Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Douglas County Unaffiliated voters: declare

For fifteen years in Douglas County, Colorado. I was a Republican. The reason was very simple: Republicans ALWAYS won the general election. The only one that mattered (for people, anyhow, not issues) was the primary. 

When the general election came, I have to say that I don't think I've ever voted a straight ticket. No matter how displeased I might be with one party or the other, I'm not an ideologue. I vote for the most capable candidate, and I've observed that neither party has a lock on competence.

After I left my position as Douglas County Libraries director, in part (but not mostly) because of partisan pressure by a couple of county commissioners trying hard to get me fired, I was pleased to go back to my Unaffiliated status. I am, and always have been (like a lot of Coloradans) an independent. Tell me the issue, I'll tell you my take. But I get to decide that, not a party. In general, I suppose I would consider myself a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. I support, and have worked to prove it, a strong private sector. But I also support a strong public sector. I've worked hard there, too. Both sectors are necessary. Both need to be watched.

Well, today I changed my status BACK to Republican. Why? Because I intend to vote for Stevan Strain for County Commissioner.

I'm writing this today to urge you, the Unaffiliated voter, to do the same. Why?

First, Stevan is the best candidate. I've known him for over ten years, first as a Library Board of Trustee member. He was consistently thoughtful, engaged, and worked hard to be informed. He was also a highly successful business man (he ran Parker's Warhorse Inn for many years, which he has now sold). By the time he left the board, he had served as chair of every one of our key committees, of the board itself, and of our Foundation. He is a rare creature - a true statesman. I found him consistently astute, a critical thinker, and a man utterly without vindictiveness or malice. That's rare in politics, far rarer than you might imagine. He also has done equally impressive service for a host of organizations in the county. Here's his web page: http://www.strain4commissioner.com/

Stevan and I don't always agree about the issues. He's often to the right of me, which will no doubt reassure many conservatives. But I trust him to carefully consider the evidence, to listen to his constituents, and then to follow his judgment, whether it does, or does not, fit the partisan box. He has both intelligence and integrity.

Second, still, in Douglas County, whoever wins the primary will be our next County Commissioner. It happens that Stevan is facing Dave Weaver, who has been a fine sheriff, but frankly is nowhere near as qualified to weigh in on the many non-law enforcement issues facing the county, and about which Stevan is better informed than anyone in the county, and, I suspect, anyone in the state.

Here's the issue: declare for the Republican Party, and you get to choose the best candidate. Fail to do so, and you hand it over to the party machinery. In this case, in my judgment, that would not be wise.

To change your affiliation (and you can change it back right after you vote), do this, go to https://www.sos.state.co.us/voter-mobile/pages/MainPage.xhtml?secuRegVoterIntro.do=1

Then choose Find my registration.

Then fill out the form and click on Search.

Then choose "Change my info/Activate."

Then update your party, and submit. Somewhere along the way, you'll be asked for your Colorado Drivers License to confirm your identity, so have it handy.

Then, when the primary comes around, I do most humbly and sincerely ask you to vote for Stevan Strain for County Commissioner. 

Thank you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

More thoughts on consulting

One of the challenges of my new consulting career is finding the succinct summary of just what it is that I do.

Here's my latest attempt: I'm a full time public library thought leader. I've decided that the profession I love (librarianship!) is at a tipping point. With some attention on just the right things, I think we can earn long term mind share and support. The point isn't just to benefit libraries, it's to benefit the communities we serve. Libraries just happen to be an extraordinarily effective way to do that.

So just what, exactly, are the "right things" to focus on?

Right now:

  • planning. After PLA (where I offered some free consulting to the library world, and met some fascinating people), I spent some time thinking about processes to move quickly and precisely to true "strategic" planning -- not just a list of stuff to do, but a narrow focus on the things that matter most.
  • trend tracking. Really, this is just a subset of planning. But so many librarians are caught up in the moment. They just don't have the time to lift up their heads, look around, and glean patterns. I love to have this conversation with them.
  • building design. This is another subset of planning. But it's also one of those moments when libraries can really connect with their communities, and help them decide where they want to go. I'm not an architect. But I do know how to talk to staff, boards, and community groups to lay out what libraries are up to lately, and to help communities figure out what's right for them. (I can also help them negotiate common ground when there are some differences among those groups.) I work with one of my "associates," the gifted Roger Thorp, who is an architect.
  • epublishing. We are already over the crest of a publishing revolution, a transformative and disruptive moment in the development of human creativity. Librarians have a choice: we can be players, or we can be victims.
  • advocacy. One approach is the "branch management audit" (for which I've teamed up with David Starck, one of my former board members and a graphic designer, to perform). I'm also interested in the more general staging of a long term effort to shift the public perception of a library. For too long, libraries have allowed others to define us. It's time that we identify the true civic leaders in our community, and arm them with the talking points and language to make the case for us.
  • organizational development. Here, one of my associates is Sharon Morris. We talk about (among other things), "talent management," succession planning, and leadership development. 
  • other. There are organizations and individuals who have big ideas, and just need a little assistance teasing them out into the world. I already have two clients who blow me away with their energy, insight, and ambition. It's a privilege to be part of their projects.
These might all look like very different things. But I don't see it that way. They are the same thing: a focus on the factors that do and will define our future, both as a profession, and as a society.

At any rate, these are my thoughts after a long walk through a beautiful Colorado day.

Monday, March 17, 2014

More migrations

I've long had an account with Earthlink, which hosts my website and email. But Earthlink only does POP mail, which means that it doesn't stay on the server. Given all the devices I use these days, that made it hard to serve for older email.

When I left Douglas County, I moved all my work email (DCL and Earthlink) over to gmail. That worked well enough, and I could set up my gmail account to fetch from Earthlink. But there were a couple of problems: first, it took awhile for new email to go from Earthlink to gmail. Second, even though I had gmail set up to send as if it were coming from jlarue.com, in a long thread, it would give the gmail account info and say "on behalf of James LaRue." That's bound to lead to confusion.

So I converted to Google Apps, and today moved over my email information. Now I'm sitting here with fingers crossed as the old account email is migrated to the new. Then I'll tackle Calendar, Contacts, Goggle +, Google Drive, and .... other stuff I haven't thought of yet.

So I may be a little hard to track down while I try to straighten all this out.

Oh, and another thing. For reasons mysterious to me, suddenly you can't get to my website at all using www.jlarue.com. jlarue.com by itself works fine, and I think I've set up a subdomain (of www) that I think might work. But it wasn't instantaneous, so who knows?

Meanwhile, though, I'll say that the quality of Google support is far superior to Earthlink's. Ultimately, I may have to move my website, too.

Anyhow, I hope to get it all straightened out soon. Sorry for the confusion.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

PLA 2014

I've just returned from the Public Library Association's conference in Indianapolis. It was a rich experience, even though (as too often happens), I never made a single program other than the preconference Sharon Morris and I did on Wednesday. (And that session, "Managing the Talent," was a blast. We presented a wholistic look at institutional Human Resources, with lots of relevant exercises. The attendees were engaged, contributed a lot, and seemed to enjoy themselves.)

So what else did I do?

Mostly, I talked with people: colleagues, vendors, industry luminaries, other consultants, and some of the most interesting taxicab drivers I've ever met. (But that's a story for another time. A children's book.)

I also hopped back to my wired hotel room to participate in an American Libraries Live session with Sue Polanka, Troy Juliar (of Recorded Books), and Jeff Metz (of OnceClickdigital). Unfortunately, technical difficulties prevented the very interesting Yoav Lorch, founder and CEO of Total Boox from joining us. (And Mirela Roncevic, editor extraordinaire, who is working with Loav.) But I had gotten a fascinating demo of the product earlier that day, so tried to fill in a bit.

I continue to advocate for three key features of library ebooks: ownership, discount, and integration. None of this is really the focus of Total Boox. But it's a good experiment anyway, and to the user, since you can download as many books as you like, and keep them on up to five devices forever, it sure feels like ownership. And the other key feature - paying (through the library) only for the pages you actually read, up to no more than the retail cost of the book - is certainly a better deal than, for instance, HarperCollins pricing. I understand that MARC records can point to the particular Tool Boox title, so there's some level of integration. Moreover, Total Boox has a clean, fresh interface that competes well with the consumer commercial offerings. 

This is my mantra: we live in a time of experimentation, and if you know it's going to work, it's not an experiment. Total Boox is a good experiment, and I expect that we'll learn a lot from it.

Overall, I felt a shift in libraries, and I don't think I'm just projecting it. Throughout the recession years, there was a sense that libraries were under attack, embattled, losing both mind share and resources. But a combination of things - leadership at the national level, IMLS, OCLC, Gates Foundation, Pew, newer advocacy efforts like everylibrary.org, and a long overdue  generational surge - seems to have brought some fresh energy and optimism into our field. There's clearly work to be done, but there are a lot of smart and ambitious people tackling it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A million dollar idea

I just had coffee with a retired CEO who told me a great story. When someone would come into his office to pitch a new idea, and ask for, say, $10,000, the CEO would tell him to come back when he could ask for a million dollars. Every day, said the CEO, there should be a line outside my door asking for big money for big ideas.

How many times did anyone take him up on it?


So that's an interesting scenario. If I were to say to you, here's a million bucks for you to radically transform your institution, or at least to begin to in a significant way, what would you spend it on?

I wonder how many librarians could answer that?

Sunday, February 2, 2014


Author Gary Marcus is a New York University psychologist. In his book, "Kluge: the haphazard construction of the human mind" (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), he provides an accessible and entertaining case for the human brain as something of an evolutionary mishmash. After providing a raft of evidence that suggests that if we were crafted by an Intelligent Designer, He was either a shockingly absent-minded engineer, or was off His meds, Marcus gets to the gist of it:

"It would be foolish to routinely surrender our considered judgment to our unconscious, reflexive system, vulnerable and biased as it often is. But it would just as silly to abandon the ancestral reflexive system altogether: it's not entirely irrational, just less reasoned. In the final analysis, evolution has left us with two systems, each with different capabilities: a reflexive system that excels in handling the routine and a deliberative system that can help us think outside the box."

In his concluding chapter, he even gives 13 suggestions for some strategies to deal with our sneaky and persistent "ancestral system." While not earth-shaking, they are sensible and useful. The last one leaves me thoughtful: "Try to be rational." In a host of ways, that's certainly a good idea, at least when it protects us from the more egregious traps our wee brains routinely fall for. And yet. There are times, surely, when the grand delusion is both more spontaneous and more creative.

At any rate, it's a fun and fast read.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


So on Thursday, January 23, 2014, apparently the Great Firewall of China collapsed, and all the Internet traffic of the nation was sent to a single IP address in Cheyenne WY, which of course failed immediately - the most colossal failure of the Internet to date. It was down for 8 hours.

The very next day, Gmail, the email program of Google, arguably one of the most technologically sophisticated companies in the world, again, simply failed, although it was repaired far more quickly.

Explanations for both are pretty lame. Yeah, the Firewall made a routing error. Oops, there was a little software bug.

That seems like quite a coincidence. It looks more like a hackfest to me.

Welcome, all, to the new era of vulnerability. Our entire communications network, and all the business conducted on it, is held together by means of physical, and virtual connections far beyond my understanding or ability to secure. And when somebody messes with it, it's hard to know just who, or why.