Wednesday, June 27, 2012

NCompass Webinar

You can find a bunch of links from today's interview with NCompass Live's Michael Sauer, right here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

All hat, no cattle

Library Journal picked up my recent piece, "All Hat, No Cattle," which they subtitled: "A call for libraries to transform before it's too late."

I think I make two key points:

* librarians have to DO something, not just complain to each other.

* the emerging publishing marketplace is way more interesting than just what the Big Six are up to.

What a fun time to be a librarian!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Father's Day

A few days ago, I was talking with someone about the richness of Greek mythology, about how well it delineated the range of human types. I remembered having written a local newspaper column about my daughter Maddy's fascination with those stories. After digging around, I found it in my archive of columns at LaRue's Views. That particular piece, written when Maddy was four, can be found here. I would add this: Maddy's deep immersion in these tales helped to make her an emotionally intelligent soul.

I sent it along to Maddy, who expressed the perfectly reasonable desire to read more about herself when she was little. I told her to just use the Blogspot search box (upper left corner) for her name, or for the phrase "my daughter." And then I realized that I could also search for "my son," born "Perry," but who later legally changed his name to "Max," which totally suits him better. (That's another story, but a cool one: the teenager who named himself.) I spent a little time doing some of that searching and reading myself.

Maddy is now in France. In her mid-twenties, she is a surprisingly sure and mature scholar. Max is off to California now (visiting friends there), and soon to go to college in Oregon.

Max gave me a couple of Father's Day cards before he left today, which was sweet. I'm wistful. One chapter of my life has ended. I think I used to be a lot of fun, a pretty silly daddy. One of Max's cards described me as "hardworking, motivated, organized, dedicated..." That's not so bad, and it may even be true (in spots). But it marks my children's changing perception of me, and my own shifting of roles and focus. All that's natural and normal, of course. But it's still weird.

For a variety of reasons, I was absolutely terrified to be a father. But to my astonishment, I loved it. It was (and is) so fascinating and thrilling.

So to all those dads out there, what a wild ride, eh? And to my children, thank you more than I will ever be able to express.

Community Reference

The Douglas County Libraries has many extraordinary staff members. Four of them are Colbe Galston, Elizabeth Kelsen Huber, Katherine Johnson, and Amy Long. They are all librarians. I'm very pleased to note their recent article, Community Reference: Making Libraries Indispensable in a New Way. It's in the latest (June, 2012) issue of American Libraries.

Our library has been doing a lot of work on the cutting edge of our profession. This one - "Community Reference" - is important. It represents a shift from an internal to a more wholistic focus. Instead of asking what serves the library, we now ask how can the library serve the community? This may surprise some librarians, but it's not all about us. On the other hand, we have a host of skills that can not only make our whole environment (cultural, political, economic, etc.) better. This is also an opportunity for us to demonstrate our worth.

Let me also acknowledge a profound intellectual debt. The mantra of my staff's article - show up, pay attention, stay (or keep) in touch - I swiped from my good friend and colleague Rick Ashton. Rick used to direct the Denver Public Library. These days he runs the Downer's Grove (IL) public library. His articulation of those principles -- maybe 15 years ago or more -- has been working on my awareness ever since. But hearing it and putting it into practice are not the same thing. It has taken me -- and my rising young professionals -- a little extra time to catch up to the vision. Thanks, Rick. You were WAY ahead of the curve.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New laptop

A couple of weeks ago, I turned on my System76 Meerkat NetTop (which I'd bought back in December of 2010 for $400) and heard the SNAP of some kind of electrical/power discharge. Dead. Although System76 is a great company, and the hardware seems generally reliable for most people (judging by online reviews), it marked the THIRD problem I'd had with my unit, and this one was out of warranty. Sometimes you get a lemon, no matter who the manufacturer is. So I unplugged and recycled it.

The good news: I back up my home computer every week in several places. I didn't really lose anything but a few emails.

At about that time, I got an electronic ad from the local Micro Center. So I wandered over, and picked up an Acer Aspire (5733/5733Z/5333 Series) series laptop for $300. Oddly enough, this morning I read an article by a librarian about why this is totally the wrong time to buy a laptop. Maybe ... if you really want the latest and greatest.

The truth is, my needs are simple. My old Netbook is just a LITTLE too slow these days for me, and seems a tad underpowered for the modern software suites. But this new laptop just flies. It also has a big bright screen, and a comfy, well-laid out keyboard. I'm gearing up to write a book, and I wanted something that I could count on, and wouldn't get in my way.

The new Acer came with some subset of Windows 7. It happens that Windows 7 isn't that bad. I slapped a couple of Open Source programs on it (the Chrome browser, the Abiword word processor, the Xmind mind mapper) and Notecase Pro (an outliner I use a lot and for which I have paid for a multi-platform license). Then I went over to the Ubuntu web site and downloaded the Windows Ubuntu installer (wubi for short). It's a program you run that lets you put Ubuntu on your Windows machine from inside Windows. Then you reboot, and choose one platform or the other. If you decide you don't like Ubuntu, you just uninstall it like any other Windows program.

In some ways, it almost doesn't matter which platform I use these days: Windows, iOS, or Linux. I use pretty much the same tools on all of them, mostly open source. Ubuntu takes a little more time to set up than Linux Mint. Just search for "Ubuntu post-installation" to get the steps. Mainly, the issue is installing various codecs for media. It took about 45 minutes, mostly waiting for the commands to fetch and install things. Not hard, just a little tedious. It's worth it: Ubuntu also comes with so much good and free software that a little time is a reasonable trade-off.

I've been spending most of my time in Ubuntu. I don't have to worry about viruses or Trojan Horses. It's speedy, attractive, and works well with my brain and work flow. And I like the fact that I can tote it around with me if I need to.

Meanwhile, I have a compact set of data that I can move pretty much wherever and whenever I need it, all as reasonably well-protected (encrypted) as I can make it. Life in 2012, living on the edge of the cloud.

Friday, June 8, 2012

ebook options for libraries

At a recent retreat of the Colorado Public Library Directors, it was clear that a lot of libraries want to provide ebooks to their patrons. It's also clear that they very much like the simple principles asserted by the Douglas County Libraries model to date. Those are:

- ownership. Libraries need physical possession of the file.

- discounts. Libraries are volume purchasers, and as such, deserve discounts.

- integration. With possession of the file, we can do a much better job of providing a simple, powerful and consistent user experience.

A few other principles matter, too:

- a Common Understanding (see the eVoke website, below), rather than complex contracts and licenses for each publisher, that spells out the terms of our business agreement. For instance, that we limit use to one at a time, using industry standard DRM, and that we'll buy extra copies of the file to meet the demands of simultaneous use (within budget constraints, of course).

- a "click to buy" option for our patrons, to serve as a customer convenience, a demonstration of our value to publishers, and with the expectation that libraries share in the sale. So here's today's attempt to map out some sense of the possibilities.

[Click the image to expand it.]

Let's spell out what that means:

• Joining a "library consortium" means there is a common ILS, a content server, and integrated discovery and delivery. For many, this would mean an ILS change.

• "Do it yourself" means you either outsource content hosting or not, but then customize discovery and delivery to your local catalog. It presumes a little in-house technical savvy.

• "Library owned web service." This doesn’t exist. But suppose some regional (or national) library took an Adobe Content Server and Vufind (using the work already done by Douglas County Libraries, and as documented at the eVoke site at, and delivered a separate service that allowed for a mix of consortial or independent collections – just leaving aside issues of ILS integration. This is a library-owned version of OverDrive. It might solve things for a lot of libraries, although the lack of integration isn’t good.

• Vendors. The usual suspects, and more coming, I’m sure. At this moment, of course, NONE of them adheres to the principles above.

What’s still missing is a common platform for purchasing and distribution. I think a shared Acquisition system, pre-populated with all the vendor information DCL and others have shared, would be a great collaborative library project. Likewise, a dedicated server for the distribution (sale) of ebooks both to libraries and patrons might have to be a library project, too. Both of these could and should be national. And of course, neither of the first three solutions can address providing content for the proprietary pre-Fire Kindle.

USB Typewriter

Brilliant. Available from Uncommon Goods for those people of a certain age who are simply looking for a familiar way to type stuff into an iPad.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

NCompass Live Tech Talk

Michael Sauers will be interviewing me about the DCL Model for ebooks on June 27, 9-10 Mountain Time. For details, click here.

Ed Quillen

I was saddened this morning to see that Ed is no longer with us. The Denver Post reported it this morning here.

Ed's website, containing much of his work, is here.

I'll miss his writing. Ed was one of the most original writers and thinkers I've found. He could be counted on to come with an utterly unexpected take on almost any topic, and often made me laugh out loud.

Some years back, a bunch of Colorado librarians met in Salida at what was then Il Vicino's -- the now famous "First Annual Ayn Rand Beer Festival." He was as quirky, smart, and funny in person as he was in print. I also have an autographed copy of his columns. His loss not only diminishes the Denver Post, it diminishes the world.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Colorado Public Library Directors retreat

I'm just back from a two day retreat in Durango with about 40 other public library directors. Durango is a cool place, and the library, headed by Andy White, is vibrant and beautiful. I walked there one morning from downtown, along the lovely Las Animas River.

We talked about a lot of things. I presented on what we've been doing with the Douglas County Libraries e-content/ebook management platform. Then, and most powerfully, each library director gave a 3 minute update on what was happening in their respective organizations and communities.

This isn't a comprehensive overview. But it highlights the key trends, I think:

* public computing centers. The Colorado State Library's very ambitious Broadband Technology Opportunity Programs (BTOP) grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have made a big difference in a lot of towns. (See my other blog posting two entries below.) Not only are libraries helping people retool to find jobs and gain computers skills, they're demonstrating their ability to connect to civic leaders and solve community problems.

* a lot of building remodeling. Non-library users keep saying "who needs libraries?" But many libraries, large and small, are reporting the dynamic redesign of space to accommodate keen public demand. In what areas?

* early literacy. One thing has become very clear: libraries are the only public institution providing language and storytelling stimulus for children between the ages of 0 to 3. And that strategy -- reading stories, getting as many books in people's house as possible for parents and children to explore together -- is the single most powerful strategy around for "reading readiness." That readiness by age 3 is a great predictor of ability to read by first grade, which in turn predicts academic performance by grade 3, which predicts academic achievement, lifelong income, the likelihood of incarceration, and even longevity.

* community focus. I'm not sure I know all the reasons for this. Part of it is the influx of Millennials, who are generally more community-minded, both as users and as new library workers. Part may be the recession, which encourages people to look around for a little more social support. Another explanation might be the rise of library districts in Colorado, who depend upon public support, which means a greater awareness of the need to demonstrate value to funders. Whatever the reasons, many libraries were shaking themselves out of too strong an internal focus, and taking more direct interest in what is going on, and what is needed, in the larger environment. There's some amazing public programming going on out there, including a session on "yarn bombing" (where people, under cover of darkness, adorn public structures like statues, fire hydrants and streetlights with crotcheting, knitted hats, home-stitched scarves, etc. -- a kind of crafts-based graffiti). A number of libraries reported efforts to be a force for increased civility and open discourse in their cities and towns, and even to address the issue of bullying in Native American reservations.

* library cooperation. There was a lot of talk about this. Colorado libraries team up in many ways: sharing materials through a statewide courier system, providing statewide online reference assistance to students, sharing computer catalogs, and negotiating large cooperative purchasing agreements for subscriptions to various electronic resources. There's a sense that things may be changing: not so much a growing unwillingness to share, but the need to re-examine some of those projects to figure out where we get the best bang for the buck. We worked up a team to look at that issues of shared online reference work.

Despite a general decline in funding over the past several years, there wasn't a lot of whining. These directors were engaged, positive, working hard to make the most of their resources to serve their communities well.

I've worked with librarians in many states. But Colorado librarians are extraordinary. They care deeply, they tell it like it is, they take risks, they get things done, and they know how to laugh. A fun time.

Amazon and book publishing

OK, there's definitely a perspective here. But having just come from a library gathering where we wondered openly, "Is Amazon evil?" the following links may be of interest. Of greatest concern to me personally is the piece by Michael Naumann. The Germans have mandated fixed pricing, set by publishers. Horrors! And yet ... publishers thrive, literary fiction thrives, independent bookstores thrive, and books are cheaper in Germany than anywhere in Europe. Are there lessons to be leaned for the U.S.? The Nation Magazine Explores Amazon With a cover proclaiming "Amazon and the Conquest of Publishing," the latest issue of the Nation magazine focused upon the online retailing giant.

In his article "The Amazon Effect," former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review Steve Wasserman chronicled the history and current status of the company. He observed that from the start, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos "understood two things. One was the way the Internet made it possible to banish geography, enabling anyone with an Internet connection and a computer to browse a seemingly limitless universe of goods with a precision never previously known and then buy them directly from the comfort of their homes. The second was how the Internet allowed merchants to gather vast amounts of personal information on individual customers."

"Why does Amazon now have customers do the search chores it used to do for them, and in innovative ways?" That question was addressed by Anthony Grafton in "Search Gets Lost."

Michael Naumann, editor-in-chief of the German magazine Cicero who headed Holt in New York City in the late 1990s before becoming Germany's culture minister for three years, examined "How Germany Keeps Amazon at Bay and Literary Culture Alive," looking at ways the country's fixed-price laws "curtail the power of retail chains and help to sustain a vibrant literary culture."

Introducing its slide show "Ten Reasons to Avoid Doing Business with Amazon," the Nation asked "what's at stake in the battle over e-commerce and why should you avoid doing business with" - Welcome

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