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.
November 19, 2003 - Obsessions
I was taking the dogs for a walk with my 9-year old son, Perry. He was telling me that lately he is obsessed with Bionicles. These are snap-together toy models produced by Lego. Perry has a lot to say about them.
I didn't follow it all. It went something like this: in 2004, they're going to make a new Bionicle movie called "Metru Nui: City of Legends." It includes six heroes. Unlike the first six Toa, they're going to be more powerful Matoran.
See, the Toa's helpers, the Turaga, each have their own masks. The new Matoran will have the masks of the Turaga, but will have switched the COLORS of the masks. Perry thinks that the Matoran will be tossed into death by Makuta's Shadows, but the masks will stay behind and become the Turaga's. The Turaga, incidentally, are not powerful enough to help the Matoran villagers, so that's why the Toa washed up on shore.
Got that? Me, neither.Still, Perry thanked me for listening. He said that not everybody else takes the time. He did get his sister, Maddy, to admit that there are many similarities between Bionicles and her obsession, Lord of the Rings. For instance, both fictional universes are based on what Perry calls "imaginative legends." Both the universes have their own alphabets. In this world, each has books and movies and websites devoted to them.
Perry asked me what my obsession was. Then he answered himself. "Computers. Linux."
Well, that is so completely not true. Children may have their obsessions. Grown-ups have ... interests. Hobbies. Pursuits. We do research for important reasons.
I HAVE been spending a fair amount of time lately spelunking in the caverns of Open Source operating systems. But there really is a reason.
If you spend any time on computer newsgroups at all, you know that there are certain almost religious aspects to operating system brand loyalty. It's Windows versus Apple. It's Linux versus BSD. And it's one jihad after another, flamefests that go on for years.
But here's the bottom line. Most of us don't particularly care. All that matters is what we DO with a computer. And for most of us, that's a relatively short list. We write and answer email. We browse the World Wide Web. We write short documents. We work up an occasional spreadsheet. Sometimes, we draw a picture or work on a database.
I have decided that by moving to Open Source software, we can capture most of the computer services we provide to the public. We'll be using Mozilla (see www.mozilla.org) for browsing. We'll be using OpenOffice.org (www.openoffice.org) for most everything else. And all of it will be running on Linux.
Why? Because I believe Open Source software will make it easier for us to sustain our investment in public computing. Linux, Mozilla, and OpenOffice.org are all freely available at no cost. On a new computer, that could be a savings of about $250 per machine. We have a lot of computers, and hope to buy many more.
At some point, some months from now, we may well host some public workshops on Open Source. I'd like to show people just how powerful this stuff can be. I also want people to know how to find their way around on our new systems.
Incidentally, there are many flavors or "distributions" of Linux. I'm writing this column on a machine that runs four different varieties, just to poke around and figure out which one works the smoothest. At work, I use another one. I've also tested a sixth.
By contrast, Perry has collected nineteen of the total (at this writing) 36 Bionicles. Kids!