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.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

AL Live April 18, 2013

Here is the link to AL Live's April 18, 2013 video, featuring the always astute Sue Polanka, EBSCO's Scott Wasinger, and me. It's all a pretty good snapshot of the issues at this moment. The discussion is an hour long, so be prepared.

Sue asked some great questions. One of them got me to say something I hadn't prepared ahead of time: that in an age of abundance of literature, not scarcity, libraries are not gatekeepers. We are gardeners, working to grow the fresh local produce of creators. The more I think about that image, the more I like it.

Thanks to AL Live's Dan Freeman, Sue, and Scott (EBSCO was the sponsor of the show) for the opportunity.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Nexus 7

Suzanne bought me a Nexus 7 for our anniversary (thank you!). The 7 stands for 7 inch screen. It is wonderfully light, fast, comfortable to hold, easy to read, and easy to type in (with Swype or thumbs). But on a lark, I remembered the bluetooth fold up keyboard I bought years ago for my Palm Pilot. With a few new batteries, it works just fine with the Nexus. So here's a picture of a really tiny portable computer station.

I put the edge of a book next to it so you could see relative size.

I'll take the combo with me on my next trip to see how it works.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Linguistics

In this fascinating article, "Utopian for Beginners," Joshua Foer writes about a man, John Quijada, who invented a language, Ithkuil.

Foer dives into the world of conlangers (constructed language), and Quijada's invitation to speak at a conference devoted to his language. That trip proved startling in several ways. But along the way, Foer touches on everything from Esperanto to Tolkein and Heinlein, to the most successful of invented languages, Klingon.

Back in college, I briefly toyed with studying linguistics. It still deeply interests me. But at my university, the head of that department was insufferable. And librarianship really has been a lifelong passion for me.

But what an interesting world!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Little Outliner

Little Outliner was released on March 25, 2013. To try it, go to littleoutliner.com. There are some tabs over on the right that explain things. All the usual things are there:

* the ability to expand and collapse tabbed lists subordinate to another heading, hiding or revealing them. That makes it much easier to stay on top of the structure of a document.

* the ability to effortlessly drag around (or use keyboard shortcuts to move) those structured paragraphs, thereby effecting major structural revisions rapidly.

What's interesting about Little Outliner (from Dave Winer, the man who gave us a lot of the late, great outliners in the 1990s, and invented the RSS feed) is that although an outline is created within a browser, it is saved locally.

Each approach - local storage and cloud storage - has its advantages. One is personal and private. The other enables both ubiquity (access from multiple locations and devices), and collaboration.

In Little Outliner, there doesn't seem to be a way to quickly copy the text to paste or export it to something else. (Correction: you're supposed to be able to double click and Ctrl-C a heading, which gathers everything beneath; likewise, Ctrl-A should do everything at a single level, again copyable. But I can only get this to work sometimes in the first case, and never in the latter.) Like Workflowy, it doesn't have spell check or word count. Being based on Javascript (running in HTML5) there may be some security issues by and by.

But on the whole, I like seeing outliners back in the news. Winer says he's looking to enhance the product rapidly, and networking outlines seems inevitable.

Workflowy

While poking around on Outlinersoftware.com I ran across a mention of this free little web application (free up to 250 items, apparently). "Workflowy" (workflowy.com) is a cloud-based outliner. You log into it once (give it an email and a password), and you get, basically, an empty page.

I'm a longtime fan of outliners, and haven't really found the perfect match, particularly in the Linux world. Workflowy is pretty good. Why?

It's fast.

Its interface, like its display, is clean and simple.

It has good keyboard shortcuts for the few commands I need and use a lot: expand and contract outline levels, move outline levels up and down or left and right, and what Workflowy calls Zoom. (Other outliners call it "hoisting.") Zooming is particularly well implemented. Click on the button of an outline level, and it immediately moves to the top of the screen. You see only those items subordinate to that level.

Because it is web-based, it is platform agnostic.

Like KAMAS, one of my favorite programs ever (also an outliner, way back in the CP/M and DOS days), the program has an elegance that enables surprising depth.

The fundamental premise: build one humongous list. Just put everything you want to know into a single file. Searching is fast (and you can also add #tags to connect things).

Best of all, it's a wonderful collaborative tool. Create a list -- a checklist for a road trip for example -- then share it with someone by sending them the URL. That URL gives them access to view, or to edit, like Google Docs. But it gives them ONLY that piece of the outline.

It does have a few problems.

Some keyboard commands interfere with the operating system. On my Ubuntu system, the commands for moving a heading up or down also toggle the display of other active programs. But drag and drop still works.

No spell check or word count. I use outliners to write with, so those are significant issues.

The app on an iPad doesn't allow the "mouse hovering" that brings up some key functions (export).

Again on the iPad, there is no access to Help.

Mobile platform problems. There is an app for the iPad and iPhone. But not on the Android, and the browser experience on my phone (which apparently won't run the latest Chrome for Android) won't allow the "move outline heading" function. That seriously cripples its utility.

In general, having a program that has different functions on the web (based on platform), on the iPad, and on an Android makes for a confusing experience. So as much as I like it, Evernote remains a more consistent way to move across devices.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Real leadership

Real leadership begins with listening. In so many spheres -- the public sector, the not-for-profit, and the private -- leadership isn't some kind of machine-gun decision-making. Rat-a-tat-tat, do this, do that. Real leadership begins with listening, with the inherent humility of a question.

The purpose of leadership is to make meaning. It's to identify what matters, then to start assembling the human resources to focus on that issue.

Then, by harvesting the "wisdom of crowds," leaders do something breathtakingly simple. They make things better.

I think much of the frustration of our times, when so few people trust either elected leaders or CEOs, is just that these so-called leaders are so full of themselves, so arrogant, that they've stopped listening. And so they stop learning.

Many people seek power and authority. But neither confers wisdom.