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, March 27, 1991

March 27, 1991 - Watersheds

All of us remember those key moments when we experienced sudden jumps in our understanding or ability, or when we marked our passage from one stage of life to another.

These moments range from the absurd to the profound. I remember the day (I was in fourth grade) when I finally grasped what a "paragraph" meant. Up until that moment, I thought you could only indent a line when the previous one ended at the extreme right edge of the page. This discovery changed my life.

Some of my other "watershed" events include: the first time I did a high dive (from a 60 foot cliff in Racine, Wisconsin), my first teenage smooch (and its four hour wind-up), the Year I Balanced My Checkbook, and that awe-inspiring instant immediately after my daughter's birth, when I snipped her umbilical cord and announced (in strict adherence to my wife's request), "I now declare this bridge open."

Like people, organizations have their pivotal moments.

In this, the first year of the final decade of the twentieth century, the Douglas Public Library can post two big events on its institutional calendar:

* first, the establishment of seven-day-a-week service. Beginning March 25, 1991, the Philip S. Miller, Parker, and Oakes Mill libraries will all be open from 9-9 Monday through Thursday, 9-5 Friday and Saturday, and 1-5 Sunday (excepting Easter Sunday, of course).

* second, the installation of our own computer system. Our new computer -- installed last week -- will enable us to support many more public terminals, save us upwards of $100,000 annually, and provide us the wherewithal to better manage the development of a database that is more precisely focused on -- and responsive to -- the people who use it.

With these changes come other, related changes.

One of them concerns "dial-up" access to the library's database. Unfortunately, the telephone number we have asked personal computer users to use (660-7462) has been absorbed back into the county's voice telephone system. So I'm sorry to report that the old number just won't work anymore.

We've got a new dial-in computer phone number, but it will be about a week before we'll be able to bring it up. In the meantime, I'm going to try to set up a system that will follow more usual telecommunications parameters. (A few people reported some difficulty with the "terminal emulation" required by the old system.)

Anyone who has requested a packet of information from us before will get an update on the new procedures by mail.

The other related change has to do with the number of people we employ. When we expanded our hours, we had to increase the size of our staff. So over the next several weeks, you'll see some new faces at our libraries.

Each branch manager has been responsible for hiring his or her own people, so I can't claim any credit for them. But I have to say -- I'm very impressed. It's been a long time since I've met so personable, intelligent, and dedicated a bunch of people.

For the Douglas Public Library -- and for the coming decade -- the future is an open book.

Wednesday, March 20, 1991

March 20, 1991 - It's a crime

About a year ago, somebody gave me a clipping from the Denver Post. It was about an Alabama Circuit Judge who handed down some "novel sentences."

This judge, John Rochester, after ordering some 20 probationers to read classics and write book reports, defended his unusual dispensation of justice with the statement, "They're not hanging out at pool rooms. They're home reading and writing. Hopefully they can improve themselves."

Now don't get me wrong. Although I candidly admit that if I could figure out a crime that would get me 20 years hard reading, I'd be sorely tempted to commit it, it is also an article of professional faith with me that Reading is Good. Who knows? Reading and writing together might have turned Jesse James into Mahatma Gandhi.

But just for the record, I think there's a lot to be said for hanging out in pool rooms too. (In particular, I'd recommend the recently refurbished Spur Inn in Larkspur.) A little known fact: Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, J.D. Salinger, Walt Whitman, and James Baldwin are just a few of the many major American writers who were powerfully drawn to the game of 8-ball.

Well, okay, it could be that I just made that up. Of course, to find out if I'm lying, you'll probably have to come to the library and dig through some reference books. But look at the bright side: at least you wouldn't be hanging around in pool rooms, which is where I'll be. (After regular library hours, of course.)

But back to Old Judge Rochester: he always tried to match the book with the crime. He tended to sentence reprobates to read Tom Wolfe's #The Bonfire of the Vanities# and Kafka's #The Trial#. According to the Post, "A minister who pleaded guilty to theft was ordered to read one book in the Bible each month."

I suspect that the Judge's heart was in the right place, but I'm still a little troubled by his approach.

The surest way to destroy anyone's incipient love of literature is to FORCE him or her to read. If you don't believe me, ask any high school English student.

My mother used to tell me how her favorite poem in all the world was "Oh Captain, My Captain," by Whitman. At least until one day a teacher condescended to tell her that the poem was REALLY about the death of Abraham Lincoln. On top of that, the poem included measurable and patently obvious dollops of Symbolism and Metaphors -- at least to the trained eye.

That pretty well scotched my mother's interest in poetry. How on earth, she demanded of me some 25 years later, could anyone be expected to know that a beautiful poem that never once mentioned Lincoln was about Lincoln? It SAID it was about a Captain!

In short, the whole experience made my mother feel stupid. It made her feel that the English teacher, and poetry, and even Walt Whitman had somehow teamed up to humiliate her fledgling affection for one of the human race's oldest forms of expression.

I am not a Circuit Court Judge in Alabama. However, it seems to me that it's hard enough to get people interested in literature. We may learn from what we read, but that's a result, not a motive. Those of us who read widely, read for pleasure.

Coercing law-breakers to read as punishment is not just an idea that probably won't work.

It's criminal.

Wednesday, March 13, 1991

March 13, 1991 - Computer Dependency

I have a problem. I've denied it for years, but I've reached a point where I just can't hide from the truth any longer.

I'm co-dependent.

You've probably heard about co-dependency. As psychological conditions go, it is, admittedly, a little vague. Sometimes, it seems that it can stand for almost anything.

In my case, the "co-" stands for "computer." I'll be frank: I can't get through a single day without using a personal computer at least 12 times.

I recently discovered that fact when my work computer -- WHERE I HAVE PUT EVERYTHING I HAVE LEARNED SINCE I MOVED TO DOUGLAS COUNTY -- failed. It just . . . stopped.

I consider myself a relatively calm person, but throughout that fateful day, I became progressively . . . edgier. I started snapping at people. Usually, I find total chaos interesting, involving, even amusing. But that day, even little things -- like air movement -- upset me.

You see, almost everything I do -- from composing "to do" lists, to writing memos, to documenting conversations, to tracking expenditures, even to storing people's phone numbers -- is DONE ON MY COMPUTER.


Oh sure, they said they'd fix it, but when they brought it back THREE DAYS LATER (I made them take it on a Friday), it WAS STILL BROKEN.

So I did what any co-dependent person does. I denied the problem. "Hey, I'm fine," I said to myself. I drafted a memo to a Board Member, on paper, in pencil. "No problem," I muttered, although my hands were trembling, and my eye began to twitch.

It was like chiseling each letter into stone. Barbaric. Slow. Unbearable.

So I found other things to do. I installed an electronic ordering system on one of our other computers. From now on, we'll be able to send a batch of book orders over the telephone to a warehouse in Tennessee, and get immediate confirmation of which books are in stock, and how much they'll cost with our discount. An order of several hundred books will take just a few minutes, and we'll get better (more accurate) financial data than we've ever had before.

Then I spent a little time reviewing another new piece of technology in the library. It's called Infotrac -- a computerized magazine index. You type the subject you're interested in, and a series of articles zoom to the screen, in a matter of moments. For some articles, Infotrac even includes abstracts -- short summaries of the article. Hit another key and the citation (and abstract) get dumped to a remarkably quick and quiet printer.

Then I set up another library personal computer to be able to connect (via telephone) to the CARL system -- a statewide database that contains information on more than 3 million books. I thought that might be handy for our Interlibrary Loan and Reference operations.

But every time I'd go back to my office, I'd see my disconnected monitor, the morose mouse, the paralyzed printer, and my heart would sink. I felt like an amputee.

They say they'll bring it back tomorrow. They say it will be fine. Tomorrow. I can do it. One day at a time.


Wednesday, March 6, 1991

March 6, 1991 - Genealogy

It's hard to know what to think about genealogists. I knew one member of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) so busy dwelling on her illustrious family's past that she never got around to doing anything notable herself.

"This little lizard," said another member, "claims she's a brontosaurus on her mother's side."

On the other hand, researching your roots can be a wonderful introduction to history. Eight years ago I knew very little about my forebears. Then I met a woman who just happened to have comprehensive records on the LaRue family stretching from 1606 to 1870; out of curiosity, I called my great-great-Aunt Lula, who just happened to have records from 1826 through the present. The family histories had a two-generation overlap.

So I talked to just two people, and in less than a month got detailed information covering some thirteen generations. Suddenly, the migratory paths of America were illuminated by the wanderlust of my ancestors.

But I was pretty lucky. Usually, searching out family records is a major research project. Anybody who enjoys libraries can look forward to years of happy digging.

It used to be that it was mostly older people who got interested in genealogical research. Partly, that's because you have to live for a while to grasp just how much change even one life can encompass. Upon reflection, you begin to realize how many changes were spanned by the lives of your parents, and your parents' parents.

From this realization grows a deepening pursuit of the past, leavened by a concern for the telling detail. What begins as a hobby can quickly become a way of life. (Most addictive, I think, is the mail you get from similarly obsessed people, all around the world.) As many a librarian has discovered, the Quest For Information is often as much fun as the information itself.
But lately, the average age of the amateur genealogist is dropping. Perhaps the extreme mobility of our society is the cause; people need roots.

Those of you contemplating writing a family history, or who might already have done so, should know about some of the local resources that can help you.

At the Philip S. Miller Library alone, you can find a wealth of historical information. If your focus is local history, you may be interested to know that the Philip S. Miller Library has microfilm copies of every Douglas County News-Press issues from 1881 through 1988. We also have census records for the county, cemetery records, biographies of local people who made a splash, marriage records, and more.

If you're fishing in bigger pools of family data, you'll want to take a look at the COLORADO CEMETERY DIRECTORY, the PASSENGER AND IMMIGRATION LISTS INDEX, and some of our war pension files.

And if you just want to figure out how you get started, we have such sprightly introductory guides as Laverne Galeener-Moore's COLLECTING DEAD RELATIVES, and FURTHER UNDERTAKINGS OF A DEAD RELATIVE COLLECTOR.

You should also get in touch with the Ancestor Seekers Genealogy Society, Inc. They'll give you a wealth of practical tips on tracking down elusive data, how to organize your information, and generally speaking, how to make the past come more vibrantly alive than you ever dreamed possible. They meet at the Philip S. Miller Library on the third Monday of every month. Stop by and check it out.

If neither the library nor the Ancestor Seekers Genealogy Society can give you the answers you need, we can then reach out through our Interlibrary Loan program, and gather information from a truly international network.

After all, ultimately, we're all related somehow. The fun comes in figuring out HOW.