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Showing posts from April, 2008

Nora Jones Cold Cold Heart

I haven't spent a lot of time with youtube, so am always surprised to discover how much remarkable music is available there. I have to say that Nora Jones singing "Cold, Cold Heart" (click on entry link to go there) is just about the best thing I've heard or seen. I love the bass, love her light, minimal, radiant and bluesy piano playing, and think her vocal phrasing is just about perfect. Wow.

Sarah Long podcast interview of Jamie LaRue

I'm heading off to the Chicago area tomorrow for a couple of professional engagements. One of them is a workshop for the North Suburban Library System. Sarah Long, executive director of NSLS, does a fascinating series of podcasts with library leaders around the country. (See Christine Hamilton-Pennell's interview elsewhere in this blog.) Probably to help promote the program, Sarah interviewed me recently. She's a deft interviewer, and listening to it, I wish I'd relaxed enough to enjoy it more. (I laugh more in person.) She's easy to talk to, though.

Overall, this is a good introduction to my notion of a "pyramid model of library development." I've got a graphic of that here. To listen to the podcast, click on the title of this entry -- and check out her many other interviews.

I'm also looking forward to meeting some of the other presenters in the program (entitled "Embracing Change: Transforming Libraries & Communities Symposium"): Q…

Advising library schools

Yesterday, I met with the intriguingly named "One Heartbeat from the Top" group (assistant directors of public libraries in Colorado) who initiated meetings with the deans of library schools serving Colorado. (OK: they got the name from the title of a gag newsletter I wrote some 24 years ago with Bill Erbes, when both of us were Assistant Directors in Illinois. True fact: we sent it out to a variety of leading library lights at the time, and the only person who signed up for our subscription offer was Michael Gorman. Bless him.)

First up in our Colorado interviews yeterday was Dr. Gwen Alexander, Dean of the School of Library and Information Science in Emporia, Kansas. The local coordinator is the very bright and articulate Kelly Visnak.

Next was Dr. Mary Stansbury, Program Chair of the University of Denver school of library and information science.

Today, I attended the Front Range Public Library Directors meeting, where Dr. Alexander again made a presentation.

It's worth r…

Trustee talks to library school

In library school, I never had the chance to hear about the library world from the Trustee perspective. Last night, one of our two new Trustees, Ms. Demetria Heath, accompanied me to a DU library class (Professional Principles & Ethics, taught by Dr. Mary Stansbury). She described, from her perspective, what it was like to submit a "request for reconsideration" of a book she objected to a couple of years ago. I've written about that incident, as has Ms. Heath.

I think Ms. Heath provided the students with something quite extraordinary: a view from the outside of the profession, a real-life example of a critic who is both insightful and eminently rational -- and is also willing to assume a governance role when called on. She also provided a fascinating follow-up to our encounter: the publisher actually changed the content of the book, perhaps based on my communication of Ms. Heath's concern.

I followed this up with the only example -- after receiving over 200 challen…

Best use of librarians

Our library is one of many struggling to define the best use of professional training and skills.

On the one hand, the longstanding division between circulation and reference is broken. Self-check means that attended checkout stations (at least one-staff-to-a-patron) don't make a lot of sense anymore. The old circ system didn't scale very well.

So self-check liberated circulation clerks to become a new class of library worker: the skilled paraprofessional. Their work builds on customer service skills, adds merchandising skills, tosses some database, reader's advisory and lower-level reference knowledge, and puts them out on the floor.

Patrons do need help from time to time, and there are several ways to give it. The best is the just in time staff intervention: "You look puzzled. How can I help?" The next best is easy access -- staff in the stacks, on the floor, easily identifiable and approachable.

The one most libraries have pinned our service on is the Desk: a pl…

Board of Trustees

I'll be honest. I haven't always been a good director. And I haven't always been working for a good board.

But right now, I am very much aware that I am working with a board that is in a kind of Golden Age. Every one of them is articulate, dedicated, thoughtful, and politically astute.

That's an extraordinary gift. Tonight, one of my board members spoke to the importance of self-assessment: we have to do this when things are good, he said, in case we need it when things are not so good.

That strikes me as wise. Boards are best when they closely monitor their own performance. Directors are best when they do the same.

And all of us are well-advised to cherish those wonderful moments when things are going right.

Ellen Shroeder Mackey: "Libraries far from dead"

Ellen Mackey, who works for the Highlands Ranch Library in Douglas County, is one of the Denver Post's "Colorado Voices" columnists. See her marvelous piece, published yesterday -- click on the title of this entry.

Percentage of collection checked out

When we opened our "Neighborhood Library" concept (first at Roxborough, then at Lone Tree), one of our measures of success was that 50% of the collection would be checked out. Last week, at Lone Tree, we actually hit 60% (Lone Tree has some advantages over Roxborough -- bigger population, all on the first floor).

Rochelle Logan posted a question on libnet asking if anybody else uses this measure. I tried to post a similar question on the Urban Libraries Council email list.

Until somebody tells me otherwise, I have to say that we are the first library I've heard of to have over half of its collection in the hands of the public (and not stolen!).

The success of this approach depends on many factors: the advance selection and ordering of our selectors and aquisitions people, the processing prowess of our technical services department, the merchandising and handselling expertise of our paraprofessionals and librarians, and the assistance in the design of our spaces by talented…

Sarah Long interviews Christine Hamilton Pennell

Sarah Long, director of the North Suburban Library System in Illinois, does regular podcasts with library people. Click the header of this entry to go to her interview with Christine Hamilton Pennell. Christine is a longtime Colorado librarian, now a business entrepreneur (see www.growinglocaleconomies.com)-- helping other small businesses gear up, do competitive business research, and encouraging libraries to engage in "economic gardening." We're working with Christine at Douglas County Libraries.

First Douglas County Youth Congress

Last Saturday I gathered with some 45 teenagers, and a bunch of elected officials, for the first Youth Congress, organized mainly by Carla Turner, of the Douglas County Youth Initiative. (I serve on their advisory board.) The point was to help teenagers begin to understand, and influence, public policy around some of the issues that affect them, such as the use of tobacco, status offenses (where the only crime is doing something as a minor), graffiti, behavior during the hours of 3-6 p.m., and something else that escapes me.

We had a good turnout of elected officials: all three county commissioners, a couple of state representatives, the sheriff, and a couple of town council people from Parker.

I had four final observations:

1. These kids are bright. Most people are.

2. We, the adults, should have spent more time listening to them, and less time talking at them.

3. I was confirmed in my notion that most kinds of problem solving meetings -- which is most of the meetings in the adult world -…

Deep ancestry

I've been reading Deep ancestry: inside the Genographic Project: the landmark DNA quest to decipher our distant past, by Spencer Wells. Published by National Geographic, Washington, D.C., 2006.

DNA sequencing earned a Nobel Prize as recently as 2000. This is a new field of research.

First was the discovery of mitochondrial DNA, passed from mother to daughter. In 1987, Newsweek carried the report of the research identifying "Eve." The geographic source of the mitochondrial DNA was Africa. And Eve was surprisingly young -- lines from her diverged between 200,000 and 170,000 years ago. For awhile, it was believed that Eve might have lived in Asia. But in 2000, research nailed it down: Eve was definitely from Africa (south or east central).

The Y-chromosome, passed from father to son, for a long time was more difficult to track. It wasn't until new sequencing techniques came along that variances in the male genome could be better tracked. And here was the second surprise: …

The cold comforts of philosophy

I had a stimulating talk with my daughter, Maddy, today. She is studying philosophy, and right now, the class is looking at "arguments for God." She has been reading Thomas Aquinas, and then Bertrand Russell. I went back and read Russell's 1927 lecture, "Why I am Not A Christian."

I was a philosophy major myself, and I recommend it. There are many fields that endeavor to teach one what to do, or how to do it, or when. But philosophy tries to tell you why.

I enjoyed listening to Maddy's reactions. She described the various Middle Age theologians' attempts to prove God by reason as "cute" and "adorable." Not, I think, "persuasive."

Russell writes, "We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face." On occasion, this provides cold comfort. But comfort may not be the point of life.

I have a horror of deceiving myself. I'm grateful for iconoclasts like Russell, who keep shining lights into the darkness.

Linux Mint

I subscribe to Linux Format (thanks to my wife!) -- the premier Linux magazine, produced in Great Britain. The most recent issue included a DVD of Linux Mint. Linux Mint is a "distribution," originally based on Ubuntu, but with a lot of elegant little tweaks that try to make it a little more cutting edge, and at the same time, more user friendly, especially in the area of media. The current version, that I'm using as I write this, is "Daryna." (The names move up the letters of the alphabet.)

The disc is a Live DVD, which means I can play with it without having to install it -- making sure that it works with my hardware, and seeing if it's better than PCLinuxOS.

The first test of any distribution for me, at home, is to see if it will detect my encrypted wireless network, then let me log into it. Linux Mint did, through the nice little network application on the bottom panel.

My next test is to set the screen to the right video resolution. Linux Mint actually s…

Talk to Aurora Police Department Leadership Forum

Today I gave one of my favorite talks -- about generations -- at the invitation of Chief Oates of the Aurora Police Department. My handout (an earlier version of it, anyhow) can be found here.

At first blush, there doesn't appear to be much similarity between police and libraries. Our cultures are very different. But I discovered several areas of common ground.

We are both public institutions, and since the 1960s, all public institutions have been under attack, under relentless disparagement, largely by members of the Boomer generation. Schools feel it, some libraries feel it. The police feel it. I once had a conversation with a banker who went on at some length about all that the private sector has done for the improvement of life. Much of this is true. But I told him, "on 9/11, there weren't a lot of stockbrokers and fund managers running up stairs to save people's lives."

I mean, let's face it. There is quite as much corruption in the private sector as the p…

The Lance Index

In my 2008 self-evaluation, I informed my bosses, the Board of Trustees, that:

1. Our library district, by several key measures, is not just among the best in the nation, but is truly world class. Those measures include:

staff per 1,000 served

total expenditures per capita

library visits per capita

circulation per capita

program attendance per capita.

Some of those measures are inputs; others are outputs. Some measures that I think are important (use of public computers or databases, percentage of households per capita) are not included at all -- mainly because they are not uniformly reported. But according to Dr. Keith Curry Lance (until his retirement, director of the Library Research Service, a department of the Colorado State Library), the five statistics are highly correlated for success. That is, just these five measures predict how public libraries perform, no matter their size. I call it the Lance Index.

I took this idea to OCLC, who ran a version of the measures against intern…

Blogspot releases newspaper column blog

Back on March 22, 2008, my attempt to create a blogspot blog of my newspaper columns was automatically tagged as spam. Today, April 10, it has at last been reviewed and made available.

I've decided, though, that it probably makes more sense to allow my columns to be archived on the Douglas County Libraries website. (Yesterday, I created a link to that, as well as back to my website, from this blog.) So, for now, I'll just let the jaslaruecolumns.blogspot.com hang around. I may change my mind later, after all.

But I'll put a link there to the Douglas County Libraries columns -- which may well change when our new website rolls out in a few weeks.

Bobble head Jamie

Paulette Murphy swung by yesterday to take a picture of me for something the Chamber of Commerce sponsors, the Front Range Showcase. She wanted to make a bobble head doll poster of a bunch of people in town. She told me to slap my fedora on my head and step out into the light. I did. The picture can be found by clicking on the title of this entry. I may or may not keep it as a web page image. And it's a shame that it doesn't actually bobble. But the link should work.

Colorado authors speaking at libraries

Libnet had a great link today from Alice Kober of the Arapahoe Library District. She wrote:

"With summer reading coming up, I know many libraries are interested in having authors come and speak.

"Colorado author Beth Groundwater wrote an interesting article for the Colorado Independent Publishers Association about how authors can connect with Colorado libraries. It discusses author events currently being held that could give other districts ideas about planning their own events.

"The title of the article is "Authors, Speak at Colorado Libraries!". It's on page 6 of this PDF file:
cipabooks.com/archives/2007-2008/April%20Sign.web.pdf

"The Book Organizations of Colorado's website for author contacts now lists over 300 Colorado authors willing to speak at libraries. The link is:
www.coloradobook.org/booc_authorspeaker.htm

Bill Knott, retiring

This is strangely difficult for me. Bill Knott has been, for the past 35 years or so, the director of the Jefferson County Public Library System. Bill is canny and astute. He is the only person I know who could make a county library perform like a library district. County libraries, in Colorado, are deeply flawed. That Jeffco did so well is a testament to Bill -- an absolute triumph over the system.

When I dig into library statistics, I find that Jeffco's library has done, for decades, something altogether noteworthy: generate statistics that are not only consistently above average, but are remarkably stable. My own library's stats graph like roller coasters. Jeffco's hit a plateau, and maintain it. That's Bill -- a mind that groks logistics, a man who knows how to organize complex systems to deliver services that hit the mark.

I count Bill as a friend, a thoughtful and probing mind. The hard part is imagining a library environment that doesn't include him.

I know th…

Cherokee Ranch

Douglas County has a castle. Once occupied by the uniquely named Tweet Kimball (a formidable and quirky presence, general's daughter, Churchill admirer, cattle baroness, et cetera), since her death it has become a kind of arts and culture museum (with occasional live performances of both theater and music).

Among the castle's many treasures are the most extraordinary view in Douglas County and a library that boasts a Shakespeare folio. I knew Tweet, and remember being shown to her library. The folio was next to a Reader's Digest condensed book. And there was some kind of little dog that had a tendency to lift its leg against volumes on the lowest shelf.

Things are better now.

I met today with several good folks from Cherokee Ranch. They're looking for a way to expose more people to their treasures. Their notion was to develop some kind of programming that highlighted Tweet's many first editions, and educated the public about both Cherokee Ranch and the value of preser…

Talking to library school students

Last night, some of my colleagues (Eloise May from the Arapahoe Library District, Shirley Amore from Denver Public, Paula Miller from Pikes Peak Library District, Pam Smith from Rangeview, and Marcellus Turner [Deputy Director of Jefferson County Public Library System]) talked to a class of University of Denver Master's of Library and Information Science students.

We were given some questions ahead of time:
1. Describe the major initiatives going on at your district.
2. What skill sets do you think will be in the highest demand in the next few years at your library?
3. What technical skills do you think all librarians should have?
4. Name the three biggest areas of change that will impact libraries in the next five years.
5. Describe the role you see librarians playing versus paraprofessionals in your district and how these roles may change in the future.

In fact, the student hosts held it to just #1, 2, and 5, or we'd still be talking. They were good questions.

Here's the g…

Hiring right

I was chatting with one of my associate directors today and decided that maybe the single most important thing we do in the library is: hiring.

Like many libraries, we spend a lot of time and money on orientation of employees, providing supervisory training, providing thoughtful workshops to improve skills, and regular and thorough employee assessment.

And we do hire many, many wonderful people who are more than qualified for their jobs.

But we also, like every other organization I know of, sometimes hire the wrong people. Then we spend a great deal of time tiptoeing around the issue, throwing good money after bad.

Even if we do succeed in finally dislodging the wrong person from a supervisory spot, it really doesn't solve very much if we turn right around and hire someone else who is also a bad fit.

The best hiring mechanism I've ever found is the assessment center, and in particular, the leaderless discussion group. It puts candidates in a spot where they must demonstrate the sk…

Great music

Eliza Lynn singing "Sing a new song." Wow. Not only do I love this woman's style, I want to play piano like that.

And the Puppini Sisters, singing "Jilted." Post-modern Pointer Sisters, with wicked lyrics.

Authors @ DCL - Jason Gray and Allan Harris

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Today, we (also) taped a session with Jason Gray (owner of the Crowfoot Coffee Shop) and Allan Harris (a financial analyst for Wells Fargo at his day job, but hard working author, too) about their book, And We Fished Some More. (Jason is on the left, Allan on the right.)

This first collaboration between the two is mostly based on stories from Jason's life. It's a mix of short stories, recipes, and tips on throwing a good dinner party. It's also about the relationship between Jason and his father -- a story not of victimhood, but gratitude. It's the sort of thing that makes you realize the challenge, not to mention awesome responsibility, of libraries. We assign a call number and subject heading -- in this case, 799.1, and "Fishing -- Alaska -- anecdotes." But it could have gone in the cooking section, too. But because I bet we were first to catalog it, we set the bibliographic record for the world.

Just for fun, I had Jason read one of his recipes as if it were…

Author @ DCL - Liz Holzemer

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Today was a DC8 TV taping day: two interviews back to back. First up was Liz Holzemer, author of the book Curveball: When Life Throws You a Brain Tumor. Her story is a frightening one. While still in her early 30's, Liz was diagnosed with a meningioma -- a benign brain tumor roughly the size of a baseball. Allegedly rare, this kind of tumor was experienced by three people in her Douglas County neighborhood!

But Liz is so bubbly, so upbeat, so funny, that the tale of her not one but two brain surgeries, and her eventual reclaiming of her life, almost comes as no surprise. She's a survivor.

It takes a month or two before the episode will be edited and aired. But Liz is a hoot. After the interview, I asked her what her next book was. "SCREWball!" she laughed.

You'll find a lot of good information at the site she established to help others deal with tumors: meningiomamommas.org. She describes the site like this: "A unique 24/7 online resource and virtual second fam…

PLA 2008 review

I attended several sessions:

Trading Spaces: Everyday Transformations to Maintain Merchandising Momentum @ Your Library. Well done -- good, practical tips that demonstrated to me just how intelligent librarians can be if the objective is to move materials.

Making Libraries Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development. Much good information was presented. But here's one of the things that bothered me. An economic development speaker invited us all to move to Minneapolis, where times are good. Later, in discussions with staff of the former Minneapolis Public Library (now merged to, or acquired by, the Hennepin County Library) it seems a round of layoffs is in the air. Good times? Amy Ryan, director of Hennepin, spoke of the now seamless connection between city and public resources. I wish her well; but I also wish she had spoken more candidly about the real difficulties of combining different types of libraries, with different histories and cultures. The pur…