Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Douglas County Libraries - the Digital Branch

Restoring American Exceptionalism

Last night I went to "Restoring American Exceptionalism" at the Douglas County Events Center. It was an event of the National School Choice Week.

I went to see who would speak, and what main themes they would work. I wish I'd poked a little more into who was bankrolling all this.

Although I arrived a little too late to hear the first introduction, I believe it was Steve Kelly, KNUS Radio host. He said several interesting things: "We've lost something, folks, and need to restore it." What that was, he didn't say.

He mentioned "Americans for Prosperity," a group with links to the Koch brothers. He said that his own kids went to public school, "but this isn't about my kids." Why is it, I wonder, that people feel they need to force choices they themselves don't want?

The big themes: first, competition is good. If he shops at Walmart and finds bad apples, he goes to ANOTHER Walmart. (This is competition?)

Second: when he asked five different groups (how selected he did not say) of parents, kids, teachers, administrators and elected officials what was wrong with schools, they all blamed teacher unions. Although no evidence was cited for that conclusion (the state of the schools), either.

Then Professor Hugh Hewitt, author of a hagiography of Mitt Romney talked about how the worst school in America was the unified school district of Los Angeles, and the school near it, Compton, was worse than a prison. He praised parochial schools, which he attended as a child in the 60s, and how they were affordable to ordinary families ($300 a year back then). He praised the tuition tax credit of Arizona, and the Great Hearts Arizona charter school. "Unless and until teacher unions are broken," he said, "we will have Compton replicating, not Great Hearts." Question: are Arizona students now acknowledged as the highest achieving in the United States? (No. But see this state by state comparison by the US Chamber of Commerce.)

There was some meandering discussion about funding. According to State Senator Keith King who spoke the night before (don't know to whom), Colorado offers $11,000 per student (combined state and local aid). With an average class size of 25 (it's higher than that in Douglas County!) that's $275K per K-12 class. Where does the money go? No answer - but I guess we're supposed to think there's something suspicious about it.

Bob Schaffer, chairman of the state board of education, and former legislator, then spoke at length. Pronouncing school choice "the most important public policy topic in the United States," he began by referring to the Founders' belief that "we won't last long if we don't have an educated populace." 

He then cited Milt Friedman's cost and quality matrix. The idea seems to be that the only time you care about cost and quality is when you're spending your own money on yourself. He touched on the 1994 charter school act, then alleged that the performance record of charter schools is "quite good." 

But in fact, it's about the same as the performance of regular public schools (see this report), which seems to me to disprove in one go both the premise that school choice is a panacea, or that unions are the key factor in preventing educational achievement or improvement.)

He got applause when he said that "Parents bear the first responsibility for education."

Then he said, "If you trust government workers outside your own family, I guarantee your children will not be successful."

That's the kind of astonishing statement I go to these meetings to hear. So, all (union) teachers fail? No one who has gone to public school can be successful? Really? The statement is both false and absurd.

It was announced that there were 1200 people in the audience, which seemed about right. The show was also broadcast to Michigan, Nebraska, California, and Wyoming. 

Dan Gerken (Douglas County School Board member) spoke briefly about the voucher experiment, and announced that he thought an appeal would be heard this April, and he expected a Supreme Court decision by the end of next year. 

Dick Morris spoke. He used to be a strategist for Bill Clinton (where he advocated for pushing bad teachers out of schools, but he said that strategy didn't work). He was behind "No child left behind," but he said that didn't work, either. So we need competition. And that will work because... ?

To sum up: I wasn't impressed. Charter school data, in which we have lots of schools that waived union contracts, pretty clearly prove that teacher unions aren't the problem. In fact, it would be refreshing to hear a nice, succinct description of just what problem this group IS trying to solve.

And here's something else worth considering. Being "happy" with your choices is NOT the same thing as making good ones (in the domain of either cost OR quality). Educational accomplishment isn't about reinforcing the values of your parents; it's about demonstrable mastery and application of content. And there just isn't much evidence here that "choice" by itself results in that.

On the other hand, every chair had a free, pretty spiffy canary yellow scarf on it. It has "National School Choice Week" stitched into one end. It is 100% polyester fleece, made in China, and was wonderfully warm around my neck as I walked home. I don't know who paid for it, but I'm grateful.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sarah Lacy and embracing volatility

The keynote speaker at OCLC's Americas Regional Council Member Meeting and Symposium was Sarah Lacy. She was incredible: funny, articulate, insightful,and thought-provoking.

She's a journalist who got her start writing about Silicon Valley and Web 2.0 then took off for 40 weeks all over Africa, India, and China looking for tech entrepreneurs.  

She had a lot of fascinating things to say, but what sticks with me is the reality of what some educators have long been saying: the significant innovation, the rapid job creation, the Big Ideas, aren't coming from us anymore. They're being cooked up in formerly third world countries by people who are solving problems Silicon Valley wouldn't even think of. For instance: in India, there's a guy who has figured out a way to build super cheap transmission stations, providing cell phone service to rural communities for $2 a month per customer. And who knew that in Nigeria, the mostly bootlegged film industry (called "Nollywood") is 2nd after Bollywood in the sheer number of new movies, and third (Hollywood, Bollywood, Nollywood) in terms of revenue?

Lacy said, "Because of when these people were born, where they were born doesn't matter." 

After digging into what makes entrepreneurs tick, she's become one herself. Check out her new company here.

When someone asked her what we could apply from what she had learned to libraries, she put it succinctly: entrepreneurs don't fight and deny volatility; they embrace it. So should we.

Sneak peak on OCLC research on librarian perceptions

Yesterday I heard OCLC's Cathy deRosa give an advance preview of a recent study of librarian perceptions. Her team surveyed 4,168 OCLC member librarians. About 48% of them were academics, and 31% public.

Below are a few highlights:

General priorities were for public librarians the provision of access to the internet, the demonstration of value, licensed e-collections, access to technology generally, and the need to form community partnerships. For academic librarians, the issues were licensing, future of higher ed, facilities, visibility of collection, and digitization projects. Only community college librarians listed as a significant priority providing services through mobile devices, which played a big role in our keynote speaker's remarks about third world innovation. 

Current initiatives for public librarians were ebooks and other eresources; for academics, discovery tools and digitization projects.

Use predictions. 55% of public librarians thought physical visits to the library would increase over the next five years; but only 44% of community college librarians and 40% of academics thought so.

About 85% of all kinds of librarians thought online use would increase; in the last survey of users, about 72% thought it would stay the same. Who's right? deRosa says, "Usually the users."

Staying informed. Or particular interest to me was how librarians stay informed about professional issues. The source most used (by 66%) was listservs and email. Next came periodicals. Public librarians read, in this order, Library Journal, American Libraries, and Public Libraries. Webinars are rising for newer librarians (although still not huge). About 20% cited blogs, and the top rated were Annoyed Librarian, blogjunction, and Librarian in Black. But blog reading by librarians seems to be falling, which is worth thinking about. As is the case with users, 85% do NOT use Twitter.

OCLC has earned its position as a "thought leader" through precisely this kind of research and reporting. And it certainly gives a writer something to think about. And of course, to blog and Tweet about, although it appears email would be smarter.

Citations about the library as a force in the book purchasing market

I keep looking these stats up, then keep forgetting where I found them, but I want to let librarians and publishers know that I didn't make them up. So, some assertions and citations from an upcoming article I'm writing for Public Libraries:

We account for about 10 percent of publisher sales (American Library Association, "Marketing to Libraries," ALA Library Fact Sheet 5.)

and 40 percent of children's (Barbara Fister, " Publishers & Librarians: Two Cultures, One Goal," Library Journal, May 1, 2009.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Library as publisher: the Wisdom Within These Walls

Libraries are more than distributors of content. We are, or can be, co-publishers, and even co-creators. Here's an example of one project here in Douglas County, Colorado.

Note: this is an edit of a previous posting. The intent of the experiment was to find out if the library could sustain the video production of lots of local stories. The short answer: no, it's a little pricey for libraries. But the value of the project is high, and I love the model as a way to gather and share local stories. For us, we think the podcast version will be more do-able.

For more information on the Wisdom Project, see

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dear Publishing Partner

This is a second document (the other is here) that the Douglas County Libraries hopes can be broadly adopted by the library community as a guide to the purchase of digital content.

Dear Publisher Partner:

Thank you for your bold willingness to invest in the future of publishing and readership. Libraries and publishers have a lot in common: we connect writers with their audience, we promote literacy, and in the process, we grow the whole market for literacy. Our goal is to replicate the current print-purchase model libraries have had with publishers like you for centuries with e-content. We invite you to participate with us.

We want to buy e-content from you. In the past year alone, my library redirected 10% of our $3.5 million collection purchasing budget for e-content. We suspect that our e-content purchasing will reach 20% next year. We are encouraging and supporting other libraries to join us in supporting our new publisher/partners.

We need to own the files. Douglas County Libraries has built an industry standard platform (using Adobe Content Server) that enables us to smoothly integrate e-content with our catalog, providing a seamless experience for our patrons that replicates our print check-out model. But that requires us to have possession of the content. We are not asking for the copyright, or the right of exclusive distribution. We only want possession of the file on our own servers, just as we traditionally had possession of a copy of a book within our facilities. The Library may index the eBooks to better enable patrons to locate materials of interest. However, this index will only be used for that purpose, and will not be provided to any other organization.

We have already teamed up with a few other publishing pioneers, among them the Colorado Independent Publishers Association, Gale/Cengage, Lerner, Marshall Cavendish and IPG. For some of those publishers, we wrestled through a contract-writing process that wound up being both expensive and time-consuming for both parties. In the interests of getting more content sooner, I’d like to streamline things while still letting publishers know what they need to know.
Douglas County Libraries represents the following to you:

• We will buy a copy for each simultaneous user. That is, if we buy one copy, one person can check it out from us at a time. That loan period will be for 3 weeks, although our system allows people to return a book early, making it available for another patron. Note that this is precisely what we do with print titles. For virtually all e-content, we intend to purchase an additional copy for every four “holds” (people waiting for the title to be available) in most cases. Our users will be able to read the ebooks either through a browser on a private cloud (hosted by the library), or through a device capable of reading Digital Rights Management (DRM)-protected ePub files.

• We will attach DRM when you want it. Again, the Adobe Content Server requires us to receive the file in the ePub format. If the file is “Creative Commons” and you do not require DRM, then we can offer it as a free download to as many people as want it. DRM is the default.

• We will promote the title. Over 80% of our adult checkouts (and we checked out over 8.2 million items last year) are driven by displays. We will present e-content data (covers and descriptions) on large touch screens, computer catalogs, and a mobile application. These displays may be “built” by staff for special promotions (Westerns, Romances, Travel, etc.), automatically on the basis of use (highlighting popular titles), and automatically through a recommendation engine based on customer use and community reviews.

• We will promote your company. See a sample press release, attached. [Note: not attached to this blog post.]

• If you provide a link to enable this, we will enable our patrons to directly purchase the title. Some of our patrons don’t want to wait!

• We may remove your content from our catalog if it is not used. But we will not resell or transfer ownership of the file to any other person or entity. But see Concerns below.

What we need from you: a discount. Libraries are volume buyers. For print, we typically get a discount of 45 percent. Our goal is to buy as much content as possible, and to demonstrate to our community the value of the cooperative purchasing agreement that is the public library. We also understand that the pricing for e-content is in flux. This discount can be negotiated annually.

Concerns for the future: many book buyers got their start by picking up used books. The library contributes to that market significantly: we give books to schools, churches, thrift stores, and active veterans. Used books are a significant part of the larger reading ecosystem, and they promote both library use and new book purchasing.

But there are no used ebooks at this time. At some point – not now – I hope that publishers and libraries can come back to this issue. Again, we assure you that anything we buy from you will NOT be resold or transferred to any other person or entity. But we’ll want to talk with you about this further down the line for new materials.

I hope that this letter clearly delineates the terms of engagement between the Douglas County Libraries and you. Again, this understanding closely mirrors the terms between libraries and publishers for over a hundred years. We think it greatly benefits both of us.

Would you be willing to accept this letter instead of a more formal contract?


Statement of Common Understanding for Purchasing Electronic Content

Below is a draft document produced for the Douglas County Libraries with the assistance of Mary Minow of We propose to start using it - and to encourage other libraries to start using it, too. Your comments are welcome. [Revised July 22, 2012] See also our "Dear Publishing Partner Letter."

[SERU: A Shared Electronic Resource Understanding for Purchase of E-Content Sold by Providers to Public Libraries]

Statement of Common Understanding
for Purchasing Electronic Content
The Purchase Order

The nature and extent of the content is detailed at the outset in a purchase order with such specifics as: title(s), format(s) (including details of multimedia files), price, discount, any agreements to promote and/or link to Provider’s site to bring readers to information on buying copies. Future purchases may be made through the Library’s acquisitions dashboard. The Library may purchase additional copies of any title with a holds ratio of 4 to 1 or greater.

The Provider affirms that it has secured the rights necessary to distribute the e-content to the Library in the manner specified below. The purchase order does not transfer any copyright interest in the e-content. It transfers only the ownership of authorized copies of e-content files.

The Library affirms that it will comply with U.S. Copyright Law. The Library uses Adobe Content Server and/or standard digital rights management best practices to inhibit unauthorized copying of files.

The Library and the Provider interpret U.S. Copyright Law in the following manner: The Library may not make multiple unauthorized copies to sell or lend. The Library may lend one copy to one user at a time. For example, if the Library buys four copies of a work, it may lend four copies simultaneously. It may not make derivative works, such as translations or movies. These are exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner 17 U.S.C. Sect. 106

The Library may lend a copy to a library user under First Sale 17 U.S.C. Sect. 109. The Library may make incidental copies as necessary to perform the lending function. The lending copy is an “evanescent” copy that disappears after a set period such as two weeks. During that time, the copy is not available to any other party. Incidental exercises of other lawful rights constitute non-infringing “fair use.” See Perfect 10, Inc. v., 508 F. 3d 1146 (9th Cir. 2007). Consideration of four Fair Use factors (see 17 U.S.C. Sect. 107): (1) The purpose for the digital copying is for nonprofit lending through a library, a favored purpose. (2) The nature of the work is published and may range from the highly technical to the highly creative. (3) The amount copied is an entire work, but it is “evanescent” in that it is not viewable after the loan period has ended. (4) The market effect is negligible in that the content owner is compensated for an authorized copy. Although a digital file is not susceptible to wear and tear in the same manner as a physical book, it is susceptible to digital decay.

Archiving and Perpetual Access
The Library may make a replacement copy for a damaged, deteriorating, lost or stolen file or if the existing format in which the e-content is stored becomes obsolete and if the Library, after a reasonable effort, determines that an unused replacement cannot be obtained at a fair price and that any such copy reproduced in digital format is not made available to the public in that format outside the premises of the library. 17 U.S.C. Sect. 108(c).

Accessible Copies
If a published nondramatic literary work is not accessible to library users with disabilities, the library may reproduce and distribute a copy in a specialized format exclusively for use by blind and other persons with disabilities. The copy shall bear a notice that any further reproduction or distribution in a format other than a specialized format, and will include a copyright notice identifying the copyright owner and the date of the original publication. 17 U.S.C. Sect. 121.

Additional Uses
This purchase order may be accompanied by a separate license agreement that allows concurrent or other additional uses that go beyond the uses permitted under U.S. Copyright Law.

Authorized Users
The Library’s current staff and registered patrons are authorized users and may access the e-content remotely with appropriate log-in credentials.

Inappropriate Use
The Library recognizes that the material provided as part of the acquisition is a valuable business asset of the Provider and that misuse of this material, such as unauthorized resale or systematic redistribution, negatively affect the Provider’s business. The Library will make reasonable efforts to prevent the misuse of the content and limit access to authorized users, and will not knowingly allow unauthorized users to gain access.

While the Library cannot control user behavior, an obligation to inform users of appropriate uses of the content is acknowledged, and the Library will cooperate with the Provider to resolve problems of inappropriate use.

When questionable activity such as systematic downloading is detected, the Provider should notify the Library as soon as possible. If the Library detects inappropriate use, the Provider should be notified as soon as possible. Both the Provider and the Library should strive to resolve the incident quickly.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Douglas County School District updates

Both of these bits come from theTaxpayers for Public Education site. One of them is the results of the survey by Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates of "the climate of employees" of the district. It's not pretty. Brenda Smith, president of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, writes, "Among employees there is a high level of dissatisfaction with district-level administration. Only 14% of the employees feel the District is moving in the right direction, a number that has steadily declined to a new low since 2007-08."

A second link tracks the money paid by the district to schools under the ill-fated voucher program. Not all of it has come back. See this spreadsheet for the current status.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Decline of the public good

First, this link is a piece by Robert Reich.

Second, it reminded me of this column I did about the change in language in the Boy Scout manual.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wonder how it all worked out

This is from a friend, Bob Hofmann.

I’m currently reading Lawrence Lessig’s latest book, Republic, Lost. In it, he provides the following quotation.

After reading it, please scroll down to learn the source.

“The Republican party is now facing a great crisis. It is to decide whether it will be, as in the days of Lincoln, the party of the plain people, the party of progress, the party of social and industrial justice; or whether it will be the party of privilege and of special interests, the heir to those who were Lincoln’s most bitter opponents, the party that represents the great interests within and without Wall Street which desire through their control over the servants of the public to be kept immune from punishment when they do wrong and to be given privileges to which they are not entitled.”

This is an excerpt from a speech delivered by Teddy Roosevelt and reprinted in Outlook 100, April 1912.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Krugman on Friedman

My friend Frank Morris sent me this link. It's beautifully written, very lucid, and explains a lot. Recommended.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

LaRue's Views last column

Yesterday I sent off my last local newspaper column. The archive - from April 11, 1990 to January 2012 - is here.

So figure a minimum of 500 words per column, an average of 50 a year (sometimes they didn't print it one week, or I had guest columnists), times 20 years. That's half a million words.

I learned a lot from writing those columns. Not least, it provided a discipline of thinking and writing that greatly helped me understand things. Librarians, like many other professionals, tend to write only for themselves. I liked that process of trying to write for the general public. It forced me to be clearer.

It took me about four days to cut and paste from my files into blogger. At that rate, I didn't read every word, usually just a snatch of the first and last paragraphs. But I did notice a few things.

First, I let a lot of other people do guest posts. I think Rochelle Logan, my Associate Director of Support Services, wrote more than anyone else. But I handed over the podium to board members, shelvers, front line staff, and citizens.

Second, the two people I seemed to have quoted the most were Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein. They were profound influences on my early intellectual development. But I have moved on from both of them, adopting a less libertarian, more communitarian perspective over the years.

In the process, both of my kids grew up. And I suspect that's one of the forces that made me come to appreciate the importance of social infrastructure. Both Rand and Heinlein were childless.

I also came to realize that I really am worried about our society. I think the issue has a lot to do with language. Recently, I was at a meeting where a local state representative was saying that the conservative voters of Douglas County expect their representatives to talk a certain way. So if the choice is between giving money to schools or giving tax exemptions to seniors, then the language will be harshly anti-teacher union. But then, this representative suggested that we shouldn't take that language seriously -- it's all politics, and the job of politicians is to argue. I think we damn well better take the way we talk seriously. Language sets how we look at the world, and its cynical manipulation for partisan gain is a profoundly corrosive force.

The Baby Boomers as a group have been institution destroyers, and the libertarian mindset is now firmly entrenched, to our peril. I think that needs to be changed. I want to help change it.

But a local newspaper is read mostly by those same Baby Boomers. The next generations look elsewhere for the facts and language that form their opinions; their minds are more open. They come to the Web.

So I think that's where the intellectual battle will be fought.

The columns were a good long run, not only detailing my own intellectual growth, but documenting a whole lot of institutional history. Now, it's on to the next thing.

But first I need a little down time, a little mindfulness of life cycles, a little recharging of my intellectual and emotional batteries. - Welcome

In November of 2018, I left my position at ALA in Chicago to return to my Colorado-based writing, speaking, and consulting career. So I'...