Contact me

These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Huck Finn, again

I spoke Friday at the Oak Park Public Library. They were having a staff development day (from about 8 a.m.-2 p.m.). My topic was Intellectual Freedom.

Among other things, I talked about the history of the Library Bill of Rights. It was created in 1938 by Forrest Spaulding, then director of the Des Moines Public Library. I've written elsewhere about some of the parallels of that time to today.

When I finished my talk, I got a couple of interview requests from the Christian Science Monitor and the New York Times. The issue was Accomac, Virginia, where a parent called for the removal from school curriculum and library both the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Why? Because of the presence of what would now be considered racial slurs.

On the one hand, I was sitting in the one time home town of Ernest Hemingway, who said, "“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.” Huck Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird, are genuine and undisputed classics, which seems to mean that they have the power to keep infuriating one generation after another.

There's more to those books than just the use of a few phrases. On the other hand, the use of the N-word is indeed offensive language today, and I quite understand the awkwardness for a person of color having to hear it in the classroom.

So I said several things:
  • The book doesn't have to be read aloud in class. We can be sensitive to changes in the times without trying to suppress books altogether.
  • There is an historical context to the book. I'm sure that most teachers set that up, and the use of language is one teaching point.
  • Classics should be taught, but classics aren't the end of literature. They constitute something like a minimal exposure to writing. Teaching such books can be coupled with other books, written by black authors of the time, or contemporary authors.
The truth is that literature, and human experience, is more than just the writing of dead white people. Free speech means an openness to new classics, not censorship of the old.

At any rate, I found the director, board, and staff of the Oak Park Public Library to be forward thinking, highly competent, intelligent, and fun. I appreciated the opportunity to spend some time with them. And it's clear that we're going to need smart, passionate, and proud librarians in the days to come.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Broken links

So I've merged my blog and my website. Many of these older entries (which I'm combing through) refer to things on the web that yield nothing.

Newer bloggers know this: put the content in the post, not as a reference. So I apologize to folks who look for scintillating content that just ain't there no more. As of today, I am smarter. (You take your wins as you can.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Kenosha WI and back

Today I talked with the staff of the Kenosha (WI) Public Library about intellectual freedom issues. (Thank you, director Barb Brattin, for the opportunity!)

There is a sense - not just in Kenosha - that things (our society, our norms of political contest) are changing. There are some things we thought we knew that are suddenly not so certain.

So, the role of the library is .... ?

I said that we should do what we have always done, what is still most urgently required: gather, organize, and present to the public the intellectual content of our culture. That content comes from several sources. Mainstream publishing has been the key pipeline for at least a generation of library users.

But I also pointed out that there are now far more numerous and potentially more powerful wellsprings of content production. Small, independent, and self-publishing now completely overwhelms the 350,000 annual titles of our Big Five publishers and three or four distributors. Today, there are over 1 million new titles published each year. Yet most libraries know almost nothing about this new content.

Even that unprecedented upsurge doesn't begin to touch the dynamic content of the internet, which may well have tipped the last presidential election.

Another important point is that the intellectual content of our culture is not just "out there." It's "in here," too - it is embedded in the minds and hearts of the people of our communities. Libraries of all descriptions - academic, school, and public - could do a much better job of cataloging those resources, both formally and informally.

What does it all mean?

It means that there remains an important role for libraries. We need to continue to introduce the world to our communities. We need to help our communities create new content. We need to find the balance between social justice (providing sanctuary and welcome to all), and intellectual freedom (here defined as the right not only to speak, but also to gain access to the speech of others). We need to provide common and neutral ground for our communities to have the vital discussions they must have.

An invigorating morning.

And on the way back, under a very grey, overhanging sky (winter is coming!), I found a haiku:

on every side road
of Sheridan Avenue
thigh high piles of leaves

Sunday, November 27, 2016

New website, again

I've been an Earthlink customer - for home internet, for home networking, for web hosting - since 2002. But for the past few months, I've been unhappy with that relationship.

The big problem was that my DSL connection just started pooping out. I called it in, spent lots of time troubleshooting it, and even replaced the modem. I could never get EarthLink to even admit that there was a problem. Nonetheless, the internet connection became unusable.

As far as web hosting is concerned, things have gotten cheaper. $10 a month wasn't bad, but some folks charge half that or less.

I bought a domain name,, a long time ago, through another company. Then, a few years back, I moved to Google for email, which required some odd gyrations with EarthLink mail server settings.

Then I got to thinking: my website had been whittled down to a few links and just a little text. Why not just move that content over to my blog, and make my blog the website?

Advantages: the preservation of eight years of content. No more hosting fees (blogger is free). A more dynamic web presence. Some encouragement to blog more often, maybe.

Disadvantages: it looks more like a blog than a website. OK by me.

So I've moved over the content that matters, tidied up the links, backed up everything, and done a little investigation about how to point my domain name to blogger. I'll try to wrap that up tomorrow. Then I'll give up on EarthLink, a company that just never took me seriously. And incidentally, save $120 a year. It might make my life a little simpler, too.

P.S. 11/29/16. I did finally figure out how to configure Network Solutions to point to Blogger. But it still required a text verification field, provided by Google. After changing that, it took a while for Google to get the updated change. Once verified, I saved the new "custom domain" name in Blogger. Of course, then I found that I could not search for my domain at all. I imagine it takes a while for the domain name to propage across the internet. ... And it's up. It took about two hours for the change to take place.

P.P.S. I also had a little bobble with my email - but Google helped me to set up mail records on my domain server. I think I'm back up. Sorry for any interruptions between yesterday and tomorrow.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Speaker information

I've created this post for folks who bring me in as a speaker. Typically, they want three things: a brief biography/blurb, a photo, and a description of the session I'm giving.

Here's the blurb:

LaRue is director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, and the Freedom to Read Foundation. Author of "The New Inquisition: Understanding and Managing Intellectual Freedom Challenges," LaRue was a public library director for many years (including a 24 year tenure as director of the Douglas County Libraries in Colorado), as well as a weekly newspaper columnist and cable TV host. He has written, spoken, and consulted on leadership and organizational development, community engagement, and the future of libraries.


The session description, of course, varies!

Contact information:
ALA correspondence goes to
jlarue [at] ala [dot] org.
Phone: 3 1 2 . 2 8 0 . 4 2 2 2
Please direct all other communications to
jlarue [at] jlarue [dot] com.
Phone: 7 2 0 . 5 3 0 . 4 2 9 4

No spam, please!

Oh, and I also can be found at @jaslar on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Conferences as a business

I was speaking with my boss, Mary Ghikas, about the recent ALA conference in Orlando. She said some things I hadn't heard of or thought about before.

Many people, particularly their first time through an ALA conference, get totally overwhelmed, particularly if they find themselves traveling to a mix of programs and committee meetings. In that case, they find themselves dashing around a city in cabs or buses. They wonder, "Why can't we put everything in one place?"

The answer is pretty simple: we have way more concurrent meetings than most associations. While ALA works hard to get all the programs in the conference center (where there is a speaker, not just a discussion group or committee meeting), ALA typically has between 350-370 meetings going on at the same time. Nobody has a conference center that big, so we have to team up with hotels to get the necessary rooms. That adds costs, too, because hotels love to tack on charges for wifi, projectors, cords and cables, and so on. In fact, we find that it's not a bad rule of thumb to triple anything you check off on an AV list - because there will be inevitable staff charges on top of it.

Other associations tend to cluster their committee meetings on the first day: let's say a Saturday morning and afternoon. Then they're done: the official conference begins Saturday night, and then they're just booking a few larger program spaces. Everybody gets to attend programs instead of committee meetings. This makes not only for a cheaper cost to put on the conference, but far more shared experiences of the members.

To make that happen at ALA would take a couple of significant shifts: first, way more committee work would have to be done between conferences, probably electronically (conference calls and webinars). Second, ALA members would have to whittle back the number of committees they serve on. Right now, there's a general guideline of holding yourself to three. But then you can imagine the scheduling conflicts when everybody has three meetings not only scheduled against programs, but against each other.

This isn't to say that committees aren't important. They are. But they're also an expense that could be better managed. And that management might allow for conferences that were a little more fun and a little less frantic.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Moving, again

Some of you know that I moved from Colorado to Chicago this year. It was January. Then, I discovered that I had moved not just next door to, but just above the main floor of a very popular, and very loud, dance club.

To be fair, most days of the week (Sunday-Wednesday) the apartment is very quiet. But it's also dark, pointing east toward a tiny box of brick between two skyscrapers into which little light falls.

But my landlords gave me a six month (as opposed to a full year) lease, and let me out a little early to move up from the first to the 16th floor. The new apartment has a pretty spectacular view of Lake Michigan. The new apartment is more expensive, of course, but I do like the Near North neighborhood. From my address, it's an 11 minute walk to work, and two blocks away from almost anything else.

So I've spent my day, in a leisurely way (I strolled to a terrific breakfast place in the morning, I walked along the shore this afternoon), preparing 12 boxes, 6 pieces of furniture, and a closet that won't take much time to clear. Tomorrow, I've hired some folks to help me swiftly move up my stuff to a new spot. The new apartment features hardwood floors (as opposed to my current industrial carpet), the same high bay windows (but with light and a view to the east, and even north windows, so the possibility of a cross breeze), and granite counter tops. We're still talking small (about 650 square feet), but in fact that's plenty of space for me.

Small is good, because in my 5.5 months here, I've begun to build up these little incomprehensible piles. We expand to fill the available space. I suspect, as with email, these collections are mostly insignificant. (Says the man who just got a notice that his email box is full.) But in my impatience to simplify and clarify, I do worry that I'm tossing things that I will one day wish I'd saved, or should have paid more attention to. Probably not. But if you sent me something I didn't respond to, mea cupla. Ping me again. I'm getting better at recognizing what matters. (This means, of course, that I may not have been so good before. That's on me, not you.)

Starting a new job, learning a new city, is both exciting and stressful. Working another change, so soon since the first move, is also exciting.

I have learned:
  • The American Library Association is populated by some of the smartest, most competent, and most passionate librarians I've ever met. I deeply appreciate getting to know them.
  • The work we do is vital. I mean that. These days, according to Pew's Lee Rainie, there are only three professions Americans still trust: firefighters, nurses, and librarians. My only claim to firefighting - Fahrenheit 451 aside - was running out the back stairs with a flaming wok (get it out of the house! I thought). But my mother was a nurse, so is one of my sisters, and I've worked as an orderly. These days, still, I'm a librarian. I'll say again: the work we do is important.
  • Chicago, despite the appalling 1,000-plus shootings this year alone, and a deep, continuing history of crime and corruption, is also home to some of the politest people in the world, even and heartbreakingly true of its panhandlers, and architecture that takes my breath away at least twice every single day. The city has problems. But it is alive.
  • Lake Michigan is alive. She has a spirit, and today, she was frolicking with winds from the NorthEast, which dropped the temperature some 20 degrees. Thank you. Lake Michigan and I started talking when I was 6-17 years old. It turns out we still have some things to say to each other. She knows more than I do. But she's been around longer, too. That business about where the winds come from is worth thinking about, too.
  • I have a lot to learn. One example: today, there was a terrorist shooting at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida. In a couple of weeks, Orlando, Florida is precisely where ALA is holding our next annual conference. This is such an intersection of issues - political, sexual, religious, professional - that it's hard to know where to start, or what to say. I would like to contribute to the discussion, not just mark territory, like a stray and incontinent dog. We need to move forward. We, librarians, need to make things better.
I have so many wonderful friends and helpers. Thank you for your time, your insights, your advice. Keep it coming!