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, June 26, 1991

June 26, 1991 - Goal One: Ready to Learn

As every dad knows, one of the greatest physical dangers of fatherhood is carpet burn.

I don't have this problem as much as I used to, but around the time my daughter learned to walk, I had raw knees for weeks at a stretch.

I remember one time when I was scampering on all fours after Maddy, who raced giggling through the living room. She was about 14 months old. Suddenly, Maddy cut into the bathroom. As I closed in on her, she glanced at me, then the door, stared at me again with a tense, thoughtful expression, then, at exactly the last moment, slammed the door on my nose.

What makes this memory so vivid is not just the dozen splinters still lodged in my nostrils. Earlier that day, a teacher friend of mine had been telling me about her class of fourth graders, and how she had planned a number of exercises in "sequencing." My friend had been teaching "cause-and-effect relationships."

Hearing her talk, I was impressed. Yeah, I thought, kids probably do need to be taught that stuff, and fourth grade is as good a time as any.

But I'm here to tell you: given sufficient need -- a demented father gallomping toward you, say -- even very young children can figure out major scientific principles with virtually no instruction whatsoever.

The reason I bring all this up has to do with "Colorado 2000" -- Governor Roy Romer's initiative to make education Colorado's "number one priority ... a community-based effort to make education a lifelong pursuit -- from the preschool years, through the school years and then continuing through the remainder of an individual's life."

"Colorado 2000" is the first offshoot of "America 2000" -- a federal agenda that consists of six national goals. Communities are supposed to adopt the goals, set some local objectives, then make them happen.

Colorado 2000 raises some important issues. But it has holes in it too, some underlying premises and leaps of faith that deserve closer examination.

Here's one gap: in the entire 31 page Colorado 2000 workbook about the Six Goals, the word "library" appears just once -- where the library is mentioned as a provider of adult training in basic literacy. In short, virtually no one at the federal or state level has grasped the true significance of libraries to education.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to explore these Six Goals a little -- in part because I don't think the library is adequately represented in the discussions I've heard, and in part because the more people we can involve in the examination of our educational system, the greater the likelihood that we can improve it.

The first goal of Colorado 2000 is that "All children will start school ready to learn."

This addresses some important issues. It acknowledges the long-overlooked significance of pre-natal nutrition, which may have a profound effect on the capacity of an infant to develop intellectually.

The responsibility for pre-natal care, of course, falls far outside the scope of public education. It belongs to the parents.

But it also sends another message. "Ready to learn" is explicitly linked in the Colorado 2000 workbook with preschool classes.

I think we need to ask several questions: does "ready to learn" mean nothing more than "ready to start school"? Are "learning" and "schooling" the same thing?

I submit that every human being is born with the innate capacity to learn. It can be drilled or beat out of us. Nonetheless, every child, whatever his or her circumstances, is at any moment eager to learn, whether or not these moments are buttressed by official pedagogical apparatus.

Too, there is some convincing data that children ought not to start school until about the age of 8. Early "intervention" may not be the answer to a better-educated citizenry.

Let's not forget, incidentally, that public libraries are, or can be, major players in this process of early education. We sponsor story hours. We provide thousands of books, audio-kits, magazines, videos, and other materials to parents who could not possibly afford them on their own. We recommend specific titles to parents and children both, often introducing them to universes of intellectual adventure.

Finally, and most powerfully, we convey to children by direct example the excitement and value of literacy.

Our children are smarter than we think. And their lessons start long before they go to school. Some of them can happen at the library.

Wednesday, June 19, 1991

June 19, 1991 - Louviers

About a year ago, Lynn Robertson, branch manager of the Philip S. Miller Library, got a long distance phone call.

It was a man by the name of Didier Muller. He was calling from Cresskill, New Jersey.

One night, while idly thumbing through an American atlas, Mr. Muller started looking for the name of the city where he'd been born.

He found it.

"Did you know," he asked Lynn, "that there is only one Louviers in the entire United States?" Only he didn't say, as we do in Douglas County, "loo-veers" (accent on the second syllable). He said, "loo-vee-ay" (accent on the last syllable). In case you don't travel much, "loo-vee-ay" is a town in France. And that's where Mr. -- pardon, Monsieur -- Muller hailed from.

As it happens, there are quite a few Parkers around. Montana has a Castle Rock. California has a Larkspur. There's a Greenland, Arkansas, a Greenland, New Hampshire, and Sedalias in both Kentucky and Missouri. Nobody has a Franktown -- but in the index of the road atlas, Franktown isn't listed as a Colorado town, either.

No, the only bona fide, absolutely original town name in Douglas County is Louviers. (Well, actually, there's no Shamballa Ashram either, but that's another story.)

There are probably a lot of people in Douglas County who don't even know that we HAVE a Louviers. To get there, you have to head south of Highlands Ranch on State Highway 85 -- it's about half way between Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock, just west of the railroad tracks. (Turn west at the old depot labeled "Hellsville.")

Louviers used to be a company town, founded by the DuPont family. The DuPont who named it was born in Normandy, France -- not far from Louviers. It is said that the rolling hills of the area reminded him of HIS childhood home.

If you haven't been to Louviers, Colorado, you really ought to drive through this charming hamlet for a visit. Among its many other distinctions, Louviers has the oldest continuously operated bowling alley in the state. A two-lane operation, it's located in the heart of the community -- the Village Club building.

I understand that the best (only?) job right there IN Louviers is pin-setter -- but it calls for a lot of mighty quick digital action. The bowling alleys are busy most every night.

This is in remarkable contrast with Louviers, France. As far as I know, Louviers, France has no bowling alleys at all!

It does, however, have a lot of other things.

Based on the letter Lynn just received (which included lots of picture postcards), Louviers, France has half-timber houses, a Museum of Theatre and Opera Scenery and Cinema Sets, Gothic cathedrals, at least one winding river, many businesses, a central square, and, sure enough, high, rolling hills all around.

I don't know, I must confess, whether Louviers, France, has a public library. I'm kind of hoping that it does. I sure intend to find out. But whether it does or not, I'm sure you'll agree that the most neighborly thing to do is to send our sister city in France a few choice items to remember us by.

Beginning immediately, I'm going to start assembling a package of unique, all-American artifacts, suitable for mailing to our French cousins. If you'd like to contribute, just stop your gift by the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, care of the LOUVIERS SISTER CITY PROJECT. I'll see that it gets there, and I promise to report on any correspondence we may receive after that.

If you'd like to attach a letter to any Louviers inhabitants, I'm sure they'd appreciate it. Why, we might find a whole city worth of pen pals!

Meanwhile, if you'd like to find out more about Louviers, France, stop by and talk to Lynn.

Until then, au revoir.

Wednesday, June 12, 1991

June 12, 1991 - Lost and Found - and an infestation of miller moths

Everybody understands that the job of the library is to collect things. But I hope you won't be shocked to hear that some of the things we collect, we really don't want.

For instance, here at the Philip S. Miller Moth Library -- did I say moth? How did that get in here? Hold on, let me toss that rascal out ... oh, and this one, too, and dang, here's another one! [WHAP!!]

Where was I?

Oh yeah. While it is true that some people don't bring their books back when they're supposed to, just lately a good many of them ARE leaving us lots of other things.

Recently a couple of my employees (thanks Pat!) called my attention to our bulging Moth and Found Box - oops, that's LOST and Found Box - stashed behind the circulation desk. As Scott McIntyre (former writer for the News Press, and current Library Assistant) put it, "We've got keys to BMW's, datebooks with no ID (how's that for organization?)...a term paper on astrology, a pacifier (for that really intense patron), everything including the kitchen sink (stopper -- two of those, actually)."

And then there's my personal favorite: an empty 8 ounce Tootsie Roll can. As almoth - excuse me, alMOST - everyone knows, you don't see that many Tootsie Roll cans anymoth -- pardon me, anyMORE.

Did somebody leave the door open?

Also in our piles of ownerless possessions, we've got four pairs of children's sunglasses, a few of them in such strident hues that you need sunglasses to look at them.

We've got a blue jump rope with pink handles. I moth - MUST! - say, I just know some kid is crying his or her eyes out over this. Somebody's mom (notice that I did not say MOTHer) better skip down here right away and pick it up.

For the older, more fashion conscious readers, you may be interested in our bracelets: one made of absolutely genuine black plastic, the other of (imitation, I feel sure) gold. We've got a couple of pairs of girl's plastic headbands, too.

And every moth - that's every MONTH - we get something new. We do have a staggering number of keys lately. One key chain, as Scott notes, appears to be for a BMW -- or at least something from Murray Moth - sorry, Murray MOTOR - Imports. Another key ring has a couple GM keys on it, as well as an interesting blue bottle opener.

We've got fingernail clippers. We've got a bona fide, red, elastic, GI Joe belt, which if it fit me, I'd be tempted to keep.

We've got a HUD sales contract addendum. And we have one photocopied act of the intriguingly titled play, "When God Comes for Breakfast, You Don't Burn the Toast."

We also have a host of assorted hats, coats, scarfs, and sweaters.

And although I even hesitate to open my moth - my MOUTH, I mean - about this: in our meeting room, there's a blue denim jacket, draped nonchalantly over a chair by the door.

I was going to carry it over to the Lost and Found box myself the other evening, but it was kind of dark, and when I reached for it ... it reached for me.

Well, okay, about 50 moths fluttered off the jacket arm. It looked to ME like the jacket wanted to dance.

So I'd feel a lot better, people, if you all could flutter down here to the Philip S. Miller Moth Library, take all your stuff back, and put me out of my moth-ery.

Misery, I mean.

Thursday, June 6, 1991

June 6, 1990 - I am not an ax murdere

Based on some unusually frank conversations I've had with several Douglas County residents recently, I've discovered that there's a significant concern about the library that until now, no one would come right out and talk about in public. Today, I'm going to tackle this thorny issue head-on.

Why, people want to know, does our new library director look like an ax murderer? They are referring to the alleged picture of me that appears over my column each week.

I hasten to add that I do NOT look like an ax murderer. Most days, I look no worse than your average petty criminal.

No, seriously, and as strange as it may seem, in person I have short blonde hair, don't wear glasses, and am completely clean-shaven. "All that hair," as one person referred to my ostensible distinguishing characteristic, only appears in photographs.

It's weird. I LOOK remarkably like Robert Redford in the movie "The Great Gatsby." But I PHOTOGRAPH like Charles Manson, the cult killer. I don't understand it. All I can figure is that I'm the innocent victim of a cruel conspiracy -- some closet Democrats tinkering with the negatives, maybe.

My problem, unfortunately, is that people now EXPECT me to look like an ax murderer. When they meet me, they don't believe that I'm the new library director.

So I've been forced into a drastic solution.

I'm going to start wearing glasses. I'm going to let my hair grow out. Then, I'm going to dye it black. I'm going to grow a beard. Of course, I'll never look as wild as this character in the picture. I'll be neatly trimmed and so forth.

But then, when I give talks to lunch clubs and such, people will no longer think I'm a liar when I claim to be the new library director. Instead, they'll think I'm an ax murderer -- but somewhat better looking than my picture in the paper. A #reformed# ax murderer.

There's an old cliche: don't judge a book by its cover. But the truth is, people DO judge books by their covers. That's why book stores put the covers face out, and that's why more libraries are starting to do the same. It's the way people's minds work. You can ignore it, or you can exploit it.

Naturally, I'm not happy that I've had this scruffy, disheveled image thrust upon me by the Daily News-Press. I'm so naturally conservative that I sleep in pinstriped pajamas, with their own little regimental clip-on ties.

But the advertising has already been done. Now I'll just have to do the best I can with it.

I hope that this clears up any lingering doubts people may have had about me. Believe me, the library Board of Trustees hired an extremely traditional-looking sort of library director. The media, for unfathomable but probably sensationalistic reasons of its own, has forced me to adopt another persona altogether.

Next week, I'll try to get the paper to use a new picture of the new me. In the meantime, the Citizen's Coalition to Make the Library Director Get A Haircut, can just hold off on the phone calls for awhile, okay?

Thank you.

Wednesday, June 5, 1991

June 5, 1991 - Patron comments

Only the public can say for sure just how well its library is doing. The problem, then, is discovering what the public thinks.
From May 6 though May 19, the Douglas Public Library District (and volunteers from our Friends groups) conducted patron surveys. If you came into the library during that week, we probably asked you to take the time to fill one out.

We not only wanted to hear from you how we were doing. We also wanted to gather some otherwise hard-to-get statistical data -- specifically, how often people actually found what they were looking for, and whether they searched by subject or by particular title. But we also encouraged people to make comments, and we got a lot of them: twenty pages worth.

As usual, the people of Douglas County were both generous and frank.

Let's look at the comments first. At every one of our branches, the single most frequent observation (77 times) concerned our staff. The typical comment was this: "The service is excellent. People are extremely helpful and friendly."

I have a theory that a public service institution has 30 seconds to prove itself. If you stand before a circulation desk and if in half a minute, no one greets you, smiles at you, and offers some help, the library has flat-out failed in its mission. It doesn't matter how many books or other materials it may own. It doesn't matter how fancy the building is, or how much money it has. People make service, not things.

On the other hand, if you do get a quick response -- even if it's just a smile and an "I'll be right with you" -- people will be happy with the service even if the library doesn't have everything you would like it to.

I believe our staff are very service-oriented; they enjoy their jobs, and they enjoy helping people. But again -- only you know for sue, and I'm pleased to discover that you agree with me.

Our most popular service, judging from the comments, is clearly children's story hours. That was one of the first things I noticed about Douglas County's libraries -- in every one of our branches, we have people who like to tell stories, and have gotten pretty good at it. Story hours perform an essential function in public libraries: recruitment. They make children want to read; they demonstrate in the strongest possible way the value of books.

We've been putting a lot of effort and money into buying new books this year. As a consequence, we got a lot of comments on our rapidly improving selection of materials. It's better -- but it can, and will, be better yet.

I was very interested in the most frequent suggestion for improvement: you want more audiocassettes. We have a lot of them now, but you would like more of them, and particularly, more unabridged books on tape.

There were many suggestions and even a few criticisms. Several people suggested lengthening our checkout period.

Please note too that this tells us only what our existing library users think; it still doesn't tell us what the people who don't use the library think or don't think about our services.

Do feel free to give me a call if you have some comments you didn't get a chance to make.