British Columbia Library Association

‘Brian was a leader in promoting free and equal access to information both inside and outside the library’

By Penny Goldsmith

In 1992, a group of librarians and other community activists in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland started meeting to talk about the internet and the importance of it being accessible to everyone. Brian Campbell was the instigator of the group—he recognized early on that many people were going to be left out of this new online world unless there was a concerted and organized effort to make sure that that didn’t happen. In June 1993, Brian chaired the founding meeting of the Vancouver Regional FreeNet (now the Vancouver Community Network).

Brian Campbell, 1980s. Provided by Vancouver Public Library.

Brian Campbell, 1980s. Provided by Vancouver Public Library.

Brian was a leader in promoting free and equal access to information both inside and outside the library. He found a home for the Vancouver FreeNet server at Vancouver Public Library. He made sure that there were public access computers in the library devoted to the FreeNet and fought for them to stay there, even when they were being used less and less as people were starting to access their emails via commercial sites. He knew that there were people who needed FreeNet computers at the library.

Brian and I crossed paths in our respective community organizing communities over the years, but we started working together as friends and allies when I joined the FreeNet board in 1995. I was already active in the anti-poverty community, and although I was not a computer nerd (neither was Brian), I was as passionate as Brian in wanting to make sure that we were paying attention to marginalized communities in this new computer world. The FreeNet seemed to be a good way to build a bridge over the digital divide.

During the next couple of years, I became president of the FreeNet board and started PovNet, an online network for anti-poverty activists in BC. Brian officially resigned from the FreeNet board in 1995, but he never really left—he never left anything that mattered to him and that he believed in. He was always there for me as I tangled with technology versus easy (or easier) access to the internet. With trying to make the board representative of the diverse communities who used the FreeNet. With brainstorming about how to find funding; how to encourage all levels of government to take public access seriously. Brian was a staunch supporter of PovNet—he saw in it a reflection of his work in founding the Vancouver FreeNet.

Brian and I never stopped talking about universal public access to the internet and the ongoing danger of the digital divide, even after we both left our official places of work. And Brian was the only person who was ever up early enough to meet with me at 7 a.m. for a coffee down at the library before we both started our “official” work days. I will miss him very much.

Penny Goldsmith was a board member of the Vancouver Community Network in its early years and is the former co-ordinator of PovNet. She is currently a plain language writer living in Vancouver, BC.

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