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, 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.