This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, July 2, 2003

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 practices" 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.

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