This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, August 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.

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