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, May 27, 1992

May 27, 1992 - young authors

This week's column in written by Jeff Gregory, the Branch Manager of the Parker Library. Jeff is proud of the accomplishment of a Parker resident -- and as you'll see, with just cause.

Ten-year old Parker author Mariesa Oxford will be signing copies of her recently published picture book, Going to Grandma's on Sunday, May 31, from 1 pm to 5 pm at the Parker Library in Parker, Colorado. Mariesa's story is the 1991 winner of a nationwide Young Publish-A-Book contest sponsored by Raintree/Steck-Vaughn Publishers of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She wrote the book as a third grader at Pine Lane Primary School in Parker as part of a classroom project. Mariesa's teacher at the time was Mrs. Marjorie Oliver.

Contest rules included writing a 300 to 500 word essay based on the theme "My Favorite Place." The story was to be about a real or imaginary place. Mariesa's Going to Grandma's is a combination of fictional and nonfictional events in her life. Copies of the book will be on sale during the autograph session at a discounted price of $12.50 per copy.

The Parker community can share in the pride of Mariesa's achievement, as hers is a rich, touching story of family life and love. As adults, we may not look entirely positive toward the hassles involved in visiting relatives, such as the planning, the packing and unpacking, and the long drive.

But in Going to Grandma's, Mariesa reminds us that for children, visits to relatives are truly tremendous fun!

The main character is a young girl who's family is preparing for the long trip to Grandma's. For the girl, packing is pure pleasure. Items are gathered to make the ride in the family van the utmost in travel comfort-- a favorite teddy bear, a large pillow, snack foods, and a puzzle book. The character reminisces about past visits to Grandma's, such as the mouthwatering food lovingly prepared in the cozy kitchen and the fun-filled afternoon spent with Grandpa at the fishing pond.

The illustrations, as done by artist Sally Bhandhugravi, assist in promoting the happy, warm feelings of family life. From the clothing styles to the modern family vehicle, objects are drawn in a way to elicit a timelessness in keeping with the book's theme.

The success of the book stems from the powerful imagery it evokes from our own childhoods, reminding us of what is important in life, which is our family; and the joy, love, and care that can be shared on our visits.

A fourth-grader at Pine Lane Intermediate School in Parker, Mariesa lives with her parents, David and Pamela; her older sister, Rachel; her younger brother, Michael; her two cats, Bini and Sylvester; and the family mutt, Dudley. Refreshments at the book signing will be provided by the Friends of Parker Library. Accompanying the author will be Raintree/Steck Vaughn Publishers representative Grant Edwards.

Don't miss your chance to obtain a copy of Going to Grandma's. The Parker Library is located at 19801 E Mainstreet in Parker, CO.

Wednesday, May 20, 1992

May 20, 1992 - Religion

The cultural bedrock of these United States is the First Amendment to the Constitution, which begins, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

It is from this Amendment, the first of our original "Bill of Rights," that we get the doctrine of the separation of church and state. And it is because of this doctrine that our public schools (which are themselves a part of U.S. government since the 1850s), cannot formally endorse any religious faith.

The dangers of a state religion are obvious -- one need only point to the Spanish Inquisition. Or consider Iran after the fall of the Shah. Remember Salmon Rushdie, still in hiding.

The search for religious freedom had a lot to do with the European colonization of this continent. The Puritans, for instance, came to America to flee the persecution they suffered under the state-supported Anglican church.

While there are many compelling reasons to support the separation of church and state, it seems to me that one result of this separation has been our appalling and mounting ignorance about faiths around the world--and even within our own nation. Religious beliefs are often a significant force behind political, cultural, and social events.

I'm not suggesting that our public schools should teach religion. (On the other hand, comparative religion as an academic subject isn't a bad idea.) What I am suggesting is that perhaps the public library can be of service. We can't TEACH religions, but we can sure make it easier to find out more about them.

How much do YOU know about the world's faiths?

Here are some numbers: according to the 1990 Encyclopedia Brittanica Book of the Year, Christians comprise 33.3% percent of the world's population.

Of that group, Roman Catholics are the largest constituency. They make up 18.8 percent of the world's population all by themselves. On the other hand, the Catholics count infants as members. Most Protestant groups (who account for 6.9 percent of the world's people) only count their members from the age of 13 or older.

The Christian groups also include Orthodox, Anglicans, and Other.

The next largest block of religionists is the Muslims, who comprise 17.7 percent of the world's population.

The third largest group (16.4%) are people who describe themselves as "nonreligious."

The fourth largest group (13.3%) is the Hindus. They are followed by the Buddhists (5.7%), the atheists (4.4%), Chinese folk religionists (3.4%), New Religionists (2.6%), and tribal religionists (1.7%).

The Sikhs, Jews, Shamanists, Confucians, Bahai's, Jains, and Shintoists account for less than .3 percent each, and another .3% covers all the other religions.

Now I don't know about you, but I don't have a clue what a New Religionist is. And despite a fair amount of reading about world religions, I find myself a little hazy about what the Sikhs believe, and how that differs from the Jains.

It seems as if the problem -- how to understand the religious beliefs of a people and the effect of those beliefs on history -- should get simpler when you look at just the religions practiced in the USA. But there are hundreds of organized faiths around the country, including the Christadelphians, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Friends, Jehovah's Witnesses, two branches of Mormonism, three branches of Judaism, nine branches of Lutheranism, numerous rivulets of Baptists, not to mention the Pentecostals, the Swedenborgians, the Unitarians, and many, many others.

What ARE the differences among all these religions and their denominations? What part do they play in our past and our present?

I'm investigating the possibility of a lecture series, sponsored by the library, that would provide a forum to responsible spokespeople for various branches of world faiths, with a particular focus on the similarities and differences of Judeo-Christian faiths practiced around the country.

If you'd be interested in such a series, let me know. If there's enough interest, we'll try to pull something together for this summer. I'd also appreciate the names of any especially knowledgeable people you know to be good lecturers.

Naturally, I have a particular interest in your recommendations for any book titles you might know about that provide factual, reasonably even-handed overviews of the beliefs of a particular faith. Do recognize that the library can't buy everything about just one religion or denomination. There's a lot of ground to cover, and a limited number of dollars.

Please feel free to call me (at 688-8752), or send me a letter (to 961 S. Plum Creek Blvd., Castle Rock, 80104) with your comments.

Wednesday, May 13, 1992

May 13, 1992 - It's A Mystery to Me

Back when my wife and I were still courting, she made some disparaging remarks about mystery writers in general, and Raymond Chandler in particular. By way of rebuttal, my college roommate and I talked her into reading "The Big Sleep" aloud to us.

Zanne started in with a tone of utter cynicism, even disdain. The thing is, when my wife talks like that, she precisely captures the mood of Raymond Chandler. She sounds, in fact, exactly like Lauren Bacall in the movie also called "The Big Sleep."

She looked up once or twice and saw my eyes shining. Her voice lilted over one of those unexpected and exquisitely poetic passages Chandler tosses in from time to time. In just a few minutes, my wife-to-be fell for Chandler's writing in a big way. Saved our relationship, probably.

Or take Mickey Spillane novels. I never imagined I'd go for the hard-bitten, macho cop stuff. But I did recall hearing something about Spillane I liked. Once someone had referred to Spillane as an author. "I'm not an author, I'm a writer," he snapped.

What's the difference between an author and a writer? Spillane says, "Writers make money."

I finally got around to one of his books. It was "I, the Jury." I admired its lean, muscular prose, the tightly-wound plot, the impeccable characterizations. He deserved to make money.

I haven't read many mystery writers. But the ones I have, were terrific. As a child, I curled myself into the corner of 221B Baker Street, smoking an imaginary pipe and matching wits with Mr. Sherlock Holmes (and faring about as well as Dr. Watson).

Much later, in college, I stumbled across the novels of Dorothy Sayers. Her Lord Peter Wimsey and the winsome Harriet Vane taught me nearly everything I know about the English countryside and high-born.

Compared to many, many thousands of library patrons, I haven't even scratched the surface.

Mystery readers are among the most fanatical of all library users. They do not read; they devour. Their appetite cannot be satisfied. To switch metaphors, they line up for new books like stiffs in a morgue. (Sorry. It's the subject. I can't help it.)

They re-read the old favorites endlessly. When most of us want to get to sleep, we count sheep. Mystery readers count corpses. But while they're counting, they're turning pages.

Mystery readers are a big part of our business.

People who read mysteries tend to be a little sharper than average too. They like puzzles. A little excitement doesn't scare them. They're observant. They're thinkers.

So to thank them for their unstinting support of libraries everywhere, the Douglas Public Library District has decided to kill somebody.

Just kidding!

No seriously, I have been thinking that perhaps the library should be doing something more for mystery fans than we do at present. Specifically, I've been wondering if we oughtn't to create, at each of our branches, a separate mystery section. (And perhaps a separate science fiction section as well.)

Let's face it: this is a consumer economy. The companies that understand consumer needs, and set up their inventory to be the most convenient to those consumers, will do better than those that don't.

When you go to video stores you find everything organized by type of movie: western, science fiction, horror, comedy. Most bookstores group their materials by genre as well. Is it time for Douglas County's libraries to follow suit?

I'd appreciate hearing your opinions on this. Next time you're in the library, let any library staff person know if you'd like to see distinct sections for your favorite kind of fiction -- and what kind of fiction that is.

Of course, finding the space, re-marking, and moving all the books around won't be easy. In fact, it will be murder.

But hey, mystery fans, you deserve it.

Wednesday, May 6, 1992

May 6, 1992 - cranky column

This probably won't come as a surprise to anybody, but sometimes, a man gets cranky.

It isn't always justified. I'll be the first to admit it. But let me give you a couple of examples of what's making ME cranky just lately.

Example Number One: recently, the seniors of the Douglas County High School put together a display of their artwork here at the Philip S. Miller Library. The display, featuring about 300 pieces and representing the work of 40 artists, ran from Monday, April 27 to Friday, May 1. The students themselves did the set up -- and a very good job they made of it.

The exhibit brought in lots of young people. A good many of our usual library patrons also appreciated the exhibit -- and expressed their surprised pleasure at the impressively high quality of most of the work.

But what made me cranky was that, for the first time in the history of art exhibits at the library, some of the art got stolen.

Joshua Been, a senior at Highlands Ranch High, had done a piece featuring a skateboarder. It was fairly small. But Tuesday night, it was gone. Another piece, a small, hand-colored photograph by another senior, also got ripped off in the same period.

This stuff really annoys me. Whoever did walk off with the pieces stole more than just something that happened to be hanging in a library. He or she stole a piece of somebody's life.

Each work of art takes hours and hours of a real person's life. Those hours can't be replaced -- and even if the artist were to put that much time into the effort again, the result would never be quite the same.

I would hope that whoever has information about these pieces will have the decency to get them back to their rightful owners. All I ask is that you drop them off at the library, no questions asked.

Example Number Two: A second thing that makes me cranky is trash. I don't mean trash in general, I mean the number of people lately that I catch tossing their garbage -- everything from neat little bags of kitchen scraps to big rubber tires -- into the library dumpster.

Maybe they haven't got garbage pick-up. Maybe they're just getting rid of one last little bit the collector didn't collect. But darn it, it's tacky!

A couple of times now, the dumpster has gotten so full that trash spills onto the ground. It happens that our library staff is making an effort to be as ecologically-minded as possible. We've launched a couple of in-house recycling projects that have really cut back on the amount of garbage we produce.

I don't appreciate having to use tax dollars to pick up other people's garbage. And it costs extra money to put a lock on the dumpster, then lock and unlock it for collection. PLEASE -- make your own arrangements for garbage pickup. This is not a library responsibility.

Okay, now that I've aired my general disgruntlement with the universe in the local newspaper, let me end this on a happier note. Good things do, after all, happen in the world from time to time.

On April 22, Earth Day, Philip S. Miller staff Carol Foreman and Susan Kuehster formally dedicated the Lynn Robertson Children's Garden -- an area just south of the building.

Lynn Robertson, as I've written before, worked for Douglas County libraries in their various incarnations for 21 years. This tribute to her is another sign of the volunteerism that marked Lynn's beginning with libraries and is still alive and well in Douglas County.

This project is largely due to the herculean (and volunteer) efforts of local landscape architect Thomas Stephens (design), Warren and Louise Krom (rototilling, ground preparation), and the subsequent planting of numerous plants by anybody willing to get their hands dirty, but mostly the Kroms, Carol, and Susan.

We would like to expand the garden. That will take some more money. If you would like to contribute to the project, just send your checks to the "Lynn Robertson Children's Garden," in care of the Douglas Public Library District.

The world may not be a perfect place (grumble), but we can at least leave it a little better than it was when we found it.