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, December 25, 1991

December 25, 1991 - New offices

I'm moving my office and I'm not happy about it. Well, no, I'm happy about it, but it worries me a little.

But let me start at the beginning. Social Services, our former tenant at the Philip S. Miller Library, has moved to new quarters (the Moore Building on the corner of Wilcox and Plum Creek Parkway). That freed up a lot of square feet to rededicate to the library -- space we desperately need.

One corner of it, we'll use as offices. I've got four people and a noisy computer system crammed into two small meeting rooms now, and we need to stretch out.

Most of the space will go to the expansion of the library branch itself. It will be several months, however, before we figure out which walls to knock down and how to best rearrange our stacks. I'd also like to add some study and meeting rooms.

But I get a great new corner office right away. My new office will be in the southwest corner of the building. It has three big windows. I can see Pike's Peak, Dawson's Butte, and Devil's Head. And that's not all: the northbound train runs about 50 feet west of where I plan to put my desk. In an age when most of us have to work in places that don't even have windows, all this is wonderful, and okay, I'm excited about it.

So what's the problem? I'm not sure people will know where I am any more. One of the things I most enjoy about my job now is that a lot of patrons feel free to walk in and chat with me. Sometimes they have compliments, sometimes criticism, sometimes just interesting stories. But they all genuinely care about how well the library is doing. I like talking to them.

A few months ago, I sat through a "conflict resolution" presentation, where the speaker talked at some length about how bosses can get their staff members to drop in and talk about work-related problems. When she asked for questions, I wondered simply, "Is there some way to get them to stop?"

I don't know as it ever occurred to the people on my staff that they might want to keep library problems to themselves.

But I'm kidding. I like seeing THEM too. And I'm very interested in those problems.

No matter how good a boss is, it can be hard to get direct knowledge of what goes on at the front desk. That information just comes from two sources: the public and the staff.

If the people we serve and the people who provide the service don't stop in to tell me what's really going on in the world, then eventually, despite our surveys, my wandering around the county, and my too-brief stints at the front lines of library service, I'm probably not going to know, or at least know as much.

So here's what I'm going to do:

(1) Tell everybody that I've moved to a new office. Consider yourself told.

(2) Invite everybody to come back and see me: and I mean you, the reader (and your family, and your friends), and you, the staff of the Douglas Public Library District (and your family, and your friends). We can talk about what we ought to do with the rest of the space, and who knows, maybe a train will go by!

(3) Tell you how to find my office. In brief: head straight down (south) through the middle of the library. Turn right at the reference desk until you see the exit sign (to your left). Step through the open door, then jog right through another door. It's open, too. I'm in the second office to your left, smack in the corner of the building.

(4) Start scheduling myself out at the circulation and reference desks, not only at the Philip S. Miller Library, but also the other branches. Maybe I could schedule some computer catalog training sessions for the public ...

After all, this, the first full year of the Douglas Public Library District, is just about over. Maybe now I'll actually have some time to handle some books again, and talk to people about what they really need from a library. If I remember right, that was why I got into the library business in the first place.

In the meantime, come see me!

Wednesday, December 18, 1991

December 18, 1991 - Food for Fines

We're closing in on the winter solstice. That may not mean much to you, but here at the LaRue household, this is a major astronomical event.

After the winter solstice (December 21), days start getting longer and better. So does my wife's general mood. And frankly, the sooner the sun rises, and the better my wife feels, the happier I am too. I also get out of bed earlier, or at least I'm more inclined to. This is just one of the many reasons we do not live in Alaska.

The winter season, of course, is known for other things. In both the Jewish and the Christian traditions, winter is a time of giving, forgiving, and remembrance.

In keeping with these seasonal sentiments, I'd like to suggest two stocking stuffers.

1) GET YOUR CHILD A LIBRARY CARD. There are many things you can give your child, but a library card is the gift that keeps on giving. From that first proud moment that your children print their names, they can know the thrill of an INTELLECTUAL credit transaction: the borrowing of knowledge, with the understanding that the physical item itself must be returned to its source. Trust me -- getting your child a library card is the soundest and cheapest investment in your child's future that you'll ever make.

2) GIVE FOOD FOR FINES. Let's be frank. Sometimes, when you check out a book, you don't get it back on precisely the day you were supposed to. Don't fret: You are not alone.

The Douglas Public Library District has some unusually understanding policies. If you bring your books back within a week of the due date, we don't charge you anything at all.

If you don't return a book until a week AFTER it was due, we charge you a whopping nickel a day: just thirty-five cents. The most we charge for most books is just $3.00. You see, we WANT you to read.

Nonetheless, despite our shockingly generous natures, it seems that on occasion people are reluctant to return their books, especially when they fear exorbitant fines.

So from now through the end of the year, any Douglas Public Library District branch will accept a single can of food for full payment of library fines. (Although you can certainly give us MORE than one can of food, and you don't HAVE to have any fines, either.)

In other words, we're offering you the opportunity to turn the sins of your past to the blessings of someone else's future.

Why are we doing this? There are two main reasons.

For one thing, we want to keep all of our books moving. Once a year, we run a list of all of our books that haven't circulated within 12 months. Sometimes, we buy books that nobody checks out. In that case, we pull them, and recycle them through booksales. But other times, a book got checked out a long time ago and never made it back. In that case, we probably need to replace it.

In short, although we want you to take our books home, we also want to encourage you to bring them back. If, for whatever reason (and we've heard some doozies), you COULDN'T get it back on time, we want to make it easy for you to 'fess up, to bring back your books without a stiff penalty. The bottom line is that it's cheaper for us to forgive a fine than to buy a new copy.

The second reason is that we'd like to do the rest of the community some good, too. The food you give will be distributed to Douglas County families that have special needs this year.

Please note that our Food for Fines program does NOT let you clear your record of any LOST materials. You can only settle up your fines -- charges for materials brought back late.

So happy season's greetings from the Douglas Public Library District. And let's get those books back, shall we?

Wednesday, December 11, 1991

December 11, 1991 - The physically challenged Barbie

A couple of weekends ago, my wife, 4 year old daughter, and I went to see Disney's latest animated film, Beauty and the Beast.

As usual, the Disney people mucked about quite a bit with the story line. We've read about every version there is to Maddy, and haven't run across a single mention of Gaston, the handsome but arrogant braggart that plays the heavy in the movie. In the books, Beauty's real name is Beauty. In the movie, her name is Belle. In the books, Beauty has sisters; in the movie, she's an only child.

But none of that stuff really matters, because the Disney version, much to my surprise, is BETTER -- packed with drama, wringing even more nuance out of the old archetype of the sweet young girl and the enraged and ensorcelled young man. And as my wife points out, in the movie version, not only does Belle learn to love the Beast slowly, over time, but the Beast himself goes through some changes. All of this is a lot more realistic -- and a lot more sensible -- than the usual fairy tale falling in love at first sight.

Besides, I particularly liked the fact that Belle was always walking around with her head in a book. I'm all in favor of cartoon characters who encourage kids to read more. In fact, I'm strongly in favor of fairy tales generally -- for many generations now, these old yarns and legends have insinuated themselves into children's imaginations, serving many important but generally disregarded purposes. The most important, to my mind, is the bond forged between the parent reading the story and the child thrilling to every word.

Some people, such as the late Bruno Bettelheim, believe that fairy tales have an even deeper meaning. In these ancient stories, children gain their first insights into life. They learn to identify the basic human problems. From Cinderella they learn to bear the death of a loving father and the cruelty of strangers. In the Frog Prince, they learn to seek beneath the surface for the abiding love of a husband.

All that may sound fanciful to you. But consider Santa Claus. He too is a sweet story, picturesque and compelling. And in Santa's season, it may be that people are a little nicer to one another. Do not underestimate the power of the fairy tale.

But I wanted to talk some more about this idea of "realistic" fairy tales. Several times over the past couple of weeks, I've heard women talking about their deep and abiding love-hate relationship with, I'm serious, Barbie dolls, who's something of a fairy tale herself.

There was a "Kathy" cartoon about it not long ago that seems to have really captured something. In turns out that many, many women are out-and-out angry about Barbie dolls. Why? Because those pixie-featured, leggy, platinum blonde, high-bosomed caricatures, so false to fact, so rare in nature, not only weasled their way into young girls' closets -- but into their self-images as well.

Like fairy tales, this simple doll lurks almost invisibly in the unconscious memories of many women -- until suddenly, usually when women are standing in front of full-length mirrors, out leaps .. Barbie!

To a certain extent, I understand all this. Don't get me wrong, I never had a Barbie doll (although I do have a vague memory of getting stuck with a character named Poindexter -- instead of Ken -- in a board game called Barbie). But I did, and do, read comic books.

When I was almost 13, I particularly favored a series called X-Men, about a group of young people who, at about the age of puberty, suddenly developed remarkable powers. They sprouted wings, turned invisible, emitted powerful rays from their fingertips, stuff like that.

Every morning, I fully expected to wake up with one of those abilities. I'm still waiting.

My wife may not look like Barbie, but then, I don't look much like Superman.

Nonetheless, I truly don't think our daughter will have much trouble with Barbie. Mainly that's because Maddy's first glimpse of Barbie was on top of a chocolate cake, where the cake was the skirt. This is a far more realistic picture, I believe, of what happens to people as they grow older.

After we nibbled awhile, we gave Barbie a tug and discovered that she was the special Baker's Barbie -- no legs. She was designed to be poked into cake tops. Well, the baker did provide a set of legs, but they were sort of substandard. More recently, they fell off again and got lost. One of her arms, too. In short, Maddy plays with a Physically Challenged Barbie, which might not be a bad thing either.

In the meantime, we'll keep reading Maddy the classics, I'll keep reading comic books, and ladies, for the record, I think the current toystore Barbie is no Beauty.

Wednesday, December 4, 1991

December 4, 1991 - Two pieces of mail and a policy change

Sometimes your mail is so wonderful that you just want to pass it around to everybody. Today is one of those days. I'm just sorry that the second piece of it won't get out as early as it ought to.

Here's the first one, from a weekly newsletter called "Library Hotline," 11/25/91, page XX-47. "SISTERS REUNITED BY COINCIDENCE IN LIBRARY'S GENEALOGY DEPARTMENT: Two sisters from out of town went to the Pensacola Public Library, FL, looking for clues to the whereabouts of the half-sister they had never known. The two sisters had been raised in Savannah, GA, by their grandmothers after the death of their mother in 1922. Their father moved to Florida and remarried. Before she died, the grandmother told them that their father's second family lived in Gull Point, FL, an area that is now part of Pensacola. After years of delay, they decided to go to Pensacola to look for the family. By an incredible coincidence their search took them to the library on the same day that Doris Rice decided to work on her own genealogical research. Librarian Dolly Pollard found that all three women were researching family in the Gull Point area. She suggested they talk to each other. Moments later, amid hugs, tears, and exclamations of amazement, they discovered that Rice was the sought-after half-sister."

Here's the second one, from a November 18, 1991 press release: "Because reading aloud to children is so important, Newsradio 85 KOA (850 AM) wishes to share a special `reading aloud' opportunity with children via their Elementary School teachers. Starting Thursday, November 28th (Thanksgiving), Newsradio 85 KOA will air the first segment of the children's radio program, `Mrs. Bush's Story Time" from 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. `Mrs. Bush's Story Time" will feature First Lady Barbara Bush reading children's stories. Join Mrs. Bush in reading stories will be General Norman Schwarzkopf, Gloria Estefan and Peter Jennings.

"Ten weekly (10) half-hour programs will then begin on Sunday, December 8 at 8:00 p.m. and an additional four hour holiday special is also planned for Christmas Day (8:00 a.m. - noon). With young students in mind, we suggest that teachers use `Mrs. Bush's Story Time,' as it is broadcast on Newsradio 85 KOA, as a means to stimulate children's imaginations.

"Along with the lively stories, music and celebrities, Mrs. Bush will be offering reading-aloud tips based on years of training that the Children's Literacy Initiative staff (a non-profit organization) developed in Philadelphia. In the long-run, it is our hope that Newsradio 85 KOA's broadcast of `Mrs. Bush's Story Time' will encourage family reading and convey the message that reading aloud to our children can contribute to a more literate America."

Amen to that.

I've been thinking about KOA lately, anyhow, as I called them some time back (Tuesday, November 19, at about 6:30 in the morning) to report that the libraries were shutting down due to what looked to be a big and particularly nasty snowstorm. A remarkably perky gentleman took the call, and said KOA would announce the information.

The trouble was, the snow was pretty well melted by about 1:30 that afternoon, by which time it was really too late to round up any employees.

This has precipitated a policy change. I've talked it over with my branch managers, and we've decided that rather than closing libraries all over the county when we've got what looks like bad weather, we'll announce DELAYED openings -- open at noon. The county is big enough, and with enough bizarre and inconsistent weather patterns, that we'll let each branch manager decide whether or not it's safe to open our buildings after that.

I do apologize for any inconvenience on the 19th -- but hope that the new policy will make things easier, and ensure longer hours of useful service -- in the future.