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, November 28, 2013

Newspaper articles on DCL and me

Yikes, I never recorded the two articles that came out on Thursday, November 21, 2013 in the Denver Post. I should do that before I forget.

The first, "Ebooks at libraries: Douglas County director delivers a novel approach," by Claire Martin, was on the front page, (below the fold).  And of course, it gives me credit for a system that owes as much or more to Monique Sendze, our IT director, and Rochelle Logan, who oversees our publisher relations and technical services, and many other folks who work at Douglas County Libraries.

The second was "Longtime innovative library head retires," by Clayton Woullard, on page 4P of Castle Rock's Yourhub insert.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Notes and writing programs

I do a lot of writing. Often, I just make notes - article or project ideas, for instance. But sometimes, they have more business-critical implications: a speaking engagement, with full scope notes and travel arrangements, for example. Other times, I'm sketching out a longer piece of writing.

I have complicated my life with gadgets, of course: an iPad, an Android phone, an Android tablet, a laptop that dual-boots Windows 7 (which is how it came) and Ubuntu (which I prefer). So I never know which gadget I'll have in hand when a new idea comes to me, or I want to work on something I started on another gadget.

Dropbox is a help. I can stash docs, spreadsheets, and presentations there for use by several programs. Google Drive can be handy (although I find myself drifting away from it). But I've noticed a distinct preference for a few characteristics in my software tools lately:

* clean, open, minimal UI, very simple formatting.
* one or two panes - structure on the left, detailed content on the right.

On Windows and Linux my workhorse program is Notecase Pro. It's a two pane outliner, and has many features I never get around to. But it's reliable, fast, and stores huge (and encrypted) amounts of data. The only downside: I can't really use those files on the iPad. There's an Android version, but it's a little clunky. 

After an IOS7 update, the Plaintext notes/writing program (which I'd paid for) got an update too, and suddenly became unreliable. It wouldn't do searches, tossed up new ads and distractions, and became generally annoying to use. I went to the App Store to register a complaint, but found that the author was offering a temporarily free upgrade to WriteRoom while he fixed things. So I installed it, and found that this is a wonderfully clean, fast, easy writing environment. It too uses the plain text, two pane approach. But WriteRoom is an iOS-only package. On the other hand, it writes its files to Dropbox, which can be fetched and edited with other software.

I went back to look at Workflowy, a one page outliner that again has that clean, open, white paper-ish quality to it. On Windows and Linux, I use it in a browser. There are great apps for the iPad and Android. So that's a keeper.

Finally, I took a look at SimpleNote yesterday, and realized that this is a perfect fit with how my brain works. It captures very much the feel of my preferences these days. There was a crazy moment when I had it running on Ubuntu, and had just installed the apps on my phone and iPad, and could see the note synching across all devices as I typed. Impressive. Evernote just made me tired, every time I used it. The interface always felt busy, and it had odd editing results sometimes (like the refusal to insert a word to the middle of a sentence).

The terrible truth is that hunting up applications is one of the key ways I get out of doing any actual work. I just rearrange my tool chest. But the advantage of settling down to a consistent approach across multiple computing platforms is that when I do pick up a gadget, it all feels familiar, I don't have to struggle to recall arcane commands, and I can pick up where I left off.

At any rate, I'm really enjoying using all of these tools lately. We'll see how long that lasts.

And for what it's worth: Notecase Pro is a commercial applications, as are WriteRoom, and PlainText. Workflowy is free up to a certain level of use, then is a subscription. Evernote has a free and premium (subscription) service. SimpleNote is free, at least right now.

Google and privacy

I use an Android phone and an Android tablet. There are a fair number of updates through the week to various apps. I appreciate that Google Play store tells me what's changed when I choose an update.

I was surprised to see that Google Maps wanted access to my "personal information." "New: Read your contacts. Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you've called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals. This permission allows apps to save your contact data, and malicious apps may share contact data without your knowledge." A map application wants to know how often I phone or email somebody? Why? So it can preload their addresses as maps for my convenience? Really?

Now this new change has spread to Twitter, Dropbox, and Hangouts. It's all in the name, I'm sure, of Big Data. Gee, who are the people at the Internet nexuses?

So I've been skipping these updates, because this change doesn't seem to have any other purpose than to spy on me and my friends.

"When the service is free, YOU are the product."

Then I got a letter from Google and GfK (a marketing firm) offering to pay me in exchange for putting in a high speed router to monitor my web traffic. They claim, of course, that "all of the information gathered from your household is strictly confidential in accordance ith GfK's policy (details available at www.screenwisepanel.com)." And the more devices I attach to this router, which they will install in my home, the more money they'll pay me. I suppose it's refreshing that a company both tells me they're spying on me, and pays me for the privilege. Now, mostly, they don't do either.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

From DCL to Director

A few weeks ago, one of our staff committees (the Project Initiative Experience, or PIE) put together a lunch panel discussion. The setup was this: several of the people who used to work for us went on to become directors. They were (in chronological order): Claudine Perrault (who went from the manager of our Lone Tree Library to director of Estes Park's public library), Pam Nissler (who was director before she came to us, of the Bemis Library in Littleton, then worked at Arapahoe, then came to us, now runs Jefferson County's public libraries), Bob Pasicznyuk (who went from our IT director to the director of the Cedar Rapids, IA public library), and Dorothy Hargrove (who had the unique distinction of running our Highlands Ranch Library TWICE, and now runs the Englewood Public Library). At the last minute, Pam had to cancel, although she followed up with some responses to a set of questions I posed (as moderator).

Those questions were:

1.      As you reflect on your time at DCL, what did you learn that prepared you for a directorship? What proved particularly useful?

2.      As a director, what surprised you at your new institution? That is, what leadership challenges or opportunities do you now face that DCL did NOT prepare you for?

3.      What did we teach you that was wrong?

4.      What are you doing to identify and encourage people on your own staffs to prepare them to move up?

5.      What is your current leadership challenge? That is, what are the key issues or projects that you're working on that you consider most important to the success of your institution?

6.      How do you now measure the EFFECTIVENESS of a director?

7.      Based on what you've learned as director, what advice would you now give back to us?

I won't go through all their answers, because you can find them here: 

I was so deeply impressed by all of them. Every single one of them went on from strong successes here to tackle truly significant challenges in their next jobs. And with intelligence, passion, with humor and with optimism, they succeeded again. 

Sometimes people ask me why anyone would want to be a director. The answer is this: because you can make it possible for people to grow. Sometimes, often, they grow far beyond what you imagined, even far beyond you. And that's the reward.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Greeley Public Library

On my way to a meeting this evening with the Eaton Public Library (which is doing a building expansion with architect Roger Thorp) I stopped by the library I used to head. Back then (1987-1990) it was the Greeley Public Library. Now it's the Lincoln Park Branch of the High Plains Library District. 

And my, it is beautiful. My warm congratulations to the staff and leadership who stepped in after I left, and have made of the branch a bright, inviting, bustling, and modern library. I like to think that I got it started on that path. 

But I would also like to thank MY predecessor, Miss Esther Fromm, who served (if memory can be relied upon, which of course it can't) some 40 years as library administrator. She was so gracious to me. I radically departed from so many of her priorities and directions. But she was unfailingly kind to me, complimentary and courteous. This, I remember thinking, is how one should transition from being director: proud of one's legacy, but accepting that institutions change and adapt. They don't belong to directors; they belong to communities, and to leaders yet to come.

At any rate, I keenly enjoyed poking my head into the site of my first directorship.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Martha Johnson and Sensible Leadership

I was interviewed recently by Martha Johnson, who says on her website:

Welcome to a place for sensible leaders. 
Let's stop the drama, the grandstanding, and the power games. We need to be sensible.
How can you not love that?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Arizona Library Association 2013

The Arizona Library Association invited me to be its keynote speaker for the 2013 conference. My topic was "Change That Matters." First, let me thank Tom Wilding, then-Chair of AzLA, for his early conversations with me, and his kind transportation (with his partner) from the airport to the conference site. Second, let me thank Rene Tanner, who not only escorted me to a local community theater production of the Music Man, but ran (with others) a truly awesome conference. 

My keynote focused on three things: 

1. The organizational changes that rippled from Douglas County Libraries' RFID/self-check/automated materials handling to our adoption of "community reference" or "embedded librarianship" to a far more community-focused organization at all levels;

2. The business problems of ebooks (such as high-priced leases for commercial content just as new, cheaper, and far more interesting streams of content were emerging); and

3. Approaches to managing organizational change.

After the talk, I spent the couple of days attending other conference programs (with other members of the conference leadership). At the end of the conference, today, we gathered as a panel to talk about our gleanings.

I understand that the session was taped, so I'll try to go back and add the link. But I wanted to comment on an uncomfortable topic I introduced at the end.

There are many important issues in modern librarianship. But one of them tends to be ignored: almost every library administrator I know has allowed his or her library to be held hostage by a small group of people who fundamentally disagree with the direction of the library, and have resorted to passive-aggressive sabotage.

I wish I had been clearer about this. But let me try to make myself clearer now. I am NOT saying that dissent should not be tolerated. On the contrary. Good leadership is based on vigorous and engaged debate. "Groupthink" -- just agreeing without challenge -- is a sure route to both tyranny and mediocrity. A sound organization is constantly questioning and assessing.

But in libraries -- as with so many organizations -- there are many people who (a) do NOT speak up to challenge premises and directions when they are under consideration, but (b) once a decision has been made, continue to take a paycheck, but actively or covertly behave in such a way as to contradict organizational directions.

I put it like this: this bus is bound for Disneyland. A clear and unequivocal statement is made to staff. Some staff would prefer to go to Boise, ID. And Boise is a terrific destination. But this bus, this library, isn't going there. If YOU want to go there, you're on the wrong bus. You face a choice: stay here and try to convince everyone they're going to the wrong place, or get off the bus, and get on one going to Boise.

My argument: we listened to you. We made a decision you may not agree with. Now you have a choice: stay and do your best for us, or leave and work for another direction. You DON'T get the choice to stay and fight us every step of the way. Why? Because we're paying you. That's the job. To take money from an organization while you're trying to work against its clearly articulated goals isn't "diversity of opinion." It's domestic terrorism.

I truly believe that this is the most exciting time in the history of our profession. Good leadership makes decisions, and communicates them clearly to staff and community.

But by many measures - the collapse of school libraries across the west, the CLOSING of libraries (see Wickenberg) - one generation of leadership utterly failed in growing support. Yes, we grew use to extraordinary levels. But we did not achieve sustainability.

Librarians are really nice people. But sometimes, nice isn't what's needed. The issue isn't that "we need to act more like businesses." Ninety percent of businesses fail in the first year. 

We need to act like successful enterprises. It's not about public or private. It means we need to be clear about our goals, and manage ourselves to get there. That means, on occasion, inviting people outl

Anyhow, this perspective generated a little heat. I'd like to hear from attendees, or others...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Job listing: Douglas County Libraries Director


Salary:          $10,923.47 - $16,388.67 Monthly
Job Type:    Full Time – Exempt (40 hours)
Location:    Philip S. Miller Library, Castle Rock, CO
Department: Administration

A visionary, entrepreneurial Library Director and leader exits. A new chapter begins. Maybe YOU will be the leader to take
Douglas County Libraries to the next level!

Douglas County Libraries has a great opportunity for a new Library Director. Located just south of Denver in beautiful Douglas County, our independent library district is funded by a 4.0 mill levy approved by Douglas County voters in 1996. We are an innovative, technologically advanced, fiscally responsible and financially stable, dynamic organization with more than 300 employees, 1,500 volunteers and seven library branch locations. We are regularly ranked by the Library Journal as one of the top public libraries of our size in the United States, serving a population of between 250,000 and 500,000 people. We offer daily story times, award-winning programming, and an extensive library collection with many materials and services offered direct to patrons’ smartphone and tablet devices. Additionally, our District has made access to e-books a strategic priority in the last two years. Our e-book collection has grown by 140% in 2012, and includes more than 27,000 titles available for borrowing. We are leading the charge on behalf of all public libraries, blazing a trail toward acquiring e-book content for libraries.
Now we are ready to conquer the next frontier. Will you be our next fearless leader?


Applications may be filed online at: DouglasCountyLibraries.org.