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, 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.

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