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, March 19, 2014

More thoughts on consulting

One of the challenges of my new consulting career is finding the succinct summary of just what it is that I do.

Here's my latest attempt: I'm a full time public library thought leader. I've decided that the profession I love (librarianship!) is at a tipping point. With some attention on just the right things, I think we can earn long term mind share and support. The point isn't just to benefit libraries, it's to benefit the communities we serve. Libraries just happen to be an extraordinarily effective way to do that.

So just what, exactly, are the "right things" to focus on?

Right now:

  • planning. After PLA (where I offered some free consulting to the library world, and met some fascinating people), I spent some time thinking about processes to move quickly and precisely to true "strategic" planning -- not just a list of stuff to do, but a narrow focus on the things that matter most.
  • trend tracking. Really, this is just a subset of planning. But so many librarians are caught up in the moment. They just don't have the time to lift up their heads, look around, and glean patterns. I love to have this conversation with them.
  • building design. This is another subset of planning. But it's also one of those moments when libraries can really connect with their communities, and help them decide where they want to go. I'm not an architect. But I do know how to talk to staff, boards, and community groups to lay out what libraries are up to lately, and to help communities figure out what's right for them. (I can also help them negotiate common ground when there are some differences among those groups.) I work with one of my "associates," the gifted Roger Thorp, who is an architect.
  • epublishing. We are already over the crest of a publishing revolution, a transformative and disruptive moment in the development of human creativity. Librarians have a choice: we can be players, or we can be victims.
  • advocacy. One approach is the "branch management audit" (for which I've teamed up with David Starck, one of my former board members and a graphic designer, to perform). I'm also interested in the more general staging of a long term effort to shift the public perception of a library. For too long, libraries have allowed others to define us. It's time that we identify the true civic leaders in our community, and arm them with the talking points and language to make the case for us.
  • organizational development. Here, one of my associates is Sharon Morris. We talk about (among other things), "talent management," succession planning, and leadership development. 
  • other. There are organizations and individuals who have big ideas, and just need a little assistance teasing them out into the world. I already have two clients who blow me away with their energy, insight, and ambition. It's a privilege to be part of their projects.
These might all look like very different things. But I don't see it that way. They are the same thing: a focus on the factors that do and will define our future, both as a profession, and as a society.

At any rate, these are my thoughts after a long walk through a beautiful Colorado day.

Monday, March 17, 2014

More migrations

I've long had an account with Earthlink, which hosts my website and email. But Earthlink only does POP mail, which means that it doesn't stay on the server. Given all the devices I use these days, that made it hard to search for older email.

When I left Douglas County, I moved all my work email (DCL and Earthlink) over to gmail. That worked well enough, and I could set up my gmail account to fetch from Earthlink. But there were a couple of problems: first, it took awhile for new email to go from Earthlink to gmail. Second, even though I had gmail set up to send as if it were coming from jlarue.com, in a long thread, it would give the gmail account info and say "on behalf of James LaRue." That's bound to lead to confusion.

So I converted to Google Apps, and today moved over my email information. Now I'm sitting here with fingers crossed as the old account email is migrated to the new. Then I'll tackle Calendar, Contacts, Goggle +, Google Drive, and .... other stuff I haven't thought of yet.

So I may be a little hard to track down while I try to straighten all this out.

Oh, and another thing. For reasons mysterious to me, suddenly you can't get to my website at all using www.jlarue.com. jlarue.com by itself works fine, and I think I've set up a subdomain (of www) that I think might work. But it wasn't instantaneous, so who knows?

Meanwhile, though, I'll say that the quality of Google support is far superior to Earthlink's. Ultimately, I may have to move my website, too.

Anyhow, I hope to get it all straightened out soon. Sorry for the confusion.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

PLA 2014

I've just returned from the Public Library Association's conference in Indianapolis. It was a rich experience, even though (as too often happens), I never made a single program other than the preconference Sharon Morris and I did on Wednesday. (And that session, "Managing the Talent," was a blast. We presented a wholistic look at institutional Human Resources, with lots of relevant exercises. The attendees were engaged, contributed a lot, and seemed to enjoy themselves.)

So what else did I do?

Mostly, I talked with people: colleagues, vendors, industry luminaries, other consultants, and some of the most interesting taxicab drivers I've ever met. (But that's a story for another time. A children's book.)

I also hopped back to my wired hotel room to participate in an American Libraries Live session with Sue Polanka, Troy Juliar (of Recorded Books), and Jeff Metz (of OnceClickdigital). Unfortunately, technical difficulties prevented the very interesting Yoav Lorch, founder and CEO of Total Boox from joining us. (And Mirela Roncevic, editor extraordinaire, who is working with Loav.) But I had gotten a fascinating demo of the product earlier that day, so tried to fill in a bit.

I continue to advocate for three key features of library ebooks: ownership, discount, and integration. None of this is really the focus of Total Boox. But it's a good experiment anyway, and to the user, since you can download as many books as you like, and keep them on up to five devices forever, it sure feels like ownership. And the other key feature - paying (through the library) only for the pages you actually read, up to no more than the retail cost of the book - is certainly a better deal than, for instance, HarperCollins pricing. I understand that MARC records can point to the particular Tool Boox title, so there's some level of integration. Moreover, Total Boox has a clean, fresh interface that competes well with the consumer commercial offerings. 

This is my mantra: we live in a time of experimentation, and if you know it's going to work, it's not an experiment. Total Boox is a good experiment, and I expect that we'll learn a lot from it.

Overall, I felt a shift in libraries, and I don't think I'm just projecting it. Throughout the recession years, there was a sense that libraries were under attack, embattled, losing both mind share and resources. But a combination of things - leadership at the national level, IMLS, OCLC, Gates Foundation, Pew, newer advocacy efforts like everylibrary.org, and a long overdue  generational surge - seems to have brought some fresh energy and optimism into our field. There's clearly work to be done, but there are a lot of smart and ambitious people tackling it.