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, 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.