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 30, 1992

December 39, 1992 - Star Trek

I know by now the suspense is almost too much for everybody. So I'll just go ahead and tell you.

Question: What did I get for Christmas?

Answer: a lot of Star Trek (The Next Generation) stuff.

I got an official Star Fleet insignia communicator badge. I got several reams of Star Trek sticky pads and notepaper.

I got an official "Picard/Riker '92: Leadership for the Next Generation" bumper sticker, which I imagine isn't worth as much as it was before the presidential election, but still makes a heck of a good point.

I got a Star Trek coffee mug, which features Captain Picard standing on a teleportation pad. When you put a hot drink in the mug, Picard disappears. When the temperature of the mug drops again, he comes back.

I got a #very# official looking pass allowing me access to the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Finally, I got a music cassette called "Ol' Yellow Eyes is Back." "Ol Yellow Eyes" is the android Data (Brent Spiner) crooning such classic numbers as "Embraceable You," "It's A Sin (To Tell a Lie), "Carolina in the Morning," "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart," and many others.

You may have gathered at about this point that I am something of a Star Trek fan. And why not? Few offerings of our popular culture give me so much cause for optimism.

"Star Trek: the Next Generation" is TV's second Star Trek, and to my taste, a better one. While I got a big kick out of the prime time science fiction of the first series, Captain Kirk was a little too cavalier, too trigger happy.

But Captain Picard -- older, wiser -- is one of my management models. He assembles the best people he can find, he solicits their advice, and deliberately, with a strong sense of purpose and principle, he makes bold decisions.

There are a lot of other hopeful things about Star Trek. In the future the show portrays, mankind is no longer at war with itself. Hunger has been abolished. There have been staggering advances in technology -- very smart computers, instantaneous transportation, the controlled regeneration of human tissue, even the harnessed energy of matter and anti-matter.

But all this technology doesn't overwhelm human life. It supplements and enhances it, much as library technology hasn't done away with books, just made it easier to find them.

People, not machines, are in charge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. And a basic premise of the show is that virtually all intelligence -- natural or artificial, terrestial or alien -- has innate dignity. And often, these intelligences find common cause: "to explore strange new worlds and civilizations."

There is something appropriate both to the Christmas and the New Year holidays in the continuing popularity of this series. Star Trek bespeaks the persistent belief that the future is promising, is good, that the human race will find answers to the questions that now seem so daunting, that we have a place in this universe.

So when it comes to the challenges facing the Douglas Public Library District in 1993 and beyond, I say, "Beam me up."

I've got all my stuff for the trip. Let's go exploring!

Thursday, December 3, 1992

December 3, 1992 - Contractors

It's started. For some time now, the library district has been shopping for architects and contractors, all the while honing the re-design of two of our libraries.

But at long last, the renovation work on the Philip S. Miller and Oakes Mill libraries has begun. At Philip S. Miller, we will soon be knocking down walls and moving our reference and technical departments to the east side of the building (formerly occupied by tenants). This will allow us to add more study space, establish a Local History Collection area, and provide more room for the processing of our ever-growing stream of new materials.

The next time you come to the Philip S. Miller Library you'll notice that a lot of our books have been shuffled around. Some new shelving crowds the central aisle -- and contains most of our reference collection. These shelves are "holding tanks" -- a place to stash materials while we set up their permanent location in the new wing.

We've also moved the beginning of the non-fiction section to get the books away from one of the walls that will be coming down. The new non-fiction, for the time being, has been interfiled with the older materials. But when we're all done, there will again be a spot for just the new stuff.

We're a little worried about dust. No, we're VERY worried about dust. So before the serious demolition starts, we will also be draping some areas of the bookstacks with huge plastic sheets. This will be something of a hassle, both for those of you trying to fetch some books, and those of us trying to file them back. We believe, however, that the plastic will only be necessary for a short time, and could save us a world of grief later.

Most of this ought to make sense to you once you see it. But if it doesn't, don't hesitate to ask. The last time I looked, all of our collection was still in there some place.

Our second project is the renovation of the Oakes Mill Library. Our chief goal is to finish the basement, thereby providing a greatly expanded area for public programs, meeting rooms, storage, and a booksale area for the Friends of the Library. We will also do some rearrangement of space upstairs, adding a small conference room and shelving for more children's materials.

The work was supposed to start on the outside of the building. We'll be putting in a short staircase where people tend to want to walk up on the grass, and laying a long ramp from the parking lot to the downstairs.

Of course, all that was before the famed "Blizzard of '92" -- which, speaking as someone raised near Chicago, was a real wimp of a storm, and I can't believe the media coverage. Nonetheless, it isn't easy to lay concrete when there's snow on the ground. We are now hoping for a stretch of good, dry, warm weather.

In the midst of all this excitement, I also wanted to let people know a little bit about the philosophy and procedures of the Douglas Public Library District.

First, for any position we are attempting to fill, or any service we are attempting to contract, we always look locally first. Watch the want ads and legal notices appearing in the Douglas County News Press. We also advertise in Denver papers.

Second, for those of you local businesspeople who think your services might be of interest to the Library District, but may have missed our advertisements in the past, I encourage you to send us a letter outlining the focus of your business, and providing a contact number. We will keep you on file, which may save both of us some time the next time we're shopping around.

Mail your letter to Cindy Murphy, Business Manager, Douglas Public Library District, 961 S. Plum Creek Blvd., Castle Rock CO 80104.

In the meantime, please excuse the mess and temporary inconvenience. But when we're done, I think you'll be pleased by the improvements in your libraries.

Wednesday, November 25, 1992

November 25, 1992 - food for fines

A couple days after my wife and I got married, we stopped by the home town of my father -- Mountainburg, Arkansas. Mountainburg, 12 miles north of Ft. Smith, boasts about 454 people, most of them LaRues.

We pulled in to my grandmother's driveway. Nobody was home. So we drove another couple of miles up the hill to my uncle's house.

There she was. And what's more, she knew we were coming, even though we certainly hadn't told her we'd be within 500 miles of Arkansas. So how did she know? In the maybe ten minutes it took us to pull into town, check out her house, then drive to my uncle's, she had gotten #seven# phone calls. She knew what color car we were driving, what state our license plates declared, and more or less what we looked like. ("Might be Jesse's son. Never seen the girl before.")

In small towns, people look out for each other. Some might say, they look after each other too much.

But like a lot of people, I've spent much of my life looking for a community that somehow matches me, a place that feels like home.

What makes a community? Sometimes that's hard to say. Part of it has to do with recognizing that the people who live there #are# a community. It's seeing the similarities before the differences. It's also thinking that people have obligations to one another, a sometimes tricky balancing act of sincere concern and respect for privacy.

Some seventy percent of Douglas County residents have library cards. That's a sizeable slice of the community. It may be a community of its own. And the purpose of this column is to remind those people of their similarities -- and their obligations.

Here's how you are all alike:

~ you have a broad variety of interests and perspectives -- and think your library should reflect that variety.

~ you think children and books are a natural connection. You're right.

~ most of you are newcomers to the area, are highly educated, do a lot of driving, and have a deepening interest in the history of the area before you got here.

~ you keep some of your books out longer than you're supposed to. I'm not excluding myself here, incidentally.

This last point leads into my real focus: your obligations to others. I'm not just talking about your obligation to get back your books on time. I know most of you try your darndest. And I also know that those of you who are our very best patrons have checked out so many books -- about a quarter of which are children's picture books -- that it can be mighty difficult to find them all sometimes.

Here's how you can turn your troubles into someone else's good news.

From the day after Thanksgiving, two days after this column appears, to the last day of 1992, you can bring back your overdue books to any one of our library branches, and settle up all your fines for the price of just one can of food. You are strongly encouraged to bring in #lots# of cans of food -- but we'll cancel your debts for just one.

Mind, now, we won't forgive you for not returning a book at all. You still have to bring it back. But this Food for Fines program #will# cancel all your "late fees" for any of our wayward items.

At the beginning of 1993, as we have for the past two years, we'll gather all of these canned goods (or any other non- perishable food materials) and donate them to local food banks.

Why are we doing this?

1) We want to round up our inventory. If you're done with it, bring it back!

2) We want you to have a clean conscience for the New Year. You know it's the right thing to do.

3) We want to help out some other people in our community that might be having some trouble this year. If you can help ... why not?

Spread the word. It's as good a reason as any to take the time to talk to a neighbor.

Wednesday, November 18, 1992

Novmember 18, 1992 - the politics of intimidation

Maddy, my five year old daughter, came running into my office. She leapt up onto my lap, then looked at me intently.

I could tell that something was on her mind. So I met her fixed, earnest gaze, and asked, "What?"

"You got a booger hanging out of your nose," she said.

Such candor can, on occasion, be disconcerting. But on the whole, I find it refreshing. Sometimes, I'm not altogether sure what people are trying to tell me.

Take, for instance, a workshop I went to on November 7 in Colorado Springs. Billed as a Community Impact Seminar, it was sponsored by two groups. One of them is called "Focus on the Family," whose leading spokesperson is Dr. James Dobson, a child psychologist and prominent radio personality. The other group is the "Rocky Mountain Family Council," formed by a group of lawyers.

Both groups have described themselves as "conservative Christian." Each has become far more visible recently in what Focus on the Family likes to call "the public square" -- the world of politics and public affairs.

What bothered me came in the last part of the meeting. The speaker for the Rocky Mountain Family Council talked about two cases involving public schools in Aurora.

In the first case, some parents upset about the possibility of school-sponsored distribution of condoms to high school students contacted the Rocky Mountain Family Council for "help." The Council responded with a barrage of medical evidence and legal opinions about the use and distribution of condoms.

After considering this information, the school's health task force -- and eventually the whole school board -- changed their minds. The plan to distribute condoms was dropped, and according to the speaker, the board was going to develop a new sex education program based on abstinence.

If all this indeed happened as described, I would characterize it as "the politics of consensus." Some local people sought relevant information from at least one outside source, and presented it to local decision-makers. Everybody talked about it. The final decision was therefore better informed.

I think that's good. I even think it's commendable.

Now we get to the second, more disturbing case. It seems that an elementary school student checked out a book called "Witches" from the school library. His parents were also upset, partly by the subject matter, and partly by some of the drawings in the book. Again, a call was made to the Rocky Mountain Family Council.

This time, the Council used press releases to prod Channel 7 into interviewing the parents. On that night's news, the station showed some pictures from the book -- but with little black strips across the alleged "naughty bits."

According to the seminar spokesperson, the unnamed school principal then acted quickly -- and covertly. First, he told the school librarian to remove "Witches" from the collection. Then, he ordered her to yank any and all books with words like "witch," or "ghost," or "Halloween" in the title. Permanently.

At this point in the seminar over 600 people burst into sustained and impassioned applause.

Now this story, if true, bothers me. This is not the politics of consensus. It is the politics of intimidation and appeasement. This is not the reasoned consideration of objective data. It is the blind rejection of a whole branch of literature solely to avoid the pall of "bad PR."

Folk and fairy tales -- many of which feature witches -- are a longstanding part of our mainstream cultural heritage. To remove a list of unexamined materials solely on the basis of the words in their titles is not only blatant censorship, it's a little dim.

Encouraged locally by Focus on the Family and the Rocky Mountain Family Council, embracing such related organizations as Colorado for Family Values (the framers of Amendment 2), what may be an increasingly cohesive and politically savvy religious right is targeting school board elections, library board appointments, the Republican party leadership, and a broad range of elected positions.

Are they within their rights to do so? Absolutely. In a democracy, any group has the right to champion its beliefs, to try to persuade others to change their beliefs, and to seek to influence public policy.
Any group that takes the time to get organized, to inform itself about the political process, or even to assume the often thankless jobs of public service in the first place, can have a great effect on our culture.

When public agencies are strapped for funds, such political activists may wield even greater influence. School districts, libraries, and elected officials may shy away from any controversy lest they face voter defeat on entirely unrelated issues.

And in official silence, through back door appeasements and capitulation, a single pressure group can impose its values on an entire public institution.

I think that's bad. Sometimes, as Maddy has taught me, people need to speak up.

Wednesday, November 11, 1992

November 11, 1992 - voting and the library

I realize that this is a subject most Americans are utterly sick of -- Election Day, 1992. But it happens that on November 3, I was an Election Supply Judge, one of the people that works behind the scenes in the complex machinery of the democratic process.

The county had a lot of trouble this year finding enough judges to cover all the stations. That's a shame. In my past two years as an election judge, I have picked up some fascinating tidbits of county history.

The experienced core of the county's judges have lived here for years, sometimes generations. They know where all the bodies are buried, and have a great time talking about it. I've had a great time listening.

Election judges even get paid -- about $70 for the day.

But what's it really like? Well, according to my notes, it's like this:

4:45 a.m. - Wake up, check alarm clock. Have moment of panic, thinking that I must have set it wrong.

4:46 a.m. - Check second alarm clock, convinced that I goofed that one, too.

4:47-5:45 - Remove cat from bladder (third alarm), get up, feed cat, make coffee, take shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, make lunch and dinner snack, pack car.

6:00 a.m. - arrive at Perry Park Fire Station, the polling place. Wait for someone to open up.

6:10-7 a.m. - unload equipment, greet other judges, set up tables, equipment, signs, polling stations. Administer oaths, vote first booth, discover that it is completely unworkable, take it down, announce that polls are open. We're one booth short for what is predicted to be the biggest voter turnout in decades.

7-10:30 a.m. - frantic activity. 45 minute wait for most voters. Without being asked, people form two lines, one for each booth. Some use the occasion to study up on the sample ballot, or peruse blue ballot analysis by the Colorado Legislative Committee. Others -- the ones without "cheat sheets" cut out from newspapers or scrawled on the back of brochures -- spend up to 10 minutes working through the choices. But no one seems impatient.

10:30-11:30 - Room begins to clear out. I eat four cookies, brought by one of the other judges.

11:30 a.m. - first real break in day. Have a chance to talk with fellow judges for a little bit. Of the five of us, only one other has served as a judge before. The other three settle down to business like pros. No mistakes, everything very smooth. Trickles of voters now, but the long ballot and one missing booth stretches out the time. Am amazed how fast the day is going. Some of us grab a bite to eat.

2 p.m. - Actually quiet. Slowest time of the day. People walk in, step right up to the booth.

2:30-7:30 p.m. - Picks up, but never really gets busy again. Announce the closing of the polls. Break down equipment, count the votes. Everything adds up exactly right the first time through. Final tally: over 85 percent of the registered voters actually voted, about 30% more than usual. Thank the other judges -- a topnotch effort by some smart, funny, interesting people, one of them a near neighbor I had never had a chance to talk to before.

7:30-9 p.m. - in the company of two other judges, drive in to Castle Rock, drop off the booths and equipment. Then drop off the judges, go home to watch the returns. In bed by midnight.

For the past couple of weeks, you've read or listened to the opinions of countless experts about the lessons of Election Day, 1992. I'm not an expert.

But it strikes me that there are striking similarities between an election and a library.

Both elections and libraries are about choices. People have a lot of different opinions, and everybody is entitled to their say.

Some people vote smarter than others. I was frankly surprised by how many voters had obviously never seen or heard of many of the issues on the ballot.

I have a lot of respect for people's opinions, and enormous respect for democracy. But I find that I have a lot more respect for those people who actually take the time to do some research, even if they wind up disagreeing with each other.

Given the results of one of the votes -- the passage of Douglas Bruce's tax limitation amendment -- I suspect we'll all be voting more often, and on more issues, than we have in the past. I hope that more of you will not only make better use of your library to bone up on the things you'll be deciding, but also that you'll consider putting in some time as an election judge.

It's an education, it's fun, and sometimes, the cookies are incredible.

Wednesday, November 4, 1992

November 4, 1992 - virtual library

At a recent Colorado Library Association annual conference, I was asked to speak (with several other people) on something called "the virtual library."

It was a hot topic. As I wrote in my September 16 column, electronic access to library collections has proven to be very popular with the public, and to some, heralds an all-electronic, or "virtual" library. The meeting room was packed.

The first speaker, a librarian from a university in Nevada, highlighted the growing number of libraries whose catalogs are now available through a "scholar's workstation" -- meaning a PC with a modem and phone line. She also talked about a number of so-called "knowbots" -- software tools that in some respects, act like librarians.

One of these programs, called "gopher," is a kind of switchboard operator, connecting you to an information source (library catalog, campus information system, even electronic books), then returning you to a master directory when you're done.

Another is called "archie" -- a program that calls all over an international network of computers every night to see what's new in the way of computer programs, then updates its master list. You can send an electronic-mail message to archie asking for a certain program name, and archie will send a mail message back to you telling you which computer system has it.

Remember, archie is not a real person. But is archie a "virtual librarian"?

Another speaker cautioned against what she called "techno- phoria": it doesn't do anybody any good to have access to a lot of electronic catalogs if nobody actually has the book. This speaker, a university librarian in Fort Collins, displayed some grim charts showing the rising cost of academic journals, and the stagnant and/or declining budgets of many university libraries.

Put briefly, all library materials cost more than they used to. The nation's largest libraries are able to buy fewer and fewer items these days. Are computer networks going to adequately counteract this trend? She didn't think so, and neither do I.

My comments approached the issue from the public library perspective. I granted that the availability of many kinds of information -- electronic encyclopedias, dictionaries, newspaper articles, magazines indexes and summaries -- is a significant advance for libraries, and I welcome these new tools.

But in most discussions about the "virtual library" nobody talks about the recreational and social side of library services.

In Douglas County, for instance, many young families view children's story times as an important social -- as well as literary -- event. These programs introduce children to the excitement of books, to the shared culture of literacy, long before any of them have started typing.

And what about popular fiction, or reading for fun generally?

Some months ago, I sat my daughter Maddy, then four years old, in front of an "electronic book," a computer CD connected to a Macintosh. It was called "Grandma and Me," and she had a blast. The "book" not only ran short animated sequences (Grandma and child walking down to the bus stop, etc.), but also spoke the words in the book out loud.

Maddy could also click the "mouse" on various "hot spots" around the screen for some surprises. For instance, when she clicked on the hole in a tree, a little squirrel stuck his head out, squeaked, ran around the tree a couple of times, then dived back into the tree.

It took Maddy a good two hours to work her way through the book, and she loved every minute of it. The same book in print takes maybe 10 minutes.

All this sounds great, right? It's interactive, it's engaging, it's playful, and it wasn't even all that expensive. The "Grandma and Me" CD sells for about $25.

But I don't know anybody, once they've used this, that shows much interest in using it again. By contrast, Maddy has literally hundreds of regular print books that she wants to have read to her over and over.

Libraries are indeed at an interesting juncture. Increasingly, you'll see all kinds of information available electronically, sometimes long before it ever "sees print."

But as I said at the conference, until you can carry a virtual book into a virtual bathroom and get real relief, we're a long way from the virtual library.

We still need "real" libraries, with real books in them. And in my opinion, the printed book will be around for a long, long time.

It's a virtual certainty.

Wednesday, October 28, 1992

October 28, 1992 - Madonna's Sex

The subject is sex. How does it relate to public libraries? The second subject is also Sex, the latest offering of Madonna. How does it relate to this library?

Let's start with some background. Most people quite reasonably expect a public library to carry a broad variety of materials reflecting the many cross-currents of mainstream culture.

"Mainstream" doesn't mean materials that steer clear of sex. Many, many commonly available titles, from bestsellers to grocery store magazines to blockbuster videos, have quite a lot of sex in them.

You will find such items in our libraries, and I believe they belong there. These materials reflect the increasing cultural tolerance regarding human sexuality in all of its flavors. On the whole, that's probably good.

Then there are the kind of materials you probably would #not# expect public libraries to carry. I'm talking about books with titles like "The Nympho Slave Vixens of Venus," magazines like "Jugs," or videos like "Debby Does Dallas." We don't buy those, and I don't know any public library that does.

Somewhere in the middle are such magazines as #Playboy# (indexed by most periodical guides and carried by most larger libraries, although not us at present) and #Penthouse# (carried by very few libraries).

And then we have ... Madonna.

With the free, enthusiastic support of the media, she's hawking her latest venture, the aforementioned, Sex. The book comes in a heavy mylar wrapping, has a sticker on it reading "Warning! Adults only!" and at some Denver area bookstores, is sold only to people over 18 years old. The price is $49.95.

Some weeks ago, our library had decided not to purchase the book. It was expensive, had an awkward format, had received generally negative reviews, and nobody in our community had requested it.

Then came this article, on the front page of the Denver Post, October 22, 1992: "Check out Madonna at your library." The book is or will be available, according to the Post, from several metro area locations, especially Denver and Boulder.

I got 3 requests and 12 protests, all in the same morning. Most of the protests, incidentally, were an organized effort from the members of one church in the Parker area.

Now all this generated a lot of very stimulating discussion among our staff. After talking to a number of people around the community, I set the issue before our seven-member Collection Development Committee -- branch managers and some reference staff.

Our internal policy, set by me, calls for us to buy almost anything a patron requests, excepting only those items that are prohibitively expensive or whose subject matter is highly obscure or technical. Madonna's book was certainly pricey, but all of us admitted that we ourselves were curious to see it. Certainly, we have purchased expensive books before.

But did we have a need for this book? Judged on its own merits, we didn't think so. So then we went to the next question: how many public requests does it take to justify buying an expensive book of little apparent value to our collection?

Opinions were divided, although the best line of the day was from Cindy Murphy, our Business Manager: "If you have to be over 18, the district can't buy it. We're only two years old."

Finally, I decided I needed to take a look at it myself. So I drove up to Barnes and Noble's on Arapahoe Road. They had a copy available for perusal by the (adult) public. I had to stand at the counter to examine it. And after a lot of intense thinking, I came to the conclusion that Sex falls well on the other side of the line from Playboy. I think Madonna's book, by her conscious intent, fits the commonly-held definition of "pornography."

Why do I think so? The book is filled with literally hundreds of photographs of Madonna in highly charged sexual tableaus. There is some text -- maybe 10 pages out of some 120-plus -- but I would say it is more incidental than intrinsic. The high percentage of sexually explicit photographic content makes it quite unlike anything currently in our collection.

As indicated by the labeling and ID-check, the publisher clearly intended the book for an adult audience. Many parents don't feel comfortable setting out sexually-oriented photography where their children can stumble across it unsupervised. At none of our libraries do we have any distinct "adult" place to segregate such materials, and I didn't want to require ID cards at the circulation desk.

Finally, I still didn't like the format. The out-size aluminum covers were held together by a metal spiral binding. As I turned its pages, the covers came apart. Sex isn't designed as a general market library book; it's a specialty item, a novelty for collectors.

What Madonna does, and with whom, is okay with me, assuming they are all consenting adults. She has a perfect right to publish her book, booksellers have a perfect right to sell it, and people have a perfect right to read it. But erotic photographic albums don't strike me as an especially useful addition to a public library collection of our size. Other collections, other communities, might find it desirable, and that's okay with me, too.

But I don't think we should buy it.

So you tell me -- is this an act of censorship, or a thoughtful investment of limited funds? Have I imposed my prudery on a sophisticated public, or drawn a clear and defensible distinction for the purchase of library materials?

Your comments would be genuinely appreciated. Feel free to address them to me, this paper, or my Library Board.

Wednesday, October 21, 1992

October 21, 1992 - community information referral part ii

On February 20, 1991, I wrote a column about the library's Community Information Referral Files -- a computerized collection of data about civic clubs and social agencies located in and/or serving the residents of Douglas County.

This information was gathered back in 1990, and has been updated once through the annual Douglas County Forum on the Family mini- conference.

When we put all this stuff in the library's computer, we figured that two main groups of people would use it. The first group consisted of our library patrons, who would run across the information in our computer catalog while searching for other things.

For instance, the patron might type "AAUW", hoping to find a short history of the American Association of University Women. But since we also have information about the Douglas County chapter, the person at the computer terminal would also get a local contact person. In this way, the library hoped to pull together local library materials and local human resources.

The second group we thought would use the system was the social service agencies themselves. We thought they would find the computer catalog far better than the old print directories for finding appropriate referrals.

For instance, someone might approach one of the library's public terminals and choose the "Subject Keyword" search option. Then, the patron might type in something like "battered women." The computer would then fetch the listing for "Community Information Referral Battered Women," and show that 1 agency was contained under that heading.

The patron would then pick the heading to get the name, location, phone number, and a brief description of services for the "Women's Crisis Center." From there, the patron would only have to type "rw" (for "Related Works") to see all of the other related subject headings, such as "Community Information Referral Victim Assistance," and "Community Information Referral Sexual Assault." Choosing any one of these would take the patron to information about other agencies providing these services.

And of course, the database could also be searched by the name, even the partial name, of any organization.

You just can't use a printed directory like this -- directories are too hard to keep current, and too difficult to adequately cross-reference. But the computerized tool -- now featuring 185 agencies -- was wonderfully easy to use.

But how would people get to it? We designed three basic approaches: by calling the reference department of the Philip S. Miller Library, and asking someone here to look it up; by walking into any of our four full-service library branches and using the terminals by themselves; or by connecting their personal computer to the library computer through a phone line (as I have described in another column).

In theory, by providing a centralized database of social service and civic organizations, we would also make it easy for people who worked with those organizations to just call us with any changes. We, in turn, could update the information in a matter of minutes.

The good news is that many of our patrons do find the database a useful and eye-opening introduction to human resources in Douglas County.

The bad news is that very few of the social service agencies and civic clubs call us when they have new information, or, apparently, use the information we have.

Over the next several months, those of us here at the library will be working to change that. We're going to call all the people in our files and ask them if the information is correct. We're going to offer to do private demonstrations of the system for them. We're going to put together some brochures for social service staff.

Meanwhile, next time you're in the library, you might want to try the system yourself.

There's a lot going on in your own backyard. Someday, you might need to know what's out there.

Wednesday, October 14, 1992

October 14, 1992 - League of Women Voters

In 1980 I was plugging away at an assignment for library school. Suzanne, who was already a librarian (but not yet my wife), volunteered to help me with the research.

Suzanne is a much better researcher than I am. About halfway through my writing, she tossed a gem on my study carrel: a Bachelor's thesis for the same library school, written in 1898. The author, in careful, meticulous prose, traced the establishment of public libraries in Illinois.

I was frankly surprised to discover that over 90 percent of them were founded by women's groups.

But I wouldn't find that surprising today. Just take a look at the people who use libraries. Take a look at the people who attend PTA meetings.


And in this especially crowded election year, take a look at the only group that consistently puts out clear, reliable, non- partisan information about political issues: the League of Women Voters.

Founded by a $900,000 bequest in 1917 to suffragist and League founder Carrie Chapman Catt, today's League of Women Voters is dedicated to "the promotion of voter education." Why?

Well, what's the common denominator in the longstanding support of women for libraries and education? The public interest -- an abiding belief that we have a private duty to work for the public good, which in turn is based on the ready availability of unbiased information.

What does that mean for Douglas County residents?

To begin with, the local League will be sponsoring forums for county and congressional candidates, as well as some speakers on other ballot issues, on Tuesday, October 20, at the Highlands Ranch High School, and Thursday, October 22, at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. The forums will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

If you're still making up your mind about some of the many issues on the November 6 ballot, here's an opportunity to get some pivotal information.

I am also very impressed by the State League's publication Ballot Issues 1992, a suit-coat-pocket-sized brochure that clearly spells out the election calendar, how to register, where to register, how to vote absentee, and how issues get put on the ballot in the first place.

That alone would be an important public service. But even better is what follows: a wonderfully lucid summary of the major provisions of each ballot proposal, and succinct summaries of the arguments for and against them.

These brochures, whose printing costs for Douglas County were entirely underwritten by the Mission Viejo Company, are available at no charge from any Douglas Public Library District branch.

One might argue that the common aim of public libraries and public schools is to provide to our current or potential citizens the necessary tools for informed decision-making. And surely voting is among the most important decisions we make.

Perhaps that's why the first thing Carrie Chapman Catt did with that bequest I mentioned earlier was to apply it to the cause of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

As it happens, next year the League of Women Voters will be celebrating "one hundred years of voting rights for women ... A Woman Suffrage Act was passed by the General Assembly and referred to a vote of the people in the general election held on November 7, 1893. The vote that 'let the women vote' was won by 35,789 to 29,451. Colorado was the second state (following Wyoming) to give women the right to vote in all elections."

A century later, the dedicated women (and yes, even a few men) of the League are still working for the public good. Before you exercise your right to vote, you might want to look over their research.

Wednesday, October 7, 1992

October 7, 1992 - cats in the library

I got a letter recently from a man named Michael S. M. Flanagan, of Denver. It begins, "Our family includes a 20 year old, a 22 year old, and a five year old. Currently when left to our own we go to the library very sporadically, at best. However, we would all like to. It just seems as though the motivating factors are too low, sad but true.

"However, in a recent article that I read in Cats Magazine (Oct. 1992), I found the motivating factor that would bring us all in to the library, on a very regular basis."

And what factor is that? Mr. Flanagan wants us to adopt a cat. Not a particular cat -- any cat at all.

Included with the letter was a photocopy of the article ("Library Cat Extraordinaire"), which told the inspiring tale of a public library in the northwestern Iowa town of Spencer.

It seems that one icy morning in January the staff found a kitten stuffed in the book drop. The library staff warmed, washed, fed, declawed, neutered, and vaccinated him, and after talking with the Library Board, a veterinarian, and some legal types, decided to keep him. (This is a very good reason never to be stuffed down a book drop, in my opinion.)

The cat, who after a city-wide contest was dubbed "Dewey Readmore Books," is wholly supported by public donations. As you might suspect, the soda can set out for contributions is called a "kitty."

The article also states that "Cats and libraries have been associated for hundreds of years. The animals were used primarily to eradicate rodent populations in the large, musty buildings. The practice became more and more rare as our libraries became institutionalized, sterile environments. Today, as libraries are taking on a more homey, inviting atmosphere, library cats are reappearing--not only for mouse control, but as goodwill ambassadors."

There's even a club whose primary purpose is "to encourage the establishing of a cat or cats in a library setting." My guess is that Mr. Flanagan is a charter member.

After five years of life with Dewey, the good people of Spencer say they "don't know how they ever got along without him" -- at least according to Cat Magazine, which I'm sure is utterly unbiased.

As it happens, I have worked in several libraries that have had cats. Generally speaking, it worked very well, too.

There is also some merit to the claim that there is a long collaboration between felines and libraries. After all, we have always called our main index to library materials a catalogue.

Even in these more automated times, we go out of our way to make sure that all of our new computers have mice. And our push for longer hours in the evening could be said to mimic the nocturnal timetables of our furry friends.

But the main problem with Flanagan's proposal, as I see it, is that some of my staff are violently allergic to cats.

Besides that, I shudder to think what would happen if all the people who are dog lovers, decided to donate a dog, or the people who are bird lovers...

While I consider myself a big believer in the need for ecologically-minded public libraries, even I balk at the notion of trying to replicate the entire biosphere, with dogs chasing cats through the newspapers, and birds trying to protect their nests in the fiction stacks by dive-bombing innocent browsers.

In short, Mr. Flanagan, thanks for the very entertaining suggestion. But as far as the Douglas Public Library District is concerned, if the thought of a book, magazine, audiocassette, video, storytime, adult program, or answer to a pressing question doesn't provide enough motivation for you and your family to visit the library, maybe you should "check out" the Denver Zoo.

Wednesday, September 30, 1992

September 30, 1992 - Information explosion

For some years now, futurists (and the people who believe them) have been predicting a new kind of mass mental illness: information overload.

The rate of increase of new information, they claim, is now so rapid that the human mind quails before it. Why, they say, the entire body of new knowledge doubles every couple of years!

Some writers believe that faced with such an enormity of data the frail human brain has little recourse but to shut itself down. I read one science fiction book, based on Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, that gave detailed instructions on mind-emptying exercises, which people had to do daily lest they forget how to find their way home.

Well, information is my business. And I say the whole notion of "future shock" and "the information explosion" is wildly exaggerated. Once, there were people who maintained that the human body could not travel faster than 40 miles per hour, else it too would explode. They were wrong.

Let's look at the sources of all this burgeoning information, starting with publications of the commercial presses. According to a chart in The Universal Almanac (1991), the number of titles produced in the U.S. increased from 42,377 in 1980, to 47,489 titles in 1988. The chart notes that the "increase is due largely to a major improvement in the recording of paperbound books between 1980 and 1985."

Nowadays, anywhere from 50,000 to 52,000 titles are published annually. As always, a good many of those titles are reprints, even more are updates or replacements of older titles (as in travel guides), and most of the remainder are fiction, children's literature, and the latest diet books.

In over a decade, then, the output of commercial publications has grown -- but not shockingly so. And some might say that most of it is only marginally informative.

But commercial presses aren't the only source of data. In Lesko's Info-Power, author Matthew Lesko states, "one little government publisher, the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), alone sells about 90,000 titles annually. And it's estimated the NTIS titles represent only a tiny portion of research that is actually published by federal agencies."

On the other hand, my Uncle Keith used to be a customs officer, and he once observed that the United States regulations concerning the importation of Mexican avocadoes were some two hundred and twenty times longer than the American Constitution, and he was including all the Amendments.

I'll grant you that the government cranks out a lot of paper, and I'll even grant that some of it is important research. But my point is that unless you happen to be in the Mexican avocado business, who cares?

In my library school days we were taught that the two biggest jumps in publishing have been in the areas of academic journals, and technical reports.

But -- with apologies to my academic colleagues -- I'd have to argue that there isn't that much real information in their writings, either. In the main, academic writing is a series of cross-citations and literature reviews -- bibliographic essays that seldom add a lot to the store of useful, practical knowledge.

As for technical publications, there is indeed some real, relentless piling up of new data going on. But let's be honest: unless you're a specialist, most of that data has no effect on your life whatsoever. Until, that is, it results in a new perfume, food additive, or media for the recording of music. And at that point, you can probably deal with it.

The way I see it, there's a big difference between the quantity of data available, and the specific data that are meaningful. When you want to buy a car, you don't read government engineering reports that analyze automobile trade deficits. You read Consumer Guide.

For most of us, those wads of government reports, academic writing, and technical data just aren't relevant, and irrelevant information doesn't pose a threat to anybody. Information doesn't lurk about in dark alleys, then leap out and force you to memorize its features. It certainly won't team up with other kinds of information to overwhelm your tiny mind.

In my judgment, the size of your essential body of significant knowledge -- the basic information you need to look after yourself in the world and to be a productive citizen -- isn't much different than it was fifty years ago. It's just more important, because without that beginning context, it's much harder to assess the difference between the wheat and the chaff -- the important data on one hand, and the informational equivalent of junk mail on the other.

In short, the total world inventory of information might be a little bigger than it use to be, but there's nothing especially explosive about it.

The important thing is that you can find your way around it -- mostly thanks to today's libraries -- far faster than at any point in human history.

And that's progress.

Wednesday, September 23, 1992

September 23, 1992 - Reference workshop

Admit it. When you were in school, you always put off doing your research paper to the last night.

And what happened? You did a lousy job.

When anyone talked to me about this when I was in school, I thought they were just yelling at me. Well, okay -- they were yelling at me. So imagine my surprise to discover: doing term papers is actually a useful life lesson.

Especially in the work-a-day world, there are often real deadlines, just like term papers. There's a big gap in your knowledge about some topic. You need to figure out what you really need to know, track down a goodly body of information about it, whip the raw data into shape, then polish it until it's presentable.

When I was in school, of course, I never approached the problem like that. I did what everyone else did: mainly, put all my effort into ... waiting till the last possible instant. Then I just yanked, more or less at random, whatever I could find off the shelves of the local library, took some hasty notes, then shuffled them into -- voila! -- a term paper.

Sometimes - not often - you can get away with that at school. But on the job, it's a lot harder. You wind up making bad decisions because you just don't know what you're talking about. Worse, you do something that brings harm to somebody else because, well, you didn't do your homework.

But the best thing about working in libraries is that I have finally learned just how easy it is to do good research. All it takes is (1) correctly defining what you need to know in the first place, (2) giving yourself enough lead time to do the job right, and (3) having a system.

Now that I'm pushing 40, I think I'd make a pretty good high school student.

On September 24, Jeff Long, reference librarian at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, will be giving a workshop entitled "Beyond the Encyclopedia: Library Research Time-Saving Tips." The workshop starts at 7:30 p.m. and is free to the public.

I highly recommend it, not only for those students who still haven't figured out a good strategy for doing school research papers, but also for the business people, who need to do topical research all the time, but have not yet grasped what the library can do for them.

Jeff has put together a good outline for the whole research process: how to pick a subject, how to tackle the world of library reference materials in a logical and efficient manner, and where to go from there.

Jeff will also provide a chart to help you decide what kinds of reference materials are likely to be most useful to you, depending on the topic you've selected. This can save you lots of time.

Altogether, "Beyond the Encyclopedia" can take some of the pain out of the never-ending battle against ignorance. So you might want to mark this one on your calendar.

Why wait until the last minute?

Wednesday, September 16, 1992

September 16, 1992 - Metro libraries online

In 1984, I decided to try what was then a very unusual idea: provide a public telephone line to the local library's computer catalog. If you had your own computer and a modem - a device that lets computers talk through phone lines - you could, effectively, put the library catalog on your desk.

I believe my library (Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois) was the first public library in the country to do this.

To promote the new service, I spent a lot of time talking to various computer users groups, most of whom didn't have modems. The ones that did, used modems that crawled along at 300 characters per second, just one-eighth the speed of today's most common modems.

In 1984, a library providing computerized access to "bibliographic data" was way ahead of the curve. But as a friend of mine and I maintained in an article we published back in 1983, that was still a long way short of the computerized library's potential.

We thought that library catalogs needed to tap into the real wealth of libraries. We needed to provide not just access to the indexes to information; we needed to provide the information itself.

Nobody responded to our article at the time, but it seems to me that Jim and I had predicted precisely the direction public libraries are headed these days, just ten years later.

In Colorado, Denver Public's CARL system, followed by the Pikes Peak Library District (also running on CARL software) has pioneered this trend. Connecting (or "dialing in") to CARL not only puts a card catalog of some five millions titles at your fingertips, it also offers an online encyclopedia, a sprinkling of magazine abstracts, and even an index to book reviews, which also includes some abstracts.

At present, the Douglas Public Library District's central computer houses Community Information Resource information, containing information about social service, civic, and not-for-profit agencies serving Douglas County residents. By the end of this year, thanks to the negotiating wizardry of Oakes Mill Branch Manager Gina Woods, we will provide computerized indexing to four years of almost 400 popular periodicals. This product is called MAS, Magazine Article Summaries, because each and every article will have a concise but comprehensive abstract, right there on the screen of every terminal in the system.

With access to this kind of current magazine data, I truly believe more and more people will choose to do their research from home, browsing through ever-larger universes of data without ever getting out of their pajamas.

Meanwhile, I thought that those of you with the necessary equipment and software (modems cost as little as $49 these days, and there are many public domain and "shareware" programs to be had for nothing) might appreciate having a directory to the public library databases available in the metropolitan Denver area.

All of the numbers below are local calls, so are absolutely free. Be aware, however, that in the CARL system, you really have to have a Denver Public or Pikes Peak Library Card to gain access to some of the most interesting data. But with the Colorado Library Card, all you have to do is take your Douglas Public Library District card with you to either of the libraries, and they'll give you the number you need.

The Douglas Public Library District phone number is: 688-1428. Modem speeds: 2400, 1200, or 300. Settings: No parity, 8 bit words, 1 stop bit. Terminal emulation: VT100. After connection: press Enter a few times to synchronize your modem with ours. Trouble: if nothing appears on the screen, try holding down your control key and pressing the letter Q. If you get a "login" prompt, type the word "library" (without quotes), being very careful to use lower case letters, then press Enter. To quit: just hang up. Note: the DPLD database also allows you to reserve titles, but have your library card handy.

The CARL phone number is 758-1551. Modem speed: 2400, 1200, 300. Settings: No parity, 8 bit words, 1 stop bit. Terminal emulation: several options available. After connection: press Enter, then just follow instructions. Trouble: hang up and start over. To quit: hang up. Note: you can connect through CARL to the Bemis Public Library, Denver Public, Boulder Public, Pikes Peak Library District, many other Colorado libraries, including both the metro area and the western slope, and beyond that, from Maryland to Hawaii. Even if you get connected to one of those libraries, it's STILL a local phone call.

The ARAPAHOE LIBRARY DISTRICT, and the AURORA PUBLIC LIBRARY phone numbers (there are two) are: 343-8635 OR 364-6355. Modem speed: 2400, 1200. Settings: No parity, 8 bit words, 1 stop bit. Terminal emulation: VT100. After connection: hold down Ctrl key and hit the letter "O". Then follow instructions. Trouble: hang up and start over. To quit: hang up. Note: at present, this system doesn't have any non-bibliographic data.

The Englewood Public Library's phone number is: 783-0038. Modem speeds: 2400, 1200, 300. Settings: Even parity, 7 bit word, 1 stop bit. Terminal emulation: VT100. After connection: at Login prompt, type #LOGIN PAC# (in caps). Then follow instructions. Terminal emulation: several available. Trouble: hang up and start over. To quit: hang up. Note: at this writing, Englewood doesn't have any non-bibliographic data either.

I hope this proves useful. Happy hunting!

Wednesday, September 9, 1992

September 9, 1992 - Trustees and Donors reception

The days of our early childhood are like water, flowing away from us with quick and careless abandon.

My earliest memory, I think, is of my sister's 2nd birthday, which would have made me about four. Of the time before that, I remember nothing, not even memories of memories.

But one of the wonders of parenthood is the way that raising your own children stirs up some faint and strangely moving almost-memories. Certain smells -- baby powder, calamine lotion, even diapers -- are particularly strong memory triggers, not so much of clear events, but of feelings, sensations. Echoes of childhood.

So even though you can never quite recapture the days of your infancy, there is compensation: you get to witness those first stirrings of personality and character in your own offspring. Only parents have the memory of life's earliest, most fleeting and therefore most precious beginnings.

The Douglas Public Library District, while not a parent, exactly, is at least a grown-up. It's not fully mature, yet -- and won't be until the current wave of population growth settles down and we've got all of our buildings and collections in place. Nonetheless, we have in some sense reached our majority.

So in an effort to recapture and commemorate the childhood of the former Douglas County Public Library System and the current Douglas Public Library District, we have sought out all of its surviving (or findable) "parents" -- all of the Trustees that have served since 1967. (Cindy Murphy, the library's Business Manager, managed to locate all but two -- not bad, out of 42.)

On September 17, the DPLD will hold a reception honoring them at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. The event will be held in the Lynn Robertson Children's Garden, beginning at 6:00 p.m. Donors to the Garden will also be honored. We'll even have the Douglas County High School Orchestra on hand.

But what do you give to the people whose time, effort and vision made the library what it is today?

The staff of the library talked about that a lot. Should we give them individual certificates? Books donated to the library in their names?

Finally, the best idea came from Esther Marie Capps, a Trustee for the County Library from 1988-1990, and for the Library District to 1991. She pointed out that individual gifts have a way of getting lost over time. She suggested that a fitting way to honor the library's many Trustees and donors was to get all of their names and dates of service, and mount the information on some kind of plaque, to be displayed in the library lobby.

That way, a generation or so from now, people can point to the names with pride and say: "That was my grandfather" (or great-aunt, etc.).

If libraries are at least in part about the preservation of historical knowledge, it's only fitting that the people who "gave birth" to and reared the institution, are acknowledged and honored.

The public is also invited to the event. Now, if I can only find all those baby pictures...

Wednesday, September 2, 1992

September 2, 1992 - boardwalks

Once, Oscar Wilde was said to have overheard a contemporary's devastatingly clever remark. He muttered, "I wish I'd said that." Another bystander immediately retorted, "Oh, you will, Oscar. You will."

Probably I shouldn't let this get out, but most libraries are similarly inclined toward plagiarism.

I don't mean (of course) that we steal things from books and claim that we thought 'em up ourselves. We're far too mindful of copyright issues to do anything like that. But when it comes to stealing good ideas from each other, we truly have no shame.

Take, for instance, this blurb in the August 24, 1992 issue of #Library Hotline#, a weekly newsletter I get:

"In an effort to learn more about the public's thoughts on library service, Jack Hicks, administrative librarian of the Deerfield Public Library, IL, and one member of his Board of Trustees will spend three hours on the first Saturday of every month meeting and greeting patrons in the front lobby of the library. Hicks is calling the program the 'in person suggestions box,' devised to counteract the voice mail revolution."

I wish the Douglas Public Library District had done that.

But we will. (See what I mean? Plagiarism.)

Admit it. You don't have a clue who your representatives are on the library Board. Probably, you're not too sure where all of the Douglas Public Library District's branches are, either.

But the members of the library Board are the ones who set policy, establish long range goals, scrutinize the budget, and hold their employees (like me) accountable for how well -- or how poorly -- things are going. And each of our branches is unique, with its own special features and collections -- all well worth a visit.

So in the fine spirit of such pioneering spirits as Jack Hicks, and with a wry nod to the tradition of Oscar Wilde, I'm pleased to announce the first of the Douglas Public Library District's "Boardwalks."

I wanted to start this on the first Saturday of the month myself, but the first Saturday in September happens to be the day Maddy, my daughter, is having her fifth birthday party. So the first Boardwalk will be on September 12, 1992, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Oakes Mill Library.

The current President of the Library Board of Trustees is Tom McKenzie. The Oakes Mill Library happens to be in his neighborhood. He will be there with me to greet patrons, offer a cup of coffee, maybe some donuts, and ask people what's on their minds about libraries. We'll also have some of our designs on display for improvements to the Oakes Mill Library, slated to occur by the end of the year.

If you've got any comments, questions, complaints, suggestions, or words of praise, stop by. The Oakes Mill Library is located at 8827 Lone Tree Parkway, on the corner of Yosemite and Lone Tree Parkway, about two country blocks north of Lincoln.

This will be very casual. You don't have to dress up. I assured Tom that I don't intend to. After all, the point is to provide a human alternative to the endless loops of voice "messaging" systems that characterize too many of our institutions and businesses these days.

In the future, I hope to schedule a Boardwalk once a month, eventually featuring all of our Board members, and each of our branches.

Tom and I look forward to seeing you on the 12th.

Thursday, August 27, 1992

August 27, 1992 - 500 words

At the library's recent public program on phonics, "Sounding Off," a woman named Mary Floyd promised to provide the library with a list of the 100 most-used words in the English language. In fact, she gave me a list of something called "the High-Utility 500" -- 500 words that various studies have identified as the most used and presumably, most useful words, especially for students in grades 2-12.

For those of you wondering where such things come from, the initial study was called the American Heritage Word Frequency Study (conducted by Carroll, Davies, and Richman), and its findings were cross-checked in studies by Gates, Horn, Rinsland, Green, and Loomer, as well as Harris and Jacobson. Finally, the results were correlated with a 1985 study by Milton Jacobson of 22,000 students in grades 2-12.

Rather than copying the list and posting it at the library, I thought I'd print it here in the newspaper. I find the list interesting, and perhaps you will, too.

Please note that although the following are words your child must know, simply memorizing a list of words is no substitute for either phonics or other "word attack" skills.

With that caveat ...

The First 100 words (in order of frequency): the, of, and, a, to, in, is, you, that, it, he, for, was, on, are, as, with, his, they, at, be, this, from, I, have, or, by, one, had, not, but, what, all, were, when, we, there, can, an, your, which, their, said, if, do, will, each, about, how, up, out, them, then, she, many, some, so, these, would, other, into, has, more, her, two, like, him, see, time, could, no, make, than, first, been, its, who, now, people, my, made, over, did, down, only, way, find, use, may, water, long, little, very, after, words, called, just, where, most, know.

The Second 100 words: get, through, back, much, go, good, new, write, our, me, man, too, any, day, same, right, look, think, also, around, another, came, come, work, three, must, because, does, part, even, place, well, such, here, take, why, help, put, different, away, again, off, went, old, number, great, tell, men, say, small, every, found, still, between, name, should, home, big, give, air, line, set, own, under, read, last, never, us, left, end, along, while, might, next, sound, below, saw, something, thought, both, few, those, always, show, large, often, together, asked, house, don't, world, going, want, school, important, until, form, food, keep, children.

The Third 100 words: feet, land, side, without, boy, once, animals, life, enough, took, four, head, above, kind, began, almost, live, page, got, earth, need, far, hand, high, year, mother, light, country, father, let, night, picture, being, study, second, soon, story, since, white, ever, paper, hard, near, sentence, better, best, across, during, today, however, sure, knew, it's, try, told, young, sun, thing, whole, hear, example, heard, several, change, answer, room, sea, against, top, turned, learn, point, city, play, toward, five, himself, usually, money, seen, didn't, car, morning, I'm, body, upon, family, later, turn, move, face, door, cut, done, group, true, half, red, fish, plants.

The Fourth 100 words: living, black, eat, short, United States, run, book, gave, order, open, ground, cold, really, table, remember, tree, course, front, American, space, inside, ago, sad, early, I'll, learned, brought, close, nothing, though, idea, before, lived, became, add, become, grow, draw, yet, less, wind, behind, cannot, letter, among, able, dog, shown, mean, English, rest, perhaps, certain, six, feel, fire, ready, green, yes, built, special, ran, full, town, complete, oh, person, hot, anything, hold, state, list, stood, hundred, ten, fast, felt, kept, notice, can't, strong, voice, probably, area, horse, matter, stand, box, start, that's, class, piece, surface, river, common, stop, am, talk, whether, fine.

The Fifth 100 words: round, dark, past, ball, girl, road, blue, instead, either, held, already, warm, gone, finally, summer, understand, moon, animal, mind, outside, power, problem, longer, winter, deep, heavy, carefully, follow, beautiful, everyone, leave, everything, game, system, bring, watch, shall, dry, within, floor, ice, ship, themselves, begin, fact, third, quite, carry, distance, although, sat, possible, heart, real, simple, snow, rain, suddenly, leaves, easy, lay, size, wild, weather, miss, pattern, sky, walked, main, someone, center, field, stay, itself, boat, question, wide, least, tiny, hour, happened, foot, care, low, else, gold, build, glass, rock, tall, alone, bottom, walk, check, fall, poor, map, friend, language, job.

You might post this list on your refrigerator, and spot check your children from time to time.

A follow-up to the phonics meeting, by-the-bye, is the formation of a new parents' group called the Core Knowledge Committee. The purpose of this group is to urge the adoption by Douglas County schools of the Core Knowledge Curriculum -- a clearly defined and grade-sequenced body of objective knowledge.

The first meeting of the committee will be at the Philip S. Miller Library, at 7 p.m., Tuesday night, September 1. For more information, call Laurel Iakovakis at 660-9723.

Thursday, August 20, 1992

August 20, 1992 - Sign language

Some years back, I was eating lunch in a Chicago cafeteria. Suddenly, the whole room was electrified by two people who never said a word.

A woman walked in the front door. At the other end of the room, a man leapt to the top of a table. The two of them commenced a furious argument -- with their fingers.

None of us had a clue what the dispute was about, but it was obviously intense. Everyone in the room fell silent, swinging their gazes back and forth like spectators at a tennis match.

Finally, after some 15 emotion-charged minutes, the woman signed a final, unmistakably dismissive gesture, and stormed back out the door. The man turned almost purple, then stiffly resumed his meal.

While I have seen many arguments in my life, I have never witnessed any so dramatic and eloquent. That was the first moment when I grasped that "signing" -- the gestural speech of the deaf -- was more than just a crude code for the handicapped. It was a rich and marvelously expressive language in its own right.

I recalled that incident when I ran across an article last week (in the July, 1992 issue of Smithsonian) about American Sign Language. The author details the history of sign language, and briefly reviews a body of interesting anecdotes and recent scientific studies that show that sign language is indeed a language.

Here's one of the anecdotes: the football huddle originated in the 1890s, at a school for the deaf. The team needed to talk -- sign -- to each other, without their opponents seeing what they were saying.

Wherever deaf people are found, so is sign language -- although the "dialects" around the world are as unintelligible to people outside the local region as Swahili might be to a Serb.

Where things begin to get really interesting is that deaf babies (raised in households where the adults are always signing) actually "babble" with their fingers. That is, they make experimental, not-quite-random motions with their hands, just as hearing babies coo, buzz, and otherwise tune up their voices.

Whether hearing-impaired or no, all of us go through precisely the same of stages of language acquisition. For instance, many children have trouble with the idea of "pronouns," the concepts behind "he," "she," and even "you," and "me."

Sign language would seem to be much simpler to learn, right? A child can just point to someone for "you," and point to him- or herself for "me."

But young children still learning to sign make the same kinds of mistakes. They point to themselves when the context of the "conversation" makes it clear that they mean "you." Or they point to their moms when they mean themselves.

That suggests that sign language isn't just spatial shorthand, it's conceptual. It has a GRAMMAR. Or as signers themselves put it, signing is "brain stuff."

The language center of the brain is located on the left side. And here's the clincher: When their language center is damaged, say in a car accident, deaf children lose the ability to sign. This is exactly parallel to people who suffer an immense blow to the left side of the brain and ever after, cannot talk.

Signing is speech.

Years after the cafeteria incident, I caught a National Theater of the Deaf's performance of "A Christmas in Wales," by Dylan Thomas. There was a wonderful scene where a group of carolers stood silently outside a lighted house, their hands moving in perfect, silent harmony.

The glory of libraries is that we have captured speech, set it to the page, bound it in buckram, made of it something that can be easily stacked, tracked, traded and trucked.

But how shall we preserve and disseminate the marvelous, evocative fluidity of signing?

Thursday, August 13, 1992

August 13, 1992 - Patron confidentiality

The year was 1981. A man named John W. Hinckley, Jr. tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.

Within days, an enterprising writer for Newsweek called the Jefferson County Public Library to find out what kind of books Hinckley, a one-time resident of Evergreen, might have checked out. Anything on guns? Anything linking him to violent, left-wing organizations?

At that time, Colorado didn't have what librarians in other states call a "patron confidentiality law." In brief, there was nothing to stop libraries from telling anyone who asked what anyone else was reading.

So by the end of 1981, several librarians got together with a lawyer to draft House Bill No. 1114. It was signed into effect by Governor Richard Lamm on March 22, 1983.

This law, "Concerning Privacy of Library User Records," is the sort of thing most library users don't think about. At first, it all sounds kind of pointless and stupidly inconvenient.

For instance, when library staff calls a woman to tell her that the book she reserved has come in, her husband might take the call. He might ask, "What's the book? I'll tell her it's in." Or maybe the man is standing at the circulation desk and asks, "Is anything in for my wife?"

Seems harmless enough, right? Helpful, even.

But according to the law, we can't say. Why? Well, there are several reasons. For one thing, it's a class 2 petty offense, punishable by a fine of up to $300 per occurrence.

For another, it's really none of the husband's business. The book might be, "How to Throw a Surprise Birthday Party." Or it might be, "How to Divorce Your Abusive Spouse Without Him Knowing About It."

There's an interesting twist to the Colorado law. Most laws in other states just protect privacy about specific books. For instance, the public library can't tell you who had checked out a copy of a book by Jerry Brown -- or Jerry Falwell. (This stops people on either side of an ideological fence from engaging in "fishing expeditions" or witch-hunts.)

The Colorado law specifies that "a publicly-supported library or library system shall not disclose ANY record or other information" (emphasis mine) "which identifies a person as having requested or obtained specific materials or service or as otherwise having used the library."

So with very few exceptions, ("the reasonable operation of the library," "upon written consent of the user," or "Pursuant to subpoena, upon court order, or where otherwise required by law") public libraries aren't supposed to divulge even that you've got, or have ever had, a library card.

To reflect this overriding respect for privacy, our computer system is specifically designed to forget what people check out -- as long as they return the items they have taken. (Our computer system is very, very good at remembering who didn't bring something back at all.)

And if you return a book that's damaged, the computer can, for a brief time, remember who to bill for it.

But if you bring back a book when you're supposed to, and it's in good shape, the only thing our computer system remembers about any particular title is how many times it got used, and what DATE the book was last checked out. This information is useful to us as we decide which books to keep, and which need to be cleared out to make way for new growth. Books that don't get used, ultimately don't get saved.

As a librarian in the age of automation, I am very much aware of the kinds of abuses computers might be turned to. Electronic snooping -- whether it be into your purchasing patterns, the background of your casual associates, or the books you read -- is precisely as ethical as a neighborhood peeper in the bushes, and as welcome.

At the Douglas Public Library District, we deal with the issue first by requiring only the patron information we need (your address, and an identifying number NOT your social security I.D.); second, by being very careful to erase any other information regarding your library use; and third, by reminding our staff that they are not to discuss what you're reading with anyone but you.

Protecting your intellectual privacy is not just the law. It's the right thing to do.

Saturday, August 8, 1992

August 5, 1992 - Highlands Ranch birthday

The Highlands Ranch Library opened on August 12, 1991. At that point, we didn't even have a sign for the building. In fact, we hadn't done any formal advertising at all, so didn't expect to see much of a turnout.

We were hoping to use the week between our actual opening and the official opening (featuring Colorado's First Lady, Bea Romer, reading stories to children) to iron out any procedural kinks.

But on that first day of operations, the Highlands Ranch Library accounted for 10% of the business throughout the entire library district. So we ironed out the kinks on the spot.

The location of the library -- in the convenience center kitty-corner from the Highlands Ranch Recreation Center -- quickly proved to be just about ideal. To be successful, a library really ought to be located along the usual lines of traffic -- for cars, and for kids. University Avenue, just south of C-470, sees plenty of both.

By the end of the month -- and a very short month it was -- the Highlands Ranch Library had accounted for a little over 13% of all the circulation activity throughout the district. In the last six months of 1991, the new Highlands Ranch Library accounted for 15 percent of the library's business (and remember that it didn't open until half way through August).

So how's it doing lately? In the first six months of 1992, Highlands Ranch racked up 21.7% of the district's circulation. And thanks to the contribution of the Highlands Ranch location, use of the library district overall has jumped by 46 percent over last year. (The national increase in library use was about three percent.)

In raw numbers, From January through June, 1992, Highlands Ranch checked out 72,758 library materials to our patrons, out of the total of over 335,939 items checked out at our other automated libraries. Figuring the Highlands Ranch population at roughly 15,000 people, that's as if everybody in the area checked a little more than 4 books per person.

In short, the library has enjoyed good, solid use, from the day it opened to every day since -- yet another sign that Douglas County citizens place a high value on books.

But enough numbers. Now for some ... dates!

If you'd like to stop by the Highlands Ranch Library to help celebrate its first birthday, post the following schedule some place:

On August 12, 7 p.m., I will be doing some storytelling at the library (featuring my own, slightly askew version of "The Frog Prince.") There will be a Birthday Party with cake and games. In addition, the Highlands Ranch Library will be offering Cookies and punch at the following times: Monday, August 10, at 10:30; Tuesday, at 10:30 and 4:00; and Thursday, August 13, at 9:30 and 10:30.

My compliments to the patrons of Highlands Ranch, my appreciation to the staff of the library, and finally, my sincere wishes for a happy first birthday, Highlands Ranch Library! May you see hundreds more.

Wednesday, July 29, 1992

July 29, 1992 - phonics 2

Two weeks ago, I wrote a column about "Hooked on Phonics," the heavily advertised audiocassette and flashcard series that claims to be able to teach anyone to read in just 30 days.

The public response to the column was surprising -- greater than for any other column I have ever written. The day after the column was published, I got seven phone calls between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. alone.

The responses were also remarkably consistent. Most of the people I talked to thought that:

* The library should buy extra copies of the "Hooked on Phonics" program. As a self-described "grandmother" put it: "take the money from children's videos -- libraries are supposed to be about reading."

* There is a pendulum in public education, that swings toward phonics, then away. That same grandmother said the reason for the swing was very simple: you can sell a lot more new textbooks if there's a hot "new" reading method to justify it.

* Phonics is essential in the instruction of reading. I got several calls from people who said they grew up in the period of the "look-say" approach (recognizing words by their shape, rather than by their sounds) -- and still had reading problems because of it. I also got some calls from people who had been taught with a heavy emphasis in phonics, and appreciated it.

I heard from a fair number of teachers as well. One of them teaches science in a Littleton middle school, and remarked that she had found it necessary to teach rudimentary phonics in her science classes so the children would be able to read scientific nomenclature.

Another teacher expressed the concern that I had put out some misleading data about "whole language." She was even kind enough to lend me some school materials on the subject. One of the books, "A Research Base for Whole Language," gives this definition: "Whole language is a set of beliefs about how reading and writing are learned and how that learning can best be supported by teachers. In whole language instruction, all the systems of language (graphophonics, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) are kept intact or 'whole' as students read and write. As a result, students are able to focus on the meaning of text."

It is clear from this -- and from many other articles I have read about whole language -- that phonics (or "graphophonics") was never meant to be excluded from reading instruction.

But as I have written before, there is a tendency for people to mix up educational methods and curricular content. I doubt if anybody really cares if their children get phonics instruction through workbooks or from contemporary children's literature -- so long as they get it.

I submit that when the old phonics drill sheets got tossed out, many teachers were never given anything to replace them with, or shown how to provide some kind of orderly and comprehensive introduction to this crucial element of reading instruction. The abandonment of the method has lead -- in at least some schools, or some classes within those schools -- to the loss of the content.

So what does all this have to do with the public library?

First, I have decided to purchase two more copies of "Hooked on Phonics," bringing the total number of copies in the system to five, essentially one for each branch. We will change the loan period for these items to one month. The library won't be buying any more of them.

Second, I have compiled a list of the many other materials we have that parents can use to teach their children to read, or to supplement the teaching their children already receive at school. Some of these materials may well be better for you and/or your child than the "Hooked on Phonics" program. (I'm hoping to redistribute the demand for phonics information among the entire library collection, instead of letting it bunch up on just one title.)

Third, the library will sponsor a free public program at the Philip S. Miller Library on August 4, 1992, from 7-8:30 p.m. At that meeting, I'll pass out a bibliography of DPLD materials on phonics, and introduce the main speaker, Les Simonson.

An instructor for over 25 years, Dr. Simonson has taught elementary, junior high, graduate, and post-graduate level classes. A phonics advocate, he wrote his doctorate on the subject of learning to read. Dr. Simonson will talk about how to tell if your child might need some phonics help, and give a brief overview of the principles of phonics.

The name of the program will be, "Sounding Off: Reading and Phonics."

Wednesday, July 22, 1992

July 22, 1992 - Doomsday Book

I'd like to brag a little about "Doomsday Book," the recently published offering by science fiction author Connie Willis (who happens to live in Greeley, Colorado).

Right there on the page headed "Acknowledgements," she writes, "My special thanks to Head Librarian Jamie LaRue and the rest of the staff of the Greeley Public Library for their endless and invaluable assistance."

I met Connie shortly after I took my first library director job in Greeley five years ago. But I already knew who she was. Years before, I had read one of her first science fiction stories, called "Fire Watch"--a haunting time travel piece, set in war-time England.

But in 1987, Connie was hard at work on "Doomsday Book," her second full length novel. This was the story of Kivrin, a young historian from the year 2054, with an interest in traveling back to the Middle Ages.

Kivrin gets her wish--but instead of landing (through time travel technology) outside the Oxford, England of the year 1320, she discovers that she has been deposited at the beginning of one of the most horrible periods in history, the days of "the Black Death."

Instants after her arrival, she falls ill--precisely as, back in 2054, a new super-disease springs up, perhaps through the time "drop."

Even if you're not a science fiction fan, this is a hard book to put down--my wife read it straight through my birthday, pausing only for an occasional cup of coffee.

I have an unusual perspective on, and interest in, this book, in large part because I watched Connie write it. She did all of her writing right there in the Greeley Public Library--and an impressive amount of research to boot.

As she wrote, Connie posed some hard-to-answer questions: "How do I describe the speech of the people of the Middle Ages?" That took her into the field of linguistics. "How do I describe the interior of a middle ages house?" That took her into archaeology. "How do I describe the spread of the plague?" That took her into all kinds of historical documents. All in all, it gave our library quite a work-out.

In the five years it took Connie to write the book, she did more research on the Middle Ages than, I'm sure, many post-graduate students do while writing their doctoral theses.

But how did I rate the acknowledgement? Well, (this is the bragging part), I personally provided even greater assistance than just tracking down old church liturgies and historical data.

Every time I saw her, I asked, "Is it done yet?" I feel this helped to keep her on track, much as a persistent, "Are we there yet?" from the back of the car brings a kind of focus and intensity to a long drive.

And one day--I'll never forget this--I gave her a brownie, right there in the library. Shucks, I knew she was working hard. Of course, this isn't the kind of thing they teach you in library school. Sometimes, you just have to go with your gut instinct: break a rule, reach out to the writer, provide a little encouragement.

And then, one day just before last Christmas, I heard a heavy thump at my door, and a quick ring of the doorbell. It was UPS, and to my delight, they had dropped off the freshly typed, completed manuscript of Doomsday Book. I raced through it, then called Connie to congratulate her.

The book is now available, in paperback, from your local library, and all the better bookstores. I even have mine personally inscribed by the author. Connie wrote, "Yes, it's done, damn it! One lousy brownie and a lot of kibitzing..."

Hey, it's all part of the service.

Wednesday, July 15, 1992

July 15, 1992 - Hooked on phonics

I've got a dilemma.

Some months back, I started hearing the radio ads for the "Hooked On Phonics" kit -- a combination of booklets, cassettes, and flash cards that was supposed to help kids and/or adults learn how to read in just 30 days.

I directed my staff to buy a copy, thinking that people might want to examine the product before spending the money for it themselves.

Well, no sooner did we get it, than it suddenly had a big list of reserves attached to it. One of the policies I established when I got here was that when four people have requested an item, I buy another copy. That way, people don't have to wait so long for popular titles.

So I bought more Hooked on Phonics packages, bringing the total to three.

Yesterday, I discovered that we now have 20 reserves on the three copies. According to my usual policy, that means I should pick up a couple more. But I find that I'm having second thoughts about it.

The main reason I'm balking is the price: "Hooked on Phonics" sells for $179.95. The district has already spent over $500 on the kits. If I bring the total to five copies, I will have spent almost $900 out of the audiovisual line item, or about 2.5% of the entire AV budget on just one title.

It happens that a lot of people have been asking for more audiovisual materials -- mostly books on tape, but also children's videos. The average unabridged book on tape runs about $20. For every Hooked on Phonics kit the library buys, we can't buy about 9 books on tape. That bothers me.

On the other hand, public libraries should be as responsive as possible to public interests. There's a strong, continuing interest in Hooked on Phonics. According to a May 20, 1991 article in Newsweek, the kits were introduced in 1987, and had sold over 400,000 copies as of the Newsweek piece. So Hooked on Phonics isn't just a trendy little bestseller. It's got some staying power.

On the third hand, Hooked on Phonics is clearly designed to be an instructional, almost curricular tool. Is the library stepping directly into the public school territory here? Shouldn't the schools be providing this kind of item, through the District Media Center, for instance, which is available for use by the public right now?

But (on the fourth hand?) the Media Center doesn't currently own Hooked on Phonics. In fact, the current emphasis on so-called "whole language" seems to have all but eliminated phonics as an instructional approach -- at least in some local schools. The Douglas County School District may be reluctant to buy a pricey program that flies in the face of current trends -- and that some educators have already disparaged. (The Newsweek article quoted one education expert who said, "As instructional design, this really stinks." Another said, "I think it could be rather discouraging" to spend so much money and then fail. Shanahan, the developer of the program called these criticisms "sour grapes ... We can teach people to read in 30 days. They can't teach them in 12 years.")

So if people want to teach their children in ways that the school system doesn't endorse, where can they go to find what they need? The public library seems like a reasonable alternative.

I did some checking around, and found that neither the Arapahoe Library District nor the Aurora Public Library has any copies. (They do, however, have "Hooked on Polka.") The Pikes Peak Library District doesn't carry Hooked on Phonics, either.

The Denver Public Library, interestingly, has 34 copies. All but two of them are checked out.

Our own copies have been checked out since we got them. That's another problem -- the program is designed to be used over 30 days. For items that people are waiting for, our maximum checkout period is 2 weeks. So if the library really wants to meet the demand, we not only have to buy more copies, we should probably extend the checkout period for each one -- which further reduces its availability.

The patrons I've spoken with about it, say Hooked On Phonics works best with young children, even preschool children. Older kids find it a little boring. But the people that check it out are actually using it, not just previewing it for later purchase.

It appears that there is something of a groundswell of parental support for phonics. The School District might want to take note. In the meantime, I'm still pondering the precise line of demarcation between public library materials and curricular support materials. If you've got some thoughts on the matter, give me a call (688-8752), or send something to the paper.

Right now, this one is a puzzlement to me. I'd appreciate some advice.

Wednesday, July 8, 1992

July 8, 1992 - Colorado Library Card

Two historic library events are shaping up in Colorado. I'm pleased to say that the Douglas Public Library District has had a small part to play in both of them.

The first is the formation of something called Access Colorado -- an attempt to link every automated library in the state to a toll-free, state-wide computer network. I'll have more to say about that in a future column.

The second is the Colorado Library Card. We've been fielding some questions about it from our patrons lately, so apparently word has leaked out. This is a good time to let people know what we're up to.

For at least the last decade, various agreements among public libraries have allowed the patrons of one library -- let's say the Douglas Public Library District -- to walk in to another library -- let's say the Denver Public Library -- and check out books. Librarians call this a "reciprocal borrowing agreement."

But it hasn't been free. In fact, in 1991, it cost DPLD over $8,000 to let our patrons have this direct access to other library collections.

But over the past year, several people in the front range library community have had some problems with these fees. I was one of them. I argued that the chief result of these agreements was the systematic punishment of small libraries for the crimes ... of being small and/or poor.

These libraries, often fairly new systems, just didn't have enough books for their communities. So naturally enough, their patrons went elsewhere to get them. But when they did, the small library was then constrained to give up even more of its already hobbled budget. This made it even harder for them to buy more books.

Strangely, the money we spent didn't even go to buy more books for the libraries where our patrons borrowed them. Instead, it went into the general funds of the various cities where the libraries were located.

In short, if the idea was to encourage library development, increase the number of books available, and make it as easy as possible for the public of any community to get their hands on the right book, this was not a good strategy.

Sometimes, things reach a critical mass. Suddenly, everyone is ready for a better approach. There's a change in leadership. The public gets a little more vocal.

All of those things happened, I think, here in Colorado. With the strong encouragement of the Colorado State Library, a committee was formed to look into the possibility of adopting a library card that could be used anywhere in the state, at any public library that was interested in participating.

I was appointed to the committee, and in just a few short months, we hammered out a series of rules that were simple, easily understandable to the public, and did away forever with reciprocal borrowing charges throughout the state.

In September, you'll be seeing a lot more publicity about this. But at present, not only have 62 public libraries agreed to participate, but we all got so excited about it that other KINDS of libraries started clammering to participate too.

As of this writing, over a hundred elementary and secondary schools, as well as 13 university libraries, 3 institutional libraries, and a smattering of regional library systems, have agreed to participate.

Very soon, no matter where you travel in the state, there's one place you will always be welcome -- the local library.

Wednesday, July 1, 1992

July 1, 1992 - Signs and signage

In 1979 I took a job as a front desk clerk for the Graduate Library of the University of Illinois-Urbana. The same year, I observed a fascinating study.

Michael Gorman, one of the more popular lecturers for the Library Science Department, had once opined, "You can get a college student to do anything for a Snickers bar."

Based on that premise, some library science students handed out Snickers bars to every student who filled out one of their survey forms. It turned out that Professor Gorman was right: 100 percent of the surveys were completed.

The question of the study was deceptively simple: what kinds of signs do people read? The survey form was distributed to those students who had just walked out of the graduate library -- 10 acres of books encompassing well over 2 million volumes, and quite a large number of signs.

For purposes of the experiment, the students had made pink signs, orange signs, black signs, white signs, green signs, and signs of a good many other shades I cannot now recall. They had placed them throughout the graduate library: high, low, off to the right of an aisle, off to the left, and smack in the center.

Some of the signs were directional, some of them deliberately humorous. Some were obscure. Some were utterly contradictory. All of them were as conspicuous as possible.

The results, carefully tabulated for class credit, were statistically significant and universally accepted. The chief finding was breathtakingly simple.

People don't read signs.

On the one hand, that was surprising news. After all, the students of the University of Illinois Library read everything else.

For instance, each of the Graduate Library's 10 floors had two bathrooms. Not only were the walls of each of these bathrooms covered with extravagantly literate opinions about almost anything, somebody (probably a library science student) had taken on the task of making CROSS-REFERENCES for the graffiti.

You might be in the second floor bathroom, and come across a funny quote from Spinoza. Right under it, in green ink, would be the note, "See men's room, 8th floor, south wall, beginning 'Nietzsche says...'"

On the other hand, this study just proved what you instinctively know already. People will write, read, and even footnote what's written on bathroom walls. But they pay no attention whatsoever to a host of official signs.

How come? I don't have the slightest idea. But it's a shame. Sometimes library signs are hilarious.

For instance, take the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. For the past several months, at least two or three times a day, I walk past the signs we've posted on the ends of the aisles in the adult fiction section. One pair reads "DUM-GLY" -- meaning that books by authors whose last names begin with "DUM" are at the beginning of that aisle, and books by authors whose names begin with "GLY" are at the end of the aisle.

DUMGLY is one of those words that doesn't exist, but ought to. It should mean, "The state of being neither smart nor beautiful."

The very next set of bookstacks is labeled "GOD-HEY." Can you blame me for wanting the next set to read "YEAH-WHAT"? Even though I know that doesn't work out right.

One of the things I'd like to see in Douglas County is a consistent set of signs on highways and main roads that point people to the closest library branch. But you'd be surprised how hard it is to get all that coordinated.

On the highway, it's the responsibility of the state. Off the interstate, but on the paved roads, it's the province of the county. Within town limits, its the responsibility of the local municipality.

No matter how you cut it, it's confusing. But we're working on it.

On the other hand, is it really worth the trouble? Will anybody notice?

If you've got an opinion, stop by your local library and let us know. You say you don't HAVE an opinion?

Suppose we give you a Snickers bar ...