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, October 20, 1993

October 20, 1993 - gruesome stories

Please understand that my daughter Maddy, now 6 years old, is a sweet, loving little girl.

I can't remember which book it was - some Grimm Brothers tale, I think. I do remember that the end was a little gory, surprisingly so. But once you start reading a story like this, there's no graceful way to get out of it, so I barreled ahead. If she's upset, I thought, then we'll talk about it. It's a technique that works for us.

Finally, I closed the book, and looked at Maddy carefully. "What did you think of this story?" I asked her. She grinned. "Gruesome," she said. "But good."

And speaking of sometimes spooky stories with occasionally horrible endings, Douglas County is now engaged in the campaigning that precedes a general election. For the first time, that election includes the School Board. In my opinion, it's been fascinating: there are some real alternatives, real choices for the citizenry, and I've heard some thought-provoking arguments on all sides. I've also heard some utterly fanciful tales that were nonetheless entertaining. But one of these days -- November 2, in fact -- the people will declare an end to the campaign storytelling.

For those of you seeking an earlier end: early voting, courtesy of the Douglas County Clerk and Recorder's Office, will be available at the meeting room of the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. The dates: from Tuesday, October 12, through Friday, October 29. The hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The School District predicts that as many as 20,000 people will be voting in this election. If you've made up your mind on the issues and candidates, and want to avoid the crowds at your local precinct, why wait?

In a way, admittedly skewed, political campaigning is a Halloween program for adults -- a celebration of masks, costumes, and various tricks 'n' treats. But as one of the only public institutions with something for people of all ages, the library district feels an obligation to offer a program for children, too.

Our gruesome -- but good -- Halloween storytelling sessions are entitled, "Stories for the Fainthearted," and "Stories for the Stouthearted." The first session will be held at the Parker Library on October 27. The second will be held at the Philip S. Miller Library on October 28. At both places, the spooky stories will begin at 7 p.m. -- that's for the "Stories for the Fainthearted." Younger children are welcome; the stories are appropriate for children as young as 3.

At 7:30, both locations, the Stories for the Stouthearted" will begin. These are for kids ages 5 and up. It happens that the district has two very talented storytellers. Priscilla Queen of Parker will be featured, as well as Carol Foreman, of Castle Rock. At our other branches, there will be other activities. The Oakes Mill Library, in addition to its Spooky Share the night of October 28, will feature its traditional pumpkin decorating contest, and sponsor a UNICEF program on Halloween safety at 3 p.m., Saturday, October 30. At Highlands Ranch, be sure to check out the staff costumes on Halloween; they're a hoot.

Sometimes, at least around Halloween, I think the real appeal of scary stories is purely seasonal: the shiver on the inside echoes the shiver on the outside. That delicious chill just makes it all the more satisfying to reach for our blankets and settle in for a nice long snooze.

Of course, I don't mean politically. I think.

Wednesday, October 6, 1993

October 6, 1993 - memory and silly reference questions

At last week's dedication of the Josephine Marr Research Room, I said that in many ways, a community is like a single body. Historians, I said, are its eyes and ears.

What, then, is the role of the public library? Simple. We are the community's memory.

It's true. The library is where you go to find all the things you wish you could remember: the headline from a couple of weeks ago, the study cited in a news magazine, the controversial new book, or even the event you attended, but only saw a piece of. The whole focus of librarianship is to provide an unfailingly swift and precise recollection of the past.

It's not easy.

First, we have to accurately describe the thing to be remembered. Next, we need to work out a strategy for retrieving it. Then, we need to set up all of the necessary apparatus and links to allow someone to identify and use the strategy, and thereby reliably fetch the relevant information.

The ironic thing about all of this is that I'm as nearly amnesiac a person as you'll find. To be brutally honest, I'm not sure I should be trusted with the community memory.

Just a few months ago, I stepped out of a restaurant on Wilcox Street, looked up at the Rock, and for maybe 5#D10 seconds, I truly didn't know who or where I was. The scary thing is, I kind of liked it. For that slice of a minute, I was utterly free.

But all this means that I understand why most people really need a public library. Here's proof. I just got a list of genuine reference questions from someone who works at the Queens Public Library in New York. This guy swears (and I believe him) that people have strolled in and asked, "Do you have":

"The Hound of the Basketballs?"

"The Wrath of Grapes?"

"Hard Times, by Moby Dick?"

"The Scarlet Pumpernickel?"

"The Taming of the Screw?"

"An English translation of the novels of William Shakespeare?"

"A recent photograph of Abraham (the Old Testament Patriarch)?"

"A biography of that great Black Feminist, Martha Luther King?"

"The Homer, by Odyssey?"

"Cliff Notes on Jane Eyre, by Charles Bronson?"

"The King James Version, by Genesis?"

"A biography of Perry Mason?"

Here are three other memorable reference questions:

(1) "Happy Hanukkah" means "Merry Christmas" in what language?

(2) "My mother wants to become an American citizen. How can I get my mother neutralized?"

And finally, (3) "I've heard of Malcolm the Tenth. What happened to the first nine?"

Given the evidence, the problem is clear. In brief: I'm not alone. Most of us are lucky we can remember our names, much less anything that happened any time before a few seconds ago.

Fortunately, your local library employs a good many people whose memories are way better than mine (not that that would be especially difficult). Besides, we can always look it up.

So if you've got questions, just give your local library a call. You'd be surprised what we remember.

Hey, somebody's got to.