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, February 20, 1991

February 20, 1991 - Community Information Referral

Any social service agency or local service club faces two basic problems. The first is money: there's never enough to do what needs to be done. The second is advertising: how do you reach the people you CAN help?

The problems can feed on each other. One way to let people know what kinds of services are available is to produce a printed directory of community services. But producing a directory is expensive thrice: once to gather the information, once to organize it, and a final time to print and get it around to people. The first two just take time, and there are always plenty of volunteers for worthy causes (for a while, anyhow). But the last one takes real dollars, and sometimes the returns are small. Small organizations can wind up even poorer (and therefore less able to help folks), with no more visibility than before.

Compounding this is another difficulty: the instant a directory is published, it's out of date.

Pulling together a comprehensive service directory was just one of the problems tackled by the Douglas County Forum on the Family, a multi-agency consortium organized by Douglas County's Social Services last April. Social Services tracked down all the organizations serving Douglas County residents it could find. Then, the organizations were asked to fill out an information sheet: who were they? Where were they located? What did they do?

After all this information had been gathered into several copious notebooks, the library was contacted. Several library people met with a few bright Forum folks and started analyzing the problem.

After awhile, we realized that the purpose of a book and the purpose of a community service agency are very similar: they aim to inform and to aid. And like books, organizations have certain identifiable and consistent characteristics.

In recent years, libraries have moved their "cataloging" of books out from their card drawers and into computers. We've gotten pretty good at codifying and increasing the access to information.

So why not, we asked ourselves, treat organizations as if they were books? Why not take the information local organizations had already filled out on Social Services' data sheets and put it into our computer catalog? Why not create an electronic directory, capable of immediate updating, and costing exactly nothing to print?

We quickly created a few sample records in our database, then showed them to people. We got some good, constructive criticism, then went back to the drawing board. Finally, we defined a solid system for inputting all the information.

But then we got strapped. We needed help to get it all typed in. Beryl Jacobsen, of Colorado State Cooperative Extension, persuaded Jackie Hein to help us out.

And just a few short weeks later, the library's database swelled to encompass brief profiles of 135 organizations serving Douglas County residents.

Here's how it works.

The simplest way to use the system is to just phone the library. (Castle Rock: call 688-5157. Parker: 841-3503. Oakes Mill: 799-4446.) Our staff can quickly tell you where an organization is located, who to contact, what the organization does, and more.

If you come into the library yourself, you can perch by one of our public terminals and search for an organization by its name or initial (as either title keyword or subject), by its subject (either in a comprehensive alphabetical list of all the subjects, or individual subjects of interest), or by an alphabetical listing of all the organizations together. I've spent a lot of time testing the system, and it provides a fascinating overview of Douglas County.

If you happen to have a computer and modem at home, you can put the library's catalog on your desk, which not only gives you access to the nearly 100,000 titles owned by the Douglas Public Library District's branches, but an up-to-the-minute community service directory.

There's always a place for the printed directory. But now, the library can help shoulder some of the costs of pulling it all together and getting the word out.

For more information about the Community Information Referral system, or electronic access for your home computer, call me at 688-5157.

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