Showing posts from 2015

New website

Last weekend, I simplified my website. As a consultant and speaker, I was focused on marketing those services. Now that I'm an ALA department head, I've decided to use the website as more of a placeholder for my resume and broad professional activities.
 I may still tweak it a little: my largest body of work is my newspaper column site: LaRue's Views. These days, I do my blogging here, so it might make sense to give those destinations and perhaps a link to my book, a little more prominence in the menu.

Suzanne and the Castle Rock Rotarians

Suzanne tricked me! She told me she was getting an award this evening at the Castle Rock Town Council meeting for her work on community reference. I thought, "Well- deserved, and about time!" So I even put on a sport coat (under my winter coat), and we braved the snowy roads.

But when we got there, the two local Rotary Club presidents in fact presented me with an award - the 2015 Castle Rock Rotary Clubs Person of the Year award, "in recognition of his service to the people of Douglas County by building an Outstanding Public library System."

I was totally surprised. I have not been the director of the Douglas County Libraries for two years, and in fact have spent most of my attention far outside Douglas County. But I remain very touched: ultimately, this is about the recognition and appreciation of the library as a community asset. Several Rotarians came up afterward to tell me that their whole idea of what a library could be had changed; they now saw it not just a…

Next chapter: the Office of Intellectual Freedom

The official announcement has now gone out: on January 4, 2016, I will assume the directorship of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, and the Freedom to Read Foundation.

I will be following the very able Barbara Jones, who has headed the OIF for the past 7 years. Before her was Judith Krug, who founded it. So I will be only the third person to hold the position - a great honor.

What does the job consist of? According to that press release:

As Director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), James LaRue will work with ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) and Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE), as well as the Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT). OIF provides information to individuals and organizations facing intellectual freedom challenges; plans and promotes initiatives that promote intellectual freedom, privacy and free access to information (including Banned Books Week); and, works closely with others, including the ALA Washi…

Revolt in 2100

Recently, I downloaded the ebook, "Revolt in 2100 (note the blurb: "the second American Revolution has begun") by Robert Heinlein. Mostly, it includes the "If This Goes On" novella, in which America is taken over by Nehemiah Scudder, the First Prophet, who establishes a tyrannical theocracy. But I was reading the last piece in the book, "Concerning Stories Never Written: Postscript."

Heinlein writes,

"...the idea that we could lose our freedom by succumbing to a wave of religious hysteria, I am sorry to say that I consider it possible. I hope that it is not probable. But there is a latent deep strain of religious fanaticism in this our culture; it is rooted in our history and it has broken out many times in the past. It is with us now; there has been a sharp rise in strongly evangelical sects in this country in recent years, some of which hold beliefs theocratic in the extreme, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-libertarian.  "It…

The Theory of Thirds

I've introduced, or encouraged the introduction of, many changes in organizations. Here's what I've learned. Faced with change, staff divides into thirds. One third says, “I have been waiting for this moment all of my life.” They embrace it enthusiastically.One third says, “Gosh, I don't know. I have some questions about this. But if you'll provide some support, I can probably do this.”One third says, “Over my dead body.” The problem, of course, is that they don't usually say that out loud. They think it. They feel it. But they pose as one of the other thirds.Working with the first third is fun. Such people revel in the change. They come alive. They stretch and grow. They invest themselves in the future, and so it comes to bear the stamp of their personalities and gifts. The second group voices legitimate concerns that, if answered with diligence and respect, can turn a wild idea into a profound institutional transformation. It too, results in personal and profes…


I just finished Sarah Vowell's "Lafayette in the Somewhat United States." A wonderful book. I wonder how many people know that our success in the Revolutionary War was absolutely dependent upon the French - whose navy fended off British forces while Washington defeated Cornwallis in Yorktown. Among the greatest of Revolutionary heroes was the Marquis de Lafayette, who left his French home and family at 19 to pledge his honor and life to the Revolution, and went on to become, while still in his early 20s, a major general under Washington. As Vowell quotes, "He acknowledged to his American hosts on his triumphal return tour to the U.S. that there was 'much to deplore' in the South's practice of slavery..." But then, "Lafayette lifted his glass at one reception to toast 'the perpetual union of the United States,' adding, 'it has always saved us in time of storm; one day it will save the world.'"

In 1917, when the …

Emacs and org-mode

I am a long time fan of mind maps and outliners. Recently, I've spent a few hours messing around with one of the oldest text editors of all: Emacs. It goes back to the 1970s. Over time, the editor was "extended," so that it now has over 2,000 commands, and has "modes" that let you program in various software languages, read newsgroups, send email, create websites, and on and on. But the mode that interests me most is an outliner called org-mode (for "organization," I guess). In addition to powerful commands for creating outlines that can be expanded, collapsed, moved, and instantly exported (to pdf, html, odt, and more), org-mode also supports an almost overwhelming array of text editing and planning options (to dos, due dates, etc.).Way back in 1982 I bought my first computer, a Kaypro II, running CP/M and a "Perfect" package of software. Perfect Writer was, it turns out, a subset of Emacs. So looking at it again, I find that my fingers rem…

Odilo: A Contender

Introduction Some months back I did a webinar on Odilo, an automation vendor (including an ILS, discovery, ebook acquisitions, hosting and delivery) with its roots in Spain. It has been present and growing in North America since 2012. I’d like to revisit the company, because I think it offers some compelling advantages to some of the offerings in today’s market. Indeed, that market, with very few exceptions, has been stagnant in some important and disturbing ways.

Where we are in 2015 The fundamental issues of libraries and ebooks haven’t changed much since 2010: the Big Five and a few distributors still dominate the market, and their pricing and licensing models (lack of ownership, loss of discount, poor integration) have made libraries all but inept in this new space. We buy fewer books just as the number of new volumes (especially outside the Big Five) is skyrocketing. Random House prices for many new titles - now reliably at 6-8 times greater than consumer - erode our budgets. H…

Brand management audits: align your story with your strategy

After I left Douglas County, I teamed up with David Starck, one of my former Board members. He's also a gifted graphic designer. He approached me with a business proposition: he'd noticed that a lot of libraries were distinctly amateur in their approach to "managing their brand." Suppose we were to offer an audit service? We could come in, review all their collateral (those advertising items that even in the digital age libraries generate by the ton), take a tour through their buildings, then review their long range plans. We would try to answer the question: have you aligned your story (the way you present yourself to your community) with your strategy?

Reviewing the collateral is enlightening. It's amazing how often just these three things, the library envelope, the library stationary, and the library card itself, have different fonts and spacing, different logos (or the coloring of the logo), and sometimes even different library names. One of the foundations o…

When patrons misbehave: 10 guidelines

One of the surprisingly popular talks I've been giving (most recently, this morning in Rapid City SD) is about public library policies. I don't focus on particular wording, or even a checklist (although such checklists do exist, like this excellent one from the Colorado State Library). Instead, I focus on the general orientation that boards and staff should take when confronted with the inevitable issue of patrons behaving badly.

Although it will come as a surprise to some, the best response to trouble isn't always to create a new policy so that stern librarians can ensure it never happens again. I propose a set of guidelines, instead. They are:
Begin with general policy guidelines. Start with ALA's Library Bill of Rights, one of our clearest statements of professional purpose.Use your best judgment. No matter how thorough your policies may be, there will be surprises. Remember the mission and values of the institution, and do your best.Presume innocence and good intent…

Six trends

I've been doing a talk for a while now about what I believe to be the five transformative trends most deeply affecting libraries today. But after each talk, I pick up a lot of insights from the audiences. After my last talk (for NEFLIN, in Jacksonville FL), I realized that I now think there are SIX trends. And I have begun to think of them as a movement from one thing to another. So it looks something like this:

EMERGENT LITERACY ==> from book desert to book abundance
DIGITAL PUBLISHING ==> from gatekeeper to gardener
COMMUNITY REFERENCE ==> from embedded librarian to community leader
GENERATIONAL TURNOVER ==> from Boomer to Millennial
ADVOCACY ==> from head to heart

Literacy. That is, given what we have learned about the importance of early literacy, there's no excuse not to push more books in the homes of children between the ages of 0-5. And we can track that.

Digital publishing. In the area…

the Wisdom Within These Walls

Recently, I read the galley proof of my friend Anne McGhee's book The Wisdom Within These Walls. You can pick it up from Amazon here.

I happen to have been around when Annie first started gathering the stories that form the core of the book - interviews with real people in the area. She found some incredible people. One woman was a police dispatcher in Dallas, and on duty the day Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. One man actually helped get us to the moon. Another tells the heartbreaking story of the Pacific theater in WWII.

Back then, Annie turned the interviews into brief, very powerful monologues. Then, she put together a readers theater group to perform them. These "plays" remain some of the most moving moments of my life.

But she has continued to think about these stories, and her book is about just what wisdom means. Her definition is a gem: "Wisdom is our capacity to take in the experience of life, infuse it with intention, and return it to the world for the …

Diversity in libraries

A decade ago now, one of my libraries opened a teen area. The manager of the branch (Greg Mickells, now the director of the Madison WI Public Library), had an idea. Why not hire teens as staff - not just as shelvers, but to staff the service desk, answer questions, assist in collection purchasing, and generally have parity with the adults? I admit I was a little dubious. But I went along.

It was a staggering success - and not just because we hired some very bright young people who took their positions seriously and did a fine job.

More to the point: some 10 years later, they all came back. As librarians.

I've been thinking lately about our failure as a profession to reflect the growing diversity of our society. The problem, I think, is that we pounce on candidates who have already run the MLIS (Master's of Library and Information Science) gauntlet. It's too late. If we really want to pull more diverse candidates into the pool, we have to get them while they're still in…

Values in the library

Recently, Tim Miller, the director of the Pines and Plains Library in Elbert County Colorado, reached out to Sharon Morris, Director of Library Development for the Colorado State Library. He was looking for a workshop based on the idea of organizational values, and knew that Sharon had just finished her doctoral dissertation on just that topic. Sharon and I have done a number of workshops and classes together so she invited me to team up to help develop and deliver this new one. We're still working on the final title, but it's something like "Our Values, Our Culture: Purposeful Libraries for Community Impact."

Here's a broad overview of the premises of the day:
Individuals have deeply held values that they bring to the work place.Often, people can discover that they hold a key subset of those values in common.When you think, talk, and reflect on that, you not only become more mindful of how you show up at work, you become more intentional about the culture of your…

Interview techniques that work

I have been working over the past year and a half with several folks, mostly new library directors, as a coach. One of my clients just hired a key person for her team, and was curious enough about a hiring technique I have used in the past to give it a try herself.

Mostly, this is a version of the "assessment center" technique known as the "leaderless discussion." (You can find out more about the assessment center here.)

The core idea is very simple. First, know what you're looking for - at least in the sense of demonstrable skills.

Second, create a scenario or exercise in which that skill must be demonstrated. In the case of many leadership positions, a leaderless panel discussion, large enough to promote real interaction (at least five people) and around some relevant job topics, is a rich source for observational data.

Third, have multiple observers, who have been coached about how to observe people's communication behaviors (I give them a chart with hea…

A new planning priority: rest

I had breakfast this morning with my dear friend and colleague Monique Sendze, now director of IT and innovation for the Tulsa City County Library. It sounds like a terrific job, a terrific library, and I know she'll be successful there.

She and I wound up having a conversation I've had three times over the past two days, so it might be worth digging into it a little deeper.

The larger frame is that institutions have rhythms: they focus outward, they focus inward. Institutions breathe, too. Sometimes library leaders get curious about their environment, explore it, build relationships, investigate themes and needs. Then they turn in to do something about it - sometimes to strengthen a core that suddenly needs some attention, sometimes to implement a project or vision identified in the outward-looking phase.

Then, after that project is done, the possibilities branch.
Institutions stagnate. They remain inwardly focused, incurious about their environment, disengaged with larger the…

Self-publishing and collection development

Recently I was asked to read and write a blurb for a new title. It's called Self-Publishing and Collection Development: Opportunities and Challenges for Libraries, edited by Robert P. Holley. Purdue University Press: West Lafayette IN 2015.
I wrote, "This outstanding compendium makes several important points. First, self-publishing is out of its infancy -- now accounting for over half the intellectual output of our culture. Second, this explosion of literature has finally gotten our collective attention. Self-publishing has forced us to look afresh and more critically at the value and costs of editorial processes, book design, pricing, distribution, bibliographic control, marketing, reviewing, and library relations with authors. Third, most of the pieces here are from colleagues who aren't writing from the outside anymore. Astute vendors, public librarians, academic librarians, and even librarians who are also self-published authors now are in the thick of things, eyes o…


Last week I had the distinct honor of participating in the first RIPL: Research Institute For Public Libraries, held at the stunning Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs. The institute was a joint project of the Colorado State Library and the Colorado Library Consortium (CLiC). Its Vision was to "create a culture shift in public libraries to be purposeful in gathering, analyzing and using data for decision making, strategic planning, and to prove library impact." It was also described, by several program presenters, as "a data boot camp." A deep thoughtfulness of instructional design was on display: the institute was incredibly interactive.

There were many wonderful speakers about many aspects of the use of data. Some of my favorite speakers were from Colorado (although there were some other standouts, among them Pew's Lee Rainie - see my American Libraries blog about one aspect of that talk here - Danielle Milam from Las Vegas, and Deirdre Costello fro…

Run it like a library

I've been noodling the title of my book. First, it was "Who Needs Libraries?" But I thought that was too negative. Next, I thought, "The Public Library and the Public Good: A Renaissance." That was closer to what I wanted to do: write a book celebrating the significance of the institution I love, and using it as a metaphor for some larger issues. But now I'm thinking I'll call it, "Run It Like a Library: the Public Library and the Public Good." It's got a little more snap.
Anyhow, here's how I got there:
In 2007, I was stumping in the county for a mill levy increase. The intent was to raise sufficient funds to build three clearly needed libraries (in communities where growth was significant, and library use was high). As part of that public outreach, I spoke to a Republican breakfast club, easily one of the most conservative groups in the county.
I gave a little history: our library had moved from the worst-ranked library in the state in …


To complete my complement, on all platforms, of markdown-based editors with folding, I have also purchased Editorial. This application turns my old iPad 2 into quite a powerful editing program. Like Haroopad and Smartdown, it allows me to pull things from Dropbox, edit the markdown files, then send or save them as plain text, HTML, and even PDF. All of them share a design aesthetic I like: very clean, very similar in function. Editorial also has a very handy touchscreen way to drag paragraphs around. Until now, on the iPad, I really haven't seen anything that did quite everything I wanted. Editorial's basic functions are clear and powerful; the built in Python scripting could scale to very complex things. But I don't need to go there, yet.

So now that I'm done tinkering with my tools, and have established a master file on Dropbox available from Windows, Linux, and iOS, all I have to do is write.

Smartdown and Haroopad, revisited

I've written twice now about the Windows application Smartdown (a Mac version is also available now). It's a markdown editor that includes code "folding" -- the ability to hide or "collapse" text under a heading. It is also "Zenware" -- software that adheres to a simple, stripped down aesthetic. It sells for $20 from Aflava. When I was on my writer retreat, I decided to buy it, first because it's a fine tool, second because good programmers should be paid. Smartdown is a pleasure to use, although I did have to reach out to support to figure out how to change its "save to panel" properties, instead of the more common minimize behavior. Smartdown can also be stored on a flash drive to make a portable application. I found it ideal for working with a long, chapter-length file, collapsing and expanding the sections to track the flow of it.

On my Linux box (a recycled ThinkCentre PC running LXLE) I already had HarooPad, which is free, but …

New rhythms, new mistakes

First, I want to thank my good friend and colleague Claudine Perrault for letting me have a mountain retreat for 5 days to work on my book. She and her daughter were vacationing, and Estes Park (where Claudine is library director) is one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. I wound up writing a little over 8,000 words, which was mostly one full chapter. But I also had a chance to think about the whole structure and audience of it.

I returned to three things: first, I'm stepping in to fill out Kari May's term as Past-President of the Colorado Association of Libraries. Kari is moving to Utah to become the Assistant Director of the state library there, overseeing Continuing Education and certification. Past-president is the best job of all. CAL seems to be recovering from its recession challenges, and there's a lot of energy in the group. As part of my position, it seems I'm also to be chair of the Colorado Library Educational Foundation or CLEF. Stay tuned for more…

Self-interest versus the common good

I've been working on my next book, tentatively titled "The Public Library and the Public Good: A Renaissance." Here's the kernel of my idea.
There are two arguments for the public library: what's in it for me, and what's in it for us. That is, we justify support for an institution on the grounds of self-interest, or on the grounds of the common good.
You can't help but be struck by the language used during the public library movement of the 1880s. Libraries were founded for clear social purposes. They were intended to acculturate and Americanize a new wave of immigrants. They were meant to reform the rowdy miners and common laborers through exposure to Great Literature. They were designed to inform the citizen on the issues of the day, the better to advance an enlightened democracy. They were conceived to give tangible evidence of civilization, of a town or community that was now grown up enough to invest in serious pursuits. 
The public library, like p…

Are libraries socialist?

In the very conservative Douglas County, Colorado, people sometimes told me, angrily, that the library was "socialist." That's libertarian shorthand for "an unnecessary program that steals my money through taxes." But we won't get very far if we allow those opposed to our aims to define our terms.

First, as I hope to make clear (in the book I'm working on), libraries are not only important, but a staggering return on investment. And taxation is not theft; it is a well-tested mechanism for a people to pay for essential services that don't easily lend themselves to short-term profit (think public roads, sanitation, court systems, etc.).
Second, a more precise definition of socialism is "a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies." Typically, socialism requires both the "production and distribution of goods" to be managed by the …

So You Want to Write a Book: a 10 step program

A year or so ago, I wrote a series of blog entries about how would-be authors can get started at the library. These were on the Douglas County Libraries' "The Wire." When that blog was discontinued, I decided to republish the content here. Thanks to Amber DeBerry, Director of Community Relations, for passing the content along, and for her staff for many suggestions for improvement of the text.

So You Want to Write a Book

So you want to write a book. Good for you!

Do you want to write a good one?

We know from Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers (Little, Brown and Co., 2008) that accomplishment is more than a matter of talent. It's the result of disciplined effort over time. No one picks up an instrument and plays it perfectly the first time. Similarly, no one sits down and cranks out fine literature right off the bat. Just as musicians spend a lot of time practicing, good writers spend a lot of time writing. And if Gladwell is right, approaching mastery takes a goo…

ALA Presidency: election results

I just realized I never recorded on this blog the results of the ALA election! (I did elsewhere, mainly Facebook and Twitter, but I should have put it here, too.) The victory went to Julie Todaro (2899 votes), followed by Joe Janes (2877 votes), followed by me (2222 votes), followed by JP Porcaro (2121). About 21% of the membership voted.

I had a chance to spend time with all of the candidates, and have to say that I genuinely liked every one of them. Julie will be an outstanding ALA president. She has great depth of experience both within the association and the field. Joe was a delightful and insightful candidate. JP's passion and commitment were and are deep and sincere.

And me? It was an honor to be nominated, an education to run, and I find myself untroubled by the loss. I got into the race because I am deeply interested in thought leadership -- in identifying and promulgating the significant ideas within my profession and society. I would have done that as ALA president. I c…

10 haiku

I'm facilitating today on the Western Slope of Colorado. This is from my lovely drive yesterday from Castle Rock through Colorado Springs, Canyon City, Salida, Gunnison, to Montrose.
Colorado hills triplets and arpeggios melody of rock
rising to the pass rising to the lightning and rising to the rain
suddenly between avocado pinon and black cloud - gleaming snow
radio sputters into static and river road turns to whitecaps
on mountain's north side white carpet glimpsed through the green snow under the pines
white-green valley wet beneath gray-blue horizon: late afternoon pearls
black cattle lying in the short blonde grasses and just looking around
a core of red rock is covered over with creased mounds of earth and grass 
skinny little bird struts across the highway just above Beaver Creek
skeletons of trees rise white from the blue waters of Black Canyon lake

Book deserts in the US

Unite for Literacy has put up an interactive map describing something I think should be shared widely: an interactive map of some 9,000 public library communities around the nation. Click on it to find the percentage of books in each service area household. A "book desert" is defined as a geographic region where more than 50% of the homes have less than 100 books. Book deserts are places where we can predict a whole host of things, like lower literacy, lower reading scores in school, lower academic achievement, lower graduation rates, lower educational attainment generally, and lower wages. These things are themselves linked to other things such as childhood health, longevity, and the likelihood of going to jail. You can find the map here. Note that they also include areas of book abundance. Full disclosure: they also put a link to my campaign for ALA president, at least until May 1, when then campaign is over! (And did you vote?) But no money changed hands, and…