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.
September 25, 2002 - Linux
Three weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to trying to move from my Macintosh operating system (9.2) to something called Linux, a clone of the Unix operating system. I mentioned two reasons for this attempt: first, Linux is free (if you download it from the Internet) or cheap (a typical CD-ROM installation costs about $30).
Second, Linux now runs a variety of office applications -- spreadsheets, word processors, browsers, email, and the like. They, too, are free.
But I won't lie. The past 21 days have been tough. Very tough. Linux is NOT easy to set up. If you're not computer literate, or more stubborn than is good for you, take my advice: get somebody experienced to do it for you.
On the other hand, once you do get it set up, it isn't any harder to use than anything else. That is, the stuff you do on the computer (answer email, compose various documents, etc.) is the same. The way you do that is pretty much the same, too. One graphical word processor is much like another.
Three things were actually better. The first was Internet browsing. Web pages, on the same speed connection I was using before, displayed at least three times faster.
The second was the ease of sharing documents. One of my personality quirks is that I ran a Microsoft-free zone on my Macintosh -- no Microsoft products at all. But I was alone; the rest of the library ran both Windows and Microsoft Office. Why not? Thanks to Microsoft marketing muscle, Office document formats are now international standards.
For me, that meant that every time somebody sent me a document (which happens fairly often), I had to go through a translation process. Sometimes, that translation process didn't work very well.
Under Linux and Open Office, that's changed. Now when I get email with an attachment, I click on it and it opens. I'm still a Microsoft-free zone, but now I work with other people's files, no matter how heavily formatted or marked up -- and they work with mine -- seamlessly.
The third thing was that the computer just won't crash. I've done some incredibly stupid things to it. Sometimes I can kill an application (not often, but I've done it). But then all I have to do is start it up again. Not the computer, just the program.
What does all this mean?
The reason I'm doing all this experimentation is not just to explore new technologies (although it's worked pretty well for that). I'm looking to save the library some money. I've found a way to do that. Take my advice, and you'll save money, too.
Here it is: download the program (from www.openoffice.org) or buy the Open Office CD (information at the same site).
Before you object that you don't use Linux, ponder this: Open Office also runs on Windows. If you're willing to fiddle with the Mac's new Darwin system, you can run it under OS X, too.
Bottom line: even if you're a Windows user, you can save the cost of Microsoft Office on every computer in your shop (or at your home). The programs look the same, act the same, and work the same. You can copy it onto as many computers as you like, and it's perfectly legal.
This one step can buy you a whole year or more of working with very powerful software on your computer, making your own files, and confidently exchanging them with others.
Nonetheless, bye and bye, Windows users still might want to move to Linux. Next week, I'll tell you why. You won't like it.