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.
February 15, 2007 - Digital and Personal Rights Hold Surprises
As I've written before, I am a "delegate" to an international library cooperative called OCLC.
So far, this has entitled me to attend the quarterly meetings in Ohio. OCLC pays for the trips. In exchange, I attend about 2.5 days of meetings, often intense, for which I have to prepare in advance, and at which I'm expected to contribute something thoughtful and useful.
This year, OCLC decided that since it is an international business, it should hold a meeting outside the U.S.
But we didn't go too far. My meeting is in Canada. I'm writing this from Quebec City. It's a wonderful and fascinating place.
I have two stories about this trip.
First, many of you have an interest in downloading audio books to an electronic player. The electronic player of choice is Apple's iPod. Several people have asked me, sometimes with great anger, why the library doesn't offer downloadable books in the iPod format.
OCLC is one of the major brokers of deals like this. So one of the things I did at the conference was to ask Jay Jordan, President and CEO of OCLC, how come libraries can't buy Apple downloads.
His answer was interesting -- and the same answer as last year. We still don't have a deal, but it's not for lack of trying.
Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, has a different view of "Digital Rights Management" than other companies, namely, book publishers and Microsoft. Generally speaking, Jobs is inclined to have fewer copying restrictions on digital formats (book, music, movies) than some publishers want.
In my view, Jobs has it right: he is far more trusting of consumers to use the products they have purchased legally. Microsoft is more accommodating to the publishers who fear that their products will be given away, at a financial loss to distributor and artist alike.
Bottom line: publishers like the more restrictive Microsoft formats. They won't release their properties to Apple to sell to libraries. So we can't buy them.
We'll keep trying, but I don't see this changing in the short term.
Here's the second story. One of our speakers at the conference was Michael Adams. He presented data from his book, "Fire and Ice: The U.S., Canada, and the Myth of Converging Values." Like the U.S., Canada has a Boomer generation. Back in the 60s and 70s, they, too, were extremely distrustful of authority, rowdy and challenging to the system.
But in the U.S., Boomers changed in midlife, tilting very much toward increasing respect for authority. Some have even described them (think culture wars, family values, etc.) as "moralistic."
Adams does surveys, in Canada and the U.S. both. He asked whether or not people agreed with the statement, "The father of the family must be master in his own house."
In 1992, 42% of Americans agreed; in 1996, 44%; in 2000, 49%; and in 2004, 52%.
In Canada, things have been mostly heading the other way. In the same years, to the same statement, 26%, 20%, 18%, and 21% of Canadians agreed.
There were other questions, but they added up to the same general trend: U.S. citizens were moving strongly toward greater alignment with authority and judgment; at the same time, Canadians were moving toward individualism and tolerance.
I asked the obvious question: why the differences? After all, our media and advertising output surely affects them as much as us.
I'm not sure I bought the answer. Adams said it came down to historical tradition.
But that doesn't make sense. Did you know that early Canadians declined to join the United States experiment because they couldn't go along with the separation of church and state?
Today, though, Canadians are far less likely to attend religious services than Americans, because Canadians are far less religious.
At the same time, the U.S. was founded on a belief in "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Those are pretty individualistic goals.
Canada was founded on "peace, order, and good government." Mostly, Canadians believe they get it, too: their government spends less of its Gross National Product on health coverage than the U.S., and covers everybody.
It's all a little puzzling.
The point to all this is that as an international non-profit, developed in the U.S., OCLC can't just assume that people in different nations (or even different computer companies in the same nation) share the same values. The U.S. and Canada are cousins, and there are some big surprises in what we do, and don't, believe together.
It's likely that the differences won't be any smaller elsewhere.