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, May 29, 1991

May 29, 1991 - investigate the library

I believe that more than any other human institution, the public library offers something for everyone.

For instance, if you're just a young'n (or if you've got young'ns at home) you should know about the Douglas Public Library District's Summer Reading Program.

The theme this year is "Be A Super Sleuth!" Children who register at any DPLD library (as well as Larkspur Elementary Library) this summer, will receive a Reading Booklet, and a Reading Log. This reading log challenges children to move from a Junior Detective to Detective to Inspector to Super Sleuth (and get lots of prizes with each promotion).

How do they move up the ranks? They have to successfully complete five requirements (activities) in five different categories. The categories are: reading "In a ..." (tree, front yard, closet, box, tent, grocery store, bowling alley, and more); reading "On a ..." (bed, stair, horse, continental divide, tennis court, slide, and so on); "Reading to ..." (a baby, pet, plant, turned off tv, etc.); "Reading while ..." (doing your chores, wearing a hat, hanging upside down); and "Reading a ..." (cereal box, candy or gum wrapper, bumper sticker).

The object, in case we're being too subtle here, is to READ. READ READ READ. Read till you see letters in the lamplights, sentences in the sand, paragraphs in your palm, novels in a napkin. Read till you at last begin to grasp how magical is our language, how limitless the imagination, how bountiful the booty of the written word.

On top of all that, we'll sponsor special weekly programs (for kids 5 and older), a short story mystery writing workshop, and (coincidence?) a short story mystery writing contest.

All these activities will take place at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, the Parker Library, the Oakes Mill Library, the Louviers Library, the Highlands Library, and the Larkspur Elementary Library.

For the older folks, I'm happy to announce that we have established three other new services.

The first one is daily delivery (Monday through Friday) among all of our library branches. This means that if you request a book that happens to be available at another Douglas Public Library District, we'll get it to your closest branch within two days -- and usually, by noon the next day.

The second new service is an update of an old one. As of May 21, 1991, we can provide 24 hour, 7 day a week access to the library's computer catalog -- as long as you have a personal computer, a modem, and software smart enough to follow some pretty basic computer standards.

The phone number for our updated computer service is 688-1428. The telecommunications settings are as follows: 8 bit word, 1 stop bit, No parity; 2400 or 1200 or 300 baud rate; and you should set your "terminal emulation" to VT100.

I realize that this looks like gobbledy-gook to those of you who don't use computers much; I hope it makes sense to those of you who do. The new setup should be much easier, much closer to usual telecommunications parameters, than our old system.

Once you do get connected, count to about 10, then just hit the return or enter key. After that, follow the instructions on the screen. (When in doubt, hit "q" to "quit" out of a particular screen message, or "so" for "start over.") To hang up, just hang up.

Along the way, you may notice our third new service. From any terminal, as long as you have a Douglas Public Library District card, you can reserve any book that's checked out, or available at another (not Castle Rock) library -- then indicate at which library you would like to pick the book up. That's right, you can place your own reserves for materials without asking a librarian to do it (although we will still be happy to do it for you if you prefer).

All in all, we're ushering in a new age: the age of the self-service -- or at least self-directed -- library, with the understanding that friendly and expert help is just a shout (or a keystroke) away.

Your local public library: it's worth investigating.

Wednesday, May 22, 1991

May 22, 1991 - Pornography

Two bills are now before the United States Senate addressing the issue of "pornography." One is called the Pornography Victims Compensation Act. It would allow people who believe that they have been the victims of sexual crimes -- even if this claim is denied in a court of law -- to sue producers, distributors, exhibitors, and sellers of sexually explicit materials. The definition of sexually explicit includes materials that have not before been considered "pornographic" by the courts -- and might include anything from popular novels to anatomy textbooks.

The second bill is the Pornography Victims Protection Act. Once again, if people feel that they have been victims of pornography -- let someone take a picture of them while partially clad, for instance, even if they were adults and consented in writing -- they could sue anybody related to the production or distribution of this material.

It has not escaped MY notice that under each of these bills, every public library in the country would be summarily branded as purveyors of illegal material, and could then legally be held accountable for any bad thing that anybody else in the country did, providing that person claimed "that book (or audiocassette or videotape or magazine article) made me do it, and I GOT IT FROM THE LIBRARY!"

Forget about personal responsibility for your actions. Blame the library!

From another perspective, it would strongly discourage any publisher to even consider producing anything whatsoever about anything remotely relating to human sexuality.

So forget about Freedom of Speech, too. We can always use more books about gardening -- but let's keep an eye on those chapters about pollination.

You might want to write Hank Brown about these bills. He sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee considering them. I know I'll be writing him.

All of this reminds of a letter I got about a year ago from a friend back east who also happens to be a library director.

His library owned a particular book about sex education. Because of that, my friend was going to be charged with violation of an obscure New York obscenity law. It was a felony offense. He could have been fined $500; he could have gone to jail.

He wasn't even the one who first bought the book -- it came out long before he took the job -- but he probably would have bought it. It got mostly positive reviews in professional journals. There were even enough advance requests to justify the purchase of two copies.

But like many library books, the title seemed destined for a relatively short life. Like many library books, it was fairly popular as long as it was new, then it nestled back into the stacks and quietly began to deteriorate. One of the copies disappeared, but that happens sometimes. Before too long, the remaining copy would have been withdrawn by the staff to make way for more current materials.

Then a group of extremely vocal people with a name something like "The Parents of Our Children" really ganged up on the library. They wanted that book yanked clear out of the community. A bitter battle ensued involving teachers, students, parents, library board members and the press.

The result?

First off, the missing copy zoomed right back to the shelf. Nobody knew who'd had it, but it was pretty clear he didn't want anyone to find it at his house.

Meanwhile, requests for the title mounted.

My friend wasn't all that crazy about the book, but he was a dedicated and conscientious public servant. When 78 members of the public want to read a book, you have to do something about it.

He bought extra copies. One for every ten requests.

Eventually, the Library Board decided to keep the book, and the uproar slowly died down. Of course, for a while I thought I might have to mail my friend some submarine sandwiches -- the kind with immense metal files in them -- as a sort of housewarming.

I do understand the concern of some people that our popular culture contains too many disturbing images of violence, particularly sexual violence. The answer, however, is not to criminalize any reference to sex.

Wednesday, May 15, 1991

May 15, 1991 - Stroke Awareness month

In 1984, my mother had a devastating brain hemorrhage. Just a few days later, she was dead. Her father and mother had both had strokes; her father recovered over time, but her mother never did.

Thus May, Stroke Awareness Month, is of deep personal interest to me. A family history of strokes is one of those stroke "risk factors" that cannot be changed, like old age, or diabetes.

What is a stroke? Also called a "cerebrovascular accident," a stroke is a sudden disruption of blood flow to the brain. Without an adequate supply of blood, the oxygen supply is cut off, and brain cells die.

What causes it? Sometimes the cerebral or carotid artery of the brain is blocked (often by arteriosclerosis, or by the accumulation of fatty tissues in the blood vessels). Sometimes a section of an artery wall bursts, spilling blood into the brain.
What are the warning signs of a stroke? A sudden blurring or decreased vision in one or both eyes is a frequent signal. Stroke victims may experience numbness, weakness, or paralysis of the face, or in either an upper or lower limb, occurring on one or both sides of the body. Victims may have difficulty speaking or understanding, or swallowing. Sometimes, as in the case of my mother, people experience a severe and abrupt onset of a "headache."

Some of these symptoms are very brief -- lasting only a few minutes. They may be "mini-strokes" -- more properly called Transient Ischemic Attacks. You might feel just fine 24 hours later.

Nonetheless, if any of these things happen to you, you should get to a doctor immediately. With appropriate care, you may be able to stop a stroke, reduce its damage, or prevent a more serious, subsequent attack.

What can you do to lower the risk of a stroke? High blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, smoking, excess alcohol, obesity, and oral contraceptives (especially if you're over 30 years old), all increase the likelihood of a stroke. Some of these things can be controlled just by changes in your lifestyle: don't eat or drink too much, get lots of exercise, quit smoking, avoid birth control pills, reduce the level of stress in your life. Other factors can be addressed by medicine.
What if you, or someone you know, has already had a stroke? Get in touch with the Sky Cliff Stroke Center, in Castle Rock (688-6386 or 688-2249). This program, the realization of the dreams of K.M. Ludgivson, aims to enable stroke victims to become stroke victors. The Sky Cliff Stroke Center's primary purpose is to provide mutual support. The Center encourages people who have had strokes to socialize with each other, to play together (crafts and adapted sports), to participate in special projects for preschoolers, to share spiritual insights, and to educate themselves and those around them.

For additional information, you might contact the National Stroke Association (300 East Hampden Ave., Suite 240, Englewood CO 80110) or stop by the library.

The following books (with their call numbers) are available from the Douglas Public Library District: "The anti-cancer, -heart attack, -stroke diet," by Bill Adler (641.563 ADL); "How to prevent a stroke : a complete risk-reduction program," by Peggy Jo Donahue, (616.81 DON); "Stroke : the new hope and the new help," by Arthur S. Freese (616.81 FRE); "Stroke, from crisis to victory : a family guide," by John H. Lavin (616.81 LAV), and "After the stroke," by May Sarton (818 SAR).

Wednesday, May 8, 1991

May 8, 1991 - Art show

In my last year of high school, I had one of the best teachers of my life. His name was Mr. Misunas, a squat, zestful, baldheaded man who sported a snow white mustache and goatee.

He taught Art History, and every Monday started exactly the same way. As we opened up our notebooks, he stood before the class and said, "Please write a 200-250 word essay entitled, `What is Art?' Begin."

Every week, he gave us the same assignment. And every week, partly because we couldn't remember exactly what we had thought Art was the previous week, and partly because we had learned some new slants on Art since then, we wrote something different.
After we finished our essays, Mr. Misunas collected them. As far as I remember, he never once commented on them, although I do remember him reading them. At the end of the year, he gave them all back to us -- a record, in our own words, of what we had learned.

Naturally, all this was baffling to begin with. But I got to enjoy the exercise. Every week, I relished the opportunity to NAIL the definition of Art. Every week I was not entirely satisfied that I'd done it.

Without ever being too overt about it, Mr. Misunas communicated to us that not only was Art a pretty slippery thing, even your own thinking about it was in constant evolution.

The only definition of Art I can still remember having written is this: "Art is what Artists do."

For the past couple of days, I've been browing among the 600 or so individual pieces of art now on display at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. The art is the work of the students of the Douglas County School District (K-12).

It's remarkable. The work by elementary students is far, far better than anything I can do yet -- although maybe that's faint praise. I mean to say that these children really SEE what they're painting, or drawing, or making from oddly colored and shaped bits of paper or clay or yarn.

The work of the older students is sometimes so breathtakingly competent that you'd think they'd been commercial artists for half a lifetime.

Some of the art is funny; some, grotesque. Other pieces are whimsical, or serious, or make a statement, or exist on their own terms exclusively.

The reception at the opening of the exhibit was held on May 2, 1991 -- a year and a day after we hosted it the last time. A year ago, the exhibit was a big success.

This year, it was an even bigger success (at least judging by the number of cookies eaten).

When you have a big community event that's successful two years in a row, you have more than just a big community event. You have a tradition.

I commend the school district, the Douglas County Council for the Arts and Humanities, and the many dedicated volunteers who all helped put the exhibit together.

It's a pleasure to be involved in joint ventures among cultural institutions, particularly when the sole purpose is to highlight the astonishing talent and creativity of our young people. The DCCAH, incidentally, will be purchasing a piece of art for each elementary and middle school from this exhibit; the individual PTOs will then frame the pieces and start permanent art collections.

I still can't say what Art is, not really. But it's good to know that we have a lot of local young Artists doing it.

The exhibits ends on Sunday, May 12.