Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Who is behind vouchers, and what they're working for

Thanks to Suzanne for this most intriguing link: "The DeVos Family: Meet the Super-Wealthy Right-Wingers Working With the Religious Right to Kill Public Education." I love the links to the players, and their avowed aims.

Model Language for Publishing Contract–Author’s Addendum

Mary Minow, librarian and copyright lawyer, has come up with yet another jewel. This one is something for authors.

She suggests that they add the following language to their publisher contracts:

Author’s Rights To Allow Library Loans

Notwithstanding any terms or conditions to the contrary in any author agreement between Author and Publisher, Author shall retain the non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free right to authorize the loaning of digital copies of Author's work, facilitated by libraries on a one-user-at-a-time basis.

How's that for bold? Authors want readers, and libraries are willing to pay the author for every copy they buy.

The challenge in the 21st century isn't going to be to get published. It will be to get NOTICED. That hand-selling of favorite authors, that recommending to new readers a wonderful new find, are just what libraries are about.

I hope this one will get picked up by LOTS of writers. Well done, Mary!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Apostrophocalypse

Just had to go back and remove an apostrophe I'd inserted (in another blog entry) in "hers." I actually typed "her's". The increasing ungrammatical use of the apostrophe can only lead to the entire collapse of civilization. I deeply regret my complicity. I shall strive to do better.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Last One Standing

My article for Public Libraries (the January/February issue of 2012) can be found here.

A companion piece, written by Monique Sendze, Assistant Director of Information Technology for the Douglas County Libraries, is here. Hers is titled, "The E-Book Experiment."

Together, the two do a good job of setting out the issues and defining the broad approach to managing our own e-content.

The approach of the Douglas County Libraries has been to focus on solving some problems, not just complaining about them. I believe, as I have said repeatedly, that this is the most exciting time in the history of librarianship -- and of writing. But if we want to do more than be passive observers of sweeping change, then we have to step up our games. Monique's contributions have been enormous.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Booktype - another open source ebook editing tool

Thanks to Matt Hamilton for this link to another tool. Looks like this one is more collaborative than Sigil. I'll need to set aside some time to dig into these.

Generational apocalypse

I just got off the phone with my daughter, Maddy, now working on her Master's Degree (in Cultural Translation) in Paris.

We got to talking about a recent pattern. People of MY generation (Baby Boomers) stand before people of the rising generation (Millennials) and tell them (the Millennials) that they're screwed. The world, civilization, politics, religion, society, all of it, is crashing to the ground. Run while you can, there's nothing left!

I know we don't want to hear it, but the declining years of the Boomers isn't the apocalypse. It's just a grim reminder that we haven't been very good at running things. The next generation doesn't have to play by our rules. And if they have as much sense as they seem to, they almost certainly won't.

Or as I told Maddy, I once asked a bright and ambitious young librarian what I could do to help her move up through the profession more quickly. "Quit!" she said.

Connie Willis wins Grandmaster

She's already won more Nebula and Hugo awards than any science fiction writer. And now, Connie Willis (author of so many wonderful books, including "Fire Watch," "Lincoln's Dreams," "Doomsday Book," "Remake," "Passage," "To Say Nothing of the Dog," and the recent "Blackout/All Clear" duology) has been awarded the 2011 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award. That puts her in some pretty rarified company -- the writers who defined science fiction. Robert Heinlein. Ray Bradbury. Isaac Asimov. Arthur Clarke.

The honor is absolutely deserved. I know Connie from the days when I was the Library Administrator of the Greeley Public Library, where Connie wrote "Doomsday Book" on her trademark Indian Chief tablets. She is a woman of uncommon insight and intelligence. She also works hard on her writing. This award marks that transition from just a really good writer, a commercial and critical success, to something even harder to come by: someone who produces real literature, grounded in a profoundly wise and warm humanity. I'm proud to know her, and as always, fascinated and moved by her writing.

Skype interview

Recently, I was contacted by Michelle Luhtala, a high school librarian in New Canaan, CT. She interviewed me about my library's ebook publishing venture. Her focus is more on textbooks - which is certainly an interesting area.

The good news: Apple came out with a new tool to create ePub files. The templates are all based on textbooks, and incorporate multimedia. Apple is very good at software interfaces, and that tool will no doubt result in another mini-explosion of writing.

The bad news, the 'catch,' is that if you use that tool, you can ONLY publish the textbook through Apple. Exclusive distribution -- which is what Amazon is after, too.

So I got to poking around, and found Sigil, an open source, multi-platform WYSIWYG editor for ebooks. I'm going to dig into that a little deeper in the coming months. If you use that, then you're NOT tied to Apple, or to Amazon.

But what this blog entry is about is something different: my first Skype video/audio conversation. This was using my Windows 7 machine at work; I don't have a camera for my Linux machine at home, and neither Google+ nor Skype seems as polished on Linux as it is for Microsoft (or, probably, Apple).

But I enjoyed the experience. It was very much like having a conversation with somebody over coffee. Comfortable and easy. Dick Tracy's video wristwatch is finally here. Cool.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why we outsource manufacturing to China

This article is eye-opening.

There are two key points:

* China has so many people looking for work, in such concentrations, they can put together enormous operations, of both unskilled and highly skilled labor.

* China can change its manufacturing processes to accommodate changes way faster than any American plant. Apple's last minute substitution of "gorilla glass" into the iPhone would have taken months in an American manufacturing plant. In China, it took 6 weeks.

I've heard a lot of politicians lately, from President Obama to the mayor of Parker, talking about the need to get America to start making things again. Maybe there are some ways to do that for small run items, using, I suppose, more highly automated/robotic techniques. But it's hard to imagine how we could gear up to do big time manufacturing -- like consumer phones, tablets, etc. -- with competition like this. It's not that we don't have the knowhow. Ultimately, it comes down to the workforce. I'll have to think more about this one.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Stephen Colbert on Planned Parenthood

Boy, Walgreen's is even more full-service than I thought! As we discover in this brilliant Stephen Colbert report.

Anymore, comedians are the only ones you can trust.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Wandering around town

I do a lot of walking. Today I was strolling through downtown Castle Rock. I met a woman in her 70s.

I said hello. Without a lot of preamble, she launched into the core issues of her life. She wasn't from here. It was cold. She moved here to be close to grandchildren. But she didn't think she had much connection or influence over their lives. She had health issues. She was processing memories and conflicts from her childhood.

It was one of the most open and authentic conversations I've had in a long time.

Here's what I liked about it.

* she began with questions. Hi, how are you, who are you?

* she spoke about her life not in terms of judgment, but of attention. Here's what I'm thinking about, she said. What are you thinking about?

It's a truism that we have two eyes (to see), two ears (to hear), but just one mouth (to speak). But most of us view looking and listening as that annoying pause between our declamations.

I liked this lady. I liked that we could have, in the 15 minutes or so we chatted in the Colorado sunshine (on a very cold day!) a real exchange. There wasn't an ounce of disapproval, not an inch of slander. We were just interested in each other's lives and observations.

I walked her to a restaurant, then moved on. But we hugged at the end. "What a nice man!" she said. "What a nice woman!" I replied.

now that's dancin'

Some smooth moves, for your viewing entertainment, from the Provence Swing Festival, France, October 2009.

It features a "Teacher Performance" by Sharon Davis and Juan Villafane (Australia/Argentina).

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Local control and education

So now I read that the members of the Douglas County School Board have endorsed Mitt Romney for President. It's a puzzling message on at least two levels.

First, they took pains to say that this was not an official board resolution. That part's good; by statute, school boards are non-partisan, and have no official role in influencing voter selection of national political candidates. But board members also took care to point out that this was a unanimous decision by all of them.

So ... is it a school board action, or not? Clearly, it violates the spirit of non-partisanship. While I staunchly support free speech, particularly about political issues, I have taken great pains through the years to make it clear that I speak for myself. Here, the attempt seems to be to give the appearance of institutional action.

Second, the reason they articulated for endorsing Romney was that he will help "get the federal government out of education." They're entitled to that opinion, too. But it's tough to defend.

The premise seems to be this: local experimentation, the application of market pressure to public education, will result in swift improvement in academic achievement. That improvement will then be adopted by others.

But of course, it hasn't, doesn't, and won't work like that. Everybody knows that when you move from state to state, or from district to district within the state, or from school to school within the district, or even from the same grade's class to class within the school, there is wide variance of both curriculum and instructional approach.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but after all this experimentation and "local control," the United States isn't even in the top twenty internationally for math and science. (See the Programme for International Student Assessment.)

Who IS in the top twenty? Those educational systems that adopt a uniform national curriculum.

In other words, the tenets of our school board and the educational philosophy of Mr. Romney have already been contradicted by decades of data. Our local Board and their preferred presidential candidate support a failed approach, and reject the likeliest path for improvement.

The issue, apparently, has nothing to do with evidence. It has everything to do with politics.

Government creates jobs

Recently I was at a meeting where I heard Frank McNulty, Speaker of the House for the Colorado legislature, address a group of Douglas County elected and appointed officials. He said, "Of course, government doesn't create jobs."

I gather this is one of the new talking points for the Republicans. But it doesn't take much thought to recognize that Representative McNulty is mistaken. When a school district hires a teacher, when a town hires a policeman, when a fire district hires a firefighter, when a library hires a librarian, and indeed when the United States Armed Forces hires a soldier, all of these government agencies are indeed creating jobs. We pay people to do work, just like a business. Offering a job is creating employment. This point is particularly clear to people who get laid off. It doesn't make any difference whether it's private or public sector.

Strangely, McNulty then spoke about the need to continue to build and maintain our roads. Those roads are paid for, of course, by government. And when the people approve a new bond, the money is used to hire workers. In other words, of course, government does create jobs.

I don't know why it is that so many politicians run on the theme of contempt for government. If they really have a such a low opinion of it, then why do they want the job? Yeah, it's a job for them, too.

True Stories of Censorship Battles in America's Libraries

This new title, edited by Valerie Nye and Kathy Barco, was published by ALA, copyright 2012. It is available from several sources.

The book is divided into various themes or "parts:"

* Sometimes we're our own worst enemy: when library employees are censors;

* How dare you recommend this book to a child: reading levels and sophisticated topics;

* Not only boy scouts should be prepared: building strong policies;

* When the tribe has spoken: working with Native American collections;

* Conversation + Confrontation + Controversy = Combustion: vocal organization and publicly debated challenges;

* Crime and punishment: when library patrons have committed a crime; and

* Perhaps it is possible to judge a book by its cover: displays.

The book concludes with discussion questions, a list of contributors, and a solid index. Disclosure: I wrote a chapter on "Uncle Bobby's Wedding."

The collection includes stories from all types of libraries: public, academic, school, and special. I'm still dipping into them, but find them all to be pretty direct and honest stories, told by real people. This is what defending intellectual freedom is like.

Like most professional books, it's pricey: $40. But of course it underwrites various other ALA activities. I can recommend the book for most library collections.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Maddow and DeGette on Komen/Planned Parenthood debacle

Here is the link to a wonderful, if completely head-scratching expose of a profoundly anti-woman's health push by the Republican party.

The outrage of the moment is occasioned, I think, not by the completely predictable and normal Congressional vendettas, but the sense of betrayal many women felt when a group of women turned against their own gender. But you can bet the men in Congress noticed. I have to hope that eventually the profound overreaching of the Right will catch up with them. - 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'...