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.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Colorado Public Radio interview on DCL

Many thanks to Elaine Grant for today's piece on the DCL ebook platform, and our experiments with publishing.

And thanks to Lynn Neary for NPR's broader coverage on the ebooks-and-libraries issue. You can find that here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

We are still evolving

I was having a discussion with a friend recently about the influence of genetics on mental gifts. I was saying that my grandmother used to track various talents through the family. So and so got the music, someone else got the math, and so on.

To my surprise, my friend said that genetics played no part in mental gifts, that there was no such thing as music or math gene. I tried to make it clear that I wasn't saying there was a single gene for either of these, but there were clusters of genetic predispositions that quickened interest and skills, and even attitudes. He maintained that it was all due to early experience and environment.

On reflection, it does still seem to me that such gifts run in families, and although environment surely plays a part, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to say that genetics does, too. If genetics can affect a pancreas or heart, why couldn't it also influence a brain?

It interested me, so I've been doing some reading. Today I finished "the 10,000 Year Explosion: how civilization accelerated human evolution," by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending. The thesis was one I hadn't seen before. We know that about 40,000 years ago, there was a burst of creative energy, the sudden appearance of cave art, tool-making, apparent funeral rites, and so on. According to the authors, this was the beginning of a spurt of evolutionary change that continues.

Among the things they cite is the architecture of alleles, which reveal how recently changes have happened. Skin and eye color variations have all happened within the past 10,000 years! (Before then, people were dark-skinned and brown eyed.) Other changes, like the adoption of lactase tolerance, are even more recent. In the second to last chapter, the authors detail how the Ashkenazi Jews, through genetic isolation and selection from roughly 800 AD to 1700 AD , wound up averaging just a little smarter than the rest of the world, with significant results in the world of scientific achievement, among other things.

The book details many stories of how genetic traits appear, and how rapidly they spread, or die out. The whole thing was new to me. Like most folks, I thought that humans have been about the same since we killed off the Neanderthals.

Something that stays with me is the story of how someone tried to domestic a fox. By just choosing the tamest of the litter, and breeding them together, he wound up with a tame fox in just a few generations. The surprising piece was that the physical appearance and other behaviors changed, too. The head got rounder. The ears got floppier. They exhibited, into adulthood, behavior that was more like fox pops. It's a recapitulation of the domestication of dogs.

If changing our diet (adopting dairy farming, or moving to grains rather than nuts and berries) can quickly affect changes in our physiology, imagine now what exposure to technology may be doing.

The point: human evolution isn't over yet. It may be picking up speed.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Freeing the hostage

Here ( is a piece I wrote for a cool new library site. It addresses the topic of how to have an honest, respectful conversation with someone who is holding your organization hostage -- undermining accomplishment and getting away with it. 

I learned this approach from a wise supervisor who used it on me. I was screwing up on my job, for reasons that do me no credit. In just 30 seconds, she snapped me out of it. And yet I never felt humiliated or mistreated (although I did feel ashamed). She just presented the facts, and gave me the dignity to decide.

I do a lot of talking and listening to librarians. I think this one thing -- the fear of confronting staff over performance issues -- really is the biggest internal factor holding libraries back. But it doesn't have to be a "confrontation." It can (and should) be brief, direct, and authentic.

The rest of the story: of the people I mention in the piece, all are gone now. The odds suggest that it isn't easy to turn someone around. But I think it's also the case that those people wound up in positions where they were genuinely happier. It's no sin to disagree with the direction your organization is taking. People can have honest disputes about the best path forward. But it IS a sin to take money from an organization while you're working to sabotage it. (Obviously, I'm not talking about unethical or illegal behavior on the part of an organization; I'm talking about a lack of sympathy or support of a vision for the future of its leaders.)

At any rate, I hope LibraryLostFound does well! And I'd be curious to know what others think.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Eqyptian tween

I've been looking at Reddit lately. The kid in this video is 12 years old, and may be one of the most articulate and incisive people I've ever heard. This is the kind of thing that gives one confidence in the future -- the Internet and native intelligence might lead to real and positive change.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Chrome extensions

When the Chromebook first came out, I didn't find the "live in a browser" idea very compelling. But I spent a little while today looking at a couple of things that may change my mind: extensions that operate as light, attractive, highly focused apps. After a while, I can see that it could be quite possible to live within Chrome's tabs, especially as the apps and data are portable across Windows, the Mac and Linux (but not, alas, the iPad, although I imagine this will change eventually).

First up: Do It (Tomorrow). Its user interface will make you laugh. Click to open the book and you get two pages: Today and Tomorrow. No categories, no priorities, no subtasks, no Getting-It-Donnybrooks.

You can choose between two typefaces. After you type in something to do, you have three options.
1. Click on it to draw a line through it.
2. Click on a little arrow to move it to Tomorrow.
3. Don't do anything. It stays on Today.

That's it!

I realize that such a extravagantly minimalist interface wouldn't work for many. But I find myself absurdly pleased with it. I mean, Today or Tomorrow. When it comes to planning that's all we've got, anyhow, and we can't even be sure of tomorrow. How many functions and options do we need, really?

The learning curve is under 10 seconds. The app is free, and syncs automatically to Adylitica. If you would prefer to have it sync with Google Tasks, too, that's $4.95.

The second extension is Yommoo, "my sticky note whiteboard." It's free. Again, it has nothing like the sophistication sought by power users. Here's what you can do:

* create several whiteboards
* create a sticky note, and drag it around, off, or back onto the screen
* search the notes not currently on the screen
* use an "o" (the letter oh) before a line to make a task
* share the whiteboard via an email invite

The third is Mindmaps. This HTML5 mindmapping app has a couple of interesting twists in the User Interface. But it doesn't take long to work it out. It saves to Google Drive and Dropbox. I found some of the file management options a little odd (it seemed to make another copy of the file every time I saved it). But it makes for reasonably attractive mind maps.

Finally, I'm writing this in the "Memo Notepad" extension -- another one from the producers of Do It (Tomorrow). It looks a lot like the iPad notes app -- title on the left, ruled notepaper on the right. You can pay 50 cents to turn on direct email from the note, or $4.95 to save to GDrive or Dropbox. Otherwise, the notes stay local on your computer (in the browser cache). With yet another extension (Text statistics), a right click on selected text gives a word count, too.

My point: I'm noticing a decided turn in my preferences toward simple and ubiquitous. The Cloud approach means that you don't pay very much for the functions, wind up with a portable desktop, and the user interfaces are pleasure to use.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Ode to Storytime

I've written before that even if we didn't do anything else, storytimes are reason enough to have libraries. Read this:

We just finished watching "Robot and Frank," a quirky movie featuring Susan Sarandon as a librarian whose library is shut down and replaced with tech and community. But no storytimes!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Governing Magazine piece

Here's the link - - to the piece. As I hastened to append in comments, the work at DCL is hardly mine. It's a team effort, involving a board that viewed the cost of doing nothing as the greatest risk of all, and a staff (Monique Sendze's IT team, and Rochelle Logan's collection, acquisition, and cataloging people) to pull it off.

But I'm pleased to see coverage of the concept beyond the library world.

Oh, and the Superman pose was the photographer's idea. I should have known better.