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, October 30, 1991

October 30, 1991 - Tao of management

Among the most popular materials in the collection of the Douglas Public Library District are those items relating to business and business management. Not only do we see a lot of activity in the BOOKS on this subject -- such as "In Search of Excellence," or the one I'm reading right now called "Odyssey," by Apple Computers, Inc.'s John Sculley -- we checkout a lot of business-related audiocassettes, presumably to those would-be executives who drive into Denver every day.

I understand the urge to better oneself, but I have a special problem with these kind of materials. You see, when I was growing up I developed a profound suspicion of anybody and everybody who happened to be in charge. There were a lot of slogans around in those days, and I believed at least two of them: "Never trust anyone over thirty," and "Question authority." Now I'm over thirty. Even worse, I'm a boss. So whenever my staff disagrees with me, I tend to want to side with them. It usually turns out that they're right anyhow.

I don't mind people disagreeing with me. It's just that when they do, I think they should at least have the good grace to be wrong.

Nonetheless, I do want to be a good boss. I've studied Theory Z, One Minute Management, Management By Objectives, even MBWA (Management by Walking Around). But none of them has quite captured the way I think things really work.

But I did finally find a book that really captures MY management style, and I think more people need to know about it. It's available in book or audiocassette format from the Douglas Public Library District, and I recommend it highly.

The book is "Tao te Ching," Chinese for "The Book of the Way." ("Tao," incidentally, is pronounced "Dow," as in the "Dow Jones Average.") The Tao te Ching was written sometime between 600 and 400 B.C. It is the basic text of a religion and/or philosophy known as Taoism.

Not much is known about the man who wrote the Tao te Ching. He was called Lao tzu -- a Chinese phrase that translates, more or less, as "Old Man." Legend has it that he was an archivist -- a kind of librarian.

The translation I recommend was published in 1988 by Stephen Mitchell, who has two unique qualifications as translator. First, he has had fourteen years of Zen training. Second, and perhaps as a consequence of the first, he has a remarkable sensitivity to what makes a good poem. His renderings of the Tao te Ching's 81 short verses are both plain and pure.

And in verse 17, I found everything I believe in as a manager. Here are the first two lines: "When the Master governs, the people / are hardly aware that he exists." This doesn't mean that just because you don't know where your boss is, he or she is Enlightened. It means that a boss shouldn't be too oppressive. Work should be as natural as play. It should be interesting, something you choose to do because it's fun - not something you're forced to do even though you hate it.

Here's the second stanza: "If you don't trust the people, / you make them untrustworthy." I've had too many bosses who hired me, then wouldn't let me do what they hired me for. This is not only counter-productive, it's humiliating.

And here's the last stanza: "When his work is done, / the people say, `Amazing: / we did it, all by ourselves!'" I know this for a fact: When I leave my staff alone, they astonish me with their creativity.

It seems that sometimes the best thing a boss can do is to stay out of his or her employees' way.

That Lao tzu, he was some librarian. Not only was he responsible for the shortest religious scripture in history - he wrote a business management classic.

Wednesday, October 23, 1991

October 23, 1991 - Halloween

I am a baby boomer. That means that nearly anything I did as a child I did in the midst of a teeming cloud of other children.

While that wasn't always such a wonderful thing, on Halloween it was magnificent, because on that one night, the whole world and all its treasures were OURS.

I can still see it: a full, harvest moon, a feckless wind with just a hint of winter, a damp and restless tide of leaves, jack-o-lanterns leering from each porch, and as far as the eye could see ... gnomes, goblins, witches, ghosts, hoboes, princesses, cowboys, animals, anything and everything. All just my height.

For one night each year, the grown-ups were banished from the streets. Instead, the Little People swarmed the sidewalks. Invincible and mysterious, we could kick at doors and demand sweet booty.

And get it.

Of course, all this was before the scares about poison and needles and other sick stuff more modern folks pack into candy. Back then, the sole concern of children -- and I took this mighty seriously, myself -- was to get the best loot possible in the shortest time. Here's how I did it: first, I scoped out the best stops in my territory (using the first, or "scouting" costume), and quickly reviewed the pickings back home (with an eye cocked for Snickers bars and Hershey's dark chocolate). Then, I changed to the serious or "real" costume, and revisited the best doorsteps. Often, I'd mumble a quick, poignant plea for an extra treat for my sick and utterly fictitious brother, who I would allege was home in bed with a fever.

It was great.

And there was the delicious thrill of terror: the old brick house at the end of the block, encircled by mutant crab-apple trees, overgrown weeds. No street lights. Three or four of us would crouch down in sight of the rotting wooden porch, whispering, "You go!" "No, you!" until finally one of us would tremble up the steps and press the doorbell.

Slowly, creakingly, we'd hear the huge, shambling steps of the unknown, never-glimpsed owner. The door would crack, and a white, palsied hand poke out over the rustling bag of the trick-or-treater. Something would drop, and the kid would leap screaming from the porch and scurry back to safety. We'd all demand -- "What was it? What'd you get?" -- then dig out, every year, a scrawny, worm-nibbled apple. We'd toss it back toward the porch and run, whooping like the savages we were.

I don't think many children today will ever know the wild -- but utterly innocent -- joy of Halloweens like that. Today parents deploy their 1.6 children along the well-ordered streets, carefully inspecting each piece of candy for signs of tampering. It's all as well-policed as a preschool party.

But we don't have to give up on Halloween yet. At each of our library branches over the next couple of weeks, you'll find a sampling of programs that seek to recapture the fun and sheer shivery excitement of this unique holiday. Check the calendar elsewhere on this page to find out when you can come listen to spooky stories, or learn how to carve pumpkins, or just enjoy the spectacle of children in costume.

Trust me. It's a treat.

Wednesday, October 16, 1991

October 16, 1991 - Daily story-times

Lately, I've been taking a daily walk, right after lunch. It's about a three mile loop and usually takes around 40 minutes. The road wiggles east from the north end of the library all the way back around to the south. For variety, I walk the loop the other way.

It's a new routine that fit itself into my life with surprising ease.

Walking the same piece of ground every day, I have learned a deep appreciation of the terrain. Every day I stumble across some new view of the mountains or hillsides, or find in the change of brightness, or cloud patterns, or dust in the air, or the sound of the wind, or the angle of the wind, a subtle and compelling difference.

I think of this stroll as a walking meditation: an opportunity to break with the usual and wake up to a wider glory.

Also -- and I hesitate to mention this -- I am doing a few "isometrics." Isometrics, in case you never sent off for the Charles Atlas book that used to be advertised in comic books (I got his special, paperback, 98-Pound Weakling Edition), involves a series of exercises wherein you systematically pit one muscle against another.

Of course, some of these exercises look pretty weird. Last week, for instance, a few golfers crested the hill just as I stepped into view -- with my arms high overhead, palms pressed together with extraordinary strength, my forehead sparkling with sweat.
For the record, I am not performing weird religious rituals. I'm walking The Charles Atlas Way.

I hasten to add that I am not associated in any way with Charles Atlas's many fine products. In fact, if Charles Atlas were to inventory my current physical condition, I'm sure HE would hasten to make the same point.

What I AM advertising here is the fact that our Highlands Ranch and Oakes Mill libraries now offer daily story times. The Parker and Castle Rock libraries will be following their lead shortly.

Imagine -- daily story times. Seven days a week. No matter what day it is, you can count on finding a regularly scheduled library program in Douglas County. Most of them, naturally, are designed for children. But not all of them. Although, come to think of it, I have found children's story times to be of extraordinary interest to me.

You see, children's literature encompasses some incredibly varied terrain. There are mountains of morals, valleys of villainy, isles of insight. There are corridors of conscience, twists of terror, peaks of the most profound peace. By walking this landscape every day, you and your child can learn to recognize not only the familiar, but also the unexpected views of the human condition.

It's the dailyness of it that can bring it all home. Here's a prediction: if you once sample this stroll through story time, I bet that soon your local library will become part of your daily routine. Your life -- and the life of your child -- will be the richer for it.

For more information about this leap in the level of our services, first consult the Library Calendar -- a new feature in the News-Press that lists everything that's happening throughout the entire Douglas Public Library District. Next, call your local DPLD library. Maybe we'll even sign you up as a volunteer reader for the day.

Daily story times: they can give those young minds muscle.