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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Defeated by Darth

At Legoland I met, and was defeated by, the Sith lord.

This humiliation was captured by my own son on his cellphone.


Curse you, Darth Vader!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Taiga Forum Provocative Statements

The title of this entry is a link to 15 statements made by the Taiga Forum -- a collection of Associate/University Librarians. They are self-styled "provocative statments," predicated on things that will happen "within the next five years."

I'm a public librarian, so this isn't my world. But the statements are certainly provocative -- although I also think many are unlikely in the extreme.

PLA web presentation

Here's the Power Point, massaged for the web, to be presented at PLA on March 27, 2008, 4 p.m.

Evaluating the Library Director

I'm doing this on the belt-and-suspenders principle: distributed to all presenters ahead of time on email, on my jump drive, on the web. One of them might work.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Linux distributions, file formats, and the future

I've been using Linux (or more properly GNU/Linux), both on my computer at home and at work, since August of 2002. Now, in 2008, I've settled on two distributions: PCLinuxOS at home, and Ubuntu at work.

"Distributions" are confusing to some people. There's only one flavor of Windows (well, not really, if you count 2000, XP, Vista versions, and so on). There's only one flavor of the Macintosh's OSX (well, not really, since 10.3, 10.4, 10.5 are all out there). But the point is that those operating systems are corporate properties. They are owned, and supported, by a single entity. They are families of operating system, usually along an upgrade path.

Because open source software can be tweaked by programmers, quite legally, a single individual can patch together various pieces of software -- the Linux kernel, various choices among the GNU software repositories, a host of other background and icon themes -- and put his or her own name on it. And hundreds of people have done just that.

PCLinuxOS (usually abbreviated as PCLOS) got its start as a variant of a corporate Linux: Mandrake (now Mandriva). Ubuntu is sponsored by Mark Shuttleworth and his company, Canonical. Both distributions are free, although in the case of Ubuntu, formal support can be purchased.

There are a lot of other distributions, however. The definitive source is Distrowatch. These days, most distributions can be downloaded and installed on a CD; then you can boot (restart) your computer from that CD, and play around with it with no effect on your current operating system. If you like it, another click installs it on your computer -- either taking over the whole hard drive, or living alongside Windows or OSX, a process called "dual booting."

Mostly, I use the same software at home and at work. But I find that staying current with two distributions not only keeps my mind flexible, it also helps me to understand better the issues behind maintaining a distribution, and see the various approaches taken to solve common computer problems.

Let me be clear about this: I can do almost everything on Linux that anyone can do on another system. Both of my systems are modern, graphically based, and very capable. Sometimes, of course, I run across a proprietary software application that I can't use; but I can usually find something like it in the free software world. Linux has proven to be immune from viruses, extraordinarily stable, and quite fast. I watch my tech people, and they have to do way more work on the PCs around me than they ever have to do on mine.

But in the past couple of days, I found one major incompatibility. I was trying to do a PowerPoint outline for an upcoming presentation at PLA. Using Openoffice (2.3), it was easy enough to put it together, but then I exported it to the PowerPoint format, and tried to hand it over to someone running Windows. And it looked awful -- not at all like what I saw on my screen.

And there's the good and bad about using Openoffice (which runs not only on Linux, but Windows and OSX as well) instead of Microsoft Office. Good: Openoffice matches most of the functionality of Microsoft Office, and reads and writes most MS Office file formats very well. Also good: Openoffice is free, and saves files in a native format that has all the information, and does NOT depend on an otherwise unnecessary and pricey software upgrade to read them.

Here's the digital archive dilemma: most library files have been saved in a proprietary format. Getting the content back might depend upon the business plan of Microsoft.

But here's the bad about Openoffice: when you do encounter a file format incompatibility -- and of course, most of the rest of the world uses Microsoft -- it can be significantly annoying and time-wasting.

There are two solutions: (1) the development of better descriptions (by Microsoft) of their secret formats. Don't hold your breath. (2) A movement away from Microsoft Office. If we all share open formats, file compatibilities disappear, and the public record is no longer held hostage to private interests.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Newspaper columns

I have been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1987. For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.

For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.

There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.

I maintain an email list of folks who have indicated that they would like to receive my columns. But since 1996, my institution, Douglas County Libraries, has hosted them as well. Current columns can be found (at this point in our library website's development) here. [Note: I've updated this link to our new website, as of June 10, 2008.]

When I found blogspot, I was so impressed with the ease of posting -- and frankly, how much better the postings looked than our library's presentation of my columns -- that I set up another blog just for newspaper columns. It's here. Most of the people who looked at the two presentations side by side distinctly preferred blogspot's appearance and usability.

So I suggested to several members of my staff that it might not be necessary to put my columns on the library website anymore. That would save time for the folks who posted it. Moreover, while I have been the director for a long time now (18 years!), some day I won't be, and who knows how the next director will feel about hosting his or her predecessor's opinions.

My staff demurred, however. They recast it in a couple of interesting ways.

* a collection development issue. My columns constitute a digital archive, a collection of "born digital" objects. That collection is relevant to the history of the Douglas County Libraries. It is a part of our institutional memory.

* including my columns in the website integrates their content with other library searches. That's a patron convenience, when, for instance, they heard about a library program through my column, and are trying to find it using some of the keywords I used.

* our own upcoming website redesign (out for staff testing next month, and public rollout sometime in May) will in fact be far more blog-like. That means that I can post it myself (freeing up that staff labor), and continue the maintenance of the digital archive.

* incorporating my ongoing columns on the library website allows for some Web 2.0-type citizen comments. Then, when I write about library issues, people can comment on them in a way that might provoke more community discussion.

Those are all good arguments, I think.

So I think I've decided to hang onto the library website, at least until I see how the new software works. I don't know if I'll continue with the blogspot version; there's no point in maintaining two sites with the same information. Interestingly, when I experimented with it -- quickly adding my 2008 pieces -- blogspot's algorithm for "spam blogging" flagged the new blog, and has prevented me from posting to it. I've asked them to reconsider, just today, and we'll see how long it takes them to sort that out.

Lessons learned:

* libraries should be thinking about the creation of digital repositories, and their local columns or press releases might be easy sources for that.

* blogging as a format for library websites seems to be gaining some traction.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

old dog, new tricks

I'm intrigued by blogging. On the one hand, it's nothing more complicated than keeping a journal. But this journal is open to the world.

Blogspot software is brilliant. I spent some time trying to figure out how to duplicate this kind of "entry" template, which would give me a text window, automatically stack recent entries at the top, and provide a search function. It was beyond me.

But given these built-in tools, blogging is simple. But simple doesn't automatically equate to interesting.

I almost went back and renamed this blog "Captain's Log." I am the administrator of a public library. But I'm sure it's been done!

Authors @ Douglas County Libraries

Our library has a wonderful partnership with The Network DC, our local government cable channel. They are decidedly not what you probably expect from government cable TV, though. For one thing, they have several times won honest-to-God Emmies. Among their projects is the Youtube video (see below). They also set up and shoot a monthly author program. I find the authors, and get to ask them questions. For a look, see

www.douglas.co.us/networkdc/authors/

LibraryLeadership.net

I'm part of a great online publication called libraryleadership.net. They run some of my newspaper columns, but the interesting stuff is Glen Holt, a leadership digest, and a monthly panel opining on various issues. Worth a look -- and worth subscribing to, too.

Douglas County Libraries Youtube PSA

DC The Network, our local government cable station, has won a variety of awards for their programming. We contracted with them to produce a Public Service Announcement for us. Their people got so excited that they put way more time into than we'd asked for. But they're very proud of it. We are, too.

Here it is: www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKcsZ_KAHkI

Libraries interested in finding a way to adapt this to their own use should contact:

Katie Klossner
Community Relations Manager

Douglas County Libraries
100 S. Wilcox Street
Castle Rock, CO 80104
303-791-READ / 303-688-7655 (fax)//

kklossner@dclibraries.org

P.S. On July 19, 2008, we won an Emmy for this piece! See here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

the Segway

Max and I are vacationing near San Diego, CA. So we had a couple of hours to kill after checking out of our hotel, and before getting to the airport. Thanks again to my wife's thoughtfulness and research, we knew about a Segway tour company in Coronado (just south of downtown San Diego).

The trip there took us on a bridge that was 256 feet high. Very impressive view of the bay.

The Segway tour company was run by a retired newspaper publisher. His goal, he said, was not to make money, although he didn't want too lose any. He had 2 models of the Segway; the original required twisting the handlebars to turn. The newer version had bars that just tilted left or right - much simpler.

We got maybe 5 minutes of instruction, the hardest part of which involved just stepping on and off without pulling on the handlebars. But moving forward and back was remarkably easy and obvious: tilt forward or back.

For the first bit, we were in training mode, pretty slow. Then we moved into full mode -- offering a top speed of about 12 mph.

So we went about six miles in an hour, along the shore, through a lovely neighborhood, and off-road in a park. There I tried to hit top speed, leaning far forward. Only to find that some kind of gyroscopic system forced me upright.

In short, it was a remarkably intuitive device. The owner said they cost about $5,000 each. At a tour cost of $60 each, that's 83 tours. He said that in season - which starts next week - he'll do 8 people at a time.

In three years of business, he says he hasn't had a single injury, and some of his tours consist of people in their 70's and 80's.

It was fun! And if you lived in a city, where most of your travels were within 5-10 miles, this would be a brilliant and ecological vehicle.

Unfortunately, few people these days live within those limits. Too bad the Segway wasn't invented before tbe car; city zoning, and the quality of life generally, would have been far more interesting, varied, and civilized.

Monday, March 17, 2008

bonding with the kids

When my daughter Maddy was 17, my wife, Suzanne, booked Maddy and me on a trip to Portland, Oregon. None of us had ever been there before.

It was an incredible gift. Maddy and I had the chance to wander a new town, but more significantly, to talk to each other. To listen to each other. Maddy was poised at the cusp of a lot of life changes. It was a good time to talk.

This time, the trip was to Encinitas, California. Our son, Max, is 14, and he's on spring break. He's going through some life changes, too. And it's been very cool to spend some time talking and listening to him. The Pacific Ocean is a great backdrop.

Not every family has a wife wise enough to book transition time with the children. Mine does, and I'm glad of it.

Hot Air Balloon

Thanks to Sharon Morris for telling me about gcast -- a phone-in podcast service. I wrote a song, "Hot Air Balloon," and sang it into the phone. It's breathy, but it's not bad.


www.gcast.com/u/jlarue/main.xml

myliblog

My
Library
Blog
=
myliblog

I'm traveling a lot lately with my little Nokia N800, called Loki. At home, I use regular desktop applications. Now, I'm exploring a Google-verse.

In some ways, this worries me. Microsoft wants to buy Yahoo. Yahoo, started by folks who think like librarians, has been a trusted portal for me. I'm not sure how I feel about Google yet; their superhub status, the aggregation of data, and what I rermember as their historic willingness to share information with the intelligence community could lead to the kind of Big Brother spying I think we need to avoid.

On the other hand, I have no international conspiracies to nurture.

So there it is. My first post.