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 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.

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