international ThinkQuest Internet Challenge competitions, as well as Thinkquest NYC's competitions. In 2004 she served as a judge in the Global Schoolnet website competitions. In 2001, she was the emcee for the Cable and
Wireless Childnet Awards, held at the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC She was also invited to be a member of the technical advisory committee of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Jean was formerly the Director of Public Services and Internet Ambassador (1992-1995) at NYSERNet, Inc. (a regional T-1 ISP network). In 1992, Jean co-founded PUBLIB, the oldest and largest Internet discussion list for public librarians. She was also co-principal investigator on the landmark Project GAIN: Connecting Rural Public Libraries to the Internet study (1994) and producer of the accompanying video.
Prior to her work at NYSERNet, Jean was a public librarian for sixteen years. During Jean's watch, the Liverpool Public Library began many innovative programs, including a public computer lab (began 1981), an electronic BBS (1985-87), and a circulating software collection (began 1984), which was later named in her honor. She sought and administered grants such as Apple Library of Tomorrow (1990), Library of Congress American Memory Project Beta Site (1991-92), and NYSERNet Internet connection grant (1991-92).
Liverpool Public Library was one of the first small public libraries with its own domain name, which Jean facilitated and obtained in 1991. The Liverpool Library started public Internet access in 1992.
Anticipating that libraries might become community network providers, the Liverpool Public Library received a Class B address space from PSINet. (In 2014 however, Jean was back at the library, this time as Director, and the library board authorized her to negotiate a sale of unneeded ip numbers, garnering close to $400,000 for the library.)
She has been a member of the American Library Association and the Public Library Association, and is a former director of the Library and Information Technology Association’s Board.
In 2002, she was named the first recipient of the 21st Century Librarian of Central NY award, given by the School of Information Studies of Syracuse University. In 2003, she received a Syracuse Post-Standard Person of Achievement award for her Net-mom and other activities. In 2019 she was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.
Jean received her BA in Medieval Studies at Syracuse University in 1974, and her Master's in Library Science from the same University in 1975.
Jean is now retired from her most recent position as Director of the Liverpool Public Library, which is internationally known for its many technological innovations. She resides in Central New York and is a member of several genealogy organizations, is the steward of two “Little Free Libraries,” and is an active volunteer with several non-profits.