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, August 28, 1991

August 28, 1991 - Author Biography Files

As everybody knows -- or at least I hope they do by now -- libraries buy lots of reference books. There are many, many sources of information available these days, and over the past year, the Douglas Public Library District has made a concerted effort to gather at least a core collection of them.

But what people may not know is that sometimes libraries also create their own reference sources.

Gina Woods, the new branch manager of our Oakes Mill Library in the Lone Tree development, was the former manager of the "Professional Information Center" -- a special library within the SouthEast Metropolitan Board of Cooperative Services (SEMBCS).

Shortly after she started her job there, a teacher came in asking for biographical information about popular children's authors. About 40 of them.

So Gina did a sweeping search of biographical reference books and computer databases. She even wrote the publishers, asking for promotional material about the authors. By the time the second teacher came in, Gina realized that this kind of request was going to recur, so she started saving the results of her searches.

The Professional Information Center is no more; it suffered from a round of recent SEMBCS budget cuts. But fortunately for us, Gina -- and her files on more than 380 popular children's and Young Adult authors -- are very much around. The "Author Biography Files" occupy two file cabinet drawers at the Oakes Mill Library.

Thanks to the wonders of telefacsimile (FAX) technology, all of that information is instantly available from any of our other libraries as well.

I found out about this new reference source when I was doing some background study on Bret Ellis Easton, author of the young adult classic, "Less Than Zero," and his more recent, and very controversial, "American Psycho." I was amazed by how much I learned not only about what Ellis had written, but how he felt about it.

Or perhaps you've heard of Crescent Dragonwagon, author of "This Is the Bread I Baked for Ned," "I Hate My sister Maggie," "Margaret Ziegler Is Horse-Crazy," and others. How does anybody get a name like "Crescent Dragonwagon"? Gina's Author Biography Files includes the text of an interview with the writer, who used be named Ellen. But that means "the Queen." It was the 'sixties, and Ellen was decidedly anti-authoritarian. So she just gave herself a new name: Crescent, or "the growing."

As for the last name, she was about to marry a young man (once "Mark," then "Crispin") and they were trying to come up with a good, new, last name for themselves. After a long time without coming up with anything, Crescent said, "Maybe we're taking ourselves too seriously, maybe we should pick something completely frivolous." He said, "Like what?" She said, "Oh, uh, um, like Dragonwagon." Since then, she has said that we wishes she had chosen something a little less flashy.

These kinds of data can be hard to come by. And as Sharon McElmeel put it in her book "An Author a Month (For Nickels)": "There is no doubt in my mind that sharing ... information about authors, illustrators, and the books themselves has a direct impact on the joy, enthusiasm, and eagerness ... children bring to their ... reading ..."

As Gina puts it, "There's something wonderfully humanizing about learning something about the person who wrote a book you've enjoyed. I hope all of our patrons will have fun discovering some of the interesting things that are in the files."

The files, parents may note, also provide a quick way for children to gather information for school reports.

Next week I'll talk about another reference source DPLD staff have developed: local history notebooks.

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