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

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

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

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, October 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.