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

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

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

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, July 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.

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