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.
July 2, 2003 - Toronto Round-Up
From Friday, June 21, through Monday, June 23, I was in Toronto for the combined meeting of the American Library Association (ALA) and the Canadian Library Association.
I don't usually go to the annual conferences -- I think I've attended just 3 times in 13 years. But I'd never been to Toronto before. Besides, this time I had the offer of an outside agency to pay my way as a presenter.
That offer came from a surprising source: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. For the past several years, this foundation has been responsible for handing out thousands of Gateway computers, preinstalled with Windows and various Windows products, to public libraries around the country. (Douglas County was not among them.)
Recently, however, the Foundation has realized that there's a significant problem in this country: in a couple of years both the hardware and software distributed through the Foundation will start to look a little long in the tooth. Many of those recipients won't be able to upgrade. The issue is "sustainability of public computing."
The presenters were asked to speak about a variety of "best practice" that helped to ensure financial viability. Some of us spoke about partnerships; others about the technology planning process; I talked about marketing and fundraising.
I was frankly surprised to have been asked, as I have been a fairly outspoken critic of some Microsoft practices, and in fact have directed our own technology planning toward Open Source products.
Imagine my surprise when one of the Foundation employees told me that in one case, they funded an entirely Open Source project at a library in Ohio. Why? Because library staff made the case that they COULD sustain the project from the savings in licensing fees.
I complimented the Foundation employee, who said, "Hey, I'm a librarian, not a salesman."
Toronto is an incredibly diverse and international city. I can't remember when I've heard so many languages. At times, it felt very familiar. But then the little things would catch you.
Money, for instance. I have to say that the Canadians have this one right: they have done away with the one and two dollar bills, and replaced them with coins. The one dollar coin is a Loony (for the image of the loon on the back). The two dollar coin is a Toony. I taught myself to distinguish them by touch, which is the work of a few seconds. The other coins are like ours: penny, nickel, dime, quarter.
Loonies and Toonies are comparatively recent, the result of the realization that although paper bills are cheaper to produce (in America, a one dollar bill costs about 4 cents, versus 8 cents for a coin), they don't last as long. A paper bill lasts about 18 months. Coins average closer to 30.
America needs Loonies and Toonies.
I attended a variety of other sessions, most of them focused on technology. I met with the President of Dynix, the company that provides our public catalog, and we talked about Open Source and the acquisitions process. How could we make things better, faster, cheaper? I got some good demonstrations, probably a year away from installing in Douglas County.
I had a chance to hobnob with the new leadership of ALA. They're good people.
And then, when I got home, I immediately contracted a summer cold. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have thought much about it -- but the symptoms of a summer cold are distressingly similar to SARS, which is indeed in Toronto, although greatly exaggerated as to scope. (The odds of contracting SARS, in fact, were about 141,000 to 1 against.)
After a few calls to my health care provider, the helpful people at Littleton Hospital, and the Center for Disease Control, I decided to stay home for a few days. I regret to report that I do not have SARS; a 10 day quarantine didn't sound too bad, if I could lay in a sufficient supply of reading material. (I did have a chance to plow through the latest Harry Potter -- the Canadian edition, snapped up in Toronto.)
And then the Supreme Court made its decision about Internet filtering. But more about that next week.