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, April 28, 1993

April 28, 1993 - Pioneering project - EBSCO magazine article summaries

It isn't easy being a pioneer. There are sudden twists in the road. The weather is unpredictable. The dangers are hard to gauge.

On the other hand, there's a certain amount of freedom when you step beyond the familiar. You learn things about yourself that you wouldn't have known before. You get a close-up glimpse of the future. All in all, pioneering can be exhilarating.

It happens that the Douglas Public Library District is something of a pioneer. We're the first library in the nation to load the EBSCO Magazine Article Summary database on its computer catalog.

Who or what is EBSCO? Mainly, it's a company serving as a "jobber" for magazine subscriptions. Instead of us trying to keep track of some 260-plus titles -- all of which need to be re-subscribed to on an irregular schedule -- EBSCO gives us a way to combine most of our subscriptions into one big order. This is not only convenient for us, it also saves us money.

But the Magazine Article Summary (or MAS) is a new wrinkle. Instead of providing us with a paper copy of the actual article, it provides us with ELECTRONIC citations and abstracts.

These citations are very similar to the usual computer catalog entry. That is, when you do a search by title or subject, the computer will show you the full and correct title of a matching entry (including author, magazine name, date, and page numbers).

But the abstracts are what make the tool so useful. For one thing, and unlike some of the other periodical databases, every article HAS an abstract.

Once you find an article -- on some software package or automobile make, for instance -- you'll find that you have a whole lot more information at your fingertips than you would from a "Readers' Guide to Periodicals" listing. Sometimes, the abstract alone will tell you exactly what you want to know, in which case you don't even need a paper copy.

Other times, the abstract may not tell you what you need, but it will tell you whether or not you're likely to find what you need in that particular article.

All of these things save time not only for you, the patron, but also for the library staff. With good abstract information, you won't have to go trudging around the library yanking magazines that MIGHT have what you want. And we won't have to trudge around putting them all back -- just the ones that were actually useful to you.

Have you ever tracked down an article only to discover that some scurrilous vandal has torn it out of the magazine? It's virtually impossible for somebody to cut a piece of an abstract out of a computer.

The DPLD is a pioneer in another way. In brief, we have tried to establish a new legal precedent. Up until now, the vendors of such databases sold LICENSES to the data, not the data itself.

What does that mean? The MAS is available as a product on CD-ROM (which are like music CDs, but contain data for use with a computer). And like many CD-ROM products, when you stop subscribing, you're honor- and contractually-bound to send everything back.

But the DPLD secured what is, I believe, the first contract in the country that enables us to keep any of the information we have loaded on our computer catalog. So if at some time, we stop subscribing to EBSCO's product, we don't have to purge our records of anything we have found useful.

We think this represents something of a breakthrough in making current periodical information available to the public.

All that's the good news. What's the down-side? Well, an MAS search doesn't work EXACTLY like one of our regular computer searches. We're still puzzling all that out. So please be patient if our computer terminals display some unusual messages over the next several weeks about some new approaches for searching our records.

But that's life on the frontier. When you're blazing a trail to the promised land, you can't count on all the usual conveniences.

Wednesday, April 14, 1993

April 8, 1993 - Meeting room policy

Robert Heinlein, the late, great science fiction author, once described a "committee" as a form of life that had more than 4 legs - but no brain.

There's another perspective, as captured by the phrase, "Two heads are better than one."

How YOU feel about committees probably depends on which ones you've worked with, and whether they made you feel dumber, or smarter. But no matter what kind of committee that is, the odds are good that you've all shared a common problem: finding a place to meet.

The Douglas Public Library District understands that the library is an almost ideal place for committee gatherings. For one thing, we don't charge anything as long as you don't trash the place.

For another thing, surely everybody knows where you can find your local library.

For yet another, the library is probably the best location imaginable to find information about whatever subject drew your committee together in the first place.

Finally, the library is by definition a PUBLIC gathering place. If you're trying to stimulate interest in a subject, why not plunk yourself down in the middle of the intellectual shopping mall and see who wanders in?

Recently, the Douglas Public Library District upgraded its meeting room at the Oakes Mill Library (in the Lone Tree development) to accommodate fairly large groups. The Philip S. Miller Library (in Castle Rock) also has a large meeting room. The Parker and Highlands Ranch Libraries have meeting rooms as well, although they are somewhat smaller.

To keep up with the times, the Library Trustees also updated their meeting room policy. So this seems like a good time to let people know about it.

The main thing to remember is that while we are delighted to be of use to the general public, just because we provide space to your group doesn't mean the library, the Trustees, or any of our staff members agree with or endorse your perspective or beliefs. (Of course, as anyone who ever served on a committee is aware -- your committee may not even KNOW what it believes. Even so, the library still may not agree with you.)

The second thing to understand is that anyone who meets at the library must agree to open their meetings to the general public. The library does not provide space for private, for-profit organizations. We won't host private birthday parties. You can't charge for attendance. The library is a public building -- the public and the press are always welcome.

After that, there are several other procedures that govern the use of our meeting rooms. Most of them are just common-sensical provisions. For instance:

~ All of our meeting rooms are reserved on a first-come, first- served basis.

~ Any group wanting to use the room has to fill out an application form. ~ The meeting rooms are available -- unless you have made special prior arrangements with the branch manager -- only during usual library hours. That's Monday through Thursday, 9-9; Friday and Saturday, 9-5; and Sunday, 1-5.

~ Groups wishing to meet on a regular basis throughout the year have to re-apply from time to time, as determined by the library branch manager. The idea here is to give newcomers a chance to gain access to library facilities.

~ Groups are responsible for setting things up themselves -- we won't arrange the room to suit you (although you're welcome to use whatever tables and chairs and other special equipment the library can make available).

~ We can't store materials for various groups.

~ You can't smoke in the library.

~ You can serve light refreshments, but you have to provide them yourself. The use of alcoholic beverages is prohibited, unless special permission is applied for and granted by the Library Board of Trustees.

~ Only classes sponsored by the District will be allowed to hold class meetings in our meeting rooms. That is, you can't start a Mandarin Chinese language class, and charge for materials, unless the library is sponsoring the classes.

~ The library reserves the right to cancel meeting room reservations as needed. We don't expect to need to very often, but you never know when we might have to do some building repairs or accommodate our own Library Board.

That's pretty much it. When in doubt, just ask to talk to the branch manager.
So will any of this make committee work easier, or the committee members any more productive?

Probably not. But at least you'll have a place to sit down.

Wednesday, April 7, 1993

April 7, 1993 - Arbor Day

The last time my wife and I drove across Kansas was during our move to Colorado.

It was 98 degrees and relentlessly sunny. We were driving two cars, neither one of which had air-conditioning. My wife was six months pregnant. I had two extremely distressed cats in the car, and was afraid to open the windows too far for fear they'd jump out.

Garrison Keillor sings a song about a similar situation, with the lines:

"Oh dogs they love to travel, with their faces to the breeze. But cats sit trembling on your lap and vomit on your knees."

It was a rough drive, especially when we finally realized that we were driving across the only state in the union that is wider than Canada.

I mean, Kansas was bleak. God's ironing board, Kansas seemed to have only enough trees to make you realize how truly barren it was.

That was five years ago. A few weeks back, we took the trip the other way -- to Illinois for a wedding. Frankly, I dreaded it. While we weren't taking any cats, we did plan to bring our five year old, Maddy.

Much to my surprise, we all enjoyed it. This time we took the back road -- U.S. 36. We found that our eyes had grown accustomed to the openness of the high plains. With some good audiocassettes to listen to (E.B. White's Stuart Little, some Prairie Home Companion reunions, some Jim Weiss folk and fairy tale tapes) the miles just flew behind us.

Nonetheless, in Kansas you can still spot towns from a great distance. Anywhere there are trees, there are people. The farther east we went, the more trees we saw.

I believe the desire for over-arching branches, for shade, for colorful foliage, for visible roots, is a deep ancestral need. Or maybe it's just that for a long time in this country's history, everybody's parents were born some place back east.

In either case, trees mean "home." Or as Stuart Little put it, "For you I pine. For you I balsam."

And that leads me to the point of this week's column. Saturday, April 17, 1993, is Arbor Day. This will be Douglas County's Third Annual celebration.

In the past two years, over a thousand trees have been planted in the county. This year, the sponsors hope to plant half again as many.

Apart from the natural beauty of the trees native to or thriving in Colorado -- the blue spruce, the Ponderosa, the pinon, the foxtail, the hackberry, green and purple ash, to name just a few of the most fetching -- there are many other good, if less poetic, reasons to support this worthwhile local effort.

* Two hundred years ago, topsoil averaged 18 inches in depth. Today the average is just 6 inches. Why the drop? Trees hold the soil. The United States loses 700,000 acres of forest land annually.

* The average tree removes 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in a year's time -- and carbon dioxide is one of the most significant environmental pollutants of our time.

* One mature tree offsets the carbon dioxide produced by up to 10 cars.

To reach their goal, the planning committee for the Douglas County Arbor Day needs to raise $7,000. They've already raised $9,100. Where will the rest of the money come from?

You. Individual gifts in the amounts of $5, $10, $20, $30, $50 and up are desperately needed and will go for the sole purpose of buying trees. To donate money, send it to DOUGLAS COUNTY ARBOR DAY, P.O. BOX 1390, CASTLE ROCK CO 80104. If you'd like to help plant the trees, contact Joe Julian or Jacki Hein at 688-3096.

You have a choice: long for the gentle, forested days of your youth, or plant for the future. This simple gift -- of trees, or of the time to help plant them -- will do more to improve the quality of life in Douglas County -- your home -- than you can possibly imagine.