For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
August 28, 2002 - New Tools for the Desktop
It's a kind of illness. I know that.
Nonetheless, every 18 months or so, I'm compelled to do an inventory of all the tools on my computer desktop. Here are the things I look at:
First, where do I spend most of my time? That is, what kinds of work do I need to do?
Second, which applications do I use to accomplish that work?
Third, what else is out there that might help me be more productive, to accomplish more work in fewer steps?
Fourth, how can I save both my own and the public's money, or at least, invest it more wisely?
All across the country, libraries are spending millions of dollars annually on staff computer desktops. Most of it goes to the software. That covers a lot of ground: operating systems, commercial applications, and an increasingly steep upgrade cycle.
These upgrades, proprietary by definition, are both expensive and disruptive. That is, they require regular and significant infusions of public dollars, and each upgrade is just different enough from the previous version to require both more staff training, and more upgrades.
Is there a net gain? Sometimes, I wonder. But it's time for the library to replace a lot of our older computers, and it makes sense to ask, "Upgrade to what?"
There is a significant alternative to Windows or the Macintosh OS. It's called Linux. A comprehensive resource is available at www.linux.org, or through the library's many Linux books.
In brief, Linux is a "free" operating system. You can download it at no cost beyond whatever you pay to connect to the Internet; or you can buy remarkably inexpensive CD's, and load it that way. Linux can co-exist with your Windows or Mac systems.
Why Linux? Well, in addition to the fact that it's free (no license fees of any kind, and you can install it on as many machines as you like), Linux runs the world's most popular Internet server, Apache. It also provides a variety of industrial strength email, printer, and other workstation management services. In contrast to Microsoft operating systems, Linux, like Unix, is remarkably stable, remarkably resistant to viruses, and a workhorse.
More recently, Linux also comes with a complement of free, or "Open Source" desktop software. One of them, Open Office, provides a word processor, a spreadsheet, and presentation applications, all compatible with Microsoft Office. Linux also runs applications that let you share data with a PDA, run database applications, browse the Internet, manage email, and much more.
We already use Linux for various behind-the-scene servers. But over the next few weeks, I'm going to try to make the move to the Linux desktop.
Along the way, I'm going to look at other software tools. Thoreau once said, "Men have become the tools of their tools." You've probably seen it another way: when you get a new hammer, suddenly everything looks like a nail.
But everything isn't a nail. And traditional word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and personal information managers, for all the time they save, also impose limits on the way we think.
Is the Linux desktop ready for prime time? If so, it has the potential not only to preserve work created on other platforms, but also to liberate many dollars that might be put to other, better, uses.
More importantly, are there are software applications out there that will make us even more productive than the current crop?
I think the answer to both questions, is "Yes." So it's time to test it out and see if I'm right. Either way, I'll let you know.