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.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Open Library Environment

This project report (click entry title for link) describes the attempt to assemble a radically different approach to library automation: an enterprise-wide, web-services based series of modules that work well together.

This one bears watching.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Libraries at the heart of our communities

Click the title of this link to go to a lead article in the Planning Commissioners Journal. The topic, once unusual, now has gained traction: libraries are becoming "important 'economic engines' of downtowns and neighborhood districts."

See the link within that story about the Hudson, Ohio library, about which the author writes, "Why in today's internet and digital age would libraries need to be larger? More importantly, why do they seem in even greater demand? What I've been finding so far .... is that in today's digital age there's even more demand for public libraries. The role of the library has also been evolving, taking on a broader range of community-related functions."

Or consider this statistic from the report itself:

"In 2006, the most recent year for which data is available, there were some 1.4 billion visits to the nation's 9,208 public libraries.

"To put library visits in perspective, consider that in 2007 the attendance at major league baseball games was 81 million and NFL football, 22 millions -- add in NCAA men's and women's basketball (43 million) and football (49 million) and the total is less than 15 percent the number of visits to public libraries."

This is a report that should find its way to the desk of every town administrator and/or city councilperson in the country.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

And Tango Makes Three

Another ALA note. I spoke at a session sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Roundtable called "What Makes Tango So Scary?" "And Tango Makes Three," a children's picture book based on an actual story from the New York City's Central Park Zoo, has been for several years now the most-challenged book in the United States. The book's authors, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, were also speakers, and they were articulate, insightful, and altogether delightful. (They also showed up with their equally delightful and lovely young daughter.)

The story describes two male penguins who tried to hatch a rock together. A sympathetic zookeeper gave them a duplicate egg from another penguin couple, and the two male penguins did hatch and raise "Tango" (because it takes two to tango, don't you know).

After the book was published (and after Tango was grown), the two male penguins split up; one of them went to mate with a female. A conservative Christian group touts this as "the rest of the story." Apparently, gay penguins can change. No doubt there's an ex-gay penguin movement. I wonder if the missionaries get to wear tuxedos?

Richardson in particular talked about his first encounter with librarians after the book was published -- one in Missouri who in fact moved the book from the picture book section to juvenile non-fiction, where it was less likely to be found. There ya go: do librarians censor? Answer: yes.

But he also pointed out (Richardson is a child psychologist) that parents' real fear is that we just don't know what causes sexual orientation. Is it so tenuous that the single exposure to a different orientation will tilt a child one way or the other? And if so, shouldn't parents act to keep their children away from lives where they are quite likely to suffer discrimination? Well, the available evidence says, "Probably not." If sexual orientation can be determined by casual exposure to media, and with the endless promulgation of heterosexual imagery and viewpoints in all media, how could there be any homosexuals at all? While parents can indeed influence whether their children are accepting of or tortured by their sexual identity, Richardson said that it's doubtful that parents can do much to change it.

Richardson also made the point that young people don't think of the story as about sex at all. It's just a couple of penguins who wanted to raise a baby, and finally got to. As I've said many times, kids can handle children's literature. It's adults who can't deal.

Union Station, Chicago


civic cathedral:
big benches almost empty
at Union Station



I can still remember -- particularly around major holidays -- when Union Station was packed. There were throngs of people, all ages. Train stations had a grandeur and civic significance that airports really don't. In Chicago at the recent ALA conference, I visited the station and although the building seems lovingly restored, it was nearly deserted, as this photo records.

The other thing I love is that the broad marble steps into the station are scooped out -- the weight of millions of footsteps.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Amazon putting ads in ebooks?

Click the title to read this. You have to admit, the minute you hear of it, you know it's inevitable.

Why not offer contextually sensitive, up-to-the-minute advertisements on your Kindle? In order to, um, enhance the reading experience?

After all, when you're reading a paper book, there's all that unused white space: the margin at the top. The margin at the right. Wasted! Just think how the reading experience could be improved by pulsating multi-colored links to whisk you away from Upton Sinclair's "the Jungle" to free coupons for McDonald's!

Yessirree, there's money in literature. I can hardly wait.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

"Columbine," by Dave Cullen

I hope soon to interview Dave Cullen, local reporter, whose book on the Columbine High School shooting is based on "hundreds of interviews with most of the principals, examinations of more than 25,000 pages of police evidence, [and] countless hours of video and audiotape." I just finished it last night. It's a harrowing book, vivid and thought-provoking. We've contacted him for our "Authors @ Douglas County Libraries" Internet video series, and he seems willing. What impresses me most about Cullen is that he never takes the easy option. All parties -- evangelical churches and families, angry parents, SWAT team members, the media, and even the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, all come under consideration in a way that is both dispassionate and compassionate.

15 people died at Columbine (including Harris and Klebold). Twice that number were injured. But the plan was considerably worse. If the bombs, made and planted, had gone off as intended, the death toll could have been 500 or more.

Highly recommended -- the definitive book on the tragedy to date.

Douglas County Libraries is #1

I just got a message from Nancy Bolt, the former state librarian of Colorado. She is the first to inform me that in the latest Hennen's American Public Library Ratings, we are #1 in the country. The data is actually a little old -- based on 2006 numbers. We've done way better since then. But it marks our entry among the libraries serving populations between 250,000 to 499,000.

My warm congratulations to my extraordinary board, staff, and of course, the enthusiastic patrons of Douglas County.

You can see the rankings at www.haplr-index.com/HAPLR100.htm.