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, January 27, 1993

January 27, 1993 - Year Round Reading Program

This is a time of significant national, state, and local change. Under Clinton, we have a new presidential philosophy. Under Amendment One, we have a new and more stringent set of government controls. And in the wake of the defeat of Amendment Six and the local school bond, we have a school district that must find ways to contain costs without sacrificing quality.

One of the school district's response to these "challenges" (the euphemism of the nineties, I fear) is the notion of year round schooling.

The traditional school schedule was established when many American lives still revolved around farming. Parents just couldn't spare their children twelve months of the year. So schools -- then as now -- adapted themselves to societal pressures.

To the school district, year round schooling represents a way to save money by getting more use out of existing buildings. And to parents, it represents another "challenge" -- as childcare and vacation schedules are juggled to suit.

But what about public libraries? According to our own tradition, summer is when we hold our all-out reading programs. We talk to local businesses to get them to sponsor the program. We pull in interesting speakers. We host exciting events. Literally thousands of children come to the library in the summer. Our circulation statistics reach their annual peak.

In many respects, the Douglas Public Library District's Summer Reading Program is our recruitment drive. It's a wonderful opportunity to turn on kids to the glorious possibilities of reading, especially reading for fun.

So we ask ourselves: how will year round schooling affect public library use? How can the local public library best respond to the latest shift in the cultural calendar?

Well, one possibility is a year round reading program. So we're going to conduct an experiment. It will be sponsored by the American Library Association, participating area McDonalds, and the Douglas Public Library District.

On January 31, we'll have a couple of open house/sign up parties for a pilot project we're calling "Together Is Better." The parties will be held at the Parker and Philip S. Miller branches. Ronald McDonald, McDonald's clown, will be present. (Call for times: Parker at 841-3503 and Philip S. Miller at 688-5157.)

Beginning February 1, 1993, DPLD staff will be making visits to seven elementary schools: Northridge, Cherokee Trail, Eagle Ridge, Rockridge, Acres Green, Sedalia, and Roxborough. While all of these schools are not yet year round, they will be.

Each child will get a special "Together is Better...Let's Read!" brochure. The brochure has spaces for 24 titles. That's how many books we hope they can read by the time the program ends on May 31, 1993.

The program has prizes, too. Of course, reading is its own reward, but participants can also earn a Happy Meal and a certificate.

I'd like to publicly thank the owner-operators of participating McDonald stores -- the Front Range McDonalds (on 841 S. Holly St.), Castle Rock McDonald's (at 995 N. Park), and Parker McDonald's (at 10950 S. Parker Road).

They know that when a whole community is "challenged" -- it takes all of us to meet it.

Wednesday, January 20, 1993

January 20, 1993 - Amendment 2 and CLA boycott of Colorado Springs

Neighbors -- even good neighbors -- don't always agree with each other. But the difference between good neighbors and bad is that good neighbors try to work things out.

For instance, suppose that one night your neighbors throw a party. Suppose it gets pretty loud. If you happen to be a good neighbor, you probably won't call the police. You'll put up with it for a night.

But if all of a sudden your neighbor is having a party EVERY night -- your response is likely to change. You'll be less tolerant, more judgmental.

If you don't talk to each other, the situation is likely to escalate. The next thing you know, you're dumping garbage across each other's fences and making obscene phone calls.

In many respects, a public library is most like a remarkably well-behaved neighborhood. You'll find some books -- just as you'll find some neighbors -- that are chock full of completely wrong-headed notions. (These are the ones that hold different opinions from yours.)

And there are books whose viewpoints are remarkably lucid, well- argued, so obviously right that you wonder they don't have more friends. (These are the books expressing opinions that are very similar to yours.)

But somehow, all these books manage to co-exist more or less peaceably in the sedate streets of your local library. Sure, they occasionally have nasty things to say about each other, but it's understood that the freedom to gossip is one of the characteristics of this particular neighborhood. Nobody has to move out.

Libraries are good neighborhoods.

But things aren't always so rosy. Sometimes issues spring up that divide neighborhoods. One such issue is Amendment 2.

Before last November, the Board of the Colorado Library Association adopted a resolution against Amendment 2 which stated in part, "The Colorado Library Association wishes to demonstrate consistency of purpose and continuing opposition to a discrimination which could have a chilling effect on collections concerning and service to such a targeted group."

Amendment 2 passed anyhow, by a 53% majority. The CLA doesn't have a lot of clout.

Several weeks ago, the CLA Board voted to boycott Colorado counties that supported Amendment 2. What does that mean, exactly? The CLA canceled its contracts with two Colorado Springs hotels slated to be the sites for the 1994 and 1995 annual conferences.

This proved to be a relatively controversial stance, prompting Denver Public Library Director Rick Ashton to write an open letter to the CLA Board (appearing in the January 9 editorial page of the #Denver Post#) chastising them for their vote.

I got a protest call myself. The man said that it was absurd to think that Amendment 2 would have any effect whatsoever on libraries. The same day, I received a written complaint about a book, a murder mystery whose main characters happened to be lesbians. That was the complaint.

So the CLA, it seems to me, had a point.

But I'd like to stress the difference between a Library and a Librarian. The CLA is a voluntary organization of librarians. And the people who belong to it have about the same differences of opinions you'll find in any other group. The Board took a stand -- but it doesn't represent a vote of all the librarians who belong to the CLA.

Even if it did, the vote of a group of librarians doesn't change either the constitution of library collections, or the fundamental mission of the public library.

People -- including librarians -- have a right to vote for the things they like. They also have the right to boycott the things they don't. Either one is part of democracy in action.

At the Douglas Public Library District, we'll continue to provide materials on both sides of this -- and many other -- issues.

Wednesday, January 13, 1993

January 13, 1993 - 1992 statistics don't tell whole story

There are many ways to measure a library. But probably the most important library activities are hard to put a number to.

Surely the best result a library could hope for is that through its resources, one or two happy souls per year achieved real wisdom. I'd like to see a number like that in a library statistical report. I wish I knew how to get it.

I'd also like to see a chart showing the number of children that formed a lasting love of reading over the past twelve months. It could be graphed against the total population of children in the area. A really successful library would get the two groups to merge.

I'd like to be able to count the number of people who found friends or a sense of community at the library, maybe through a conversation struck over the copy machine, the tax forms, the home repair videos, the children's book bins, or even the comic books.

I'd especially enjoy knowing how many patrons discovered some passionate new interest, who found through their local library important new information that generated new hope, new courage, and urged them on to new achievements.

A potentially illuminating statistic would be the percentage of groups who were offended by some library materials. This could be a very helpful way to spot gaps in our collection. Sometimes the only way you know you've really been thoroughly objective is when people on both sides of an issue are mad at you.

And it would be good to know how many of our taxpayers, on an annual basis, found through the library a moment of peace, of innocent diversion, or of laughter. They deserve such moments.

But I just don't have numbers like that.

All I've got are numbers about such things as, for instance, the increase of population in Douglas County since 1984, as compared to the number of items those people have checked out from the library.

But since I've got them, I may as well pass them on. In 1984 there were an estimated 37,325 people in the county. They checked out 113,188 items, or about three items per person.

By 1992, there were 69,399 people in the county. They checked out 692,146 items--roughly ten items per person.

To look at it another way, the population of Douglas County between 1984 and 1992 jumped by about 86 percent. But the number of items checked out of Douglas County libraries soared by 512 percent.

I can also report that in 1989, the library's collection had about 65,000 items. By the end of 1992, the collection had jumped to 165,000 items. That's an increase of roughly 154 percent in just the past three years.

I also have numbers about branch activity in 1992. The Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock accounted for 32% of all our business; the Parker Library for 31.8%; the Oakes Mill Library for 12.6%, the Louviers Library (our smallest building and collection) for .8%, and the Highlands Ranch Library (our youngest library) for 23 percent. Taken all together, library use (again as measured by the number of books, magazines, audiocassettes, and all other library materials checked out) was up by 36% over 1991.

All that's good news, I guess. And as I've mentioned before, nearly 70% of the residents of the entire county have--and use-- a library card. The more usual percentage elsewhere around the United States is forty to fifty-five percent patron registration. So there's more than one kind of growth going on here.

But all this stuff is just statistics.

Did the library touch your life in some significant way in 1992? If so, I'd like to ask you to jot down whatever it was and send it to me, either care of the library (961 S. Plum Creek Blvd., Castle Rock CO 80104), or to this newspaper. I'd like to know. I'm sure the Library Trustees would find your experiences of interest as well.

When it comes right down to it, libraries aren't about numbers. They're about people.

Wednesday, January 6, 1993

January 6, 1993 - Mommas don't let your babies grow up to be librarians

Lately, I've been doing a lot of thinking about librarianship as a job.

Somehow I just know that librarianship isn't most kids' top career choice. Willie Nelson even wrote a song about it: "Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be librarians." (I think that's how it went.)

But in a time of ever-narrowing areas of work and study, librarianship is the only field I know of where you can specialize in being a generalist.

One of my friends works on an assembly line where his job is to turn one screw on one piece of an unidentifiable product, then the next screw on the next piece...

One of my old college professors' whole reputation, all of his interests and most of his endeavors revolve around one book - he's an authority on "Beowulf." Both of these people get paid for what they do, but not enough, not to my way of thinking. What arid lives!

In libraries we deal with more subjects in one day - sometimes in one hour - than most people encounter in their whole lives. We're also surrounded by books, magazines, records, cassettes, videos, films, sculptures, paintings - a veritable cornucopia of culture.

But maybe the best part of working in libraries is the people. First, there are our "customers," by long library tradition called "patrons." You'll never find a nicer, smarter, more diverse, more interested, interesting, involved bunch of people anywhere.

Second, there's the library staff: I've tried my hand at many kinds of work, but I have never met more professional workers. By professional, I don't mean "possessing an advanced degree." That has nothing to do with it. I've known doctors who were unprofessional, and dishwashers who were so professional they approached artistry. Professionalism is a quality of individuals, not occupations; it's marked by the willingness to take the extra step, to see that the patron/client/customer finds exactly what he or she wants; a desire to do the job right. Library workers are the brightest, most conscientious (and often funniest) people I have ever run across.

Third, the working conditions are great. I once had a job swinging a pick-ax at the bottom of a rocky pit (leveling the ground for septic tank systems). Librarians work in comfortable, usually very attractive buildings. And the tools of the trade -- books -- are a pleasure to handle, unlikely to cause painful and unsightly blisters.

What about the long term career outlook for librarians?

Well, whether you're interested in the human side of the job (telling stories to children, answering reference questions, planning programs), or the technological end (building user-friendly interfaces to information retrieval systems, installing various data networks to bridge buildings or geographic barriers), there's plenty of work to be done.

What really drives business, politics, government? Information. And in a world where all the traditional barriers are crumbling, and literacy is an ever more essential skill, the key industry of the future is information science -- the gathering, organization, and delivery of relevant data. Information Science is just another word for Librarianship.

I truly believe that librarians will be absolutely pivotal in the next century.

But the deepest reward of librarianship is this: there's a profound sense of satisfaction that comes from finding the right book, the right answer to somebody's desperate question. To be a librarian is to ally yourself with curiosity and knowledge in a world rife with apathy and ignorance.

Many young people will opt for the pursuit of big bucks and inner desperation. But if you want more, if you want riches beyond measure, go for the best: be a librarian.