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, December 26, 1990

December 26, 1990 - Poetry in Prison

Plato banned poets from his ideal society (described in "The Republic"). Why? Because poets stir people up, fill their heads with dangerous dreams.

In Russia, many poets have been locked up for life. Again, we ask, Why? Because whenever they give readings, they draw enough people to fill football stadiums; later, the audiences get restless.

Here in the United States of America, it's hard to imagine anybody thinking of a poet as dangerous. The only poets most of us have ever heard about are dead -- almost the definition of an American poet.

How many people in America would risk their liberty for verse?

On the other hand, it wasn't long ago that 2 Live Crew, the putatively pornographic rap group, ALMOST got jailed. And according to some folks, rap music is the closest thing to poetry that our age can claim. (That's not particularly encouraging news either for poetry or for our age, but then, not all rap groups are as nasty as 2 Live Crew.)

For many years now, Americans have pegged poets as wimps, forever swooning in the moonlight, utterly incapable of changing a tire. By contrast, people in other countries see poets as catalysts and dissidents, potent moral and political forces.

Maybe those other countries are right. And maybe we're about to see the birth of a strange new cultural phenomenon in America: the macho poet.

I've been thinking about all this because last week, at the request of a colleague in the Colorado Library Association, I gave a reading of my poetry to the inmates of the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility in Canon City.

At times, the experience bordered on the surreal. After parking my car, I stood in the darkness before a large, heavily fortified gate. Eventually, a gruff voice challenged me from the watchtower.


"The name's LaRue!" I shouted.


"I'm here to read poetry!"

Long pause. "WHAT??!!"

I felt like an idiot, with maybe a dash of Don Quixote. But after an excruciatingly long silence, the looming metal gate clanged open, I walked in, and the gate clanged shut.

After a nervous wait in the reception area, I was escorted through several other gates and fences to the prison library. There I joined two other poets -- one from the Naropa Institute in Boulder, one, amazingly, a prison guard. Soon, twelve men filed in, all in prison garb, all with (it seemed to me) strangely burning eyes.

Then the poets read to the prisoners.

I have to say ... the inmates were among the best, most attentive, most appreciative audiences I've ever encountered. Afterward, they made keen observations about our writings. They all thanked us very politely.

One of the prisoners gave me a copy of a journal produced right there in Canon City, sponsored by the prison librarian. It was called, "Writing on the Walls." I've read it several times since then. Much of the writing stays with me.

For instance, here's an excerpt from a piece by James Dresden: "Hearts cause such pain / they should all be ripped from our chests."

Here's a haiku by Hoang Nguyen: "The wall is too high. / The human mind is higher. / The sky is highest."

When I commented on the quality of some of the work, one of the prisoners reminded me that, "Here, if you've got the inclination, you've got the time."

It makes you wonder: how much of the poetry written in America these days is written behind bars?

Or to look at it yet another way, which came first -- the criminal or the poet?

Wednesday, December 19, 1990

December 19, 1990 - The Best Christmas Gift

Six days till Christmas.

Does this strike terror into your heart? You can't help but mentally insert that crucial word -- SHOPPING.

It's to deal with this kind of situation that I formulated my basic life philosophy, which I recommend to you heartily: "Hysteria is always an appropriate response." Or as someone else put it, "When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout."

What we really need is an all-purpose gift that will satisfy everybody. It should be suitable for all ages. It should require no assembly. It shouldn't need batteries. You shouldn't have to feed it. It should last forever. It should be constantly entertaining. The more the recipient uses it, the more he or she should like it.

And of course, it should be free.

No such animal, right? Wrong. I'm talking about a library card.

I'll never understand it. Most adults these days carry cards of every description; most of them DON'T have library cards. So for the woman or man who has everything, why not offer everything else -- access to the total accumulated knowledge of the human race, not to mention the most wonderful stories ever told?

But the real winner of a gift like this is not an adult, but a child.

Here's all you have to do to make your holidays a success. First, come down to the library and fill out a library card application for your child. Then, check out three or four books. Wrap the card and the books then set them under the tree. Save this very special package for last.

When the child rips it open, say that this unassuming little card will let him or her get presents all year long. Then read your child to sleep that night with one of the books. After your children have gotten bored with all their expensive toys, read them (or have them read) the other books, then trot them down to the library in that slow week after the main event. Teach your children about exchanging one present for another.

At the library, every day is Christmas. Behind every book cover there are riches. After introducing your kids to a treasure trove beyond Aladdin's wildest dreams, why not mosey over to the adult section, and browse through the latest offerings yourself? You know you deserve it.

A couple of years ago, then U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett urged every child to obtain and use a library card. It was good advice then; it's good advice now.

Besides, at prices like these, who can argue? I'll even make you this once-in-a-lifetime, absolutely unconditional offer. If you are not fully satisfied after a lifetime of learning and pleasure -- I'll cheerfully refund your money.

Trust me, this could be the best Christmas card you'll ever send.

Wednesday, December 12, 1990

December 12, 1990 - Food for Fines

You've probably seen the cartoon: a librarian has tied a young boy to a chair. She says into the telephone, "All right, Mrs. Jones. You've got our books. We've got your son."

This strikes people funny because it plays on our stereotype of the bespectacled bookworm, her mouth perpetually pursed in a "Sh!" -- her iron-gray hair tightened into a bun. She has nothing to do, really, but fret about books that should have been returned yesterday, much as an elderly hen might cluck over a pack of wayward chicks.

Truth is, I haven't worn my hair in a bun since the 60's, which back then was considered pretty cool. And most of the librarians I know are too busy rustling up good books to want to intimidate children, or worry overmuch about the small percentage of library materials that walks away from us forever.

We understand that sometimes people don't remember things as well as they'd like to. We realize too that people can get really attached to our books and not want to give them up. It's just that we don't want to either.

Every library has a core group of miscreants. I don't mean the average guy, who brings in two or three books a few days late every couple of months. I don't mean the young mother who checks out 30 children's picture books then has trouble tracking them all down. Her kids are reading, and we're proud of her. I mean those people who consistently check out our spanking new and most popular books or stroll out with some oft-requested classics -- then ignore all of our notices, letters and phone calls.

Under Colorado law, failure to return library materials is a Class 3 Misdemeanor. Among librarians, opinions differ about an appropriate punishment for repeat offenders. Some feel that capital punishment is the only sure deterrent. Others wonder -- can't we do something a little more drastic?

Of course, sometimes these Criminals are basically good-hearted people too embarrassed to bring back the books. Or they're afraid the fine will be astronomical. Okay, they should be a little embarrassed, but if they bring back the books, at least they'll have their self-respect. And let's get real, here. The maximum fine for most books is only $3.000 -- and it takes almost a month to get that high. By contrast, the average replacement cost for an adult fiction hardback is between $15-20.

But let's not dwell too much on the numbers. This IS a holiday season, and because here at the Douglas Public Library District we're anything but stereotypical, we're going to try something a little different this year.

We're calling it our Food For Fines program. From December 10 through the end of the 1990, we will accept canned goods at each of our library branches in lieu of overdue fines. That's right. As long as you bring back the book, the most you'll have to pay for any one person's total fines is a single can of food.

At the end of the program, we'll donate the food to one of Douglas County's two Food Banks.

I should mention that you don't have to owe the library any fines in order to donate some canned goods. After all, the real meaning of libraries isn't about money, it's about people helping people.

It's food for thought.

Wednesday, December 5, 1990

December 5, 1990 - Tired

I'm tired.

There comes a time in everyone's life when he or she just doesn't want to do a darn thing, or at least nothing useful. This is my time.

Renee Chastant, a friend of mine, came up with a wonderful phrase to describe the only thing I feel like doing lately: "power lounging." Power lounging, or the executive sprawl, is the ideal recreation for the harried professional.

To the casual observer, power lounging looks a lot like malingering, or what your mother might have called "lying around."

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Power lounging enables the sincere practitioner to idle the emotional engine, give the brain a break, and soothe the bothered and bewildered body.

Racehorses need rest. CEOs need sleep. Even computers take five now and then.

But let's face it. Even the utterly exhausted businessperson won't be satisfied for very long with doing absolutely nothing.

Some people watch old TV sitcoms. Some rent movies. What I do is to read something I've already read.

I see a lot of new books at work. But at home I hunker down with my old favorites. When you really want to get away from it all, you don't want to have to gear up for something brand new. A book that you've read not just twice but many times, is as warm and comforting as a down quilt: no surprises, a sure and familiar result, a story you can relax into with confidence and gratitude.

I keep coming back to the books that really influenced me, that I discovered in my most formative years. I drowse over Strunk and White's "Elements of Style." I re-read the books of J.D. Salinger, particularly the ones about the spiritually engrossing Glass family. About once a year or so, I plow through Ayn Rand's one thousand-plus page opus, "Atlas Shrugged." The late great science fiction author, Robert Heinlein, wrote an unsurpassed series of books for juveniles. I re-read about one a month. I savor chapters from the Tao te Ching, the power lounger's bible. On wet and windy nights, I ponder Edgar Allen Poe's somber poem, "The Raven." Or I accompany Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson into the fog, or eavesdrop on Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey as he woos the ever-feisty but endearing Harriet Vane.

And, it goes without saying, I read anything and everything by Dr. Seuss, preferably aloud. (That's what's great about kid's books. You can read them to kids, and they think you're doing it for them.)

You can tell a lot about people by what they read. But you can tell even more by what they read over and over.

So as we slip, slide, and cough our way into the winter, I urge you to rediscover your past: snuggle back into the good books that made you who you are. Come down to the library and tell us about them. Take them home with you. Stay up late reading a few nights.

And sleep in.

Wednesday, November 28, 1990

November 28, 1990 - Bad language

Lately my three year old daughter, Maddy, has demonstrated the most remarkable ability to mimic other people's speech. Who really remembers learning to talk? So I find it fascinating to listen to her.

But suddenly she seems to know some, uh, bad words. Probably from the TV. Possibly her mother.

At any rate, I've been wondering. What makes a bad word bad? We can list the words - at least I can. But to many people it isn't so clear what's wrong with them (the words, I mean, not the people). So I've been doing a little reading about the subject. (I recommend "The Story of English" by Robert McCrum, and "The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way," by Bill Bryson.)

Most bad words are short, consisting of one syllable and often only four letters. They tend to refer to the most basic human activities - things everyone does (or wants to do) but some find offensive to do (or discuss) in public. For some reason, there are no bad words for two of my favorite and equally basic functions, sleeping and eating. That's strange, since sleeping in public is almost always rude and can be very offensive. My father's snoring, for instance, was so loud it interfered with our television reception. As for eating, the way Maddy treats certain foods is a topic fit only for the forewarned, unfastidious or extremely strong of stomach.

But linguistically speaking, most of our bad words are perfectly acceptable and once quite common Anglo-Saxon terms. The objections of polite society are not based so much upon the meaning of the words as on their time and place of origin.

In 1066, the Normans (a French tribe) seized the English throne. This had many effects on English history, but particularly on the language.

People have the unappetizing but universal tendency to try to butter up their betters. Because the court spoke French, a Romance or Latin-based language, good old Anglo-Saxon came to be seen as "rough," associated with the defeated, the low-lifes, the peasantry. So some Englishmen, in an attempt to curry favor, adopted more "cultured" (meaning French) phrasing.

The fundamental characteristic of Romance languages is that if one syllable is good, two are better. Thus the terse Anglo-Saxon word for voiding the bowels, for example, became the more socially correct "defecation" - a clear case of brown-nosing.

It's hard to explain why people who didn't want to talk about something used words that took more time to get through, which meant that they had to talk about it longer. The answer, of course, is that time and delicate sensibilities were not really the issues. Vocabulary was a political choice and a socioeconomic claim.

In much the same way as the motto or slogan of a losing football team becomes an embarrassment to its home town, whole chunks of the Anglo-Saxon oral heritage were discredited, abandoned, and suppressed by the English-speaking people. But since short words tend to be more forceful than long words, the linguistic remnants we call "bad language" persist in our tongue.

In short, bad language, or "sub-standard" speech, is often little more than the practice of a cultural minority. Since children, too, are minorities, I have decided to be understanding about my daughter's linguistic experiments.

But I'm also going to watch what I say.

Wednesday, November 21, 1990

November 21, 1990 - Fifteen minutes a day

According to a study done in 1986 by the U.S. Department of Education, the average American mother spends less than half an hour a day talking or reading with her children. Fathers spend less than fifteen minutes.

According to more recent studies, the greatest single factor in a child's success in school is how much schooling the mother got. Why do mothers have more influence? What's the difference?

Fifteen minutes a day.

People with fancy degrees have spent a lot of time and money proving what should be obvious to everybody. If parents talk and read to their children, two things happen: children get the idea that they are important, and they get curious about the world.

Both of these are rare. Many children grow up thinking they are UNimportant. They learn early that it doesn't make any difference what they think or say or feel. Usually, the lesson starts with their parents. But too many of our basic institutions -- schools, churches, businesses, even libraries -- just pound it home. Kids are annoyances. They don't behave. They don't have any money. They don't have any respect. (Of course, they don't GET any, either.)

As for curiosity, well, it killed the cat, right? "Don't ask questions. Sit still. I don't know. Just keep quiet." In countless ways, every day, older people teach the younger ones not to wonder, not to challenge, not to dare.

In a book called "The National PTA Talks to Parents: How to Get the Best Education for Your Child," author Melitta J. Cutright gives plenty of good advice. It's based on this: "The difference between a good school and a great school is the parents."

Concerned about your child's education? Good. Start by giving YOURSELF a report card. Are you involved in your child's education? Do you have books and magazines at home? Do you set a good example? Do you talk to your children about their schooling? Do you call teachers early if you think there is a problem with how well your child is learning? Do you accept responsibility for teaching your children basic discipline and respect for others -- or do you think teachers have to do your job too?

After you grade your own performance, fill out a report card for your children's teachers. Do they take the time to catch your children doing something right? Do the teachers get to know what your children need, want, and what they're good at? Do the teachers ever call you up or somehow make an effort to talk to you? Do they expect your children to do well? Do they welcome your involvement in your child's education?

After you've done your homework, have some fun. Gather your children and take them somewhere you may have never been together. Go to the library. Show your kids how much sheer entertainment there can be in reading, listening to stories, flipping through magazines, listening to books on cassette.

Fifteen minutes a day. Think about it.

Wednesday, November 14, 1990

November 14, 1990 - Dial-in services

Back when I was in library school, there was a lot of talk about the Paperless Society. Paper (invented by the Chinese, circa 105 A.D.) was proclaimed by several big-time library automation experts to be obsolete. The media of the near-future would be entirely electronic. People would read screens, not books.

It is true that computers have had a significant impact on our society.

But the book is very much alive. In fact, since the computer has come along, more books are being produced than ever. Small press publishers once found the costs of conventional publishing prohibitive. Now, they crank out their works by way of microcomputers and inexpensive printers.

Why? Because books are beautiful. Books can be read under your bed covers by flashlight. Books can be carried into the bathroom. (Try reading a computer screen in the bathtub. Well no, don't.) Books can be lovingly passed from one generation to another.

Books are here to stay.

Still, the computer can be a powerful servant of libraries. Right now, the Douglas Public Library District's automated system does most of our filing for us. There was a time when people had to type, sort, and sequence hundreds of cards daily. Now, librarians copy information from one computer to another, hit a couple of keys, and everything files itself.

At the same time, computers give patrons and librarians more information than a card catalog ever did. For example, a card catalog might tell you whether or not a library owns a book, but it won't tell you if there's a copy on the shelf. A computer catalog will.

Librarians can also use computers to put our entire catalogs on your desk. All you need is a personal computer, a modem, and the appropriate software.

Suppose you want to sit at your home computer and dangle a bright, electronic hook in our stream of books, videotapes, audiotapes, and magazine titles. You can do it, right now, right here in Douglas County. You can go to the library without ever leaving your home.

As I mentioned last week, the Douglas Public Library District has been working on creating computerized listings of civic organizations, social service agencies, and other county associations. These listings will also be available as a local "dial-up" service.

A public library must focus on its community. After all, one of the library's jobs is to make it easier to locate information resources. Some of those resources are books. Many of them, however, are your neighbors. The trick is finding them.

We think our new dial-in services can help.

If you'd be interested in trying them out, please call any of our branches and leave your name and address. I'm putting together a packet of information that will tell you how to take best advantage of the system. I should have the packets done by about Thanksgiving -- then I'll mail them to anybody who's interested.

Computers can be useful and fun. But let's not forget the ultimate aim here: literacy. Our goal is to have every Douglas County household comprehend the incomparable value of the written word.

The book still matters.

Wednesday, November 7, 1990

November 7, 1990 - Writing contest

It's madness.

The pay - almost always - is terrible. The hours are spectacularly erratic. It's hard and lonely work. To get to the top exacts a terrible price, and even success frequently results in personal tragedy.

Clearly, creative writing is obsessive behavior at its worst.

What's the point to giving, as Oscar Wilde did, a whole day to the removal, then restoration, of a comma? Why huddle in the proverbial hovel, scratching out love poems and short stories? If you want status, be a doctor or lawyer. If you want to make money, sell cars.

But we librarians understand writers. We can spot them even as children. They carry notebooks. Their eyes blaze as they walk through our bookstacks, as if they strolled among gods.

Budding writers know that if they can just manage to write well enough, their words too can be preserved, touching and shaping thousands of minds to come. For some, that's the grand payoff: Immortality.

Of course, writing is appealing for other reasons as well. There is a great and satisfying craft to casting the well-rounded sentence, in making a character come alive, in startling the reader with an utterly unexpected observation or conclusion.

Libraries have many responsibilities, but among our most important are the recognition of local writers who have "made it," and the encouragement of new writers.

I am very much on the lookout for local authors. If you know of anyone who has published a book, or you've published one yourself, come talk to me about it. I'll buy it!

But how to stimulate and develop new local authors? Here's one way: I am pleased to announce the "1990 Budding Author's Contest."

The Friends of Douglas County Libraries will be offering cash prizes for original works of poetry and short fiction. Submissions will be due at any Douglas County Public Library System branch no later than 4:00 p.m. on November 24, 1990.

We're particularly interested in getting children involved in creative writing. All the schools in the Douglas County School District have received a copy of the official rules for the contest.

Adults are also invited to submit their works. Free copies of the rules are available at your local branch library.

Writers know that writing is hard work. But we hope too that they know they'll always have a home at their local library. After all, without them, where would WE be?


I'd like to close this week's column with a farewell. Stephen Buffy, our Reference Librarian, will be leaving us this week to take a position as a reference librarian for the Sonoma County libraries in Santa Rosa, California.

Stephen made significant progress in improving the quality of our reference collection. He has worked particularly hard on our business reference materials.

Stephen's other project has been the development, with Beryl Jacobsen of the C.S.U. Extension Office, and the Information Systems staff of Douglas County, of a Community Information Referral database. If you have a microcomputer and modem, you will be able to tap into this database from home. Not incidentally, you'll also be able to "dial in" to the entire catalog of library holdings. But I'll have more to say about that next week.

All the staff at the Douglas County Public Library System will miss Stephen. We wish him the best of luck at his new position!

Wednesday, October 31, 1990

October 31, 1990 - Say Yes to Libraries

On November 6, Douglas County voters will determine the future of the Douglas County Public Library System. The very last -- BUT NOT LEAST -- question on the ballot concerns the formation and funding of a Douglas Public Library District.

Before you vote, please consider the following facts about library services in Douglas County:

* Douglas County residents use their libraries. From 1988 to 1989, the use of library materials increased by 37 percent. Nationally, library use inched up by 2.9 percent.

* According to a study conducted by an independent consultant at the end of 1989, the Douglas County Public Library System has half the books, half the space, and half the staff it should have.

* The library is currently funded by the county at 1.1 mills. Last year, that was about $16.41 cents per household. By state law, the county cannot give us more than 1.5 mills. Even if we could be guaranteed a funding increase to the legal limit, 1.5 mills still wouldn't enable us to meet minimum national standards for library service.

* The library, due to increasing costs for library materials and the need to staff public service desks to keep up with the demand, is projecting a deficit of $130,000 in 1992. If the district does not pass, this deficit will require us to reduce hours of service and reduce the number of books we can buy, despite the extraordinary demand for increased service.

* Even compared to other public libraries along the front range, the Douglas County Public Library System is under-funded. Most of the public libraries in the metro area alone receive two to four times as much per capita funding as we do. As a consequence, they have more books and are open more hours. And as a consequence of that, a lot of Douglas County residents go elsewhere for library services. Who can blame them? However, you may not be aware that the Douglas County Public Library has to pay twenty-seven-and- a-half cents for every book one of our patrons checks out from another library. This year, we paid $7,000 to other libraries. Last year, we paid $6,000. If we're going to be spending money on library materials, wouldn't it be nice if they could stay in Douglas County?

* The Library Board of Trustees has adopted an ambitious Long Range Plan. If enough people say YES to the District, we will have the resources to open all major branches seven days a week, double the book budget, purchase a bookmobile to serve rural residents and the homebound, increase children's services, expand and renovate our existing library branches, and open a new, storefront library in the Highlands Ranch area.

* The only way for the Douglas County Public Library System to get the funding it needs is to follow the lead of many other Colorado county libraries and establish a library district. If approved, the district would levy a property tax of 2.75 mills. That's a tax INCREASE of about $25 a year on a $100,000 house, or a little over $2.00 per month. The county would drop the 1.1 mills it currently taxes for libraries. In effect, if you vote for the library district, you're promising to buy one more book a year for the library.

A productive, informed, and literate society depends upon a public library that is vital, vibrant, and highly visible. The library must actively recruit the young, and demonstrate to them the incomparable splendor of the written word.

To fulfill this mission, it must have sufficient financial support. We do not have it now.

It's time to turn to a new page in the history of Douglas County's public libraries. And you, the reader, will write that page.

Please vote on November 6.

Wednesday, October 24, 1990

October 24, 1990 - costs versus value

This will come as a big surprise, I'm sure, but things cost more than they used to. Even in libraries.

The last comic book I bought cost $2.00. It wasn't THAT long ago that they were twelve cents apiece. But even when comic books took up my entire childhood income, I thought it was a reasonable expense. I got hours and hours of pleasure from them. I believed then, and still believe now, that the value -- the WORTH of the comic book to me -- far exceeded the cost.

The October 5, 1990 issue of Publisher's Weekly , the book trade magazine, charts the changing costs of "real" books. For librarians, it's an alarming story.

Let's look at some popular hardback book categories. From 1977 to 1988, the cost for biographies increased by 69%, fiction by 75%, juvenile books by 77%, sports and recreation by 123%, and travel by 42%. The average cumulative retail cost for all categories of hardbacks in 1977 was $19.22. By 1988, that cost had risen to $39 -- a 102% increase in a little over a decade. Just from 1986 to 1988, the average cost for hardbacks climbed about 15%.

If you're a dedicated book-lover, or "bibliophile," you probably buy at least two books a month without quite realizing it. That could vary from about $10 for two new paperbacks, to $40 a month or more for hardbacks. But if you just gotta have a new mystery, romance, or computer book, it's worth it to you. The value is greater than the cost.

Of course, if you're a SMART bibliophile, you have another choice. You can go to the library.

In 1989, Douglas County residents checked out 324,700 items. (Incidentally, that was a jump of over 37% from 1988 -- over twelve times the national increase in library use.) Not all of our materials are hardbacks. We check out a lot of paperbacks, which are often much cheaper. On the other hand, we buy and circulate many items that cost more than books -- for instance, videotapes, audiocassettes, magazine subscriptions, and reference books.

Let's take the average hardback cost ($39) and apply that to each item checked out. By that reckoning, in 1989 Douglas County residents got $12.6 million dollars worth of value from its library system, based solely on items checked out. The library's budget in 1989 was $655,866. In other words, for every tax dollar you paid for libraries, you got $19.31 worth of service. Even if you drop the average cost to $20, you still got ten bucks back for every buck you paid.

And that doesn't include whatever a children's story time is worth to you and your kids. You might try pricing that against a morning in daycare. It doesn't include the many hundreds of reference questions we answered, at least some of which may have saved people thousands of dollars. You might compare that to various purchasing or investment services.

In 1989, the average Douglas County household paid about $16.41 for public library services. If you checked out just one book from us that year, you got your money's worth. If you read a newspaper, looked up a stock price, used a consumer guide of some kind, or, like my wife and daughter, checked out a bare minimum of fifty children's books a month, then you got many times your money back.

As the over 27,000 registered patrons in this county have discovered, libraries are a high-yield investment opportunity.

Wednesday, October 17, 1990

October 17, 1990 - Reference services

Some people believe that cooking with aluminum is a prime cause of Alzheimer's. If that's the case, I must have been using aluminum pots since, well, since I can't remember when.

I have been cursed with a poor memory. The best you can say is that it is erratic. Ask me the secret identity of the original comic book speedster, and I've got it in a Flash. (Jay Garrick.) Ask me who I'm supposed to meet for lunch today, and I haven't a clue.

When you work in a library, you run across a lot of interesting stuff. If you could remember the answers to all the questions that come up in a day, by the end of a week you'd be a genius. The trouble is, at least my trouble is, I can't even remember the questions.

So I've come to depend upon three basic reference tools. The first one you've probably seen in grocery stores all over the country. It's called "The World Almanac and Book of Facts." No library is without one, and no home should be. A current World Almanac alone can answer close to 50 percent of the questions that come up in a day.

The second basic reference source is an encyclopedia. I think the best one for a family is still the "World Book" -- it's easy to use, written in language children can understand, and impeccably researched. Grolier puts out an excellent encyclopedia as well. Encyclopedias provide the more in-depth information you sometimes need.

A third reference tool -- and I could not live without it -- is a dictionary. I like "The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language." I'm the only person I know who will sit and read a dictionary for pleasure. But language defines us, gives us tools to invent or discover meaning, and English is the richest language in the world. The least we can do is learn to correctly spell and savor the words that inform our lives.

Together, an almanac, dictionary and encyclopedia will answer close to 95% of your questions about the world. Every literate household owes it to itself to invest in a home reference center.

But what about the other 5 percent?

The Douglas County Public Library System has over 100,000 volumes. Roughly 5,000 of them are reference books. Some of them -- like the "1990 New Car Cost Guide" by the Automobile Invoice Service, the "N.A.D.A. Official Used Car Guide," and various Consumer Report publications -- provide information that can save you hundreds of dollars.

Others, like periodical indexes, association directories, or college handbooks, can help you track down other kinds of current facts.

The truth is, there are reference sources for nearly anything. Some are esoteric. Many are prohibitively expensive for families. But that's precisely the point of the public library. We pool our money to buy what none of us can afford by ourselves.

In the technologically complex 'nineties, information may be the most important commodity of our culture.

So the next time you get to wondering about something -- a purchase, a career change, an adventure mental or physical -- you might want to give the library a call. (That's right, we'll even answer questions over the phone!)

It's worth remembering.

Wednesday, October 10, 1990

October 10, 1990 - Children's programming/services

Recently I took a hard look at my life. While I was at it, I examined the lives of most of the adults I know. And I came to a startling conclusion.

We just don't build a year like we used to.

The older we get, the more we have to get done in less time. We hurry. And time is just like anything else. If you don't pay close attention to what you're making, it just doesn't last as long. The reason time goes so fast for adults is simple -- inferior craftsmanship.

By contrast, children put some quality effort into their minutes. I distinctly remember when I turned five. Subjectively, it took almost three agonizing years to get from Thanksgiving to Christmas, nine months of it on Christmas Eve alone.

On the other hand, Christmas morning lasted a good six weeks.

This difference between the way adults and children see the world is just one of the things that makes libraries so interesting. Adults may do a little browsing, but basically they're in and out. They want quick information or a little well-earned distraction, all with a minimum of fuss.

But for kids, because their moments are so big, because they'll take the time to listen, libraries are a different story altogether. And speaking of stories, storytelling for children just happens to be one of the things we do best.

It seems simple enough. A librarian sits or stands in front of a group of youngsters, reads aloud, and shows some pictures from a book. Most story times last about half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes with a little craft activity thrown in.

But in what most adults would call a brief span of time, miracles occur. I've seen it. Children get excited about language. Through stories, they learn how people behave, and why. Perhaps most important, they learn that learning itself can be enormously engaging. And they get in the habit of hanging around books.

Take your children to McDonald's, and they learn to like hamburgers. Take your children to the library, and they learn to like books.

Of course, children aren't the only people who benefit from story times. New moms, or moms new to the area, are big winners too. For one thing, library story times are one of the few free activities left. Moms meet other moms. Their kids meet other kids. Everybody learns something, including the librarians. (Some of the best, clearest writing in the world is in children's non-fiction.)

So the deceptively simple practice of library story times has two big and complex results. Adults get connected to their community. Kids kick off a whole lifetime of reading predicated on enthusiasm.

If you've never taken your children to one of our story times, maybe you should make the time to look into it. If not now, when?

Here's our story time schedule:

Philip S. Miller Library (Castle Rock): Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. The Tuesday sessions are designed for 2-5 year olds. The Thursday sessions for 4-5 year olds.

Parker Library: Tuesday at 10 and 11 a.m. (for one-and-a-half to three year olds), and Thursday at 10 and 11 a.m. for 3 to 5 year olds.

Oakes Mill story times are held on Mondays and Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m.

The Louviers Library has story times at 2:30 every Thursday afternoon.

Wednesday, October 3, 1990

October 3, 1990 - Comparisons to other libraries

Two weeks ago I talked about some of the problems faced by the Douglas County Public Library System. Based on national standards, we have half the space, half the materials, and half the staff we ought to have.

But how do we compare to other Colorado libraries?

Every year, the Jefferson County Public Library produces a chart listing selected statistics of 20 Colorado Public Libraries with operating budgets greater than $400,000. DCPLS (that's us) doesn't stack up very well.

There are a lot of ways to compare libraries, the most obvious being the size of the populations they serve. Other key facts about libraries are how many books they've got, how much per capita support they receive, and how many hours they're open.

Of the twenty libraries, five of them serve about as many people as Douglas County (around 60,000), or fewer. Those libraries are Englewood, Littleton (Bemis), Longmont, Loveland, and Pitkin County.

Englewood has half our population -- but more books (108,000 to our 100,000), and over twice the per capita support ($25.76 per person, versus $10.73 per person in Douglas County). Englewood's library is open 65 hours a week. We're open 52.

Littleton also has about half our population. It too has more books (106,000) and a per capita support that is over twice ours ($25.01). It is open 64 hours per week.

Longmont serves about 10,000 more people than we do, but has over 50,000 more books, and a higher per capita support ($12.74). It is open 66 hours a week.

Loveland serves fewer people (about 37,000), has slightly fewer books (81,000), but almost twice our per capita support ($19.53). It is open 62 hours each week.

Pitkin County serves about a fifth as many people as Douglas County, has half as many books, and a per capita support almost four times ours ($38.27). It offers 66 hours of library service each week.

Our near neighbors -- Arapahoe County and El Paso county -- have libraries that serve 133,977 and 373,062 people respectively. The Arapahoe Library District has 289,526 books, a per capita support of $32.36, and is open 68 hours each week. Pikes Peak Library District in the Springs has 711,547 books, has a per capita support of $22.63, and is open 64 hours a week.

The Douglas County Public Library System currently receives about 1.1 mills of tax money. That has bought us a system that is only half as good as it should be, and considerably worse than most of the libraries around us. Under state law, a county library cannot levy more than 1.5 mills. Library districts -- like Arapahoe County and Pikes Peak -- can levy up to 4 mills, with voter approval.

I think the problem is clear. But as I asked two weeks ago, what's the solution?

Here's the recommendation of the consultants hired by the county for its master facilities plan: "The 1.5 mills legal limit regarding funding will #not#, in the judgment of the library consultants, produce the revenue needed to ensure Douglas County the level and quality of public library service the residents of the county will expect. Additional sources of revenue will be required. .... A library district offers the very #best# opportunity for the level of funding that the Douglas County Library System will need as it advances through the 1990s and into the next century."

Wednesday, September 26, 1990

September 26, 1990 - banned books week

As a librarian, naturally I oppose censorship. It's even in my job description. When people express concern about books on our shelves, I carefully explain that libraries have to try to represent all points of view on many subjects. We have an obligation to buy things that people tell us they want to read -- even if other people object to it. After all, I say, this is America. Freedom of Speech is a basic, constitutionally guaranteed right. That means the freedom to listen, watch, or read, too.

But censorship is a tricky thing. Last week I sat down to watch "The Wizard of Oz" with my three-year-old daughter. No sooner had the movie started than it hit me -- since early childhood, I have had recurring nightmares about tornadoes. Sometimes still I dream about dark, looming trees that reach out and grab me. All at once I realized where those images had come from -- the same movie I was about to show to Maddy.

"Hey, I know!" I said brightly. "Let's watch #Dumbo#!"

What happened to my daughter's constitutionally guaranteed freedom to view? I threw it out the window. Why? Because I'm bigger than she is.

It's a problem. Intellectually, I am well aware that what you don't know, does hurt you. Knowledge is always the best defense. But like lots of parents, I want to protect my child from the things that I'm afraid of.

It's hopeless, of course. Soon enough, she'll have her own demons, probably from a completely unsuspected source. "Daddy," she'll say when she's twenty-seven, "I've always been terrified by elephants, anyone with big ears, and clowns, and fire. And it's all because YOU MADE ME WATCH DUMBO!"

I can try to rationalize my censorship of my daughter's television viewing. After all, I'm her father. It's my job to look out for her, right? At some point, I realize that I have to let go. But when is it safe?

Never, according to some people. They think it's not enough to limit what young children see or read. They think that even in high school, you have to protect young minds from unwholesome books. They believe some ideas should be suppressed even in college. They think the convenience store magazine rack should carry only those items approved by some self-appointed guardian of the public morality.

What do you think?

September 22 - 29 is Banned Books Week, a national event observed by booksellers and librarians. During the week, all of Douglas County's libraries will have displays of books that somebody, sometime, has tried to censor. The titles will surprise you. During the same week, Hooked on Books, the Castle Rock bookstore at 112 S. Wilcox, will display materials too, and hold daily readings of banned books.

Saturday, September 29, the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock will sponsor a mini-forum on censorship. Beginning at 1 p.m., Connie Willis, a Nebula-award winning science fiction author who happens to live in Colorado, will read one of her short stories. It concerns censorship in the near future. The story has appeared in the "Humanist" magazine.

Then Lucy Tanner, a Douglas County businesswoman, will speak on the other side of the issue. Tanner no longer patronizes Hooked On Books because she objects to some of the materials they carry.

The public is invited to attend -- and to participate in what we hope will be a stimulating exchange of ideas. Following the forum, Connie Willis will be at Hooked On Books by 3:00 to sign copies of her books.

All the events are free. And you, of course, are free to come.

Wednesday, September 19, 1990

September 19, 1990 - The HBW Report

In 1989, Douglas County contracted with Pouw & Associates, Inc. of Denver to create a "Facilities Master Plan." A part of that plan addressed the future of the Douglas County Public Library System. HBW Associates, Inc., a nationally-known library consulting firm based in Dallas, Texas, surveyed library staff, combed through library and community statistics, evaluated library buildings, and came up with some recommendations.

I saw the first draft of the "Library Facilities" report shortly after I was hired six months ago. I was impressed. It isn't often that new directors get -- in their first week -- a current, comprehensive, unbiased, amply-documented analysis of their new library's problems.

I was pleased to see that "the Douglas County Public Library System continues to provide library services to the citizens of Douglas County in an admirable fashion through the existing facilities." That matched my initial (and continuing) impression of my staff -- a hard-working bunch.

On the other hand, "At the time of the site visit by the consultant from HBW Associations, Inc., the Library was already exhibiting signs of an inability to respond to ever-increasing demands for library service." Small wonder. The jump in library use over the past couple of years is over ten times the national average.

HBW Associates also highlighted some very specific and significant weaknesses of the Douglas County Public Library System, based on comparisons to national library guidelines. In brief:

* The Douglas County Public Library System should have 42,420 square feet of library space by 1990. The library has less than half that right now -- 21,000 feet total. Based on even the most conservative estimates of population growth, the library system will need 92,540 square feet by 2010.

* The library now has about 100,000 items in its collection. For our current population, the collection should have at least 242,400 items. By the year 2010, it will need at least 528,800 items.

* The library now has 252 periodical subscriptions. It should have 606 in 1990, and 1322 by 2010.

* DCPLS has less than half the recommended number of librarians, clerical, and circulation staff. As I've written before, I believe libraries should be open at least as often as video stores. In Douglas County, libraries are open just five days a week. More hours means more staff.

To restate the above, in all the most the basic elements of a library -- space, materials, and number of staff -- the Douglas County Public Library System is #inadequate# to serve #existing# needs, much less "to respond to ever-increasing demands for library service."

HBW had many other suggestions for the branches. The Philip S. Miller Library should build up its core reference collection. Our business collection is especially weak. The Parker Library needs at least 3,000 square feet of new space immediately. The Oakes Mill Library (in the Lone Tree development) should have a meeting room. Highlands Ranch needs a library branch. Everybody needs more computer catalog terminals. That's just the beginning.

As I say, it's swell to find out what all your problems are. The next step, the tough part, is to figure out some solutions.

But I'll talk about that in two weeks. Next week's topic is censorship.

Wednesday, September 12, 1990

September 12, 1990 - The kindness of strangers

Sometimes the generosity of strangers astounds me.

One summer, shortly after I turned 8 years old, I got my fifty-cent weekly allowance the same day a carnival came to town. I rode my bike down to the grocery store parking lot and looked it over.

In those days fifty cents bought four comic books. Or it bought two glorious rides on the Octopus. What to do?

I turned it over for about fifteen minutes. And while I considered, I timed the Octopus ride: not quite 6 minutes. With some bitterness, I decided on the comics. They not only lasted longer the first time, I could read them again. It was a better investment.

So I bought the comics. Then, sadly, I pedaled back to the Octopus to watch it again for a while.

No sooner did I arrive than a miracle occurred. A young man got off the Octopus with his date. She looked distinctly sick. "Home," she gurgled into her hand. The young man looked a little put out. In his hand was a roll of about twenty tickets. He glanced at me, then, with a flourish, said, "Here kid, they're yours."

I spent the rest of the afternoon reading comic books while whirling over the Piggly Wiggly parking lot. Every time the Octopus stopped, I'd turn a page and hand the attendant a ticket. Life doesn't get much better.

The Douglas County Public Library System has had its benefactors too. Foremost among them is Philip S. Miller. As I mentioned last week, in 1966 this astonishingly civic-minded gentleman gave $25,000 to get a public library started in Castle Rock. In 1971, Miller donated $5,000 toward the campaign to expand the library.

But in 1987, his generosity to the library transcended all bounds. He wrote a check for $510,000, canceling the debt on the new building. Ever wonder why we call the Castle Rock branch the Philip S. Miller Library?

Likewise, the Parker Library would never have come into being without private philanthropy. Over $100,000 has been donated by Parker library supporters.

Louviers gives us library space rent free. The newest branch, the Oakes Mill Library, was built at no cost to Douglas County taxpayers by (now embattled) developer Bill Walters.

Another key player in the development of Douglas County libraries is the group (or groups) known collectively as the Friends. Castle Rock, Parker, the Lone Tree Development, and Highlands Ranch all have Friends groups. These organizations raise money to buy things the library needs but cannot afford, like the Philip S. Miller Library's new microfilm reader/printer.

The Friends also sponsor programs, like Parker's wonderful travel series, or Oakes Mill's recent outdoor festival featuring Indian dancers, children's games, and classical music. Friends groups keep people informed about library doings, as exemplified by the doggedly determined Highlands Ranch Friends of the Library group, which keeps plugging the library system even though Highlands Ranchers have no library of their own.

I haven't even mentioned volunteers -- the thousands of people who have stamped books, held children's programs, worked booksales, and otherwise contributed their valuable time in the name of better library service.

The value of all these contributions is significant. Even so, taken together, they wouldn't fund library operations for even one year. You just can't run a library on gifts. But the Douglas County Public Library System has had an extraordinary run of luck, relying -- like Tennessee Williams's Blanche DuBois -- on the kindness of strangers.

Wednesday, September 5, 1990

September 5, 1990 - Thumbnail sketch of DCPLS History

Over the past couple of days, I've gotten a crash course in the history of the Douglas County Public Library System. Sally Maguire, a library volunteer, gave me a thick notebook of clippings. Lynn Robertson, former library Trustee and current branch manager of the Philip S. Miller Library, filled in the gaps.

Since most of the people living in Douglas County haven't been here very long, I thought I'd pass along what I've learned. Look at it as a short lecture on civic history.

Here are some key dates and events in the life of the library:

1966 - People start talking about the need for a Douglas County Library. Also in March, the Friends of Douglas County Library form. In June, the County Commissioners appoint a Library Planning Commission. In November, the Commissioners establish a library fund of $5,000 for 1967. At the Library Board's first meeting, Philip S. Miller and his wife donate $25,000 for library construction.

1967 - A Castle Rock library opens in temporary headquarters in August, at 311 Third St. The Parker branch opens in the basement of the Methodist Church.

1968 - There are 842 regular borrowers, out of an entire county population of fewer than 2,400 people. In June, 1968, the library wins a national publicity award. Douglas County enjoys 8 regularly scheduled bookmobile stops provided by the Plains and Peaks library system of Colorado Springs. On December 10, 1968, the new library opens on Gilbert Street in Castle Rock.

1969 - Louviers, which had run its own volunteer library for some time, becomes a "book depository" for the County Library.

1974 - The library increases hours from 27 per week to 45 per week. Phones are installed at the Parker and Louviers branches.

1975 - The Perry Park Branch opens in June.

1976 - February sees the grand opening of the Castle Rock addition. In May, the library cancels reciprocal borrowing privileges with metro libraries due to lack of funds. But on December 1, reciprocal borrowing resumes due to public protest and some extra cash from the county. In September, Commissioner Gil Whitman suggests that the library form a special district.

1977 - In February, the Parker library moves from the basement of the Parker Methodist Center into the old Parker Methodist Church. In October, circulation of materials reaches 63,780 county-wide (3.4 books per every man, woman and child in county). The mill levy is .64.

1979 - On August 13, a "mini-library" opens in Acres Green.

1981 - Planning begins for a permanent library in Parker.

1982 - In July, a site is chosen for Parker Library.

1983 - Discussion begins on need for new Castle Rock Library. The library and the school district agree on shared use of the library at Northridge School Highlands.

1984 - This year sees a great deal of private fund-raising activity for the Parker Library. The library at Acres Green closes -- C-470 takes its place. A library at Lone Tree opens, donated by developer Bill Walters.

1985 - The new Parker Library opens. The Perry Park branch closes.

1987 - The new Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock opens in October.

1989 - In August, the Northridge Library closes.

In the 22 years since the library was founded, we've come a long way. We now have over 30,000 borrowers, out of a county-wide population of approximately 60,000. Our circulation last year was 324,700 -- over five checkouts per person.

Not surprisingly, this growth has depended on extraordinary community support. Next week, I'll give some examples.

Wednesday, August 29, 1990

August 29, 1990 - No TV

A couple of years ago, shortly after my wife, daughter and I moved into our first house, I made a bold decision. We were going to put the TV in the basement. Our new (upstairs) living room was bright, warm and cozy. I just knew it would be the perfect place to have stimulating conversations, read aloud to one another, and roll around on the floor with our daughter Maddy. Who'd have time for television? I got so excited by the prospect, I went one step further. We cancelled our cable subscription.

And by God, we did it. We put the TV in the basement.

It stayed there two days.

How can I explain this? The reception wasn't very good in the basement. There was a great documentary on one night. Everybody knows you should watch PeeWee's Playhouse in your pj's, and it was just too cool in the basement. For Maddy, I mean.

You get the picture. Or did the picture get us?

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I spend whole evenings camped out in front of the tube. I hardly move a muscle or change a channel. On such nights not only do I not get anything useful accomplished, I can't say as I feel all that relaxed afterward. If anything, I'm restless, irritable, depressed.

If this sounds familiar to you, probably you've suffered similar pangs of embarrassment. But it's not until you catch your child staring at the flickering screen with the same slack-jawed mindlessness as her parents that you truly feel the stab of raw guilt.

Let's face it. America is in real danger of becoming a nation of "vidiots."

When I lived in Greeley, I worked with local schools to sponsor two "TV Turn-Off" weeks. Kids (and their parents) had to take the pledge: absolutely no television for a week. No news. No Saturday morning cartoons. No Nintendo. No mini-series or soap operas.

We got a thousand people signed up the first year. The second year, two thousand kids and parents signed up.

How well did it work? Adults said they were surprised how much time they had all of a sudden. Teachers said they noticed that the children were a lot less violent, and that they listened better. Young students said they read more books and spent more time with their families.

And when the week was up...everybody went back to watching television.

Well, on September 1, 1990, KCNC-TV (an NBC affiliate) is going to do something no television station has done before. According to their press release, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. the station "will air no program and no commercials for a half hour." Instead, KCNC will show (in both English and Spanish) some information about adult literacy and children's reading programs. They'll also give the phone number of the Colorado Literacy Hotline. Volunteers will be waiting at the Colorado Literacy Assistance Center. (The numbers, incidentally, are 894-0555 in the Denver area and 1-800-367-5555 for callers outside Denver.)

So on September 1, why not take a break from your regularly scheduled programming? Why not...read a book?

Wednesday, August 22, 1990

August 22, 1990 - blind and physically handicapped

There are about half a million legally blind people in the United States, about 1.5 million who can't read a newspaper without magnification, and approximately 10 million people with irreversibly impaired vision. World-wide, about 23 million people qualify as "blind," although in fact most of these people have some residual, usable sight.

In the United States, the leading cause of blindness comes down to aging -- everything from muscular degeneration to cataracts to withering of the optic nerve.

For some people, even reading books with large type becomes difficult. But the Library of Congress' Talking Books program offers a solution. Here in Colorado, the program is administered by the Colorado State Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. How does it work? If you suffer from a visual or physical impairment that prevents you from reading standard print, even if the impairment is temporary, you can choose books in Braille, in large print, on cassette tape, and/or on record. There is no cost for the service. The Colorado State Library provides you with the tape and record players and ships you both the catalogs and the materials through the regular mail. When you're done with the books, tapes or records you just mail them back, again at no charge.
The program lets you pick romances, mysteries, Westerns, non- fiction and magazines. Materials are available in several languages, including Spanish. The materials are current -- right off the best-seller lists.

Starting next week, the Castle Rock, Parker, and Oakes Mill branches of the Douglas County Public Library System will display some promotional materials for the program. We will also have a deposit collection of audio-cassettes for people already signed up for Talking Books. If you've begun to have trouble reading the books and magazines you'd like to read, or you know someone having trouble, maybe you should stop by or call us. We will be happy to describe in detail how the program works and demonstrate the equipment.

There are three ways to register for the program. We can sign you up right at one of our branches. Or, you can write the Colorado State Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (131 Sherman Street, Denver CO 80203) or call them at 1-800-332-5852. They will send you the application form.

Being "blind" doesn't have to limit your world. Just as there's more than one kind of reader, there's more than one kind of book. Reading is for everyone. You see?

Wednesday, August 15, 1990

August 15, 1990 - The National Public Library Card

Imagine that you've got some relatives in Seattle. They're visiting you for the week. Just before they leave, they mention that they sure wish they had something to pass the time on the long drive back.

You smile. "I have an idea," you say. "Let's go to the Philip S. Miller Library." Your relatives look puzzled, but they figure you've just been struck by a burst of civic pride, so they go along with you.

You walk into the beautiful library in Castle Rock. Your relatives are impressed. You take them over to the audiocassette racks. You hand them the unabridged cassette version of #Moby Dick#. They look at it, bewildered.

"Do you have your Visa or Mastercard with you?" you ask.

"Sure," they reply. "We always take it with us when we travel."

"Great! Take the tape up to the circulation desk."

"What are you talking about?" they demand.

So you tell them, "As of Monday, August 20, the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock is the first library in the country to participate in the National Library Card Network. By using your valid Visa or Mastercard, people from outside the area can check out up to ten items, for two weeks at a time."

"What does it cost?"

"If you mail back the library materials when you're done with them, all you pay is postage."

"What if I don't get them back?"

You smile. "Then the library sends the charge slip through for payment. You want 'em, you bought 'em. The library then uses the money to replace the materials."

"What a great idea!" your relatives exclaim. "So my credit card is like -- a National Library Card!"

"Exactly," you reply. "And spread the word. It all started in Douglas County."

Fact: the Douglas County Public Library System Board of Trustees has indeed authorized us to become the first site of the National Library Card Network.

After all, we thought of it.

A lot of other people in the state are excited by the project too. Nancy Bolt, State Librarian of Colorado, has endorsed the National Library Card and will help us push it not only in Colorado -- we're talking with libraries in Littleton, Denver, Colorado Springs, and Loveland right now -- but also around the rest of the country.

People who use libraries regularly know that libraries are great places to stop and find out what's happening locally. Sometimes, you can get maps and travel brochures -- usually provided by the local chamber of commerce.

But there's a problem with visiting other libraries. And it happens to me almost every time I go on vacation. Librarians in other states, even in other Colorado cities (outside the metro area), just won't let me check out materials from their libraries. They're afraid they won't get it back.

The solution? The National Library Card Network protects local libraries from loss, and makes it possible to keep people reading even when they're not in their home towns.

I believe that any literate American should have to right to use any public library in the country, from sea to shining sea. Could be this is a long overdue step in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 8, 1990

August 8, 1990 - Melvil Dewey, the lech

The name Melvil Dewey probably doesn't mean a whole lot to most people. They have a vague notion that he either invented the Dewey Decimal System (right) or that he once ran for President (wrong -- that was Thomas Dewey). Some people may even know that he was one of the many unsuccessful advocates of reform in English spelling (witness "Melvil" instead of "Melville").

But to librarians, Dewey is known for many things. He was strikingly modern.

Aggressive, visionary, charismatic, he galvanized those around him to work unceasingly for the establishment and promotion of library services. He designed a library classification system -- an attempt to describe the entire possible universe of human knowledge -- that endures to this day. He was one of the founders of the American Library Association. He established the first library school and had a great deal to do with the establishment of many others. He pushed the idea of bookmobiles -- even before there were cars.

He was, also, well, (A lecher? A swinger?) an excessively romantic person. It could be that he founded so many library schools because his influence, energy and charm attracted so generous a supply of fine, almost exclusively feminine candidates.

Consider this little known (and possibly apocryphal) tale: one of the requirements for admission in the first library school was an ample bust measurement. To Dewey, the plural of "book" was "buxom."

Dewey may have been less than enlightened, but he was no fool. In his day (around the 1890's), the single greatest, untapped human resource was womankind. He identified and appealed to a pool of extremely intelligent, highly educated, passionately dedicated women. Then, he gave them a socially acceptable way to work. The first librarians came out from their women's clubs and drawing rooms to take their rightful places at the hearts of their communities, promoting ideas, becoming the vanguards of high-quality education. It was they who first conceived the RIGHT of public access to information -- then made it possible.

Without the extraordinarily competent women Dewey summoned to his cause, libraries as we know them could never have come into being. Not only did these first librarians institute the highest possible standards for education and service, they also worked cheap. Women then were like Third World people now: a remarkably inexpensive source of high quality labor.

Librarianship is still a female-dominated profession. And like other female-dominated professions -- teaching, for instance -- the pay remains fairly low relative to other, male-dominated fields. This is particularly illustrative given the educational requirements for librarians, which usually consist of at least one to two years beyond a bachelor's degree.

From childcare to school to public library, the education of our populace rests largely in the hands of women. Yet most women -- in libraries as well as many other work environments -- still suffer low pay and low status, even though their jobs are of overwhelming, even crucial importance to the nation.

We still don't grasp how our society ought to compensate the intellectual merits of women. Or Dewey?

Wednesday, August 1, 1990

August 1, 1990 - The public library: yours, mine, and hours

There are at least three key facts about any public library: it's yours, it's mine, and its hours.

That's not a misprint. H-O-U-R-S. Sure, the library is "ours" in the sense that it belongs to all of us. But a significant factor in the success of any business is how often it's open.

Everybody's schedule is busier than it used to be. Even on the weekends, most of us have more errands than time.

In recognition of that fact, smart businesses have started to keep more flexible hours. Example: the grocery store that never closes.

Another example, and one that maybe deserves a closer look, is video stores. Earlier today, I called one of the video stores in town. "What are your hours?" I asked. "Ten to ten, seven days a week!" he said.

Isn't that wonderful? So simply put! So easy to remember! That's marketing that understands the importance of customer convenience.

Libraries could learn a lot from video stores.

Of course there are other factors at work. If you have preschool children at home, stop for a minute and add up the number of minutes you spent reading to them last night. Then add up the number of minutes you either watched TV together, or let them watch TV by themselves. Spooky, isn't it?

We teach children to watch TV before we teach them to read. According to Jim Trelease in the book #The Read-Aloud Handbook#, "The average kindergarten graduate has already seen more than 5,000 hours of television in his young lifetime. That is more time than it takes to obtain a bachelor's degree."

Reading is a skill. The more you do it, they better you get at it. But reading also takes time, and these days there's plenty of competition for the simple pleasure of a book.

Only about half the public libraries in Colorado are open 10 or more hours per week outside the normal 9-5 business hours. Why? It's as obvious as it is frustrating: funding. If you want to increase library hours, you have to increase library budgets.

When we get serious about wanting our children to read, public libraries will be as common and convenient as the neighborhood video store -- with similarly accommodating hours.

In the meantime, here's a reminder of the current hours of all the branches in the Douglas County Public Library System. Why not post it on your refrigerator?

PHILIP S. MILLER BRANCH (Castle Rock): Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Summer preschool storytimes are held Tuesday mornings at 10, with a program for older kids on Thursday at 11.

PARKER BRANCH: Monday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Summer preschool storytime is Monday evenings at 7 p.m.; for older kids, Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.

OAKES MILL BRANCH: Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Summer preschool storytimes are held on Tuesday mornings at 10:30 a.m.; for older kids, on Wednesdays at 4 p.m.

LOUVIERS BRANCH: Thursday, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., with a program at 1:30.

LARKSPUR LIBRARY (at the elementary school): Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., with a program at 10.

Wednesday, July 25, 1990

July 25, 1990 - The decline of correspondence

Last night my wife and I got a rare and precious gift -- a letter from a friend.

The friend, Gary, is living for the summer in a ramshackle cabin near Middlebury, Vermont. He dwelt in loving detail on the kitchen, the windows, the knobby pines, the sewings of his wife. I sat out on my porch and gloated over every word.

"Isn't it wonderful?" my wife sang from inside.

"I hate it!" I shouted. "I'm already on the last page!"

So I read it again.

Most of the year, my friend is an English teacher at a small college in Illinois. Probably he can be forgiven for his unabashed revelry in the English language.

But his letter reminded me of something he had said years ago. At that time, he was busy transcribing and indexing a trunk-full of correspondence from his wife's great-grandmother, a woman named Mollie. Mollie had lead a fascinating life, tightly bound with the development of Mormonism. A turning point had been the death of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Mollie's people broke away from Brigham Young to follow Joseph Smith, Jr. Her letters documented this deep rift in what was then a young religion, as well as Mollie's often eloquent observations of the people and events of her time.

"Did you ever stop to wonder," Gary asked me, "how historians will reconstruct the people's lives of our time? #There are no letters#."

The decline of correspondence sounds trivial, but isn't. Even a generation ago, people took the time to write each other. Letters were often the only way they had to bridge the gap of distance and time. Today we might send cards when the calendar dictates -- but those are Hallmark sentiments, not ours.

Of course, distance doesn't mean what it used to. I can fly the thousand miles back to my hometown in a couple of hours. Or I can do what so many people do in America -- phone home. I may not get anyone the first ring. But one of my sisters has call-forwarding, and the other has a phone-answering machine.

But suppose some night I talk with one of my sisters on the phone, and I suddenly remember a story she has never heard before, a story my grandmother told me. Maybe my sister will remember enough of it to pass on. More likely, this little chapter of family history will disappear, as irretrievable as the wind.

Right now (unless the police show an interest in you) you can't replay a phone conversation. By contrast, letters, like books, are infinitely repeatable experiences. You can rush through them once, savor them the second time, read between the lines the third time, catch the subtle joke the fourth time, and so on, ad infinitum. You can pass them on to your descendants.

I treasure my friend's letter because it represents an island of literacy in a sea of transient conversation. And I will keep it.

So the next time you feel the urge to communicate, why not reach out ... and #write# someone?

Who knows? One day it just might wind up in a library.

Wednesday, July 18, 1990

July 18, 1990 - The People's University

I was the first person on either side of my family ever to be graduated from college. And when I put myself through a Master's program, I think both my parents were prouder than they could say.

But my grandfather, my mother's father, was the only one in my family who correctly reckoned the worth of my sheepskins.

"I have no respect for credentials at all," he said. "Did you learn anything?"

At the time, I wasn't sure, and I said so. I hadn't #tested# any of it.

Now I think I have learned some things. And the best of what I learned, I learned from my grandfather.

He was a good teacher. From the beginning of our relationship, he paid me the greatest compliment any grownup can pay a child. He asked what I thought about things, and he listened to my answers. He encouraged me to hold even outrageous opinions. There was only one ground rule. I couldn't just make things up. I had to have at least looked at the evidence. And to make sure that I could do that, my grandfather took the crucial, fundamental step of taking me to the library.

My grandfather believed that the public library had a special role in our society. He called it the People's University.

It's true. The doors of the public library are open to anyone. We don't charge tuition. If you show proper reverence (meaning you bring things back on time and in good shape) you don't have to spend much on books. You can work your schooling around your own schedule. There are no exams -- other than the ones you choose to give yourself. You go at your own pace, studying only the subjects that matter to you. And for teachers, you can take your pick of the finest minds who ever lived.

I do not understand, I have never understood, our society's exaltation of sports figures. When I was an undergraduate, I ran across a fair number of people on sports scholarships. As near as I could figure, their primary concern was their individual physical performance at the next big game. Some of them -- I know from direct experience -- were even graduated without knowing how to read. And the university claimed to be proud of them.

I reserve my admiration for the man who works long hours at a bad job to support a family, then sets aside an hour a week at the library, where he tackles the subjects that will help him find a better job. I have tremendous respect for the grown woman who struggles to learn to read so that SHE can read to her young child. And I am more excited about a child eager to have and use a library card than I will ever be over an overpaid human showhorse who can run faster or jump higher than some other overpaid human showhorse.

There is something pathetically wrong about a culture where more men know the rules to football than can read above the fourth grade level.

It's taken me a long while to finally understand that education is not something done to you; it's something you do for yourself. It won't happen sitting in front of a television. Sometimes, it doesn't even happen at an expensive college. But it happens every day at the People's University -- the public library.

Wednesday, July 11, 1990

July 11, 1990 - Comic Books

When I was in fifth grade my parents got me a pair of black, horn-rimmed spectacles.

Some kids fretted about the names other kids came up with -- "Four Eyes" being the kindest -- but that never bothered me. From the very beginning I truly liked having glasses. Partly, it was because I discovered that I'd been living in a sort of French impressionist world and hadn't even known it. I used to think trees were made up of intriguing swashes of color. Turned out they had sharply-etched leaves, definite branches and bark. The world was abruptly crisp and clean-edged. It was exciting.

But that's not the real reason. Even when I first learned that I MIGHT need corrective lenses, I was almost smug about it. Why? Because I have always identified with Clark Kent.

The first "real" book I read was #Danny and the Dinosaur#. And I can still rattle off the whole of Dr. Seuss's #Green Eggs and Ham# from childhood memory. But I LEARNED to read from comic books.

A lot of parents think comics books are intellectual fluff. But nothing could be further from the truth. Comics are wonderful bridges to literacy. A child can enjoy the pictures right from the beginning. But what really hooks the interest and imagination is the plot. To follow the plot a child needs to develop a vocabulary. At the age of 6 I could recognize and spell "invulnerable." Could you?

I cut my teeth on DC Comics, featuring Superman (50 years old last year), Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash, and many, many others. The stories often hinged on some "gimmick" -- a scientific fact or bit of logical deduction. I learned not only to imagine the improbable, but also to look beneath the surface of the story, to analyze and detect. Comic books taught me both to dream and to reason.

As I got a little older, I switched over to Marvel Comics. There I found Spiderman, the world's first neurotic superhero. I discovered Thor, the Thunder God, who sparked in me an abiding interest in Norse mythology and literature. The world of comic books gradually acquired all the rich complexity of the real world, a morass of plot and subplot, the likely and the legendary all intertwined.

In retrospect, I think superhero comic books were some of the best teachers I ever had. (Of course now that I'm an adult I read more sophisticated fare, like the comic book "Flaming Carrot.")

Parents, if your son or daughter is drawn to these universes of inspiration and heroism, please be kind. In fact, you should probably increase his or her allowance (and kids, you can tell your mom or dad that a college-educated person said so). Your child is not only learning to read, but learning to emulate greatness of power and spirit, tempered always with compassion and integrity.

To the world I may be a mild-mannered librarian, but in my imagination I have learned to leap tall buildings at a single bound. I thank comic books.

Wednesday, July 4, 1990

July 4, 1990 - Overdues

Many years ago, the public library in the small Illinois town of Towanda (motto: "I love to wanda on the plain") had a simple but effective way of getting its overdue books back.

Every Monday, it posted in its big storefront window the names of all the people who hadn't brought their books back on time. It also listed which books were late.

This Window of Shame sat right next to the only other business in Towanda, the Post Office. In small towns, people go to the Post Office pretty regularly. And generally speaking, they are more than happy to stop and look at a public list of their neighbors' sins.

Peer pressure can be a powerful thing in a small town. If Joey forgot to bring back a Tom Swift book, he'd hear about it not only from the librarian, but from at least twelve of his neighbors. Every day. And at least two of them would want to know why he was reading that trash anyway.

One thing about Towanda, though, anything even remotely like a "dirty book" always came back early. The local pastor used to stop by that window too. Nobody wanted to wind up the object lesson of a sermon.

The next step up from the Towanda approach is to telephone people when a book is late. It works fine so long as a library doesn't check out all that many books, or there aren't that many people.

For a long time now, the Douglas County Public Library System has used the phone method. But these days you might say we're overdue for a change.

Last year, our library checked out over 300,000 items -- closing in on a third of a million. We had almost 70,000 individual library visits.

The telephone call approach just doesn't cut it anymore.

Starting this week, we're going to let our computer do some of the dirty work for us. Every day, relentlessly, it will churn out reminders that some of our books didn't make it back when they were supposed to.
It will work like this. One week after the book was due, we'll crank out a gentle reminder. You'll get it in the mail a few days later. If you fail to respond by the next week, we'll generate another notice. Now the book is two weeks overdue, and you're looking at a little bit of a fine. If you still don't bring it back, when the book is three weeks overdue our computer will print a bill. Then you've got a choice: pay us the full value of the book, or shuffle in, red-faced, return the book, and pay the fine. Believe me, the fine is a fraction of the cost of most library materials.

The point, if it isn't obvious by now, is to recover the materials -- not to humiliate anybody. You see, the books that don't come back are usually the ones most in demand. It's cheaper and usually faster for us to mail a couple of notices than to replace the item.

So if you should happen to get one of our new overdue notices, remember -- it could be worse.

You could live in Towanda.

Saturday, June 30, 1990

June 30, 1990 - Library advertising

Last night I had the strangest dreams.

First, I was in a dusty Western bar, watching a poker game. One big, grizzled cowpoke laid a spread of cards on the table before him and grinned. "Three queens," he said.

Then the man to his left, a skinny dude with no chin and an enormous Adam's apple, set his cards face down. "Fold," he said, then spit.

The next man, dressed all in black, peered up from beneath the worn leather brim of his hat. His eyes were ice-gray - cold and dangerous. His gaze swept around the table. In a gravely voice, he sneered, "Full house." After tossing his upturned cards to the table, his calloused hand reached out toward the mound of coins.

Just then a high, thin voice rang out. "Not so fast, mister." A small hand dropped over the scarred paw of the man in black, freezing it.

Then, just like in one of those spaghetti westerns, the camera of my dream turned slowly, to a rising tide of hoofclops and guitar music. And there, splashed in a dazzle of spotlight and white-fringed cloth, sat a 6 year old in a 10 gallon hat and full good guy cowboy regalia.

With infinite, almost impertinent confidence, the boy lifted his wrist and snapped down ... a Douglas County Public Library System card.

Everyone around the table moaned.

"With a Douglas County Public Library card," piped the boy, "you've always got an ace in the hole." Then, as the others lowered their eyes and backed away, the lad lassoed the money.

Then I had another dream.

The scene was -- the Philip S. Miller Branch library. But mingled with stately rows of angled bookstacks, there were benches and mirrors, and hundreds of people milling around in leotards and sweatpants.

My dream did a close-up on a beefy young man panting on the edge of a library table.

"I started out lifting some of the lighter books - V. C. Andrews, Stephen King, and like that. But now ..." I noticed that in each hand he held several volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. "Now," he said proudly, "I can bench press half the essential knowledge of mankind."

I saw an energetic young mother, aerobicizing in the aisles. "Mentally as well as physically," she huffed, "today's women go for the burn."

And suddenly, in my dream, the library had a drivethrough lane. "Your order?" a voice asked brightly. "Two bestsellers, a Newsweek magazine, and a book about current car prices." "Please pull forward to window 2," said the bright voice. "And have your library card ready. Have a nice day!"

Abruptly, I woke up, sat up, and shook my head. What was my unconscious trying to tell me?

At first, all I could think was that whenever you dream about your job, you should get to put it on your timecard.

But then it came to me. What's the real reason that more people talk about movies, health clubs, and fast food restaurants, than talk about public libraries?

Simple. Advertising.

Here we are, with a veritable cornucopia of culture, with more to offer (in my unbiased opinion) than any other institution in our society. But people persist in thinking of libraries as nice quiet places where people doze whilst reading Chaucer.

It's time for a change. Libraries need a brand new image.

Or am I dreaming?

Saturday, June 23, 1990

June 23, 1990 - Weeding revisited

Before my wife and I moved to Colorado I used to say we had a ton of "stuff" - our belongings. I was wrong. When the movers weighed everything, I discovered we had three tons of stuff. One ton - 2,000 pounds - was just books.

These days I try not to buy so many. If I want to read something, I get it from the library. Otherwise, I know that sooner or later I will once again have to whittle down my possessions to fit the available space. I hate that. I get enough of it at work.

Deciding which books not to keep is the most painful task a librarian faces. You don't get into this business unless you love books. And like everyone else, we have the unconscious presumption that a once a book makes it to library shelves, it will be there forever. The Happy Hunting Ground of the Printed Word.

But libraries not only collect books. They have to get rid of them too.

We call this process "weeding," and we do it for the same reason a gardener weeds. We need to make room for fresh, healthy growth. Just because a book makes it to the library shelves, doesn't mean it stops getting old. Over time, and despite our best efforts, the paper yellows and turns brittle. The binding begins to deteriorate. Dust collects. The lettering on the spine starts to fade. Old books eat up shelf space. After a while, they actually scare people away from the new books.

Particularly in the non-fiction areas, we can't afford to keep books more than ten years. Even five years is pushing it. Old books, particularly technical books, have bad information in them.

So every so often, librarians have to (gulp) throw books away.

How do we decide what goes? Since this is an election year, let's say the people decide. Every time someone checks out a book, it counts as one vote. Popular books are like popular candidates. They get a lot of votes. So whenever we weed, we re-elect them to our shelves.

But sometimes we find that a book hasn't been checked out in a long time. And in the public library, a book that hasn't gotten a single vote in ten years gets kicked out of office. It's democracy in action.

Even when the People Have Spoken, that doesn't make it any easier on librarians. Some books - classics, for instance - we may choose to replace with newer copies. In our innermost hearts, we still believe that every book has its reader, and every reader his or her book. It's sad when one of our books goes unloved.

So where do new books go when they've been weeded? That's the good news. Usually they wind up in library book sales. From there they pass to precisely the places that please us most. They find good homes, with people who will love them.

Until, that is, it's time to move.

Wednesday, June 13, 1990

June 13, 1990 - Summer Reading Program

I've been a father now for almost three years. In that time, I've learned a lot about the single most powerful influence on the parental mind: guilt.

On every side, the new parent is met with questions that seem simple enough at first, then get staggeringly complex. Should you use cloth diapers or disposables? Is it better to breastfeed or use bottles? Are playpens a simple lifestyle convenience -- or a sort of kiddie Auschwitz?

In some places I've lived, you almost had to get your children's names on the "right" preschool's waiting list before you got them home from the hospital. Is this academic one-upmanship, or sound educational planning? Then there's the BIG question: if both parents work, is the child going to grow up to be a serial killer?

On either side of these issues, there are hosts of persuasive experts, all citing alarming research. And as a librarian, I have to say that it makes sense to do a little reading before you make up your mind.

But guilt can go too far. A woman told me a story once that sticks with me. She and her mother were chatting when the woman's newborn child woke up and started crying. The new mom, desperate to do the right thing, started rapidly thumbing through one of the new baby Bibles to figure out what to do. The woman's mother, who'd raised six children, said carefully, "Put down the book. Pick up the baby."

I've met parents who march their children into the library the day after school lets out and announce, grimly, "Studies have shown that during the summer, children forget up to 80 percent of what they've learned in the previous year. And their reading skills can deteriorate by as much as a grade level." Then they sign up little Joan or Johnny in the Summer Reading Program in the name, I guess, of a higher grade point average.

What can I say? It's true. Children do forget a lot in the summer. BUT THAT'S THE POINT. THAT'S WHAT SUMMERS ARE FOR. Force a 6 year old to read so as not to lose an academic edge in the first few months of the next grade, and you will get a child who does not like the library.

But now that I've probably awakened all your guilt, let's put it back to sleep. Yes, I, a library expert, strongly recommend that you get your kids signed up for this year's summer reading program. Why?

Because they'll have fun! If kids read for just 12 hours over the summer -- and they can read anything they want, we'll give them fancy certificates, and PRIZES. And if you have children that are too young to read, then you can read to them for just six hours over the summer. They still get prizes.

We'll also have some other fun stuff. We'll have storytellers and skateboarding demonstrations. We'll have photography contests. We'll have air-conditioning.

So what are you waiting for? Take your kids out for an ice cream cone. Then, with great enthusiasm, say, "Hey, I just got a great idea! Let's go to the LIBRARY. I hear they've got some cool things happening this summer."

Sure it's good for them. But they don't have to know.

Wednesday, May 30, 1990

May 30, 1990 - Home schooling

What do the following people have in common: William Penn, Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Agatha Christie, Pearl Buck, astronaut Sally Ride, and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor?

None of them went to school. Or to put it more correctly, they were schooled at home.

Based on the people my staff and I see using the library, there are more and more families practicing home schooling. Others have questions.

First of all, is home schooling legal? Yes. According to Colorado Senate Bill Number 56, which was effective as of July 1, 1988, "The general assembly hereby declares that it is the primary right and obligation of the parent to choose the proper education and training for children under his care and supervision. It is recognized that home-based education is a legitimate alternative to classroom attendance..."

Do parents have to be certified teachers? No. Then how do we know if the child is learning anything? Home school students have to take nationally standardized achievement tests in grades 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 - just like the kids in regular schools.

How well do home school students do? Based on numerous studies, they do at least as well as public school students, and tend to average better.

Why do parents decide to teach their children at home?

There are probably as many reasons as there are parents. But generally, the concerns seem to fall into one of several camps: religious, academic, medical, and philosophic.

Religion is a chief concern of about 40% of the people doing home schooling. These parents feel that their values, typically Christian values, are not emphasized sufficiently in public schools. In fact, some believe that American textbooks are specifically DESIGNED to "undermine religion and traditional values."

Other parents get into home schooling because their children just aren't doing well in their studies. According to one woman I spoke with, her child kept falling behind in school and couldn't seem to get the help she needed to catch up. But when she was taught at home, she caught up, stayed caught up, and started to pull ahead.

The medical theory, put simply, is that children just aren't ready for school at the age today's society dictates. Citing research on brain and body development, they argue that real physiological damage can occur by shoving small children into school too soon. To quote educator Raymond Moore, "the eyes of most children are permanently damaged before age 12." Moore and his associates at Hewitt Research Foundation also concluded that "thoughtful learning" was not possible - due to the rate of brain development in most children - until the age of 8 or 9.

Some parents become home teachers simply because they are opposed to what they see as the incarceration of their children in a totalitarian environment. Let children be children! they argue, instead of trying to forge them into super-geniuses. While "thoughtful learning" in the sense of classroom reasoning may not be productive at early ages, children naturally soak up a great deal of information about the world just by playing in it. To quote Moore again, "...to attempt to institutionalize all young children because a few are disadvantaged...is like trying to hospitalize all because a few are sick."

What kind of guidelines exist for home teachers? I recommend Mary Pride's books on home schooling (available through the Douglas County Public Library System). Her books, such as "The New Big Book of Home Learning," are arranged in a catalog format, and provide near-encyclopedic surveys of what's out there.

What other kinds of support are available? Well, there's a Colorado Home Educator's Association and a Home School Legal Defense Association, to name just two.

Is home schooling a significant educational trend? Could be. I know one thing: home schoolers really use the library. For that alone, I give them an "A."

Wednesday, May 23, 1990

May 23, 1990 - Libraries, public schools, and Mad Magazine

When I was in college, I had to work five part-time jobs in order to eat, buy books, and pay tuition and rent. Two of those jobs were teaching assistantships.

I have the deepest respect for teachers. To get ready for just 50 minutes of class time sometimes took me up to 6 hours. Teaching is hard work.

Of course, teaching has its rewards too, even if I can't think of any right now.

I prefer the rewards of librarianship. For instance? I like talking with a two-year-old one minute and an octogenarian the next. It tickles and sometimes enlightens me.

Another reason I'd rather work in a library is that I don't think most kids really want to go to school. They're forced to. Coerced.

When children go to a library, it's more likely to be by choice. And we're a lot more relaxed about what they can do when they get here. I remember Mrs. Short, my fourth grade teacher. Once she caught me reading a Mad Magazine in class. She yelled at me, then took it away. I never saw it again.

At a library, kids can read Mad Magazine and we not only don't mind, we're thankful that they're reading. (Hmm. Do our branches subscribe to Mad Magazine? No? Then by Alfred E. Neumann, they will! You know, sometimes it's great to be the boss.)

(And by-the-bye, Mrs. Short, if you happen to be reading this, I'd just like to say that I learned more from Mad Magazine than I did from all my sappy fourth grade reading primers, and now I'm buying it for THOUSANDS OF OTHER KIDS.)

But old injuries aside, schools and libraries can and ought to be good partners.

If libraries are doing their job, they hand over kids prepared - even eager - to learn, especially to learn how to read.

Then, during the school year, public libraries provide backup for the school libraries. We not only stock our shelves with plenty of reference and non-fiction materials, we also buy lots of books - and magazines - that help children remember that reading is more than a classroom skill, it's fun!

And when school days at last are done, we provide materials to help people write resumes, find colleges (and scholarships), repair cars, cook meals, buy a house, and much, much more.

Together, schools and libraries form a sort of life-long intellectual insurance policy. The public school system is there to provide the core knowledge and basic learning skills. Libraries exist to stimulate the interest for reading in the first place, and help people track down the information they need later on.

So what do you get when you combine formal instruction on the one hand, and supplementary reference materials plus recreational reading on the other?

You get smarter kids. And eventually, smarter adults.

Before long, libraries may assume an even more direct role in public education. But I'll have more to say about that next week, when I examine what seems to me to be a distinct Colorado trend: home schooling.