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, August 25, 1993

August 25, 1993 - staff day

I'm the eldest of five kids. Both of my parents worked. Our only family vacation usually fell smack in the middle of our long summer break from school. Every year, we went the only place our parents could afford to take us: my mother's folks. The trip (to Findlay, Ohio) was some 300 miles, or about 6 hours. To a small child, especially a child crammed into a Ford with four other children, it was a looong trip.

But it was worth it. Not only was I crazy about my grandparents, I also got to spend some time with my cousins.

It was at my mother's funeral, many years later, that the cousins realized just how much we missed seeing each other. So we started having family reunions.

It was always amazing to me how many memories they sparked. Inevitably, one of us would dredge up some odd little bit of family history. Up until that moment, most of us had forgotten all about it. But once reminded, all of us remembered it. In a surprisingly important way, those reunions made us whole, bound us together again as a family. Together, we figured out the ways we were alike. This, in turn, strengthened us, sent us back into the world knowing that somewhere out there, we had allies, people you could count on, people who were there for you, people who remembered the same things you did.

I find that the Douglas Public Library District is now in need of a reunion.

Over the past three years, the district has gone through explosive changes. Three years ago, we had 34 employees. Now, after greatly increasing our hours and opening a new branch, we have 70, many of whom have never even met each other. Much like a scattered family, the various libraries need to spend some time together again. We need to talk about our shared past. We need to re-identify our common links, our common purpose. And we need to talk about our joint future.

In the state of Colorado, the new Access Colorado Library and Information Network may well transform the way we do business. The Americans with Disabilities Act has some significant ramifications for public entities. There are many other issues to consider, too.

And at least once a year, I think our employees would like a chance to hear the "state of the library district" address. They also need - and deserve - an opportunity to ask some hard questions about where we're going and why.

All of this is by way of explaining why the Douglas Public Library District branches will be closed on Friday, August 27. This will be our first annual Staff Day.

Why did we pick August 27? We know from carefully scrutinized statistics that Fridays tend to be our very slowest days (based on the number of books checked out). Statistically speaking, the last week of August tends to be just about our slowest period in the year. The library is open 7 days a week. In fact, we're closed just 8 days per year. But that commitment to public service means that it's mighty hard to find a time when we can get everybody in the same room at the same time.

So from now on, we're going to set aside one day each year when we will pull everyone together, bring in some speakers on important subjects, hit our major training issues, and map out our plans for the next year.

I apologize to those of you who had planned to come to the library that day. But I do believe that when you come in the next day, you'll find a staff that has reaffirmed its connection to a rich family history. The payoff, if I'm right, is a more closely coordinated service philosophy, a better-informed staff, and ultimately, greater patron satisfaction.

Wednesday, August 18, 1993

August 18, 1993 - family violence

"The family is one of the most violent institutions in this country."

This jarring statement comes from a nurse and counselor in a center that deals with the victims of family violence. (Source: "Hospitals cope with America's new 'family,'" Hospitals, November 5, 1992.)

In the same article I found an equally jarring statistic: "domestic violence affects one-fourth of all US families from every social stratum and geographical area." This estimate, from the American Medical Association's National Coalition of Physicians Against Family Violence, has been borne out repeatedly. The place doesn't seem to matter.

In rural Iowa, an 11-bed unit treated 100 children in a year, 90 percent of whom had been sexually abused. In a Chicago hospital, the director reported, "I have doctors and doctors' wives as clients."

Where does all this violence come from? Most researchers agree that it is learned behavior, passed from generation to generation. According to some studies, as many as 30 percent of children from violent households become abusive parents.

Beyond that, in about half the cases of domestic violence, if the wife (or mother) is being physically abused, so are the children.

It happens I know something about this, at least about the kind of family violence called "verbal abuse." My earliest memory is of my father shouting at me, swearing at me, telling me how stupid I was.

Dinner was the worst. I don't think I digested a meal till I left home. I was 17. By the time I was 22, after a long journey around the country talking with scores of my father's people, I made my peace with all that. And with him.

But for a long time, I was terrified to have a child. I was afraid I'd fall into the pattern. I was afraid I would force my own offspring to hate me, as so many of my cousins and kin hated and feared their fathers.

But I worked through that one, too. My big breakthrough was when I told my dad, "This stops with me." I believe it has.

Parents don't have to perpetuate the cycle of pain. Victims can recover. With some real effort, they can even become healers.

One of the groups dealing locally with the issue of family violence is the Women's Crisis Center of Douglas County. Executive Director Mary Hillsman recently shared some second quarter statistics with me.

Compared to last year, the overall increase in reported incidents of family violence has jumped 62 percent. The number of crisis calls (to their 688#D8484 hotline) went from 734 to 1076. Last year, by the end of the second quarter, 43 children had been placed in counseling programs. This year, the center has placed 73 children.

The issue of family violence should concern, and ultimately does affect, all of us.

What can you do about it?

Well, you might consider coming to the first "Freedom Forum, 1993 Community Meeting." Sponsored by the Women's Crisis Center, it will be held on Friday, August 20, 1993, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Philip S. Miller Library. Feel free to bring a lunch.

The session will explore how the Women's Crisis Center is growing, and explore future programs, facilities, funding, and community expectations.

With luck, with the combined effort of many thoughtful participants, this forum may point the way toward stronger families.

It seems so simple and so right: to have families where none of their members fear violence from each other. What will it take?

Wednesday, August 11, 1993

August 11, 1993 - summer reading program ending

This week's column is by Children's Librarian Carol Foreman: a last, rousing word of encouragement for those few children who still haven't discovered just how "cool" reading can be.

What have you been doing this summer? Taking a vacation? Refinishing that old oak table that Aunt Mary gave you?

Or, perhaps you, like hundreds of other parents in Douglas County, have been busy hauling your children to every lesson or game or amusement park in the state!

Have you been to the library yet this summer? If you haven't, then you might not know that a lot of summer reading has been taking place for the past two months, and your children of any age are invited to participate. The best part of all is that, unlike those expensive (but fun) amusement parks, this is free.

Our summer reading program theme this year is "Books and All That Jazz!" which will continue at all Douglas Public Libraries until Labor Day, September 6, 1993. To sign up is easy. Just go to your favorite or closest branch, ask for a registration card, and pick up your reading log. After reading 24 books, children will receive a very special blue ribbon, a certificate, and one coupon each to South Shore Water Park, Elitches, and Skate City.

So, you've been thinking that your child has read every book in the library at least once and they could not possibly read 24 more books? Well, let me make a couple of suggestions.

Any book by Jean Craighead George is wonderful for grades 4th, 5th, and 6th. Of particular note is The Missing 'Gator of Gumbo Lembo. Another good author for the intermediate reader is Kenneth Thomasma, who writes Native American stories. The Kingdom by the Sea by Robert Westall is a wonderful book about a 12 year old boy and a stray dog who travel through war-torn England in search of safety.

If you have younger readers or listeners, try The Cow Who Wouldn't Come Down by Paul Brett Johnson. It's a whimsical story about Miss Rosemary, who tries everything to coax her flying cow, Gertrude, down from the sky. Another funny story is A Pile of Pigs by Judith Ross Enderle. The farmyard pigs, inspired by the poster for the circus on the barn wall, decide to make a pyramid of pigs to peek over the wall and see what the sheep are doing. The result, of course, is a pile of pigs.

I can also recommend anything by Dayal Kaur Khalsa, especially My Family Vacation--if you have ever travelled with children in a car you will even want to own a copy. I Because dinosaurs are so popular this summer, you might also want to consider Dinosaurs at the Supermarket by Lindsay Camp, Four and Twenty Dinosaurs by Bernard Most or Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs by Byron Barton.

If your children have already completed their 24 books, and your summer is dwindling down to just waiting for the tomatoes to ripen, the library has another suggestion to liven up the end of summer. You can join us at the Douglas County Fair Parade on August 14.

Our entry is entitled "Reading Through the Ages". Plan to dress up in a costume from your favorite era--1920's flapper, 1960's hippie, or perhaps a 1950's bobby socker--and bring your favorite book to carry along. We will line up at the Douglas County Judicial Building parking lot around 9:00-9:30 a.m., but if you have any questions, or wish to sign up call Cindy Murphy at 688-8752.

With the advent of year-round school, summer seems to be getting shorter and shorter. There is, however, enough time to choose that special book and settle down in a cool place to read. Reading is still one of the undeniable joys of summer.

See you at the library.

Wednesday, August 4, 1993

August 4, 1993 - carbureators and charter schools

Years back, in a fit of greed and fiscal overconfidence, I bought a used car that had a high performance twin carburetor. Naturally, this gizmo failed within hours after I took possession of the title.

After a dismal and dirty session under the hood, I finally admitted that the carburetor was beyond me. So I yanked it out and took it to a mechanic, who immediately commenced to do some mighty peculiar things.

To make conversation, and because I was curious, I asked him what he was doing. Silently, he handed me the carburetor. I jiggled it, then returned it with a puzzled shrug.

"I'm not a teacher," he said heavily. "I'm a mechanic."

I got the point. A while later, he did fix it, and considerably poorer, I slunk away.

I realize that this runs contrary to current societal trends, but I think almost anything we need to do in life can be learned after just a little study. But maybe that's a reasonable opinion for a librarian. Call it a professional bias.

It's not that I think mechanics, lawyers, doctors, teachers, real estate agents, and so on, are dishonest. All of us have at least some things we'd just as soon somebody else figured out for us. I don't begrudge people their areas of interest, specialty, or real talent.

But we ought not to be too quick to relinquish our independence of judgment. All of us can think of at least one time when a so- called "expert" wanted to charge us exorbitant fees for something that might have taken fifteen minutes of research, and five minutes of actual labor.

And I don't mean to suggest that members of my own profession are above all this. I myself have run across several librarians who made it eminently clear to me that my puny ignorance was an affront to their sophisticated data retrieval skills.

I recognize that some people, when they do manage to make it to a library, don't have the slightest interest in how we organize our collections, or train our staff. Likewise, most of us, when we take in our car for repairs, really don't want a lecture in automotive maintenance -- we just want it fixed. In libraries, most people just want some books or some answers.

But cheap information is precisely the point of libraries. It's not only our job to dig up the answer for you, it is our sacred duty to tell you how we found it -- provided you're interested.

As Francis Bacon put it over 300 years ago, "Knowledge is power." With public libraries, you've already paid for it. You can pick it up retail or wholesale.

It's up to you.

And speaking of wanting to know something about the nuts and bolts of things, the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock now has a copy of the Academy Charter School application to the Douglas County School District. It's in the reference department, call number 371.02 ACA.

This 600+ page document -- largely the work of local resident Joan Torres -- represents a staggering amount of work. It provides a detailed description of just what the charter school stands for, and spells out how it plans to operate.

The Charter School people will also be holding some free public information sessions at the Philip S. Miller Library meeting room on the following dates and times: Tuesday, August 10; Wednesday, August 11 and Monday, August 30. On the first two days, there will be sessions: one at 7:30 a.m., and a second at 10 a.m. On the 30th, there will also be a third meeting at 7 p.m. The sessions should last from one to two hours.

The Douglas County School District Board has until September 12 to accept or reject the application. If you have an interest in this subject, you might want to find out more about it before that vote is taken.