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, February 10, 1993

February 10, 1993 - Carl's retirement

Next week, my former boss, Carl Volkmann, will retire as director of Lincoln Library, the public library of Springfield, Illinois.

I served under Carl first as a Circulation Department Head (from 1982 to 1984), then as Assistant Director (1985 to 1987), when I went to Greeley, Colorado to assume my own directorship.

For five key years, Carl Volkmann was sage advisor to me, and friend, and mentor. He also played a mean game of tennis. He's still a friend, still a mentor. (I can't speak to his tennis these days.)

But the real story of Carl Volkmann's tenure as director of the Lincoln Library is this: Carl was a preacher's kid. I believe his father's father was a minister, too. And there was never any doubt in Carl's family that he, the oldest son, would follow in the family profession.

So Carl went off to Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa -- a good Lutheran school. He soon became president of his dormitory. Even then, people looked up to him.

Just months from graduation, Carl faced an excruciating dilemma. He didn't want to be a minister. The thought of standing up in front of a congregation every week to deliver a sermon was more than this intensely idealistic, deeply religious, somewhat stage- shy young man could face.

But he confronted his father -- and his father's disappointment. Instead of the ministry, Carl chose another path.

Five jumps later -- from school teacher, to Aquisitions Librarian, to Young Adult Librarian, to Associate Director in charge of Personnel, to Director -- Carl had attained the prestigious position of leader of one of the country's finest libraries.

How did it happen? More than anyone I know, Carl has the rare ability to listen not just to people's words -- but to their hearts.

At my first interview with him, I was very impressed, and a little overwhelmed, by his attentiveness. He had this trick: he'd look at you with these big, unblinking eyes, amplified by his glasses. Like an owl, he'd ... blink.

But there was an expectancy about it. You could feel that he believed in you, believed you were just about to say something really important.

So you said it. You had to.

I remember the day I interviewed for the position as his Assistant Director."You'll find other people with more experience," I said. "But you won't find anybody better qualified."

It was an outrageous statement, with barely a shred of supporting evidence. But Carl took a gamble on me. He gave me the job.

Later, he was always there with just the right word to point out my inevitable beginner's mistakes.

And when I did something right, I could sense the pride radiating from him, as if he'd invented me. He did invent me.

But maybe that wasn't so unusual after all. He had promoted many others in the library, launching their careers with the same trusting yet thoughtful attention he gave to mine. I don't know of any time when Carl made a hiring MISTAKE. I wish I could say the same.

I'm struck by one irony of his career. It seems to me that throughout his painstaking and conscientious stewardship of the library, Carl has delivered a magnificent, beautifully articulated sermon on the value of public service, the importance of high professional and personal ethics, and the crucial role of the public library in the cultural life of a community.

I bet his father would have been proud of him. As for me, I'm privileged to count myself among Carl's grateful congregation.

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