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, December 28, 1994

December 28, 1994 - "Parker: a Folk History"

This is the time when you look both backward (the end of one year) and forward (the dawn of another).

As I look back over 1994, I can't help but notice that the library branch that's at the center of Douglas Public Library District action, the branch that's hot and happening ... moves around. At the beginning of the year, the Highlands Ranch Library was getting a face lift and expansion. In the latter part of the year, we managed to both purchase a new Parker Library (to open in 1995) and sell the old one (to Parker Water and Sanitation District).

In years past, our efforts have focused more on the Oakes Mill and the Philip S. Miller Library. Their time will come again.

I find it helpful to recognize patterns, to understand that every institution, and each of the smaller institutions that make it up, has its own distinct rhythms, its hours of glory alternating with spans of more modest accomplishment.

This is as it should be. After all, even Olympic athletes are asleep about a third of their lives. Rest, too, is a part of achievement.

Besides, the real turning points in people's lives aren't necessarily the things that hit the papers. Those moments happen behind the scenes, in the back rooms, when only one or two people are looking.

The story of all these moments -- both glorious and quietly key -- is the larger story of history. It's what history means -- the folk lessons along with the dry chronologies.

These days, the Town of Parker is hot and happening. What better time then, to reflect on the days that came before?

On January 8, 1995, local author Sandra Whelchel will be the guest speaker for the Douglas Public Library District's Second Sunday Series talk. We're calling this one, "Parker, Colorado: A Folk History."

If you haven't attended one of our previous Sunday Series talks, then it's time you gave it a look. All are held at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, beginning at 2 in the afternoon. (We hold it at Castle Rock in part because there's more meeting space, and in part because it also houses our still young Local History Collection.)

Our first session for this round, back in November, was on the history of Perry Park, and featured local author Ardis Webb. Our third and final Second Sunday Series lecture (on March 12) will be "Castle Rock: A Grassroots History," by another local author -- Robert Lowenberg.

Who knows? By the time March rolls around, it just might be Castle Rock's time of tumult (and I don't just mean earthquakes). Be sure to pencil in both dates in your spanking new, 1995 calendars.

Tuesday, December 20, 1994

December 20, 1995 - Changes for 95 - loan periods, book budge

There will be some changes in the library next year.

Perhaps most significant to most people is that the library will lengthen some of its loan periods. Thank you to the many folks who responded to my informal survey back in November. Thanks also to the Library Board, who unanimously approved the changes at our December Board meeting.

Effective January 1, 1995:

* Most materials that now go out for 2 weeks (most books, periodicals, paperbacks, audiocassettes) will be checked out for 3 weeks.

* These items may only be renewed twice (or until someone else places a hold on it, at which point no more renewals can be made).

* Our new fiction (called "Green Dots" because of the green sticky dots we put on them) will have only one renewal, and again, only if no one else has a reserve on it.

* Our former "grace period" (which allowed patrons to return a book up to six days late without receiving any fines) will be shortened to three days for most materials. That is, if you return the book within three days after the stamped due date, there will be no fine. On the fourth day after the stamped due date, you'll be fined for four days overdue. New fiction, as always, will NOT have a grace period. We want to encourage you to get them back, because odds are good that people are looking for them even if they haven't put them on hold.

* The videos that now circulate for 2 days will circulate for 4 days. There will be no grace period, and no renewals.

* Instructional videos will continue to circulate for 1 week, with up to two renewals, and with the 3 day grace period.

There are also a few other library changes I'd like to highlight for 1995.

* We expect to see a significant build-up of our overall collection. The basic inflation rate for most library materials is about 4 percent. In 1995, we'll be increasing expenditures for books by about 13 percent. Our goal since 1990 has been to have at least 4 books (or other library materials) per Douglas County resident. We're up to about two-and-a-half. This will enable our collections to maintain an aggressive growth rate, and to build up an "opening day" collection for the new Parker Library, projected to open in the last quarter of 1995.

We've beefed up our budget for Audio and video cassettes by even more -- 17.7 percent (although this will still constitute a fraction of our budget for books). AV materials have somewhat less of an effect on overall space needs in the library, and, after books, have become our most popular offerings.

* We're budgeting new money for electronic resources. We will replace a lot of our older public terminals with terminals that make it easier to cruise the Internet (and other Colorado libraries, such as the joint catalog of the Arapahoe Library District and Aurora Public). We'll be picking up some new CD-ROM titles. We're still working on installing full text periodical articles through our system, and hope to have a demo up by February 1.

Overall, thanks to your support, we believe the Douglas Public Library District will be an even better library next year. Thanks again for telling us what you want.

Tuesday, December 13, 1994

December 13, 1994 - managing your money

This may not be the right time of year to raise the subject. On the other hand, it would be hard to find a time when the need was greater.

What IS the subject? -- Managing your money.

Beginning Wednesday, January 18, 1995, CSU's Extension Office, as well as the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), 1st Bank, Castle Rock Senior Center, and the AAUW (American Association of University Women), are sponsoring a 7 session series entitled "Is Money on Your Mind?" I'm betting that around Christmas, it is.

The meetings will be held at the Castle Rock Senior Center, and run from 7 to 9:30 p.m. There is a cost for the program: $25. But that buys you a workbook and numerous useful handouts.

Who is the intended audience of the series? -- Women. As one program flyer declares, "Take Charge of Your Life by Taking Charge of Your Money!"

The flyer also proclaims: "It's never too late to make changes in the way you handle your money. Whether you're 20 or 70, the best things in life are worth planning for." The program will focus on the following useful topics:

* Getting organized: where do you want to be? I know: you want to be rich. Declaring a goal is the first step to reaching it. HOW you want to be rich is another one.

* Cash flow. Let me guess: it flows all right, but it's all downhill. Taking a look at where your money goes can be an eye- opening experience. There is a pattern to your spending. Once you recognize it, you may want to amend it.

* Banking and credit. As with most public institutions: you can use them, or they can use you. Credit is the key.

* Managing your risks. Let's face it: you can't AVOID risks. But you can calculate the odds before you act.

* Investment choices. No investment at all is another kind of choice, but the return is fairly predictable. Maybe it's time to try something else.

* Where and how to get professional help (presumably for managing money). As with any other area of human activity, there are professionals and amateurs. When is it time to ask an expert? And when DON'T you need one?

I've spoken to several women who have taken the classes in the past. They say they learned a lot; the information can literally change your life.

It goes without saying -- not that I would LET it go without saying -- that the public library has a host of books on financial planning, covering everything from pricing a wedding, providing for a new baby, buying a house, paying for college, to planning your retirement. We've also worked up some new bibliographies on the subject.

But sometimes there is no substitute for more formal instruction. To register for the course, give the CSU Extension Office a call at 660-4183. They'll get you a registration form.

Few institutions in Douglas County have the credibility of the sponsors of this Women's Financial Information Program. Signing up for this worthwhile program may be the best investment you can make in your financial future.

So before you feel the holiday "sting" (in the form of January bills for December indulgences), why not make this program one of your more "cents-ible" New Year's resolutions?

Wednesday, December 7, 1994

December 7, 1994 - one million books

On the eve of my 13th birthday, my favorite aunt asked me to sit down for a little talk. "Tomorrow," she said, "something horrible will happen to you. It will last for about 7 years. Please don't take this personally, but I really don't want to talk to you for that period."

I laughed. "Aunt Edith," I said, "just because I'll be a teenager doesn't mean that I'll be any different."

"Oh yes it does," she said. "And it's awful."

I don't know how to explain this, but the very next day, I had an uncontrollable urge to buy a polka dot sweatshirt and shades. At almost precisely that moment, I developed strong musical preferences that seemed -- at least to those around me -- predicated on how offensive they were to my parents.

In short, my aunt was right. The teen years were, even for me, mostly horrible. It's that time when you're no longer allowed to be a child, but nobody will let you be an adult. It was a time, I do believe, when what I really needed was some kind of special rite of passage. Our culture isn't very good about providing those.

It was a time of transition, a time of development and/or reinvention of a personality. Therefore, life often felt awkward. I made mistakes, then struggled to learn from them.

It isn't surprising that public institutions -- being founded by people, and consisting of nothing BUT people -- mirror human growth. The Douglas Public Library District has in just four years gone from being among the quieter public libraries in Colorado to being the fifth busiest (after Denver, Jeffco, Pikes Peak, Arapahoe, and Aurora, all of them serving a much larger population base). This is a lot like growing 4 inches a year. We've had growing pains, right down to our bones.

This month, probably sometime around the 17th, our library will celebrate the checkout of our one millionth item in 1994. Since we won't know exactly where that will occur, we'll plan some kind of surprise for whoever checks out the millionth item AT EACH BRANCH.

If you'd like to help us track how quickly we're approaching this milestone in our development, you can get a daily update. From any of our computers, type BB (for Bulletin Board) from our main menu. I'll post the date, the current circulation count, and how many checkouts still remain.

A million items: that's a lot of books, magazines, videotapes, and books on tape. Over a quarter of those will be children's picture books. Almost a hundred thousand will be audiocassettes. As always, however, the overwhelming majority of our business continues to involve books.

Reaching the million mark represents both a quantitative and a qualitative change. Libraries that do that volume of business cannot quite operate the way smaller libraries do. Changes will be with us for a long time to come.

For instance, next year, we're going to be making some adjustments in our loan periods. I got many calls, e-mail messages, and letters about my proposal to go to a 3-week loan period for most materials. To date, all my public messages endorse the change; none oppose it. So come January, we'll do it. We'll also lengthen our loan period for videos.

As a result, in 1995, it's likely that our circulation count will drop back below a million. The shorter loan period makes items move faster.

Nonetheless, we won't be moving backward. We're just going to have to get used to being one of the bigger -- and better -- libraries in Colorado.

Saturday, November 26, 1994

November 26, 1994 - thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. It has that cozy feeling of settling in for the winter, touching base with friends and family, and not to be overlooked, building up the reserves of body fat. You never know when you might need some extra body fat.

Unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving hasn't been so commercialized. You don't have to buy anybody anything. Although you usually bring food to the occasion, so does everyone else, and you all get to eat it.

Besides which, the holiday has a nice message: let us be thankful. On behalf of the Douglas Public Library District, let me say that we have much for which to be thankful.

* Our patrons. You so clearly love books, and not a day goes by without one of you taking the time to tell us something nice. You bring your children to see us, you trust us to provide solid information, and you're always interesting to talk to. On top of that, you pay our salaries. No business has better customers.

* Our Library Board of Trustees. Here's the roll call: Maren Francis, Cindy Hegy, Juli Lester, Tom McKenzie, Bob McLaughlin, Sue Meacham, and Jerry Poston. These people donate many, many hours of their time to oversee library finances, set library policy, establish long range planning objectives, make sure I'm doing the things I ought to be doing, and much more. Douglas County is fortunate to have one of the best public library boards in the state: fiscally conservative, actionoriented, and thoroughly convinced of the need for strong library services. Most of our Trustees are also regular customers, and bring a sharp service perspective to all our operations.

* Our staff. They're friendly. They're knowledgeable. They're interesting in their own right, and interestED in the lives of our patrons. In general, they're a lively bunch of people who clearly care about library service. Every single accomplishment the Douglas Public Library District has made is directly attributable to the high standards of service they have established, and they maintain, day after day, right at the "front line," which is where it counts. I am VERY thankful for them.

* Our collection. The growth in our collection of materials (books, videotapes, audiocassettes, magazines, pamphlets, electronic reference tools) is amazing. Over 10 percent of our purchases are direct requests from our patrons. This gives us the chance to let our collection grow in areas that the people who use the collection most want it to grow.

As a result, the collections of our branches aren't very much like one another. They reflect the unique interests and needs of the areas they serve. They have character, and are as fascinating and unpredictable as the communities they mirror.

* The opportunity to serve. While all the above are significant, we are especially grateful for the chance to deliver library services to county residents. We have a product that absolutely cannot be beat. We have people who want it, and tell us, and thank us for doing it.

From all of us at DPLD, have a great holiday.

Wednesday, November 16, 1994

November 16, 1994 - 3 week loan period

It all started when a patron came in to talk to me about our children's videos. His young son liked to watch most of the videos he borrowed from us at least three times. But with a two day check out period, that was difficult. Sometimes, one of the parents remembered to phone in a renewal. But the family found itself hit with fines fairly frequently.

The father had obviously spent some time thinking about this. Usually, he said, the videos his son wanted were in, which meant that the selection was broad enough that people didn't have to wait long to get the one they wanted.

Would we be willing to consider a 4 day checkout for children's videos?

I told him that I really wasn't sure where the two day loan period had come from, but that I'd look into it, and get back to him.

Well, it turns out that the loan period was a carry-over from the days when the library really didn't have that many videos, and we were trying to keep them moving. But the parent had a point: times have changed.

I took a poll of all the staff, and the majority opinion was that a four day loan period was in fact a better loan period for those materials. So effective January 1, 1995, we'll make the change. (January is the beginning of our new statistical period.)

But all this got me thinking about the loan period for most of our other materials. That's two weeks. Would three weeks be better?

This year -- probably around the second week in December -- the library will check out a million items. As I've mentioned before, this puts us in the big leagues of Colorado public libraries. In addition, over the past four years, our collection has grown from about 65,000 volumes to almost 200,000.


* Most metropolitan libraries, especially larger libraries, have a loan period of 3 weeks. Most smaller libraries have the 2 week loan.

* Many surveys in public library literature indicate a strong patron preference for a 3 week loan (as opposed to 2 or 4). Most patrons claim that 2 weeks is too short to work through several books, but that 4 weeks is so long that people forget what they have.

* Most people do keep out their materials till near the end of their loan period. In other words, a three week loan means slightly fewer books are on the shelf at any given time. The advantage to the library is that this eases the space constraints. The library can accommodate more materials with the same shelving.

* Moving from a two to a three week loan period tends to have two short-term effects for a library. First, it lowers the number of checkouts. People may well read (as in, "actually finish") more books, but they don't have to make so many visits to get them. This tends to lower the work load for staff a little bit.

Second, fewer checkouts and longer loan periods translate to fewer overdues. In turn, that means a drop in the production of notices (and the time it takes to print, fold, and run them through our postage meter). Postage is expected to have at least a 10% hike in 1995, and some sources have predicted a 71% jump.

My staff has raised the issue of a 3 week loan period several times over the past couple of years, but it just may be that the time has come to do it.

Why now? Because we've come to the end of our first planning cycle. With the renovation of our Philip S. Miller and Oakes Mill libraries, the establishment and subsequent expansion of our Highlands Ranch Library, and the purchase and future remodeling of our new Parker Library, the library has done about all it can do for new facilities.

If we continue to buy new materials at our current rate -- and in fact, we expect to increase that rate slightly -- we'll reach building capacity at most locations in just a few years. By stretching out the loan period, I hope to stretch out the period of time before our building (and financial) needs become acute.

I'm still exploring this issue, and won't make a decision until December. If you have thoughts about this, write me at 961 S. Plum Creek Blvd, Castle Rock CO 80104, call me 688-8752, or (for you Internet, American Online or CompuServe travelers) e-mail me at jlarue@csn.org. I'd like to hear from you.

Wednesday, October 26, 1994

October 26, 1994 - Highway Trash and Arnold Schwarzenegger

I call it "LaRue's Law of Unintended Consequences:" what you study is not necessarily what you learn. For instance, since joining Rotary, I have a much greater appreciation for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Here's how it started: last Saturday morning I went out to pick up trash under the "Adopt a Highway" program. The Rotary is responsible for a patch of I-25 between Ligett Road and the Meadows turn#Doff.

I learned:

(1) I'm a little out of shape. Picking up trash is stoop labor. It started to hurt after awhile.

(2) Nonetheless, the Adopt A Highway program is a very good idea. There's a lot of trash on the highway. Some of the volunteers brought their kids, demonstrating in a very practical way that it's up to ALL of us to look after the environment. I'm told that most of the children become extremely indignant about the garbage people throw around, as if somehow it might be collected by the Trash Fairy, instead of real people. This is an important lesson.

(3) People throw a lot of strange stuff out of their cars. Some of the things you'd expect: 4 tons of cigarette butts, a gross of soft drink cartons, a platoon of straws, and about a case of beer cans and bottles. But what surprised me was all the clothing: 4 hats, 6 mismatched gloves, one shoe, two shirts, three bath towels, and, most alarming to me personally, ONE leg of a pair of corduroy pants.

(4) I am VERY out of shape. After three and a half hours of picking up trash, I made a painful drive back home, where I had to ask one of my neighbors to pick up the newspaper from the driveway for me. Then I staggered up the stairs and spent the rest of the day whimpering in bed, until the late evening when I made myself some dinner and watched "Terminator 2."

And that takes us back to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some years ago, I joined a health club, and spent three days a week "bombing" my muscles. As Arnold himself explains it in one of his books, what weight-lifting does is to stress the muscles of your body so hard that your body goes into emergency repair mode. It concentrates all its energies on building up the tissue that you have just destroyed, "reasoning" that more stress may be on the way.

I stopped weight-lifting because I finally realized that the body's blood flow can either go to your muscles or to your brain. My muscles were getting smarter, but I was losing about 30 I.Q. points per workout. This is a popular weight-lifter's cheer: "Gimme a D! Gimme a U! Gimme a H! Whaddas it spell?" Long silence.

But this does not apply to Arnold Schwarzenegger. It turns out that his entire weightlifting and film careers, not to mention his real estate dealings, his political aspirations and consequent marriage, are all part of a carefully worked out plan, conceived decades ago. And now Arnold not only has biceps the size of Pikes Peak, but he is also a top-drawing film star, a very wealthy man, and, most amazing of all, a member of the Kennedy family. In other words, he's smart.

So there you have it: how Rotary made me a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger. If this has piqued your curiosity, check out some of the following books: "Arnold Schwarzenegger: No. 1 movie star in the world," by Sue Hamilton, "Arnold Schwarzenegger: larger than life," by Craig Doherty, and "Arnold: an unauthorized biography," by Wendy Leigh. All are available from the Douglas Public Library District.

I can also recommend the first "Terminator," perhaps the best science fiction movie ever made. (Terminator 2 is worth it, too, both for the effects and Linda Hamilton's stand-out performance.) They're available from your local video store.

Finally, do pick up after yourself on the highway, ok? Even when it's painful, it's the smart thing to do.

Wednesday, October 19, 1994

October 19, 1994 - Alzheimers Disease

In recent months, Douglas County organizations that serve seniors and their families have seen a sharp rise in the number of cases of Alzheimers Disease.

To help the many people who have to cope with this illness, the library has pulled together several fact sheets, articles, bibliographies, and other informational material. All of these are available at the Philip S. Miller Library, or by fax to any of our other branches.

#What is Alzheimers Disease (AD)?# It's a progressive, degenerative disease that attacks the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking and behavior. It is also the 4th leading cause in death in adults (after heart disease, cancer, and stroke). More than 100,000 people die of Alzheimers annually. One out of three of us will face this disease in an older relative.

#How does AD differ from normal aging?#

Here are some comparisons:

Normal: You forget PARTS of an experience. AD: You forget the entire experience. Normal: You forget events from long ago. AD: You forget what happened a few minutes ago. Normal: You forget a person's name but the face is familiar. AD: You forget not only the name, but the person. Normal: You may need to have directions repeated. AD: You start in the general direction and are likely to lose your purpose. Normal: You're able to self-orient: you can awake in a strange place and be able to gather clues to identify where you are. AD: You lose the capacity to search and use clues to help orient yourself. Normal: You lose your keys and retrace your steps. AD: You can't remember the last time you had your keys.

As one person put it, "The normal adult forgets, remembers that she forgot, and later may remember what she forgot. An AD patient forgets, forgets that she has forgotten, and couldn't care less five seconds later."

There's no single test for AD. Often, memory loss may be caused by something else. But when everything else is ruled out, AD may be diagnosed. But again, AD isn't just normal aging: there are real, pronounced changes in the brain itself.

Caring for an AD patient is demanding. Among the symptoms are hallucinations and delusions, "catastrophic reactions" or lashing out, and "sundowning" -- the tendency of many AD patients to become extremely restless just after dark.

However, for every kind of behavior, there is a coping behavior even when there isn't a cure.

For instance, don't try to talk the AD patient out of a delusion. Instead, be reassuring: say, "I'm here. I'll stay with you." Validate their fears: "That must be really scary." When a patient overreacts, try to distract him with something new. To deal with sundowning, offer sensory stimulation: a doll, stuffed animal, a ball; use soothing music.

There are other troublesome areas of caring for an AD patient. Human beings are sexual creatures. This persists even when patients are so mentally damaged that they no longer understand what is appropriate.

Among our information is some frank talk about how to deal with masturbation, unwelcome sexual attentions, and the sexual and social needs of the caregiver.

The greatest trap in caring for an AD patient is inappropriate expectations. We think they "should know better," "they meant to do that." But the truth is, they don't and they didn't.

While no cure has yet been found for Alzheimers, there is encouraging new research that points the way, perhaps, toward prevention and treatment.

Meanwhile, any family dealing with this difficult, exhausting, and often heart-rending illness should read up on it. Again, all of the information contained in this article, and much more, can be found at the library.

Wednesday, October 12, 1994

October 12, 1994 - Software upgrades and moving furniture

If you've ever lived in a place too small for your stuff, you know the problem. One night, usually at about 10 o'clock, you decide you want to make just one change in your living room. A small change. You think, "This won't take long."

But before you move the one thing, you have to move something else to make room for it. And then the thing you moved is in the way of something else, so that has to be moved, too. And then -- assuming that the three things you've moved so far actually fit -- you realize that now the whole room is out of whack aesthetically or functionally. More moving.

By the time you're done, every piece of furniture in the house has been touched and you haven't slept in 62 hours.

This is much like what happens when you do a library system software upgrade. Originally, the small change we wanted to make had to do with running indexes. The idea was that we would buy magazine indexing from a company called EBSCO. They would send us tapes, and we would load them onto our system each month. Voila! Monthly updates to periodical indexing, available from every terminal.

The problem was, EBSCO didn't ship indexes, it shipped raw data. The only way for us to get the indexes on our system was to have our automation vendor -- formerly Dynix, now Ameritech Library Systems -- create them for us. Another problem was, so many libraries liked this idea that Ameritech Library Systems was completely overwhelmed. Voila! ANNUAL updates.

Then Ameritech Library Systems announced a new system software upgrade. It would allow us to build any of our indexes on any of our data files anytime we wanted to. Best of all, there was no cost for this. In exchange for annual maintenance contracts, most library vendors provide free software and documentation upgrades. This upgrade, Release 140, had a host of other improvements, too.

So we put our name on the list of clients to get the upgrade. Finally, two weeks ago, we got the software and started loading it.

But just as the couch is the centerpiece of your living room, indexes are the centerpiece of a library database. Suddenly, EVERYTHING was different: our search screens, our passwords, our network security, our overdue notices, the way some of the keys on our terminals behaved.
Some of the changes were both surprising and surprisingly good. For instance, from our public terminals, you'll now see the option "Shortcut" from the main search menu. When you type "S" and press Enter, you'll see all kinds of fast new ways to launch a search.

It used to be, for example, that when you wanted to do an alphabetical keyword search, you had to work through the menus, a two or three screen process. Now, from almost any point, you can just type "-tl huckleberry finn" (without the quotes) and go straight to the screen listing our record for Twain's classic. The same idea works for the other kind of searches, too.

Another good thing is that you can now take a look at the list of current bestsellers -- and then pick the ones you want to place reserves on.

But other changes have been surprisingly bad. Suppose you do a more general search -- say a subject keyword search on "England." It used to be when all the subject headings came up -- 633 of them -- you could select them all. It was a quick and easy way to pull up everything we had about something.

That doesn't work anymore. Some bright fellow at Ameritech Library Systems decided that people should only be able to examine the subject headings shown on screens they've actually looked at -- and our system only displays 7 to a screen. On top of that, if you were to choose items 1-7, you'll only get the first seven TITLES, not all of the titles associated with the seven SUBJECT HEADINGS.

I've complained about this "enhancement" ("It's not a bug, it's a feature," they told me) long and bitterly. Ameritech Library Systems has assured me that this problem will be addressed. In the next upgrade.

What do we do in the meantime? Okay, you know the chair by the new books? Suppose we put it ..

Wednesday, October 5, 1994

October 5, 1994 - Tattered Cover bookstore

For the past several weeks, I've been working on a document for a Colorado Library Long Range Planning Committee. The idea is to pull together some of the trends affecting library development and use. Then, this committee will try to describe some approaches for getting out ahead of the trends, instead of lagging behind them.

I have discussed some of these trends in previous columns: the emergence of technologies that tend to obliterate local boundaries to information access, the increasing cultural intolerance that has lead to a rise in challenges to library materials, and the growing expectation of public libraries as a key player in elementary and secondary education.

But one of the trends I haven't discussed is the synergy of libraries and bookstores.

On the face of it, it would seem that we're clearly competitors. Why buy a book when you can check it out of the library?

But the fact is, the better the library, the more books people buy. Similarly, the better the bookstore, the more people use the library.

I've also mentioned in this column that the sharp rise of library use in Douglas County, and to a somewhat lesser extent the whole metropolitan area, is in vivid contrast to the rest of the country. How come?

Certainly demographics play a part. We have a high proportion of well-educated white collar workers, many of whom have small children. The combination of education and young parenthood often makes for a library-oriented community.

But another factor, not to be overlooked, is the presence, reputation, and effect of Denver's Tattered Cover bookstore. Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover, opened her first bookstore in the Parker area back in the 70s. It failed -- a victim of a commercial development that never took off.

But the Tattered Cover, her second venture, did not fail. It is regarded not only as the best bookstore in the Denver area, but the best bookstore in the country. My friends who travel overseas tell me it's among the best in the world.

Why has Tattered Cover been so successful? It doesn't hurt that it has an inventory of some 100,000 titles on shelf -- larger than that of many libraries. Too, its knowledgeable staff (among them many former librarians) is a plus.

But beyond that, the Tattered Cover is an unusually civilized and welcoming place. You can stroll in with your lunch, read all afternoon, and walk out without buying anything. In some respects, it's like a library.

But it's hard to sit in a place surrounded by all that interesting stuff without wanting to take some of it home with you. So by it's low key approach, Tattered Cover manages to earn a lot of fierce buyer loyalty.

But if part of its success has to do with the ways in which it is like a library, the more successful libraries have tried to adopt some of the features of this prominent retail operation: more attention to display, more specific staff training in customer service, environments that are less stodgy, more comfortable than the libraries of old.

So, much as you often find a 7-Eleven or Circle K near a large grocery store, you also find the Cherry Creek branch of the Denver Public Library just a few blocks from Tattered Cover. They generate business for each other.

They also share more than customers: they share a love for books. And the partnership is good for all of us.

Wednesday, September 28, 1994

September 28, 1994 - censorship

In 1993, the Library Research Service of the Colorado State Library conducted a survey of public libraries in the state. The object was to find out how many of them have had materials "challenged" by members of the public, how many different titles were included in the challenges, what reasons were given for the challenges, and what was the final disposition of the items.

A "challenge" means simply that some member of the public filled out a form seeking to have the library remove the item from its collection, or to restrict its use.

Here are some of the numbers:

� number of unique titles challenged: 88.

� number of people who filed challenges: 320.

Top on the list of challenges:

(1) Sex by Madonna, challenged six times.

(2) New Joy of Gay Sex, by Charles Silverstein, challenged 4 times.

(3) There was a tie for third place (3 times each): Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite, and, believe it or not, the Banned Books Week displays and posters put up by the Jefferson County Public Library.

(4) Two versions of Huckleberry Finn, both of them videos. Two challenges each.

(5) Two picture books: Don't Call Me Little Bunny, by Gregoire Solotaroff; and Guess What, by Mem Fox, two challenges each.

Why were these titles challenged? The top reason was "sexually explicit" (32 times), "homosexuality" (21 times), "unsuited to age group" (18 times); "offensive language" (15 times); "violence" (12 times); "occult or satanism" (11 times); "nudity" (11); "other" (10); "religious viewpoints" (7); "sex education" (6); "insensitivity" (5); "anti-family" (4); "drugs" (3); "political viewpoint" (2); "sexism" (2); "racism" (1); and "suicide" (1).

What was the result of all the challenges? Most of them remained in their respective collections. Six (6.81%) were removed: one (title unknown) at Baca County; one (also unknown) at Canyon City, Ghost by Piers Anthony (Holyoke), In the Eye of the Teddy, by Frank Ashe (Limon); a book about Krishna pulled for being inaccurate (Longmont); and a stock market video found to be incorrect (Colorado Springs). In many cases, Madonna's book was not purchased as a result of challenges. In three smaller libraries, so small that they never intended to spend $60 on the book in the first place, librarians were nonetheless warned that if they bought the book, it would be destroyed.
Another title (unknown) was restricted to adults only (Arkansas Valley).

Here's how the Colorado list compares to a list the American Library Association (ALA) compiled for the Top Ten 1993 challenges to public libraries:

(1) Daddy's Roommate,

(2) Madonna's Sex,

(3) Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman,

(4) More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz,

(5) New Joy of Gay Sex,

(6) Forever, by Judy Blume,

(7) The Witches, by Roald Dahl,

(8) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson;

(9) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou; and

(10) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

There's been a lot of press lately about how these kinds of incidents have been both exaggerated and misinterpreted. People for the American Way, a censorship-watchdog group created by former TV producer Norman Lear, claims in its most recent annual report that the jump in challenges is an alarming trend across the country toward censorship. Focus on the Family, a Christian activist group centered in Colorado Springs, pooh poohs both the numbers and the concern.

Some truth, as usual, can be found on both sides.

Is there an increase in attempts to purge library collections? Yes. Measured from one year to the next, the percentage jump in such challenges is a legitimate cause for concern. The mix of books isn't much different than it used to be. But more people are finding specific titles objectionable. That's a distinct social trend.

On the other hand, in absolute numbers, such challenges make up a very small percentage of the tens of thousands of books, magazines, videos and audiotapes added to Colorado libraries each year.

Is it wrong to complain about a book? Not at all! If you care about books, then you have strong likes and dislikes. The same First Amendment that protects authors protects readers. I once hosted a meeting at a Colorado Library Association conference called, "Books I Hate!" and was not surprised to find out that a lot of librarians have books they hate, too, just like real people.

But the fact remains that people go to the library -- just as they go to a grocery store -- because it has things they do want, not because it doesn't have things they don't.

What's the appropriate role of the public library? Within the constraints of budget and space, to provide materials that represent as many views as possible. Like a good grocery store, we recognize that not everybody has the same tastes or appetite, and it's not our job to prescribe the same fare for all.

Wednesday, September 7, 1994

September 7, 1994 - Mainstreet

"Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell." -- Edward Abbey.

My curse in life is that I can always see the other fellow's side. Maybe I was born that way. Or maybe I've watched too many episodes of Twilight Zone, followed by thousands of science fiction books.

But truly, I can imagine waking up tomorrow as almost anybody. Ralph Nader. Rush Limbaugh. A very old man or old woman. A child.

On the one hand, this is a relatively useful characteristic for a library director. You tell me what viewpoint you believe a library ought to express, and I'm in perfect sympathy. I see something in what you say, and think the library should have materials that express your viewpoint.

On the other hand, there are real dangers in some perspectives, and perhaps, in many of them.

In much the same way, Douglas County's growth is its gift and its curse. Every town was at some time nothing more than the vision of a developer: the idea that "if you build, they will come." Communities -- great cultures -- spring from such visions.

On the other hand, development is sometimes, and perhaps too often, characterized by wanton greed, a short-sighted focus on the quick return. Appalling cultural devastation is the result.

Take, for instance, the suburban cultural phenomenon of the "mall." On the one hand, the mall provides a gathering place, a new public plaza. It gives people jobs. This is where people go when they don't know where else to go. They see other people. They see (in various shops) the values of our culture.

On the other hand, the mall almost killed the old idea of "downtown" -- of a central area that defined the cultural heart and the economic engine of a community. The mall has proved to be a herald of cultural and economic fragmentation. In America, we are defined by our checkbook: we are what we buy.

Many, many factors contribute to the building of a successful community. It's more than houses, more than roads, more than schools, more than libraries, more than churches. It's more than grocery stores and recreation centers and restaurants and Chambers of Commerce. Successful communities have certain organizing principles, coherent themes.

As a small example of this, take the older neighborhoods whose look is defined by their front porches. The garages were somewhere around the back, often not even visible from the street. Today's houses are almost nothing BUT garage. These themes influence how people look at themselves and each other. It's the trip from "good to see you," to "we are driven."

In Douglas County, no one has yet established just what community does mean. The drama plays itself out in the tension between the Factory Outlet Mall and downtown Castle Rock. The struggle is clear in the fledgling westward extension of Parker's Mainstreet and the Town of Parker's attempt to forbid making a left turn from Parker's only downtown mall (Crossroads) to the eastern stretch of the street. In Highlands Ranch, talk has lately focused on "town centers," and what ought to be there.

In the absence of a guiding vision of a "successful community," we run the risk of developing our communities into places where no one would want to live.

It is my hope that the library will be one of the key players in the quest for intelligent development. Not only should we be at the heart of the community, we are also one of the few places where people can gather together information about other communities, other developments, other "organizing principles."

In today's complex social environment, there's more than one side to the story of growth. And if there's any thing libraries are good at, it's presenting all sides. I urge you to take advantage of us. Your future, and the culture in which your children will be raised, is at stake.

Wednesday, August 31, 1994

August 31, 1994 - Helms Amendment

Last week I received some information from the American Library Association's "Office of Intellectual Freedom." The OIF tracks attempts (by a staggering number of groups across the nation) to get certain kinds of materials withdrawn from library collections, usually for ideological or religious reasons.

Here's the text of the message I received:

"Supporters of intellectual freedom were stunned when, during Senate floor debate on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Senate adopted on August 1 and 2 an amendment developed by Senator Robert C. Smith (R-NH) and Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC). The amendment would provide that no local educational agency receiving funds under the Improving America's Schools Act (HR 6) 'shall implement or carry out a program or activity that has either the purpose or effect of encouraging or supporting homosexuality as a positive lifestyle alternative.'

"The definition of program or activity, for purposes of the amendment, 'includes the distribution of instructional materials, instruction, counseling, or other services on school grounds, or referral of a pupil to an organization that affirms a homosexual lifestyle.'

"The language of the amendment is vague enough to impact even neutral instructional and library materials on sex education and sexuality, because the mere provision of information is often interpreted to 'have the effect of encouraging' or endorsing the subject matter of the information. Thus, the amendment could have a serious impact on school sex education curricula and a broad array of school library materials. In addition, once the precedent is established, all controversial subjects become fair game for threats of funding cuts in both the school and public library setting. The amendment's denial of federal funds to school counseling programs for gay teens is particularly disturbing in light of some studies which suggest that gay teens are at three times greater risk for suicide."

I have no way of knowing what kinds of feelings you, the reader, may have about homosexuals. But to many librarians, this amendment is a cause for professional concern. It appears that the Smith-Helms amendment exacts a financial penalty against schools that do teach (meaning, "pass on knowledge"), and rewards those that do not (meaning, "withhold knowledge").

A good test of this kind of legislation is to pull out the word "homosexual," and see if any other word makes sense in the same context.

Suppose the word is "Nazi." Suppose this amendment said that funding would be cut from any school whose teachers mentioned Nazis, because talking about Nazism means promoting Nazism. Does that make sense?

Suppose the word is "assassination." If we provide information about political assassinations in our nation's history, aren't we encouraging our youngsters to consider this an acceptable lifestyle option?

I am by no means suggesting that either Nazism or political assassination has anything to do with homosexuality. My point is that even extreme "lifestyle choices" that most Americans believe are morally reprehensible are nonetheless part of the historical record. We can't just edit them out of the textbooks and libraries.

The word might as easily be "Jew" or "Mohammed," "Democrat," or "Republican." Or perhaps the word would vary according to changes in the Congressional religious and/or political majority.

Or suppose the word is "Depression," as in emotional malaise, and Congress decides that providing any counseling or referrals of children to support groups just encourages the problem.

No matter what your feelings about homosexuality, it is undeniable that it exists. Behind this amendment to a school finance act is two messages: first, "Let's not talk about it and maybe it will go away."

Anybody buy that?

But where the first message is naive, most librarians believe the second message is dangerous. Once we accept the notion that providing information is exactly equal to endorsement, then we have politicized all knowledge. We have made it ALL dangerous -- for who knows where it may lead? Better to say nothing.

Thus the logical consequence of this philosophy is not that all publicly-funded institutions will soon provide topnotch information about the things the United States Congress, in its collective wisdom, has decided it is safe (this particular session) for our children to know about the world around them.

Rather, it will make the federal government an aggressive promoter of something this nation already has in abundance: ignorance.

Sometime around Labor Day of this year, the Smith-Helms amendment will be decided. If you would like to voice your own opinion on the matter, contact any or all of the following Senators: Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS), James Jeffords (R-VT), Dan Coats (R-IN), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Strom Thurmond (R-SC), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dave Durenberger (R-MN), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Harris Wofford (D-PA), and Tom Harkin (D-IA).

Any Senator's office can be reached by phone through the Senate switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Incidentally, you can be sure that the proponents of the amendment WILL call. In a democracy, those who act, prevail.

Wednesday, August 24, 1994

August 24, 1994 - staff day

Most Douglas Public Library District branches are open seven days a week. Of the 365 days in a year, we're closed for ten national holidays.

Last year, we added one more day when the library isn't open -- but the staff is still expected to come to work. On that one day, our Staff Development Day, we try to pull together the nearly 90 people on the payroll and focus on some key issues for the upcoming year.

Last year, we talked a lot about ACLIN -- the Access Colorado Library and Information Network. ACLIN linked almost every automated library in the state through one common menu, and made it available toll-free to anyone in the state of Colorado who had a computer and modem.

In turned out that the training was time well-invested. ACLIN, which is available on every one of the library's terminals through our "Gateway" option, has proved to be a powerful tool for librarians and patrons alike.

This year, our technological training will focus on three topics:

* CARL searching. Most of the larger libraries in the state use CARL software. One of our workshop leaders is a CARL trainer, and will give staff tips on how to search CARL libraries more efficiently.

* "Kid's Cat." This is something many librarians believe is the future of online searching. Developed by librarians and programmers in Denver, the Kid's Cat is a graphical front-end to the library computer catalog. It was designed with kids in mind. Instead of having to learn specialized database searching commands, children can just slide a "mouse" (a computerized pointing device) over a picture of an interesting topic, then click a mouse button to pursue that topic.

The result is no different from the current computer search: after a while, they find out whether the item is, or is not, available in the library. But the process represents a profound departure from the way libraries have organized their indexes in the past.

Automation has wrought truly revolutionary changes in the way libraries do business. Until now, the children's department has been mostly untouched. But the Kid's Cat -- which should begin to appear in Douglas County's libraries by the end of the year -- will change all that.

* Uncover. Uncover is just one of the vendors providing the full text of magazine articles, delivered either by fax, or right to the computer screen. Uncover is a company existing at the crossroads of two big issues in librarianship: the cost for access, and just what "copyright" means in the electronic age.

Traditionally, library access has been "free." Sure, your taxes support it. But all of us, no matter how wealthy or how poor, can have access to everything in the library. It doesn't cost us anything extra.

Does computerized access to magazine articles mark a change in that? What happens when you can have last week's news for nothing, or yesterday's news right now -- for a fee? Does this herald the creation of a new class -- the information elite?

Here's a related issue: just what does "copyright" mean when anybody who can see something on a computer screen can also capture that information to a computer file? How do we, as a society, ensure that the people who create information for a living are able to make a living from it?

This year's Staff Development Day will also have some fun stuff. We'll hear a talk by Joyce Meskis, the owner of Tattered Cover. (Did you know that she once ran a bookstore right here in Douglas County?) We'll hear a talk by Heather McNeil, a noted Colorado storyteller who recently had a book published, and will tell us just how that happens. We'll also hear reports from some staff committees that grew out of last year's meeting.

So people of Douglas County, my profound apologies that your library won't be open on August 26. I know from personal experience how annoying it can be when a public institution shuts down for a day.

But I think it's worth it. Next year, you'll see some things at your local library that will knock your socks off. This is how we let our staff know what's coming.

An informed staff is a vital link in the delivery of good service. As always, that's the point.

Wednesday, August 17, 1994

August 17, 1994 - historic trains

There's an old Paul Simon song with the chorus, "Everybody loves the sound / of a train in the distance. / Everybody thinks it's true."

Speaking as someone who has spent a lot of time walking along train tracks, listening to train whistles, riding, and even (when I was younger and even more foolish) hopping on trains, I know just what he means.

The train -- hurtling through tunnels, chugging around bends, chuffing into stations, then leaving it all behind in a heady blast of steam and roar -- is the very engine of our dreams, the enduring symbol of the romanticized past.

It happens that the railroads have had a lot to do with the history of Castle Rock. To find out more about the two of them, you should plan to attend the Castle Rock Historical Society's 1994 Castle Rock Historic Day.

On Saturday, August 20 (beginning in front of the Douglas County building at 9 a.m., and lasting till 4 p.m.) several activities are lined up, including:

* At 2 o'clock, the Castle Rock Historical Society will present an historic landmark plaque to the former Denver & Rio Grande railroad depot, situated at 420 Elbert Street. This will also mark the building's inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

* A model railroad exhibit will be featured in the Masonic Building.

* There will be tours of a Santa Fe Railroad car.

* You'll have a chance to munch down at one of the food booths, or the Fred Harvey Style Restaurant in the Old Stone Church patio.

* You can take a walking tour of historic downtown buildings. You'll even get to see the magnificent quilt now on display at the Castle Rock Town Hall.

* You can ride on a carriage.

* You can see a live demonstration of spinning.

* You can enjoy the music of strolling folk singers.

* You can buy tickets for an oil painting of the D&RG Depot by noted local artist, Mary Cornish.

The organizers of the event have planned the day as a family event, appealing to all ages. You can come downtown, park, and enjoy the rest of the day on foot.

The purpose of the event (besides bringing families together to explore the history of Douglas County's county-seat) is to raise funds to acquire the old depot building and dedicate it to the Castle Rock and Douglas County community as a local museum and meeting center.

Beyond all the above, souvenirs will be available, including an Engineer's Cap.

And while you're downtown, look for the Douglas Public Library District's display from our Local History Collection. You'll see old photos of railroad and Castle Rock, accompanied by "companion prints" of the same scenes today. We'll also have various other materials available, including notecards featuring scenes from historic Douglas County. Johanna Harden, Conservation Specialist for the library, urges people to come down to the library after the 20th for a closer look at our treasures. She says, "Think of the DPLD as the Reading Depot. We are just east of the old D&RG Tracks (now the Southern Pacific RR). Catch a ride on the Reading Railroad!"

Wednesday, August 10, 1994

August 10, 1994 - library standards

When I was in high school, I went out for the diving team.

Our young coach was an amazing athlete. He hadn't trained as a diver, he was a gymnast. But his first time on a diving board, he sprang higher than we'd ever seen anyone spring before. On his way to the water, he did some kind of double flip with a half twist. He made it look easy.

Suffice it to say, we respected him.

While we were waiting for our turn at the pool (there were various swim teams, too), we'd work out in the gym. Mostly, he had us concentrate on the trampoline. But his own specialty was the rings.

Some years before, he had tried out for the Olympic gymnastic team. But while doing "the Iron Cross" -- arms straight sideways, legs straight down then brought up to a 90 degree angle to the rest of the body -- he dipped about an eighth of an inch.

From that position, he did the incomprehensible. He lifted himself slowly and gracefully back to the correct form.
But the dip cost him. I forget how many people were chosen that year, but he missed the cut by a tenth of a point.

The golden years in the life of an athlete are tragically short, and the opportunities to train all year for the Olympic selection trials, hard to come by. My teacher never made it to the Olympics.

But under his tutelage, a few of us turned out to be surprisingly good divers. (I wasn't one of them.) Certainly, many of us really tried, for which we received some praise, when appropriate.
Nonetheless, the example of our teacher made one thing very clear: there was such a thing as the Olympic standard. It didn't make any difference how sincere you were; what mattered was how hard you worked at it, and how close you could come to a quality of performance that was real, measurable, consistent, and mighty darn tough.

One of my concerns as a library director is trying to find a way to both set and achieve an Olympic standard for library service. We're not there.

We add a lot of items in a year, about 40,000 or so last year -- but an Olympic standard of library materials would be at least twice that, meaning that every year we would purchase at least one item for every many woman and child in the county.
Right now, we have about .38 square feet of library space per capita; when we open up our new Parker Library next year, we'll bump that to about .53 square feet per capita. That's a square footage increase of about 37 percent, which is impressive. But an Olympic standard would have been a 100 percent jump, or over .7 square feet per capita.

Yet I have always maintained that what makes a library good isn't just the tangibles. It's the people.

In this past year, we've focused on staff training, especially in the area of computer systems. We've also tried to codify and raise our expectations of staff through the creation of detailed job standards. This has meant a much more intense concentration on what and how well everyone on the staff fulfills our primary mission: to encourage people to read. We've learned that an important part of that is adopting an attitude of competent and enthusiastic service.

The Douglas Public Library District, or indeed any public library, can only succeed by being as responsive to the needs of our varied constituency as an Olympic athlete to the changing course of a track. For all public libraries, that track -- a piece of which is the Information Highway, another stretch the unpaved rural backroad of illiteracy -- is as challenging as the most grueling marathon. To run the course will take the stamina, dedication, and sheer force of will that characterizes the Olympic standard.

Will we make it? Anymore, the paying public is as stern as an Olympic judge. You'll decide.

Wednesday, August 3, 1994

August 3, 1994 - library bowling league

The first time I went bowling, I was a very new member of the Cub Scouts. And frankly, I was distracted, although I do not now remember why or by what.

How distracted was I? One time when I went to roll my ball down the lane, everybody in the building started shouting at me. I was mostly oblivious. Soon, the reason for their shouting became clear: I threw the ball just as the machinery was coming down to sweep the remaining pins of the previous bowler.

This machine -- which resembled a sort of huge dental retainer -- stopped my ball dead. Everybody in the place then watched and snickered at me as one of the staff had to saunter down the lane and fetch my ball back.

I do remember my final score. I bowled a record 17. It was a while before I bowled again.

But things have changed. The last time I bowled, about a year ago, I got 245. (A perfect score is 300.) Of course, that was almost as much a fluke as my first time. But this time, I adopted a sort of Zen-like attitude of sublime, ego-less serenity. I also actually aimed at the pins. Aiming, it turns out, makes a big difference.

My wife tells me she went "bumper bowling" once -- the bowling alley put huge, inflated bolsters in the gutters. She found that this not only eased her mind, but markedly improved her score.

The reason all this is on my mind again is that the Douglas Public Library District, as you may have read, is in the process of buying the Crossroads Lanes Bowling Alley, to be converted to a new Parker Library next summer (1995). But the bowling alley will still be in business from now until then.

And suddenly it occurred to me that what this county really needs is a Library Bowling League. Coincidentally, it happens that Crossroads Lanes has just one slot left -- Tuesday nights. I'm told that we need 24 people to make a league work. But the more, the merrier. A league involves a commitment of some 36 weeks, every Tuesday night from this Fall through next Spring.

I've never been in a bowling league before. But (assuming the deal goes through), this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go bowling at the (future) Parker Library. I just can't pass up something like that. Can you?

I hope not. Because the only way I can create a Library Bowling League is if I can get enough other people to sign up with me.
I'm absolutely serious. If you sign up to bowl with us, you'll have to pay for your own bowling, but I promise to do my best to get us all bowling shirts, which are bound to be worth a lot of money some day.

No previous bowling experience is necessary. We're doing this to have fun. On the other hand, I am perfectly prepared to buy, and read, some books about better bowling.

If you'd like to join me in this bold new adventure, just give the Parker Library a call at 841-3503. Leave your name and number. I promise we'll get back to you.

Let's show this county that when regular readers put their minds to it, almost anything is right up our alley.

Wednesday, June 15, 1994

June 15, 1994 - Ben Franklin

Sometimes things start coming together in an interesting and wholly unexpected way.

Item: a long-time friend of mine, Heidi, is getting married. I met her when she was 6 and I was 13, and we've managed to stay in touch these past 26 years. Recently, her boyfriend, Glenn, proposed to her on one of Los Angeles's cable TV stations. It was done as a mock call-in show, airing on Valentine's Day. The show was very touching, very clever, and very funny, especially the rap session ("Yo Heidi, Yo Heidi"). She said, "Yes."

They decided to get married at her father's farm in upstate New York. Her father is an actor, well-known both for his long-running part on As the World Turns, and for his many critically-acclaimed stage performances. He's rented out a bed and breakfast place for the guests. So I'm taking some vacation time and my family is going to New York.

Item: it's a little cheaper to fly into Philadelphia than to Newark. I visited Philadelphia some years back and liked the city. So we decided we'd poke around a little before driving up to the wedding.

My wife instantly commenced her usual systematic sweep of library materials. For those of you who haven't thought about this before, think about it now: the public library is definitely the place to start when you're planning a trip. Suzanne (my wife) amassed an amazing pile of stuff: travel guides, road maps, regional food guides, Smithsonian publications, Amtrak videos, and much, much more. In one of her books, she found out about the Franklin Institute, a museum focused on Benjamin Franklin.

Item: when my father-in-law heard that we were going to the Franklin Institute, he told us that he was just that day talking to someone at the Smithsonian. It seems my father-in-law, by way of his mother's grandfather, had come into possession of a writing table, chair, and portrait, purchased long ago at a London auction. They have been authenticated as having been the property of -- you guessed it -- Benjamin Franklin. The portrait, incidentally, is OF Franklin, done by one of his British admirers.

My father-in-law was originally interested in donating the pieces to the Smithsonian, but they hadn't shown much interest. So he made a call to the Franklin Institute, and mentioned to their staff person that his daughter and son-in-law would be out to see the place just the next week.

Item: This staff person knew who I was; she was a regular reader of the pieces I write for a national library magazine, published in New York. I'll be honest: I don't think I have all that many regular readers in Philadelphia.

Item: just the next day, the editors of that magazine invited us to swing by and go out to dinner with them. They'd heard from yet another source that we were going to be in the area.

So finally, in addition to having the great pleasure of seeing Heidi marry a good man who loves her, my wife and I will be emissaries of a Benjamin Franklin donation. Meanwhile, the family will also get to see the Liberty Bell, have a chance to roam around some lushly forested landscapes, and even be feted in the Big Apple.

Item: Benjamin Franklin, by-the-bye, formed the first subscription library in the United States. He is also famous for his Poor Richard's Almanac, one of the great publishing successes of the period. Especially now, I think of him as a sort of honorary librarian, reaching out across the centuries to spice up the vacation of another librarian.

Thanks, Ben. Now we'll see what we can do for you.

Wednesday, June 8, 1994

June 8, 1994 - Summer Reading Program video

Several weeks ago, Carol Foreman, our children's librarian, came up with a bright idea. Why not make a library video to advertise this year's Summer Reading Program? She broached the idea to a local teacher (Karen Woods) and to a local parent/library volunteer (Laurel Iakovakis). Just a few weeks later, with the friendly and thoroughly professional assistance of the Arapahoe Community College, we've GOT a library video.

Most of the video involved children from the Academy Charter School. They wrote charming, sometimes very funny book reviews, memorized their own scripts, and put on some first class performances. They not only promoted their favorite books, they also get in a couple of plugs for the Douglas Public Library District.

They even let me be in the video -- twice (yet another advantage to being the boss). First, I got to introduce it. The ACC producers, at the suggestion of the kids in the studio audience, "beamed" me onto the set to say a few words. When I showed the final product to my daughter -- library shot, a silhouette of singing blue specks, then, suddenly, ME -- she said, with awe in her voice, "Daddy, how did you DO that?"

"Practice," I told her smugly. "And besides, I read a lot."

Second, I got to do the voice-over at the end of the piece. I talked about some of the things the library has got planned for this summer. To keep things interesting, the TV people put up some occasionally hilarious footage.

In some ways, it's kind of ironic: using a video to push books. But the way I see it, we'd be fools not to take advantage of every advertising tool at our disposal. We're not just pushing puffery here; we've got a product that stands for something.

The theme for this year's program is the same around the entire state of Colorado: Caught in the Book Web. So you'll probably see all kinds of (non-scary) spider art this summer. The idea is obvious: get caught up in books, and you'll find it hard to get out again. We hope.

The kickoff for this summer's program, at all of our branches, will be Sunday, June 12. Each of our branches will be open from 1 to 5 p.m.

Our Summer Reading effort is underwritten this year by our friends at TeleCommunications, Inc., and the Highlands Ranch Foundation. In addition to the usual book lists and prizes, the library will be providing a gaggle of unusual programs.

Here are the ones we'll hold not only at each of our branches, but for the first time ever, at our satellite libraries in Cherry Valley, Larkspur, and Roxborough.

HERPETOLOGY: Guided by the Colorado Herpetology Society, come get an up-close-and-personal view of some of your favorite reptiles and amphibians.

DOUGLAS COUNTY SHERIFF'S K-9 UNIT: These 4 legged critters will thrill you with their skill and abilities. Come join us and meet the dogs of the K-9 unit.

DOG OBEDIENCE: Bring your own dog and learn the basics in obedience, or just come and watch. Also, we'll have a demonstration using the "smartest" dog in the world -- the Border Collie.

BEETLES, BUGS, BUTTERFLIES AND BOOKS: Take a closer look at the amazing little world of insects and their relatives. Explore with the Butterfly Consortium and see live spiders, scorpions, centipedes and other arthropods.

We'll also be having some other programs that we couldn't schedule for every location. Among these are CUTUPS CARRY ON (all ages); DREAMCATCHER (ages 5 and up); JUST FOR FUN: a preposterous play and silly songs (all ages); BUGS AND BEASTS (ages 3 and up); and SPIDER STORYTELLING (ages 5 and up). To find out which of these will be appearing at your branch, pick up one of our new calendar/bookmarks.

Wednesday, May 25, 1994

May 25, 1994 - living for the future

Years ago, author Ayn Rand wrote, "He who lives for the future, lives in it now."

More and more of my time, I find, is spent in the not-so-simple task of anticipating the future. Sometimes, the best information is right at hand. Other times, that information is to be found in the dilemmas of libraries scattered from one ocean to another.

Why worry about something that hasn't gotten here yet? For Douglas County, now the fastest-growing county in the nation, the future is the single most significant pressure ON the present.

For any organization, it takes time to develop new services. To keep up with the many new challenges addressing publicly-funded institutions, libraries sometimes have to scramble.

If public institutions concentrate their efforts on meeting the service pressures they experience right now, then they'll never catch up. If, on the other hand, they try to address the needs they'll have to face in a somewhat longer period, then they have at least some chance to deliver the goods.

About once every three years or so, a friend of mine who's the director of a library system in New York state flies me out to talk to his colleagues and staff. I talk about the trends I've seen back here in Colorado. I talk about what we're doing to get ready for the new challenges to library service. Meanwhile, I get a chance to snoop around another library community, and see what's on people's minds.
Well, I just got back, and it will come as a surprise to no one that things are different back East, at least in one respect. According to the staff of most of the libraries in and around upstate New York, circulation (the number of books that get checked out) is dropping.

Depending on the branch, the Douglas Public Library District is anywhere from 22 to 42 percent BUSIER than last year. How come? In part, it's demographics: we have lots of well-educated, white-collar workers, whose children have an insatiable appetite for picture books. In part, it's because we are among the most shameless promoters of library services in the country.

Another New York trend is the rise of challenges to library materials. More and more people are coming in to the library to announce that they find something so offensive that NOBODY should be allowed to read it. This trend is right in keeping with what's happening here.

What I find most interesting about all these challenges is where they come from -- the Boomers, my own generation. The Flower children of the sixties are turning into moralists, energizing the mini-movements of both political correctitude and religious fundamentalism. By contrast, the next-older generations are far more tolerant of differences in lifestyle and perspective.

Another trend is alternative education. In New York as in Colorado ever-greater numbers of home schoolers are showing up at the public library, and most public libraries aren't quite sure what to do about it. In Colorado (and elsewhere around the country), we also have charter school students.

While no one knows where this trend is going, librarians are taking a critical new look at their collections, wondering if our materials are well-matched to this new demand for service. The probable outcome, at least in the short term, is lots more non-fiction for children. That isn't a bad idea anyhow.
The other big issue in New York is the Internet, the linking of more and more computers into larger and larger networks. As in Colorado, librarians are seeing the need for more training in the navigation of the still-developing "information highway." We're all convinced that there's good stuff out there. The question now is how to find it.

You can expect to see more about all these topics in the months to come. For now, it appears that the Douglas Public Library District is ahead of the curve.

But time will tell.

Thursday, May 19, 1994

Anatomy of a reference question

Ever wonder what a librarian does exactly? Then check out this week's column, written by Moira Armstrong, one of our Philip S. Miller reference librarians. I call it, "The Anatomy of a Reference Question."

May 17 - Gina Woods (Oakes Mill Branch Manager) calls with a question. "What is the symbology of the new Russian flag?" She knows that it is tri-colored. She hasn't found the information in any of the common sources including books on flags, most of which have been published before 1990. This is for a sixth grader, and the assignment is due in 5 days.

Gina and I discuss whether we would still look anything up under "Russia," or the "Commonwealth of Independent States" (CIS). I check The Statesman's Year-Book, which is our most current information on the political, economic, and social status of the nations of the world. There is no information about the flag.

I then check the various almanacs, encyclopedias, and flag books in our collection. I check the Time and Newsweek articles devoted to the events surrounding Boris Yeltsin and the Russian Coup d'Etat. In Time Magazine there is a picture of the flag, but nothing explaining the symbology.

I then call Denver Public Library�s Interlibrary Loan Department, which is usually our next step. I explain the question, and the sources that I have used to this point. DPL calls back a day later and tells us that they can find nothing.

At this point I remember that Jeff Long (another Philip S. Miller reference librarian) has, in the past, called an obscure organization found in the Encyclopedia of Associations. Listed under Flag Research Center (with a pointer to the subject heading, "Vexillology") is a phone number for Dr. Whitney Smith, who is Executive Director of the Center.

Listed under International Federation of Vexillological Associations, I find that Dr. Whitney Smith is the Secretary General. Hmmm. (I picture a small, dark, one room office, staffed by an elderly man with a handle bar mustache, wearing a boy scout uniform.) I call and leave voice mail. Dr. Smith, as it turns out, is out of town.

I consult the Washington Information Directory, and look under �Russia.� No. Soviet Union? See Independent States and Commonwealth Affairs.

Under Regional Affairs is the following: State Dept., Independent States and Commonwealth Affairs handles relations with the former Soviet Union; assists other agencies in dealings with the former Soviet Union. I call, I get voice mail, I leave a message. No return call.

Next day, I call and speak with a secretary who gives me the number of another State Department desk. I call, voice mail, no return call.

Back to the Washington Information Directory where I look up Embassies, foreign (list). Under Russian Federation I get yet another number at the State Department - a Desk Officer. I call, voice mail, no return.

I try again, and am referred to another number at the Russian Embassy where lo and behold an actual person answers with "Hello." But this is not just any "hello," this is a growly, wonderful, Russian hello. I explain my question and he tells me he doesn't speak English. He gives me another number.

I make the next call. It rings, and rings, no machines, no voice mail, just nobody there. I try again several hours later and after the eighth ring, a very hesitant, shy, female voice responds with "allo"? Again, no identifier, and This Is The Russian Embassy !!!

I go through my speech, explaining how it's so nice to finally speak to someone who can help me with this, and on and on. There is a long pause at the other end and I finally ask, "You do speak English, don't you? To which she replies, "I don't know."

Ah, but she has given me a number. I make this final call and speak with an ebullient young Russian named Gennadi Syomin, who is, as it turns out, the Managing Editor of the new publication Russian Life. Gennadi informs me that he is "most pleased to share this important information with me," and I am indeed relieved to learn that the state flag of the Russian Federation is rectangular with three horizontal stripes: white, blue, and red.

The Russian tricolor dates back to 1694, when Peter the Great chose the colors of the Dutch national flag, but in a different arrangement, for the flag that was raised on Russian trade ships. In 1883 the tricolor became the official state flag of Russia, until the revolution of 1917. At that time any mention of the flag was wiped from historical records and Gennadi told me that several generations, including his, had never heard of this flag. This, until Boris Yeltsin adopted the tri-color during the August 1991 Coup d'Etat.

Gennadi Syomin was warm and endearing and I enjoyed our conversation. He sent me the latest edition of Russian Life Magazine, explaining that the magazine had been in forced hibernation for a year and a half. The issue is at the reference desk for anyone who wants to browse. It is filled with full-color photographs, and has an interesting article on ... the history and symbology of the Russian Federation Flag.

Wednesday, May 11, 1994

May 11, 1994 - blue line

My first encounter with the public library was the summer the bookmobile came. I thought it was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen, better than an ice cream truck.

Painted all the way around the inside of the bookmobile was a dark blue line. Everything above the line was an adult book; everything below, for kids. If you had a kid's card, you weren't allowed to check out books above the blue line.

We TRIED, of course. We'd make a pile: a couple Dr. Seuss's, a story book, a science book, the thickest kid's book we could find, and one very thin book from above the blue line, something with a potentially racy title.

But it never worked. Mrs. Johnson -- she of the cat's-eye glasses, the white bangs, the soft cardigan sweather, the gentle voice, the big smile -- just quickly and quietly slipped it back out of the pile.

"But Mrs. Johnson!" I'd protest. "I found that below the blue line. Really!"

"No," she say, smiling. "It was over the line."

I sometimes think I became a librarian just to find out what was above the blue line.

And frankly, in some respects it's been a disappointment. There are a lot of boring books above the blue line. There's fluff, ephemera, and a few things that are truly brutish and nasty.

But what does any child -- and any adult -- secretly long for? Excitement, the thrill of crossing boundaries. This doesn't mean that any of us want to CROSS the boundaries, or at least not for long. It just means we want the THRILL of crossing.

For lots of people, this is the whole point of reading. They read books about things they'd never want to actually DO. There are people who love mysteries but would fall to pieces if anyone they knew were murdered. There are people who read wild west stories who wouldn't have lasted five minutes in Dodge City. There are people who love kung fu and karate books. But they could never survive (they would never ATTEMPT) the long years of concentrated effort and training that it takes to become truly proficient in any martial art.

Reading is vicarious experience. It gives you adventure without physical danger.

And in these post-AIDS days, let's remember the very safest sex: just reading about it.

As time goes on, dedicated and curious library users do finally tap into the motherlode: the rich core of materials that is genuinely controversial. Some of these things are old. Take Thomas Paine's Age of Reason: two hundred years after its publication, it still has the power to challenge, to rouse, even to infuriate. Take Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, that sly dissection of an America that practiced slavery.

Some of these things are new: Susan Faludi's Backlash: the undeclared war against American women; Amitai Etzioni's The Spirit of Community: Rights, Responsibilities, and the Communitarian Agenda; James Dobson's Children at Risk: the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of our Kids; and of course, anything at all by Dave Barry.

I'm not saying that any of these people are RIGHT, mind you (except Dave Barry). The library neither endorses nor condemns the products of our culture: we merely reflect and collect. Some of them -- not many -- endure.

What I AM saying is that true controversy is about ideas.

One of the more overt signs of the sickness of American culture is the belief that controversy is always and only about sex. But that's just part of our national obsession, ranging from the comical neo-Puritanism of the religious right to the dreary acrobatics of the entertainment industry. Fierce political and cultural battles are fought about how much skin must be covered up. The underlying idea is that the human body is itself controversial.

In a way, it's tragic. Many fine, thought-provoking books sit disintegrating on our shelves for lack of use. Meanwhile, the excitement, the arguments, the heated debate goes on about how much thigh, or how much breast, or how many "naughty bits" of any description are revealed in this or that magazine, or in this or that photograph or statue.

I sometimes think that the smartest thing a librarian could do would be to round up all the most truly radical items we've got, and paint a blue line around them. Then we could be balky about allowing any of our patrons to cross the line.

My guess is that we could queue people up for miles.

I wonder what Mrs. Johnson would think?

Wednesday, May 4, 1994

May 4, 1994 - homeschooling

In the ever-exciting world of public libraries, the debate is heating up: just what is our role in an environment where there are ever-swelling numbers of homeschoolers and charter schools students?

Here's the way I see it:

How do we respond to the needs of homeschoolers? Much as we respond to the needs of other students -- or for that matter, as we respond to any adult patron. People come in looking for stuff. If they find what they need, well and good. If they don't, they often ask for help. If, in the process of trying to help them, we discover that we can't provide very much on a topic, then naturally enough, we tend to view that as a problem.

So either we go looking for such materials, or the next time we see that they are available (in a catalog, at a publisher's exhibit, in a professional journal), we're inclined to pick them up.

It's inefficient, but it's real: we buy at least some of the books kids need for their schoolwork. We always have. We've just done it on a retail basis.

This is the process through which any public library becomes to some extent the public curriculum: a repository of information about the subjects our community tells us it is interested in.

How have charter schools changed this picture? In the past year, the children attending the Academy Charter School have had some library tours of our Philip S. Miller Library. Our staff has shown them how to use our computer catalog, and generally figure out where things are. We've had many class visits to the library since then. I'm expecting the same thing to happen in Parker now that the Core Knowledge Institute of Parker has been approved.

But we've always offered tours to students, or to any interested group. It's not a new service, just a new level of demand for the same service. Frankly, I find that encouraging. Now, we're just providing services wholesale.

One of the things that worries some public librarians is that by more consciously assuming this responsibility to support public education, two things will happen. First, we'll skew our collections in a direction that doesn't reflect our basic mission. Second, we'll undercut the good work of our colleagues in local school media centers.

But at the Douglas Public Library District, we've been watching our purchases fairly closely in this area. And in my opinion, our purchases have been perfectly appropriate for a public library.

We're not, for instance, buying workbooks. Nor are we buying enough copies of books to allow a whole class to use them at one time. The schools handle that.

On the other hand, just because people happen to be young enough to be in school, doesn't mean they shouldn't be able to find what they want in a public library. It's their library, too.

As far as our media center friends are concerned, I admit frankly that we cannot possibly be as precisely tailored to the needs of public school students as they are.

But our media centers are seeing the same kind of growth in demand and use that we are, and both of us have limits in funding and physical space. We can't do their job; they can't do ours.

But we sure can supplement each other. Larger, more active libraries at every level help each other, generating higher levels of reader enthusiasm, and providing a far richer reading environment.

We're not competitors. We're partners. For so important a task as educating our young, it just makes sense to take all the help you can get.

Wednesday, April 20, 1994

April 20, 1994 - color therapy

Several weeks ago, the News Press did an article on Jetta Feil, a woman who does "color vision therapy." In brief, Ms. Feil, a certified color vision therapist for Spectro-Optics (841-3103), has found that simply by using certain tinted acetate overlays, she can help people read more comfortably.

Some people, it seems, have significant difficulties with the printed page. The print "floats." In some cases, it even flickers or shakes on the page. As you might imagine, this makes it very difficult to stay focused, or to read for a long period. For some people too, the problem is made much worse by certain kinds of lighting, especially fluorescent lighting.

I found all this interesting, but here's something that's more interesting. The Douglas Public Library District only has three administrative offices; of the three, two of them house people for whom color vision therapy has already demonstrated its advantages.

One one side of me is our Personnel Manager. He says this problem of "floating print" has been with him all his life. He thought it floated for everybody. Amazingly, he managed to persevere long enough to get his doctorate -- which takes a lot of reading. Then, as an adult, he discovered that if he just set a piece of bluish acetate over a page, everything steadied down. His daughter has the same problem, but for her, the bluish acetate doesn't help. A greenish-colored sheet does.

On the other side of my office is my Administrative Assistant. Her son has been diagnosed as having some learning disabilities, especially in the area of reading. Recently he was tested for color vision problems, and found that one of the overlays suddenly made it much easier for him to read. His mom is getting him a pair of glasses with the tint built-in.

How common is this problem? It's hard to say. Ms. Feil says that as many as 10-15% of the population has some color vision problem. Fortunately, the problem is easily and quickly tested for, and it isn't all that expensive to correct.

If you'd like to find out more about this sometimes startlingly effective therapy, you are invited to attend either of two free information clinics, both sponsored by the Douglas Public Library District.

Jetta Feil, who has 17 years of teaching experience and a Master's degree in Education, will be available at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock from 2-5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 26, and at the Oakes Mill Library (in the Lone Tree subdivision, on the corner of Lone Tree Parkway and Yosemite) from 2-5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27. She will provide more information on color vision therapy, and, time permitting, provide some preliminary screening.

Children should be at least 6 years old -- old enough to accurately report differences in what they see on the page. Incidentally, many children begin to have reading difficulties in the 3rd grade -- just about the time the proportion of text to pictures starts to increase. At the same time, print tends to get smaller and closer together.

The library is happy to sponsor this clinic. After all, anything we can do to help people read more easily is a good idea. If you think you or your children might benefit from color vision therapy, we encourage you to stop by.

Wednesday, March 30, 1994

March 30, 1994 - lirpa sloof

I have been working as the director of the library since March 29, 1990. That means that I've been here four years.

After my first year as director, the staff and I put together something called an "upward evaluation form." In brief, the idea was to let the people I supervise tell my bosses how well or how poorly I was doing.

That's important. Short of privately interviewing each of the people I directly supervise, all that my bosses know about my performance is what they see in the newspapers or witness in committee meetings.

But upward evaluations can be tricky. They only work if people are honest. If, for instance, there's some aspect of supervision I'm really falling down on, not letting the Board know about it means that I'm getting away with it. It also means that the problem is likely to continue.

But, let's face it, some people fear the retribution of their bosses. Naturally enough, this tends to make people less honest.

It happens I just sent these forms out to our branch managers yesterday. I've asked them to have them in by the end of the month, when I'll pass them on to the Board of Trustee's Personnel Committee.

As I was talking to the Personnel Committee just recently, we came up with an innovative idea. Why not invite you, the public, to participate in my job evaluation as well? Why not expand the process to include the people who pay my salary?

So if you'd like to pass on your opinion of my performance over the past year as a library director, or your opinion of the library's performance in the past year, please call Ms. Lirpa Sloof, Head of the Personnel Committee of the Douglas Public Library District Board of Trustees. She can be reached at 840-2073. She's serious about this, and said to write that she will accept calls any time of the day or night. If you can't get through, then try Juli Lester, who can be reached at 841-0922 (her work number, so please call only during the day).
Aside from any particular concerns you may have about your local library, leave a message like one of these:

* He's doing an outstanding job. Give him a raise.

* He's doing an okay job. But he needs improvement in .... (caller's choice).

* Fire the bum. You mean we pay this guy?

I want to emphasize that Ms Sloof is not a librarian. Nor is she a member of our staff. She's a volunteer. A recent arrival in Douglas County and to our Board (she hails from Mordovia, originally), she is genuinely interested in getting a little public input about the quality of the person entrusted to run your library district.

Now mind, I'm not saying this is a public vote on whether or not I get to keep my job. On the other hand ... our Board really listens to the public.

So here's your chance. Please try to call BEFORE or ON Friday, April 1.

And here's looking forward to another year on the job. I hope.

Wednesday, February 2, 1994

February 2, 1994 - Mrs. Gilmore and reading with the enemy

Mrs. Gilmore, my fifth grade teacher, always said that good writing was good thinking, and good thinking is always charming and admirable. Ultimately, she believed that good writing lead to good friends.

Now, I'm not so sure.

Last week, I wrote about the CHILD proposal to establish a new "anti-obscenity" law. I also laid out some of the reasons I oppose it.

About a month before that, I wrote an article for a national library magazine about how a public library should strive to collect materials from all over the political and religious spectrum. I said that many public libraries don't collect representative materials from a so-called "fundamentalist Christian" perspective.

But there's a growing audience for such materials. And while no group has "special rights" to our collections, librarians have to be careful that they don't ignore certain groups altogether. I wrote, "Fundamentalist Christians have the same rights to our collection as any other minority: the opportunity to state their case, without endorsement or prejudice on our part."

At the time, I didn't think either piece was especially controversial, especially given the perspective of my profession. But apparently, I was wrong. I got two letters this week that expressed strong disapproval of my opinions. Both of them were from librarians.

One accused me of being liberal to the point of supporting pederasty. (She had read the first article.) The other wrote that I had "slapped the face" of gay and lesbian librarians with my "thoughtless bigotry." (She had read the second article.)

In other words, my colleagues have labeled me a left wing, godless, fundamentalist conservative. I'll admit to this: there aren't many of us left.

But seriously, how either one of these readers reached their conclusions I cannot imagine. I have myself concluded that some people are so eager to take offense that they can find it anywhere.

Still, it's pretty rare that I get any letters at all. And I've heard it said that every time somebody does write a letter, there are at least ten to a hundred more people who feel the same way. (Although in my case, so far, they kind of cancel each other out.)

I have noticed that it tends to be the people who get easily outraged that write the most letters. The more middle-of-the-road, thoughtful, tolerant folks see something in a newspaper or magazine and think, "That's interesting. A little off-the-wall, probably wrong, but interesting." And that's it.

But someone at one extreme or the other is INCENSED that anybody could entertain for an INSTANT such a preposterous, insulting, damaging, completely DANGEROUS notion. So they swing into action, rallying the troops, encouraging them to fire off a volley of indignant missives.

On the other hand, such letters make for entertaining newspapers and magazines. In fact, the editor of the magazine for which I wrote the second piece was thrilled that I'd gotten someone mad enough to pen a protest. A little controversy sells more issues. She'd been worried that her periodical had become too innocuous, too bland. No editor wants the epitaph: "Excited Little Response." If too many people agree with you, she told me, you probably haven't said much.

So Mrs. Gilmore, wherever you are now, I'm confused. People in the business are telling me that good writing makes enemies. I was worried that I was just writing badly.

But you were correct about one thing: the friends I do make are good ones.