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, 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.

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