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.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Barriers to support: it's all on the web

Recently, a colleague showed me an editorial in a small local newspaper that demanded the immediate resignation of both the director (my colleague) and her board. The reasons weren't exactly clear; it had something to do with her actually quite astute decision to snap up some property at foreclosure prices for a desperately needed library.

This week, there was a letter to the editor here in Douglas County, protesting the direction of our own library.

Of course, people voicing their objections to public decisions of any kind is a First Amendment right. I quite enjoy it myself.

But my interest is this. OCLC identified in its study ("From Awareness to Funding") a perception that is an "obstacle to support:" the idea that "the web has it all." Generally, OCLC concluded that you can't change people's mind about this one, so don't waste your time. But I think that misperception is quite broad these days, and may need special marketing attention.

People -- the general public -- seem to hold two persistent ideas about libraries, both of them, I suspect, created and perpetuated by librarians. First, we are the hallowed hall where old books go to die. Preservers of the past, musty museums of the word. Second, we are information providers, now superseded by Google.

And of course, there is some truth to both of those. We are preservers of the past -- but (a) not everything is worthy of preservation and (b) library space is not infinite. We are also providers of information, providing access to knowledge. But we are not the only such providers. And more to the point: neither of these seems to secure sufficient support from the public to be sustainable as a primary institutional focus.

Ultimately, though, we are something deeper. We are advocates for literacy. That means several things:

* a focus on early or emergent literacy -- live storytelling, finger plays, music, an abundance of picture books.

* the savvy merchandising of library materials. Surely one measure of community literacy is the sheer number of books in people's homes. The more the merrier.

* introducer and access provider to emerging technologies. An example from the past decade about our value in this arena: Where do you go, in the United States (and many western nations) when you're on the road and need to send email? Maybe an Internet cafe. But probably a library. We bridge the digital divide.

* the third place, or maybe the "second home." There are many rich virtual communities. But it remains the truth that we, human beings, are wired for physical community. The library has a continuing role to play as neutral and common ground, public space in which free inquiry, lifelong learning, and simply hanging out with each other are not just allowed, but encouraged.

A second interesting thing is contrasting public education and public libraries. There are ways they are similar -- both are about the exploration of the world of ideas, about the quest for knowledge and wisdom. But there are differences; another colleague says education is about teaching, and libraries are about learning. That is, public education is about the communication of someone else's idea of curriculum. Public libraries are about self-directed learning. Both are probably needed. But they are not the same thing. And we probably shouldn't talk about them quite the same way.

Monday, November 23, 2009

CALCON09 - LaRue's View

I just returned from the Colorado Association of Libraries (CAL) conference 2009. At the end of Saturday, I realized that virtually everything I attended was about a common theme. I thought it might be useful to connect the dots.

What was the theme? It was captured by the title of the preconference I attended: "From Awareness to Funding," based on the OCLC report of the same name. For a long time, libraries have done a lot of things to increase awareness and use. But as that report and recent events have demonstrated, neither of these has resulted in consistent public support for libraries (in Colorado, anyhow) as measured in voter support.

Yet many libraries are working on "awareness" -- such as celebrating their recent Library Journal Index ranking of being 5 or 4 star libraries (including Telluride, Vail, Boulder, and Douglas). There were presentations on branding, both internal and external - which has now taken place at Denver Public Library, Estes Valley, High Plains and Rangeview, among others.

Several of our speakers addressed ideas I would group under "advocacy." Peter Pearson (President of the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library in MN ) spoke about his success using committed external advocates to lobby city officials. ALA-President Camila Alire spoke about internal or frontline advocacy to secure additional funding at her university. Several State Library senior staff spoke about the Butterfly Project -- a statewide library marketing campaign. I attended a CAL Legislative Committee, where our lobbyist reported on the environment in which they advocate for our interests. Sharon Morris mentioned the power and passion of advocacy for early childhood literacy by our amazing Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy (CLEL) people. I attended a public library trustee session, where the commitment of these volunteers was palpable.

Finally, there were two harsh wake-up calls in the area of "support." First was Aurora Public's defeat at the polls, despite the huge decline of service that was at stake. Second was the report of the three measures that will likely appear on the 2010 ballot that seeks to roll back, to undo, the public infrastructure that provides such support as we have today. (See my blog posting here.)

I'm left with the clear conviction that although there is a confluence of energy and ideas, Colorado's libraries (and not just public libraries) are going to have to get far more organized than we have been.

We're all talking about the same things. Maybe it's time to team up and DO the same things that research suggests might work more effectively. Together.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Threat to our communities

Today I sent this out (from my personal email account, of course) to many interested parties.

As promised at the 2009 conference of the Colorado Association of Libraries, I'm posting this to libnet and to the Colorado Public Library Directors lists. It concerns three measures -- two constitutional amendments, and one initiative that if passed would become statute. They are quite likely to make it to the November 2010 ballot.

If they do, and if they are approved by a majority of Colorado voters, the results will be catastrophic not only to public libraries, but to virtually every local government (most definitely including public schools and higher education), as well as the state itself.

Below is my summary of a meeting I attended on November 16 of a group of interested parties, many of whom are from the private sector. Again, if these measures pass, not only government will suffer. It's hard to imagine that any business would choose to live in a state in which the infrastructure -- both physical and intellectual -- were to be deliberately dismantled.

What should you do with the document below?

1. Pass it along to your friends and decision-makers. Send it to schoolmates, and department heads, and friends, and trustees. Today. Don't wait till next week.

2. Consider a donation to the folks listed at the end. Got $10? $50 is better. It might save over $2 billion in local services. Never sent in money to a political cause before? Give money. Or lose money. Those are the choices.

3. Get ready. Between now and next fall, I believe some big things have to happen. This election will not only be about the acceptance or rejection of ill-informed and small-minded anti-government sentiment, it might well be the beginning of something else: a deep, grassroots campaign to educate the public about the worth, the value, of our contribution to our communities. It's time for us to stand up and do as so many of our recent Colorado Association of Libraries speakers advised us: tell our story, advocate for resources to strengthen our communities, solicit and deploy passionate advocates from both inside and outside our ranks. Let me be really blunt: you, front line librarian, trustee, or innocent bystander, will have to either demonstrate support for our work, or sanction its immediate decline. That might include your job.

Caveat: what now appears is the best information available. That will change. Stay tuned.

“PROTECT COLORADO'S COMMUNITIES”
briefing on Amendments 60, 61, and Initiative 101
November 16, 2009

Note: amendments to the state constitution have two digits; initiatives have three. These are anticipated numbers, although they may change.

Amendment 60 - local budget constraints

* "Re-Bruces” - overturns the demonstrated will of local voters in previous elections
* Allows petitions to lower tax rates – creates potential for more elections
* Requires school district to reduce property tax rates (with backfill expected from state)
* Applies 10 year limit on future taxes – requiring new elections to maintain funding
* Shifts local school costs to state -- which does not have the funds to absorb this

Amendment 61 - public financing ban

* Places TABOR constraints on all public financing
* Revenue rollbacks
* Shrinks allowable borrowing to finance public projects
* Makes use of Certificates of Participation (COPs) difficult as a borrowing tool – all debt must be approved by voters
* After paying off current COPS, must reduce amount of tax by that amount
* Affects cash flow management
* Ends all multi-year arrangements: lease, lease-purchase, etc.

Proposition 101 – public service cuts

* Repeals Referendum C
* Seeks to lower state spending limit, ratcheting down state spending after recessions
* When fully implemented, would cut state revenue by at least $1.7 billion ($1.2 billion in income tax rate reduction; $179 million in elimination of FASTER fees; $164 million in transportation by cutting registration, license and title fees to $10 per vehicle; $100 million in sales taxes by exempting $10,000 in vehicle value from sales taxes; $22 million by eliminating sales taxes on rental vehicles; $4.5 million in telecommunications fees)
* When fully implemented, would cut local government revenue by $622 million ($500 million in specific ownership taxes by cutting to $2 per new vehicle, and $1 per used vehicle; $100 million in sales taxes from exempting $10,000 in vehicle from sales taxes; $22 million by eliminating sales taxes on rental vehicles)

Other
* Over 135,000 signatures gathered for each, so the petitions will probably stand
* If signatures are certified and content is approved, proposals will be on November 2010 ballot
* May be legal challenge: petition gatherers say they are paid, pro-amendment spokespeople say they are not. No issue committee or donations recorded to date. No one knows who is behind it.
* Costs to mount legal challenge – between $25,000 and $175,000
* Costs to mount statewide campaign – between $5-10 million

Donations to: “Protect Colorado's Communities” (EIN 27-1298654) protectcoloradoscommunities.net

c/o RBI Strategies and Researching
1900 Grant Street, Suite 1170
Denver CO 80203
(303) 832-2444 X 22

W9 and/or acknowledgement letter available on request
Not tax-deductible. Contributions larger than $19.99 will be reported to the Secretary of State's office.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

From Fedora 11 to Ubuntu 9.10

I was beginning to have problems with my aging PC -- an HP Pavilion a520n. If you do a search on this machine, the consensus is clear: upgrade. I bought it in May of 2004. I've been using various versions of Linux on it ever since.

Most recently, I was running Fedora 11, which was actually pretty snazzy. It was gorgeous onscreen, and remarkably responsive. Then, suddenly, I was having all kinds of issues with my wireless connection. The reason had nothing to do with the operating system. As I determined through popping in a bunch of live CDs, the problem was the wireless card. It was dying.

So one of my friends installed a new card for me. It works great. But something about the change disabled all my cool graphics -- the nvidia resolution, the Compiz effects, all refused to function.

With a little diligence, using Google as my troubleshooting manual, I probably could have fixed it. But I admit it: I got bored. I started distro hopping. (I'd made a backup of my files before I turned in the PC for repairs. It was a weekend. I'd already raked the leaves on the front lawn. So....)

I started with Linux Mint, which looked promising. But Mint couldn't talk to my new Atheros wireless. Start over.

I went to the latest Ubuntu - 9.10. At first, all was well. It connected. But then I decided to install it while I was online. It took about an hour, which seemed excessive. On the other hand, it immediately offered to upgrade proprietary graphic drivers. At the conclusion, although things looked good enough, there were no window controls. I was back to editing the xorg.conf file. I might have fixed that, too, I bet (through System>Appearance>Visual Effects). But as I suspect may be clear, the issue was not a problem with the OS. The problem was with me. Attention Deficit Disorder.

So I backtracked to an older CD, the Ubuntu LTS (Long Term Support). I got everything to work, and started off some 712 updates as I went to bed. But it still wasn't done by morning, and I couldn't help but notice that that particular CD had loaded up my system with a whole bunch of conflicting choices -- Gnome AND KDE. I like Gnome. Frankly, I really didn't want the cruft of multiple approaches. I'm a simple guy. Or so I imagine.

So before I went back to Fedora, I thought I'd give one more try to the latest Ubuntu. This time, I didn't log online before the install. This time, it took about 15 minutes. THEN I did the video upgrade (system>Administration>Hardware Drivers). And this time, it worked.

So then I spent some time installing codecs, extra software packages (Jpilot, Thunderbird, Vym, Notecase Pro, gftp, Kompozer). Hey, it keeps a boy off the streets.

Bottom line: I don't think Ubuntu is really any better than Fedora. Setting up ANY Linux distro to navigate codecs and video/audio formats is a pain. But for both key distros (Ubuntu and Fedora), it's the sort of thing you mostly just do once. Call it a couple of hours -- but less than five minutes of typing. I kind of like the idea of the new Ubuntu One program -- free online storage that promises to sync across systems.

I'm back in business. It's easier to do this stuff than it used to be. Of course, it's still more work than Windows or the Mac. On the one hand, I'm using a 5 year old computer, but absolutely cutting edge software. Most Windows or Mac users can't say that.

On the other, it took a couple of years of whacking my head against the learning curve -- not to mention, of course, lots of very hard and intelligent work by open source software developers -- to make it EASIER to wipe and install three or four distros in just 24 hour or so. And wind up with something that fulfills my modest needs.

Another observation: my little Acer Aspire has filled in quite nicely as I've waited for my "main machine" to come back home. The truth is, a little Netbook is probably better on many levels than the big honking desktop computer. Less power, less space, less weight. And as you learn after copying over megabytes of data, most of it doesn't really matter much.

At any rate, after a weekend of puttering, I'm back online with a new distro. Whoopee.

P.S. No animals were harmed in the reinstallation of this PC. On the other hand, I doubt any animals are all that happy about it, either.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

LaRue interviews ... LaRue

One of my more interesting duties is interviewing writers for "Authors @ Douglas County Libraries," produced by the Network Douglas County. They're a creative bunch, and came up with an idea for a promo of the series. Here it is: me, interviewing me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Aurora library election loss

So Aurora citizens soundly defeated (54 to 46%)the proposal to shift funding of Aurora, Colorado public libraries from the falling sales tax to more stable property taxes. All understood that 4 of 7 libraries would close, and some 40 jobs be eliminated. Said the victorious leader of the opposition, "This is not a referendum on libraries." Rather, it was to save property owners an estimated $5.69 a month.