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, 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.