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, December 31, 2009

Adieu 2009

This past year, I wrote (at least) 256 poems. Not all of them, of course, were any good at all. Some, I fervently hope, were worth preserving. Writing a good poem, even one, still strikes me as a worthwhile life goal. Below are two poems written on this final day of 2009. Both follow the traditional haiku conventions of 5/7/5 syllables per line. Both are based on and are informed by a seasonal/natural reference.

Happy New Year!


last day of the year
sunshine clears the mountain road
snow in the shadows


Wisdom of seasons:
blossom to green leaf to fall
to bare branch. Repeat.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Internet Explorer for Linux

As I've noted several times on this blog, I have been using Linux for several years now. Both at work and at home, I run it on machines that are now about 5 years old, and they perform beautifully. But lately, I'm finding more applications in use by the library community (payroll and web conferencing for instance) that simply don't work with Firefox on Ubuntu.

While I very much like the idea of Open Source software, like the idea of updating my operating system and applications for many years now at no cost, like the fact that I haven't had a single virus in all that time, and like the idea of not having my business assets be part of somebody ELSE'S business plan, it's not a religious issue for me. But Linux remains at 1% of the market, and people are clearly designing important applications so they DON'T work with it.

So I thought I should report a nice find: IEs4Linux allows you to set up a program that thinks it's Microsoft Internet Explorer version 6, running on Ubuntu. It works with my payroll program, and I have some hopes for it for web conferencing. Just click the entry title for the link.

The difference between marketing, pr, advertising, and branding

These terms get tossed around in a lot of ways. After you see this graphic (click the entry to see it) you might find it easier to keep the distinctions clear.

A friend of mine in the PR/Marketing business says she thinks the last line should be "You are a great lover."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sony Ebook Reader PRS-600 - first impressions

A month or so I bought Suzanne a Kindle. Setting it up was simplicity itself. Turn it on, follow on-screen instructions, pull books from the air (via 3G), and voila. The manual for the device was one of the built-in books. Really, a piece of cake.

But I was a little troubled by the proprietary format, and the rather high-handed way content can suddenly disappear from your device if Amazon gets notions.

So I asked for, and got for Christmas, a Sony. This is the little touch screen. Suzanne also bought a cover for it, with a built-in light. That'll be handy as a bedside device.

Over the next few days or weeks, I'd like to blog about how it is to use. It's interesting to have two librarians, and two ereaders in the same house. We're comparing notes.

SETTING UP, FIRST TRY (LINUX)

I had to plug it in to a USB port on my PC to charge it up. That didn't take long (maybe an hour, I guess) but I couldn't use it while it charged. (I could the Kindle.)

Now we come to the primary design flaw of the Sony. Everything it does (well, charging or getting content), it does by being plugged into a computer. And despite the fact that the Sony is running (according to Wikipedia) MontaVista Linux, I learned that I either had to have a PC or a Mac to (a) download Adobe Digital Editions, or (b) run the Mac or Windows installer from the Sony device itself. It appears that at least (b) is absolutely necessary to use protected content on the reader.

OK, at home, I use Ubuntu Linux. I followed this thread on ubuntoforums.org and did manage to get the Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) downloaded and installed in the "wine" virtual environment. It ran. I was able then to go into my library catalog and download an ebook, drag and drop that file on the running ADE. It opened, and I could read it on my computer. Great. But of course, I don't WANT to read a book on my computer, I want to put it on the Sony.

And in the ADE program on Ubuntu, there was no way to do that. The reader was supposed to show up as a bookshelf (ADE terminology for a special booklist). It didn't. So there was no way to transfer the library book to the Sony reader.

Then I got to poking around in files on the reader itself. It did find (under Launcher) some install files for Windows and the Mac. I couldn't get the Windows installer to run -- it just errored out.

Meanwhile, I discovered a program called calibre -- a very slick open source program that runs on Linux, Windows, and the Mac. It's wonderful, and had no trouble recognizing the reader when I plugged it in. It had a big button that said "send to device!" So I did.

And here's what I learned. ADE and (I imagine) the Windows program I couldn't install, handle the Digital Rights Management (DRE) issues. calibre pushed over the file, but the Sony reader wouldn't let me open it.

So that concluded my installation experiments on Linux. I couldn't get it to allow me to use DRM-protected books. (I did learn, using calibre, how to push free and pdf files onto it, though!) Apparently, Linux's 1% market share isn't enough to persuade even big manufacturers to make things work.

SETTING UP, SECOND TRY - THE MACINTOSH OSX

Fortunately, there are a couple of Macs in the house. Suzanne let me use hers, and at first, getting everything downloaded was slow, errored out, etc. But the issue, I soon learned, was that a lot of people got Sony ereaders for Christmas, and they completely overwhelmed the servers. Why those other people couldn't have waited till I was done is just one of the many mysteries of life. I eventually got ADE and the Mac installer up and running. I registered on Adobe, and with the special Mac program, tried to drag my library book to the Sony (which DID show up as an option). When I did that, I had to give my Adobe password again. Then, voila, it worked. That is, I could go to our website, check out a digital book, push it onto my Sony, and read it. I assume that in 21 days it will delete itself. That's cool.

Let me point out, by the way: the Sony doesn't have a manual with it. It did have some weird assortment of preloaded books in English, French, and German, as well as a few samples that didn't interest me. But it didn't have a manual. I think that's insane. (Correction: OK, it does have a manual. It's on the Reader, under a Documents folder, in zipped format. You have to copy it to your computer and unzip it, then send it BACK to the Reader. No, maybe I'm right the first time. That's insane.)

And even without the hassle of trying to use it on Linux, the steps were needlessly complex (charge, wait, setup desktop computer, plug in reader, download additional software from another vendor). For setup, for consumer ease, Kindle is a clear winner. You turn on the device, you go to the store (a screen menu item), and you say, that one!

Granted, I won't have to mess with installation in the future, but it's still a process of logging onto a website, transacting business, downloading a file, plugging in the Sony, loading another program, adding the downloaded file to a library, then transferring the file. Clunky.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

calibre was a find, though. I was able to do something kind of cool: take a big file (the Openoffice.org version of my book, "The New Inquisition," output it to a pdf file, then convert it and push it to the Sony. Oh, and because it had an ISBN number, calibre went online and found cover art and blurb information for it. I did the same thing with an unpublished chapbook of my poetry (which, of course, didn't have either cover art or ISBN).

So thanks to calibre, you can convert content pretty easily from one format to another, including content you create yourself. Points to Sony for using the epub format. (I believe, though, that you can email pdfs to your Kindle by using username@kindle.com. I haven't tried that.) [Later: yes, you can, and jpgs too.]

On the other hand, the Kindle came with a built-in dictionary. The Sony doesn't have one. That's a point to the Kindle. (Correction: I was wrong. While reading a book last night I rested my thumb on a word and up popped the Oxford English Dictionary definition. Another icon expanded it to the whole page.)

The Sony is a touch screen, which makes sense. The Kindle is button driven. Point to the Sony.

After finally getting a couple of books on it, I set it side by side against the Kindle. And the Kindle is undeniably easier to read: the screen is less reflective, and the letters are a crisper font (both allow you to adjust the font size, but not the font itself). Maybe the white plastic makes the Kindle screen seems brighter than the flashy red metal cover I picked out for the Sony. But altogether, the Sony text seems a little muddy. Both are muddier than print on paper.

Anyhow, those are my first thoughts. Now the test is to see if I will actually read something on it, and what I'll think of the experience. More on direct interface - use of buttons, flipping back and forth, adding notes or bookmarks, etc., in a future post.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Haiku for archivists

Click this link, then click on "collection" to get a nicely designed gathering of rather discursive haiku about life in the archives. Thanks to Shaun Boyd!

The Fun Theory



I just love this. It seems to have implications not only for the design of public spaces, but for a whole approach to management and leadership.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A morbid little story

After my talk at Henrico County Public Library, I was chatting with Barbara Weedman, Public Services Administrator for the library. She mentioned a story from her childhood. Later, she emailed me this:

"Below you will find the morbid little story I begged my Southern Great-grandmother to tell me over and over again as a child."

The Little Bird

Once there was a little bird who lived outside the door.
He wanted to come INside and hop upon the floor.
"Oh! No! NO!" said the Mama bird,
"You must stay here with ME,
for little birds are safest up in a tree."
"I don't care!" said Robin, and gave his tail a fling,
"I don't think old folks know quite everything."
So dowwwwwwwwn he flew,
and Kittie seized him.
"Oh!" he cried, "I'm sorry, but I didn't think."


This reminds me of my daughter, who after I read her a Grimm Brothers fairy tale said it was "Gruesome! But good."

Poudre River Public Library District - Platinum LEED

I saw this from Studiotrope:

The Council Tree Library, which sDC (Studiotrope) recently completed for the Poudre River Public Library District, has been awarded the first Platinum Level Certification in LEED for a Commercial Interiors program in the country! It is one of only two LEED Platinum libraries.

The Library is the first to feature the Supple Collection of sustainable furnishings which were designed in concert with library staff. The LEED certification specialist on the project, Kelly Karmel, credited the interior furnishings and finishes as a significant contributor towards exceeding the Gold Level mandate by the City of Fort Collins.

"We don't normally get to see such exuberance and style in recycled content furnishings. The displays and shelving units are very cool, by the way. The quality of this project is very high indeed." _K. Karmel

Join us in congratulating the Poudre River Public Library District for having the dedication and awareness to reach for such high standards!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Library speaking

I'm back from another speaking engagement, this one for the Henrico County Public Library in Virginia. I am reminded, as I am so often, of how wonderful librarians are. The group at Henrico came together for a two-day staff day (half the staff for half a day on December 8, and the other half on December 9). They laughed a lot -- the sign of a healthy culture. I also got to see, thanks to the gracious guidance of Public Services Administrator Barbara Weedman, the quite beautiful Tuckahoe Area Library.

Like most libraries, Henrico is trying to figure out what's next? They have done many, many things right. But getting to the next level of service in today's challenging economic environment takes real thought. My presentation to them was an attempt to call out what the best research of our times is telling us. The second day, in particular, generated a lot of lively discussion, which is fun.

If I had to boil down what I believe the Douglas County Libraries has to focus on over the next 3-5 years it's this: emergent literacy, merchandising, and community reference projects. Underlying all of that is the vital foundation of a strong customer service ethic. And the umbrella is the idea of marketing our value -- something library PR has not often targeted in the past.

Maddy's blog

Maddy, my daughter, completed her undergraduate education this year (a year and a half at Jacob's University in Bremen, Germany, and a year and a half at the American University of Paris). After another brief study in Prague, she emerged with a Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate. Since then, she got a job teaching at the Shane English Schools in Taipei, Taiwan.

Her new blog is a joint effort with her longtime friend Lauren Greyson. Lauren is now in London, England. So this is a joint blog by two very bright, observant, and versatile ex-patriates.

Recommended!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

More finger-tapping guitar



According to the decription, "This is a video of the amazing acoustic finger tapping guitarist, T-cophony," from Japan.

Andy McKee - Guitar - Drifting - www.candyrat.com

My daughter writes me that one of her colleagues (teaching English in Taipei, Taiwan) played guitar the other night and stunned them. This was the piece (although this isn't her colleague). It is a pretty darn cool way to play guitar. Obviously some kind of open tuning. But great percussive effects and rhythmic drive. I've played it about six times in a row now.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Seven Arguments for Building New Libraries

Recently a friend of mine, now a director in the midwest, told me that he's hearing more and more often the refrain that building libraries just isn't necessary. Not in the 21st century. Not in the age of the Internet. I think we need some talking points about that. Here are 7 that occur to me. But I don't see why we have to stop at 7. Feel free to add to the list.

Argument #1 - The library is an anchor store and traffic generator. Libraries pull a cross-section of the public, all ages, all day long, through our doors. We are the business that (at least in most communities) never goes out of business. In fact, in a down economy, library use goes UP. You want your business to be by a library. If you're planning a development, you want the liveliness of a public building in the heart of it.

Argument #2 - Library construction is a powerful economic stimulus, esp. in a recession. People often overlook that a public construction project employs architects, general contractors, local tradespeople, local suppliers, and so on, which in turn generates sales for local restaurants, gas stations, etc.

Argument #3 - Library buildings are a bridge over the digital divide. Libraries are about access, and our record of allowing digitally disadvantaged people - poor, young, elderly, etc. - to use public technology to bootstrap themselves out of technological ghettos is real.

Argument #4 - The Internet encourages, not replaces, library use. Every time we add more Internet terminals, the use of everything else goes UP - more books checked out, more browsing, more magazines read, more reference questions, more program attendance. There's a lot of data about this (see the Library Research Service).

Argument #5 - Library buildings foster community, both through providing meeting space and lifelong learning programming. Genetically, socially, we are wired for interaction. Libraries serve the role of both common and neutral ground.

Argument #6 - Library buildings manifest and reinforce a statement of community values. The library is a tangible sign of a community's commitment to individual inquiry, a safety net for the young and old, a secular sanctuary for people who need public space either for public contact or for private pondering. I remember pondering this comment from a member of the Greatest Generation: "In my day, we lived in modest homes, but built significant public monuments. These days, we live in palaces, and build government buildings out of split-face concrete."

Argument #7 - Library buildings are an investment in our children's brains. The children's storytime - featuring real live people from your own community - is our nation's single most potent strategy for sowing literacy in the land. The library is a space where children meet live performers, then are loaded up with materials to further deepen the experience. The presence of location offering trained staff to promote literacy and learning through readers advisor work, reference work, teaching, adds a resource to a community that not only employs local people today, but helps raise people who are employable tomorrow.

What else do library buildings do?