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 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.

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