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, April 24, 1991

April 24, 1991 - Ted Conover

Probably there isn't a soul in America who hasn't dreamed -- at least for an instant -- of hopping a freight train and living the romantic life of a hobo.

Ted Conover actually did it. And it turns out that there's not as much romance as you'd hope.

He jumped his first freight train in St. Louis, Missouri, and traveled as far north as Seattle, Washington, and as far south as El Paso, Texas. Along the way he met a lot of hoboes, and Conover eventually recorded his insights into their lives and their motives in a book called "Rolling Nowhere," published in 1984.

While riding the rails, Conover learned about the "alien underworld" -- the illegal movements of Mexican migrant workers. Between 1984 and 1985, Conover put his fluent Spanish to work: he lived with the workers, traveled with them, picked lemons with them, and walked over the desert that joins the border of the United States and Mexico. Once again, he distilled his experiences into a book -- "Coyotes: A Journey Through the Secret World of America's Illegal Aliens."

These days, Conover is at work on a book on Aspen -- quite a change from hoboes and illegal immigrants. Or is it?

Two things are clear: Conover enjoys the clash of cultures, and he is a gifted, perceptive writer.

Conover has contributed to the Washington Post, the Rocky Mountain News, Bloomsbury Review, and it just so happens that he lives in Denver.

The Douglas County Schools District is bringing him down for a week as a "writer in residence," and they wondered if we might be interested in featuring him for a night at the library.

We jumped at the chance. There's something fitting about highlighting Colorado authors at your local library. And of course, there are some train tracks immediately to the west of us -- although naturally I wouldn't encourage anyone to jump a freight to the library.

If you'd like to meet a most unusual man with some wonderful stories, stop by the Philip S. Miller library next Wednesday evening at 7:00 p.m. Conover will give a talk, and be available to sign some of his books. The event is free, and the public is warmly invited.


Since our hours have recently expanded, this seems like a good time to update people's refrigerator list. The names, locations, hours, and phone numbers for our branches are:

PHILIP S. MILLER LIBRARY Monday - Thursday: 9am-9pm 961 South Plum Creek Blvd. Friday and Saturday: 9am-5pm Castle Rock, CO 80104 Sunday: 1pm-5pm 688-5157
PARKER LIBRARY Monday - Thursday: 9am-9pm 19801 E. Mainstreet Friday and Saturday: 9am-5pm Parker, CO 80134 Sunday: 1pm-5pm 841-3503

OAKES MILL LIBRARY Monday - Thursday: 9am-9pm 8827 Lone Tree Parkway Friday and Saturday: 9am-5pm Littleton, CO 801234 Sunday: 1pm-5pm 799-4446

LOUVIERS LIBRARY Thursday: 3pm to 7pm Louviers Village Club Louviers, CO 80131 791-READ

Coming soon: a Highlands Ranch facility!

Wednesday, April 17, 1991

April 17, 1991 - National Library Week

At this very moment -- even as you read -- you are smack in the middle of that madcap, seven day paean of pleasure known as National Library Week.

Just in case you're looking for a few library-related activities, here are a few possibilities:

- Take a book to lunch. Looking for good titles? Why not try one of the many books that has made the Hollywood crossover, like "The Silence of the Lambs," by Thomas Harris; "Dancing with Wolves," by Michael Blake; "Sleeping with the Enemy," by Mary Price; or "Misery," "The Bonfire of the Vanities," "Presumed Innocent," "The Hunt for Red October," "The Grifters," "the Sheltering Sky," "Mr. Bridge," "Mrs. Bridge," and believe me, there are others.

- If you remembered to pick up your ticket, you can attend the Night of a Thousand Stars celebration at the Ponderosa High School this evening.

- If you live in a more southern part of the county, you might consider stopping in at the Castle Rock Junior High School tonight (no tickets necessary). From 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., you'll be able to hear student authors reading aloud from their own published and unpublished stories. The stories range from whimsical stories intended for preschool audiences, to fiction based on "researched, environmental crisis issues," to general essays.

- You might also check with your other local schools to see what those ever-resourceful Douglas County school librarians have come up with this week.

- You might even stroll into one of the Douglas Public Library District branches this week. You've probably heard that we're open on Fridays and Sundays now. What better way to celebrate a National Library Week than to open our branches for every day in it?

We also have purchased many new materials in recent months.

(WARNING: LONG PARENTHETICAL REMARK.) I can recommend one new item in particular. A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a salesman selling videos from their "Americana Series." The company's name is "Sentimental Productions."

I don't usually buy anything over the phone, but the video the saleswoman described so charmed me I purchased it for the library on the spot. My wife and I watched it and enjoyed it immensely. It's called "The Signs and Rhymes of Burma-Shave."

The six-to-a-set Burma-Shave signs once enlivened the rural highways of America with such clever jingles as "Within this vale / of toil / and sin / your head grows bald / but not your chin - use / Burma Shave." And the classic safety jingle: "Past / schoolhouses / take it slow / let the little / shavers grow / Burma Shave." There were so many Burma-Shave signs (over 6,000) that people thought the company was vast -- although in fact it was a family-owned business that never employed more than about 40 people. The video features over a hundred of the jingles, and all-in-all, is a fascinating drive through the days before the superhighway.

- Sample an audiocassette book. Speaking of highways, like most of the people in Douglas County I seem to do a lot of driving. But thanks to the wonders of science, I can "read" (or at least listen) at the same time. It's amazing how short a good tape can make a long trip.

So on this very special week, do take the time to revel for a moment in the power of the printed (or spoken, or video-recorded) word.

The mind you save may be your own.

Wednesday, April 10, 1991

April 10, 1991 - The Common Enemy

My grandmother used to tell a story about her childhood. When she was about five years old, she said, she used to play dead in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, floating face down just past the first steep dropoff of underwater sand dune.

Sometimes within seconds, she said, quick and gentle dolphins would slide up to her and flip her over, then nose her limp body toward shore.

That story stays with me, as does its message: We have unseen friends. Everywhere in the world there are beings who value and act to save us.

There is a special bond between grandparents and their grandchildren. In part, of course, that's because they share a common enemy -- the generation in between.

At either end of human life, both liberties and responsibilities are limited, often unjustly. Both the old and the young are too frequently ignored and patronized. This gives them a lot to talk about, providing they can find someone to listen. And who but the old and the young truly have time for one another?

There is another similarity. Between infancy and dotage is a bewildering barrage of cultural influences. Adults define themselves by the roles of the age. They see themselves as advocates of the current cause, or victims of the contemporary crisis.

But long before all that, children manifest their individual temperaments. One is sweet and shy, another rambunctious. It seems that much of life consists of losing yourself in the world's muddle, then slowly and painfully rediscovering the unique perspective on life you had at the dawn of your consciousness.

And so the sweet and shy child at last retires, rejects the businessman's armor of indifference, and becomes more like himself again. The rambunctious child finally sheds her life of domestic devotion to reclaim her original feistiness.

The young have not yet learned to value the things their parents value. The old have learned not to. What is left is common ground: a concern for human voice and touch, the rhythm of seasons, good stories.

I find that it is precisely these stories, the stories of the old and the young, that most deeply affect me. A child, strolling around the library, reels off some half-dozen names of dinosaurs, glowing with polysyllabic pride. A many-times grandmother recites the names of places she has lived, geographical incantations. They know magic, these two.

In the vast pool of library resources, the young and old buoy me up. They connect me to the reason for libraries, to the celebration and exploration of life.

So this is a call to the community. If there are any schools that have assembled bound versions of the writings of school age kids, or older students of life with their own published reminiscences, I would very much like to see them. In fact, I would like to purchase them, catalog them, and put them out for use.

It could be that having their own books on the library shelves might give children a sense of deeply personal ownership in the library, a natural pride that woudl prompt them to show other people how to find the REALLY GOOD STUFF.

Or it could be that some children never knew their grandparents. But that doesn't mean they can't hear the stories, at least if we can persuade the grandparents to take the time to record their richest experiences.

After all, this wouldn't be the first time that library books have broken the time barrier.

Wednesday, April 3, 1991

April 3, 1991 - Night of a Thousand Stars

Many years ago, I delivered a man's car from Chicago to Tucson. I drove straight through, stopping only to respond to the irresistible dictates of nature. About half way through the journey, at around two in the morning, I stopped in a small town somewhere just south of Colorado for coffee.

When I stepped out of the car and looked up, I gasped. You see, I had grown up in an area that was both very humid and had a lot of big city lights. As a result, I'd never seen more than a handful of stars in the night sky.

But in the high, dry atmosphere of northern New Mexico, the stars were so thick, and they looked so close, that for an instant, I reached to brush them from my hair.

For me, that was a Night of a Thousand Stars.

For Douglas County, the Night of a Thousand Stars will be on April 17, at Ponderosa High School, from 7 pm to 8:30 pm. (Actually, it's the "Night of a Thousand Stars Celestial Celebrity Read Aloud," but let's not be too picky.)

The Parker/Franktown area school libraries and the Douglas Public Library District have teamed up to celebrate National Library Week (Sunday, April 14, through Saturday, April 20).

The "Night of a Thousand Stars" will feature cowboy poets, storytellers, a mime, an Olympic athlete, and other notables.

Space - and tickets - are limited. So please contact your local Parker/Franktown area school, or the Parker Library, to get your tickets while they last.

Incidentally, even the people coming to the event can be stars. Everyone is encouraged to bring a can of food, which will be collected at the gate, and donated to the local food bank. While people tend to be generous with food around holidays, hunger takes no vacations.

And for those of you who don't happen to live in the Parker/Franktown area, remember than you can be stars in your own home.

Pick an evening to announce to your family that "Appearing tonight, in a command performance, are those great interpreters of children's classics, YOUR MOM AND DAD!" Then gather in your living room, turn off the tube, crack open a book, and let it shine. Then let your children give it a try.

In the days before television, reading aloud to each other used to be one of the greatest pleasures of family life (as well as a way to keep your reading skills sharp).

Perhaps the brightest light of our times is still to be found in the printed (and read-aloud) word. And what better time than National Library Week to seek out the very best of meant-to-be-shared stories?

The family that glows together, grows together.