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 20, 1995

December 20, 1995 - new Parker Library

Last weekend marked the opening of the Parker Library -- a project that the library board and staff have been talking about for 5 years. My relief is great.

But so is my pride. I honestly feel that this is one of the best things the library district has accomplished. Why? Because 1) so many people were involved in it, and 2) everybody came through. They did what they said they would do, and they did it well.

Not only did we get enthusiastic support from virtually every community group we spoke with, we also got great ideas. We used almost all of them.

The community supported us financially, too: we raised over $60,000 in cash and in-kind donations. This enabled us to significantly upgrade the interior finishes, and to add the kinds of touches -- artwork, nice meeting room chairs, oak end panels -- that people told us they wanted, but we couldn't have afforded otherwise.

I was also impressed with at a classic example of intergovernmental cooperation. When we announced that we had purchased the bowling alley building, the Parker Water and Sanitation District quickly offered us a deal we couldn't refuse. Based on an independent appraisal of our old library, the water district paid us the market value, in cash, right up front, then let us live in the building, rent free, through the year.

That's worth an extended thank you, to the Board of the Parker Water and Sanitation District: Doug Neves, Randy Huls, Paula Makar, Richard Gallegos, and Chip Stern. If only all governments could work so well together.

There are many other folks to thank. In addition to our visionary architects, Dennis Humphries and Joe Poli, and our frugal and hard-working building crew, Ash & White Construction, we have a host of folks who each donated more than $1,000 in cash or services:

Here's the honor role of community and library supporters:

Reggie Barrett Black Creek Capital, Developers of Canterberry Crossing and Bell Mountain Ranch Community Bank of Parker Douglas Public Library Foundation Steve Evans Friends of the Parker Library Kiowa State Bank-Parker Library Crossroads Campaign Committee Adams & Dorothy Miller Estate Norwest Bank of Colorado, Parker Parker Breakfast Club Parker/Johnson, Inc. Stonegate Developments, Inc. Town of Parker Mrs. and Mrs. Dean Weaver Bob Weil

And of course, a thank you to all the folks who got their bricks onto the floor of our new "Mainstreet."

You hear a lot of stories these days about how communities are falling apart, or how there's no civic spirit. But the people who tell such stories weren't in line at the Human Bookworm, as the 25 books chosen to pass from the old library to the new, bobbed through the hands of over 500 people, all of them smiling.

And for the record, there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that somebody tried to slip their overdue books into the line. A great idea, though.

So again, to the people of Parker, a hearty "well done!" and "thank you."

From all of us at the Douglas Public Library District, very Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, December 13, 1995

December 13 - library trustee want ad


Job Title: Library Trustee, a member of the governing Board of the Douglas Public Library District.

Residency requirements: must live somewhere in Douglas County. This opening is an "at-large position."

Qualifications: Must believe in the value of strong public library services to the citizens of Douglas County. The Douglas Public Library District is an equal opportunity employer, committed to a vision of a literate community with unfettered access to the broadest, deepest possible range of information and library materials.

Responsibilities: Trustees are responsible for library finances (budget approval and review), the hiring, firing, and evaluation of the library director, and the setting of library policy. Position requires one Board meeting a month (average length, 1 to 3 hours each), probably one or two committee assignments (meeting 4 to 5 times a year), and other conferences as needed.

Pay: the satisfaction of a job well done. Convivial and thoughtful colleagues. The opportunity to make a difference in one of Douglas County's most effective governmental agencies.

Application process: Send a letter of interest, accompanied by a short resume, to Tom McKenzie, Board President, 961 S. Plum Creek Boulevard Castle Rock CO 80104. Applicants will be interviewed by at least one Board member and the Library Director. Successful applicant will be recommended for appointment by the Library Board of Trustees to the Douglas County Commissioners, who are the appointing authority.

Closing date: position open until filled by the right candidate.

Company background: founded by popular vote in 1990, the Douglas Public Library is an independent taxing entity serving the citizens of Douglas County, and through the Colorado Library Card, the entire state. It has at this writing over 200,000 items, circulates over a million materials annually, employs approximately 100 employees, and has an annual operating budget of over $3 million. It operates library branches in Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Lone Tree, Louviers, and Parker. It also partners with the Douglas County School District to operate "satellite branches" at Cherry Valley, Larkspur, and Roxborough Elementary schools.

Current projects: having completed its 5 year plan with the opening of the new Parker Library, the Trustees are just beginning a new Long Range Planning process. Among the issues to be considered are: automation planning (and the appropriate use of the World Wide Web and its resources), new services (literacy tutoring, books by mail, the expansion of reference services at our branches, support for alternative education etc.), facilities (our satellite experiments have demonstrated a demand for additional hours, materials and facilities in Roxborough), personnel models (what system best ensures a responsive and competitively compensated work force), and funding (the district in 1996 will face some statutory revenue restrictions, which will reduce our voter-approved mill levy).

Expertise in any and/or all of these areas is especially welcome.

For more information: please contact Jamie LaRue, Library Director, at 668-8752, or e-mail any questions to jlarue@csn.net.

Wednesday, December 6, 1995

December 6, 1995 - library as great value

Imagine that you inherit a business franchise -- a video rental shop. It has a pretty good inventory -- about 65,000 items (some a little battered), scattered among 3 locations, none of which is open more than 5 days a week, and some of which are open only a couple times a week. You don't have a lot of visibility, but do have a solid customer base -- about 60% of the service area -- which checks out about 350,000 videos a year.

Now imagine that it's five years later. Now you've got 220,000 videos, and a transaction level of a cool million annually. You're running 4 shops, 7 days a week, and 4 more twice a week. You've extensively renovated two of the original locations, and expanded the square footage of a third location by a factor of three. At the end of this period of phenomenal growth, your costs -- including personnel, facilities, all your overhead -- are just under $3 per transaction. An astonishing 72% of your target market has come in, registered for membership, and used your service in the past year.

Now add a new wrinkle: you don't charge by the transaction. You charge a membership, a flat fee based on the value of your customers' house: about $40 for a house worth $100,000. The cost of this membership has dropped each year. But for this fee, the customer (and anyone in his or her family) can rent as many videos as he or she wants. There's no limit at all. Beyond that, you offer a complement of other services, among them:

* terminals that let the customer search for and reserve any titles of interest

* connections to other computerized video rental systems that allow the customer to request items you don't have in stock, which will be purchased or delivered at no charge to the closest location, often within just a day or two

* friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient staff members, available some 68 hours a week in person or by phone, who are prepared to answer detailed questions about any of the videos in stock, or any of the issues or times they deal with

* a comprehensive collection of periodicals and reference works about videos, available either for rental or on-site consultation

* programs that provide live performances or interpretations of popular videos for people of all ages (with an emphasis on children)

* discussion groups concerning various videos in the collection

* comfortable surroundings in which the customer can view any of the videos in quiet privacy, or in groups

all of which (and more) is included in the membership fee. In fact, many of the services (answering questions, programs, in-house use) are offered to people who may not even have a membership card.

Ridiculous, isn't it? What business could possibly achieve such impossible levels of service at such a low price?

Welcome to your local public library.

Substitute "video rental" with "public library," replace "video" with "collection of materials" and every one of the above statements reflects the accomplishments of the Douglas Public Library District over the past five years.

A few weeks ago I talked about the ways in which public service differs from "customer service." I believe this: the public library is a public good, accessible to the lowliest and the highest among us without distinction. That's important.

But as the record shows, the public library is also a staggeringly cost-effective business. It delivers a cold cash value, a return on the investment, that is unparalleled.

Wednesday, November 15, 1995

November 15, 1995 - patrons v customers

I seem to be the only librarian in the state these days who still uses the word "patrons" to refer to the people who use a library. Everyone else wants to call them "customers."

Probably that's because so many librarians have gone to workshops lately about "customer service." They seem to believe that if libraries would just act more as businesses do, libraries would therefore deliver better service.

I disagree. The implication is that libraries don't deliver good service right now. In my experience, the library that DOESN'T deliver good service sticks out, is odd, you notice it, it's rare.

I'll go farther than that. As a rule, the service I get at almost any public library is far better than the service I get from most for-profit businesses. Library staff tend to be more alert to people's presence, quicker to respond to a request, more likely to be well-trained, and in general, more committed to making the patron walk out happy.

How come? It's no big mystery. Libraries generally attract people who are interested in people and interested in books. Taken together, those two interests make a person, well, interesting. Interesting people tend to be lively, able, and fun to be around.

Likewise, hooking up other people with interesting books (or a good story, or a timely bit of information) is a lot of fun.

Consistently competent employees, an often-entertaining and educational task, and generally pleasant working conditions -- that adds up to the sort of work situation most businesses can only dream about.

Too, most for-profit businesses are owned by somebody specific, "the boss," somebody who often has little connection to the employee, and whose ultimate success may or may not be of sharp interest to the worker. In the case of the public library, the owners are both the people who walk in the door AND the people providing the service.

The closest thing to that in the business world is a work force where everybody owns stock in the company. It happens, but it's rare. In public libraries, it's the norm.

I suspect that my profession's increasing emphasis on "customers" has at least two origins. The first can be found in the country's swing to the Republican side of our two-party system, a side that generally focuses on the private sector.

The second origin, perhaps related, is what I believe is our time's deep misunderstanding of the whole meaning of "the public sector." I sense in some of my colleagues an increasing shame for "feeding at the public trough," as if the desire for public service itself bespeaks a failure of character. (Remember the old post-war wisecrack: "If he's so smart, why ain't he rich?")

But that way lies community and cultural collapse. At the heart of our civic lives there must be sound and intelligently managed institutions, open to all, responsive to all, served by a core group of proud and industrious public servants. Not all of these institutions are tax-supported (churches and civic groups, for instance), but some of them have to be (schools, libraries, water and sanitation, police, and so on).

Why? I could give you the dollar and "sense" argument (and no doubt will, one of these days). But here's the short answer: Because there is more to life than consumerism, and more to a culture than credit cards.

Wednesday, November 8, 1995

November 8, 1995 - cleaning out the room of the public library

My wife, Suzanne, was the youngest of three children - the baby of the family. She was 33 years old when she finally got The Call. Her parents wanted her to come home and clean out her room. Her brothers called it "the Shrine."

It's a bittersweet moment, whether you're 17 or 33. On the one hand, you know perfectly well that your parents have got new and legitimate uses for the space. After all, it isn't reasonable to expect that a Museum of Your Childhood will be maintained in pristine condition forever. Parents aren't curators - they have lives of their own to lead.

You know, too, that you don't really USE anything in your old room anymore.

But on the other hand, it's painful. It's somehow comforting to know that all your old stuff -- usually a shelf or two of yellowed paperbacks, a half-dozen tape-marked Beatles posters, and a couple tons of LPs (that's Long Playing 33 rpm records for you kids out there) -- is still around some place.

Then, on the day that you have to decide whether YOU actually want to give floor space to all of this treasure, you discover that ... you'd rather not. Some fraction gets worked into your current life, but the rest gets tossed. It's a little depressing.

In some ways, libraries, especially public libraries, find themselves in a similar situation. With the exception of children's materials, most of the items that get checked out from a library have been published within the past five years. The public wants new materials -- the latest best-sellers, the controversial new non-fiction titles, and current periodicals.

On the other hand, the public also wants to think that there will always be some place to go to find all the stuff they don't save themselves any more: college textbooks from 1968, Carlos Castenada, Herman Hesse paperbacks. For many people, the public library is the Happy Hunting Ground, where all good books live out their twilight time, forever.

It is true that libraries of all types do have some obligation to maintain a link with the past. Hence our determined effort to gather, at reasonably decent intervals, fresh copies of all the classics that we can still track down from publishers.

But that isn't as easy as it was 20 years ago. Thanks to something called the "Thor Decision" back in the late 70's, publishers' "back stock" or inventory is considered taxable. Since then, publishers tend to print smaller runs, and destroy the stock after just a year or two. This makes it much harder to pick up core titles in some subject areas, or to replace titles that have been withdrawn due to damage or theft.

But if that's the case, shouldn't libraries hang on to everything?

I once worked in a public library that hadn't pulled older materials from the shelf in over 75 years. Were people grateful? No. They avoided the place. So the staff did a "weeding project" -- we removed from the collection some 20,000 items that no one had checked out in over 15 years.

Guess what happened? The public did NOT come storming in to protest our casual disregard of our common intellectual history. People DID begin coming in regularly, and asking, "When did you get all this new stuff?"

With the freed up space, we were able to set up attractive displays. We were able to highlight new collections. We were able to more easily identify those areas that needed an infusion of new selections.

Is there some loss through this process? Yes. But that's why there are other kinds of libraries -- academic libraries, museum libraries -- or, sometimes, special sections WITHIN libraries, like Local History Collections, or Rare Books Rooms. That's why libraries often borrow materials from other libraries. It isn't that older materials aren't sometimes valuable to our patrons; it's that historic preservation isn't the PRIMARY purpose of a public library.

In short, good public libraries come to the same realization as those parents whose kids have grown up and moved out: we aren't running a museum. A good public library is USED, and that means that it regularly requires its older decades to clean out their rooms.

Wednesday, November 1, 1995

November 1, 1995 - halloween

Although it usually either rained or snowed on me, I have always loved Halloween.

I do have one very clear memory of a "good" Halloween night: a tide of leaves, a wanton wind, a harvest moon, and hordes of little people in outrageous costumes, jostling up and down the streets with their bags of booty. For a child, Halloween is a wonderful, thrilling opportunity: to dress up, to walk in the dark, to MAKE adults give you candy.

At another level, Halloween worked on me as a strong seasonal song: the last hours of autumn, the harbinger of winter. (The purpose of the candy, I now imagine, was to build up the fat reserves required to survive the Midwest cold.)

So part of me is deeply puzzled by the strong resistance of some people to the very idea of Halloween. Some people object to its description as a holiday. They argue that "holiday" means "holy day," and Halloween isn't -- although it often incorporates "occult" elements (witches, goblins, ghosts) which are seen by some as contrary to certain Christian beliefs.

Yet we call many other days "holidays" that don't have any particular religious significance, but do have a part in our national or cultural life. "Halloween" to me is just what my encyclopedia calls it: "a festival."

Like many other festivals, Halloween picks up and transforms many bits of folklore. For instance, "Jack-o'-Lanterns," which in England and Ireland were made of carved beets, potatoes, and turnips, in America became candled pumpkins.

Where did the term "Jack-o'-Lanterns" come from? According to World Book, they were named for a man called Jack, who was such a miser that he couldn't enter heaven; but because he'd played jokes on the devil, couldn't enter hell either. As a result, Jack had to walk the earth with his lantern until Judgment Day.

Probably the earliest source of Halloween was the Celtic, or Druidic, festival called Samhain, celebrated more than 2,000 years ago. The Celts believed that Samhain, the Celtic lord of death, allowed the deceased to roam the earth for one night each year.

But the Catholic Church, as it did in so many cases, appropriated the cultural practice, and incorporated it into its own theology. In 800 A.D., the Church established All Saint's Day on November 1, for which a Mass was said called Allhallowmass. The evening before was called All Hallow e'en -- Halloween.

But I can assure you that as a child I never knew (nor would I have cared) about either of these historical tidbits. Even now that I do know, carving a pumpkin doesn't make me a Catholic, and trick-or-treating doesn't make my children little Druids.

These days I'm on the giving, rather than the receiving end of Halloween. But just as I take pleasure in the festival itself, I also take pleasure in learning a little bit more about it. Libraries are good for stuff like that, incidentally.

On both sides of a vast ocean, for one night each year, millions of children have touched that same sense of magic and mystery and the unfurling of time -- all through a festival that is itself more than two millennia old.

In my book, that's a traditional family value.

Wednesday, October 25, 1995

October 25, 1995 - vacation

I just got back from a vacation. I mean I stepped out of the car about ten minutes ago. My family went on a long-overdue visit with my wife's family in Arizona. I also chased a few ghosts of my own past in that area.

Long car trips are disorienting. When we sped reckless out of Phoenix two days ago, it was edging toward 100 degrees. This evening, we edged cautiously over Monument Hill, which was under about an inch and a half of snow and ice. It's hard to piece that together with a Mass Ascension (wherein 20% of the balloons in the entire world were launched at dawn over a dusty field north of Albuquerque), and a late morning when the entire LaRue Nuclear Family, in an ultimately fruitless attempt to find a pair of huaraches that fit me, strolled the surreal streets of Old Mexico.

So my mind is filled with the usual observations of the traveler returned. It all seems profound to me. But I just crawled out of a car. I suspect that for most folks, this column is best described as "Revelations of the Obvious."

For instance:

1) It is good to leave home.

2) It is good to get back.

3) Weather -- and climate -- are very odd things. Since I was traveling with a 20 month old child, I have learned that the body deals with rapid changes in altitude and temperature primarily through the production of snot. I still don't know why.

4) Different people behave differently, or seem to. On the way back, we got stuck in Tuba City, Arizona. We spent two hours waiting for (we thought) the light to change. It turns out that there really was a "Pow Wow," snarling traffic for miles in many directions. We stopped at a local McDonald's for some ice cream and I observed that for about 20 minutes, not one Navajo, of any age or sex, smiled. Then a bee buzzed a family gathered at an outside table, and everybody not only smiled, but laughed outright. It turns out that most Arizonan bees now have some genetic contribution from the more aggressive African bees. But what I find myself wondering is this: if I were to sit at a table at a Douglas County McDonald's, how many people would be smiling?

5) Douglas County has good libraries. As usual, I wandered into public libraries at almost every opportunity. In one Arizona town, the building was spanking new, an obvious testament to civic pride. But I stood at the front desk for almost 10 minutes before someone deigned to make eye contact with me. And then, this person gave curt, impersonal service. I saw the library director, lurking in his office, oblivious to the poor service around him. I was overcome with anger, then with pride. Every single one of the people who works at the Douglas Public Library District is smarter, more alert, more alive, than any of the people working in that library. While all of the other libraries I visited were certainly better than that first one, I'd happily place our staff against any of theirs, any day, any time.

6) Time doesn't matter much when you don't wear a watch. You wake up when you wake up. You go to sleep when you're tired. You eat when you're hungry. At this writing, I don't even know what day of the month it is, and I'm a little uncertain about the hour. But I suspect that a library column is due.

Here's hoping that this one provides at least some shadow of the diversion my vacation provided me ...

Wednesday, October 18, 1995

October 18, 1995 - fort collins and ya

Recently I was asked to stop by the Fort Collins Public Library to help evaluate a federal grant. The purpose of this grant was to highlight Young Adult (YA) services at a new "mini-library" that opened up a couple of months ago.

I spent a day talking with staff at the little store front branch, with the project team that wrote and administered the grant, with a couple of teenage girls (sophomores in high school) who served as a sort of focus group for the project, and finally, with the library director and her Board President.

It was fascinating. In Fort Collins, just as in Douglas County, a lot of children -- even children who used to be big readers -- fall away from the library once they get to be about 12 years old.

To turn that around, the Fort Collins Public Library took about $25,000 of federal money and tried to build some resources that would pull in the YA audience (usually defined as people between the ages of 12 and 18.)

For a little over $6,000, the library bought roughly 3,000 paperback books. It reminded me of the opening of our own Highlands Ranch Library, which was also heavily stocked with paperbacks (and also located in a storefront). It may not be a coincidence that Highlands Ranch soon became, on a square foot basis, the busiest library we've got.

Next, the Fort Collins mini-branch bought some audio and video tapes. Finally, for another $6,000, the library bought two PCs, one to serve as a public terminal, and one to run the CD-ROM program called SIRS. SIRS is a collection of clippings on popular topics for junior and senior high school research papers. (We have it in paper at Castle Rock, and the CD-ROM version at Oakes Mill.)

As a class of people, young adults have a sort of nebulous status in our society. But in the process of talking about the project, writing the grant, then trying to live up to it, the Fort Collins Public Library staff learned to pay closer attention to this often invisible but nonetheless important segment of the library community -- the Lost Ones.

Based on preliminary surveys and follow up interviews, Fort Collins young adults, well, don't like to be stereotyped. Their interests can be no more accurately predicted than the reading interests of older adults. While they appreciated the effort to collect the usual YA bestsellers -- a lot of relatively tame horror stories -- by the age of 13, most teenagers weren't all that interested in that stuff anymore.

In fact, they weren't much interested in recreational reading period. They just didn't have the time. These were kids with Day- Timers. They viewed the library much as adults view a grocery store -- a place that you go to do what needs to be done. Adults go to grocery stores to buy food. Young adults go to libraries to do school assignments.

The young women I spoke with were mildly interested in having a comfortable and segregated section to hang out in the library, but mostly they wanted what all the other workers want: tools useful to their tasks.

I asked these young women if the library had met their expectations. Both of them assured me quickly (and with rare politeness) that the library had indeed. They liked the brightness of the place, the friendliness of the staff, and their unusual willingness to seek out the opinion of real young people.

They added, "But we never expected that much."

And there's the cautionary tale for the modern librarian. It may be that we are sometimes led astray in our effort to woo back our Lost Ones, to persuade them to love our wares, our classics, our Best Books, as fiercely as we do.

Maybe we just need to give them the materials they need to do their jobs -- and so establish an expectation that the library knows how to do that.

On the other hand, it still strikes me as sad. Even our brightest young people have trouble finding the time to laze about and know the comfy pleasure of a good yarn, slowly unspun.

Wednesday, October 4, 1995

October 4, 1995 - libraries are anti-family

I subscribe to Citizen, a magazine produced by Focus on the Family, a Christian ministry and political advocacy group in Colorado Springs. The cover article of the latest issue (Volume 9, Number 9, also available at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock) was entitled, "What Lurks in the Library?" The subtitle: "The American Library Association believes children should have access to all material, no matter how violent or obscene."

The thesis of the article is pretty straightforward: public libraries are "anti-family."

But it turns out that there's some good news, too, at least according to the article's author. In Loudon County, Virginia, the chairman of the library board persuaded his colleagues to drop an American Library Association policy. This policy, called "the Library Bill of Rights," states that the public library should strive to make available "the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox or unpopular with the majority."

The author appends this interesting statement: "The board also stripped the so-called 'anti-censorship' provisions of LBR [the Library Bill of Rights]."

I do not consider this good news. In fact, I consider this dangerous not only for libraries, but for families.

Why is the library "no longer" family friendly? (The article doesn't say when it used to be, or when that changed, or even what "family friendly" means.)

The issue seems to be that some libraries actually carry R-rated movies, and that these libraries don't automatically refuse to check the videos out to children. The unquestioned assumption, of course, is that children are eager to check them out, and do. For the record, this flatly contradicts my experience.

But since Focus on the Family has many dedicated readers and listeners, I'd like to lay my cards on the table.

First, I believe the public library is among the most "family friendly" institutions in the nation. In Douglas County, we offer public buildings that are physically attractive, determinedly welcoming, and open 68 hours a week. We have lavished our attention on acquiring a rich collection of picture books for pre-schoolers, contemporary and classic fiction for young people and adults, a broad spectrum of non-fiction for students of all ages, popular videos and audio tapes, and a good representation of general interest periodicals. We sponsor programs aimed at young people, middle aged people, and old people. We sponsor school visits. We provide public meeting space at no cost.

It is significant that over 70% of the residents of Douglas County have, and have used in the past year, a library card.

Thanks to the Friends of the Library, one of our libraries even has a changing table. Speaking as the father of a 19 month old child, it doesn't get any more family friendly than that.

Think about it: how many places can you take all of your family, for free, spend hours of time, have all the people in your family find something that suits them, and then get to take it all home?

Second, yes, we do have a few R-rated videos -- those videos that have received or been nominated for an Academy Award. Such items are the focal points of many articles, essays, and books. They deserve inclusion in a public library.

On the other hand, these items constitute a tiny fraction of our holdings. We have far more Focus on the Family publications, for instance, than R-rated movies.

Third, no, we don't examine each item at the point of check out to determine whether or not it's appropriate for the patron. It is our experience that our patrons have a pretty good idea why they want the material they do. We respect that, and do not feel it is our place (as a governmental entity) to tell them that they can't have it. That's the job of the parent, and based on my observations, "family values" get communicated pretty quickly to children. Most of the time, children live by them. If they stray, it's not because the library has seduced them.

So consider this the Douglas Public Library District's official response to the Focus on the Family allegation that we're anti-family. We believe that knowledge is better than ignorance. We believe that literacy is better than illiteracy. We believe that parents, not government employees, should decide what's appropriate for children to borrow from the public library.

And I respectfully submit that the way to determine the value of a public library is to examine it to see if you can find materials you agree with -- not just materials that you don't.

Wednesday, September 27, 1995

September 27, 1995 - one world government

I've been nursing an idea lately. In fact, I'm writing a book about it. It concerns the intriguing parallels between the dawn of printing and the establishment of the World Wide Web.

My idea begins with the fact that the invention of printing (in the European culture) had three results.

The first was the rapid spread of literacy. Staggering numbers of people learned to read and write, mostly so they could read the Bible.

The second was the Protestant Reformation. Because of increasing literacy and the proliferation of Bibles, people were no longer solely dependent upon the Catholic priesthood to interpret the Word.

The third result of the discovery of movable type was a reflexive action on the part of the Catholic Church, an ultimately fruitless effort to suppress a basic challenge to its considerable political power. We know it today as ... the Inquisition.

In modern times, we again see a surge in literacy. This time, however, the medium is an international computer network. Suddenly, Americans find themselves able to converse easily with people who live in distant countries. Suddenly, world events are no longer filtered through the TV and newspapers. It's direct contact.

I have begun to suspect that this ease of planet-wide communication constitutes as profound a challenge to nationalism as printing was to the Catholic Church of the late 1400s.

Here's my concern: Can the Inquisition be far behind?

It could be that this is an extreme notion. I hope so. But elsewhere in the world, physical torture of political dissidents is routine. Could it happen here?

This idea of mine does explain why we have begun to see a sharp rise in political rhetoric about "patriotism" and "national pride." This just might be an attempt to define a kind of heresy.

That heresy even has a name: "One World Government."

If you like conspiracy theories (and you'd be surprised how many people do), there are oodles to choose from.

For some folks, the masterminds of the New World Order are the Tri-Lateral Commission. To the born-again Nazis of Europe (and their skinhead American counterparts), it is, once more, Jewish bankers. To the failed Communists of the U.S.S.R. and their nervous cohorts in mainland China, it's a conspiracy of capitalists.

To certain members of the extreme right, the United Nations is behind it all, and even now positions its mysterious black helicopters to seize control of the United States. (This is the same United Nations, incidentally, that had so much trouble recently in tiny Bosnia. It makes you wonder how well they'd do in a country that stretches from one ocean to another.)

If you'd like to hear a different perspective ... on Wednesday, September 27, at 7 a.m., the Castle Rock Rotary Club will sponsor a talk by noted scholar Ved P. Nanda. (The club meets in the banquet room at the Village Inn, just off I-25 exit 182.) His subject is "The United States and the United Nations."

Professor Nanda is the Director of the International Legal Studies Program at the University of Denver College of Law. You may have read his carefully crafted, thoughtful analyses of world goings-on in the Denver Post. His credentials are far too extensive to list here, but suffice it to say that he knows whereof he speaks.

This event costs $10. Of that sum, $6 buys you a breakfast buffet. The rest goes to the Rotary, which sponsors, among other things, local vaccinations, highway clean-up, a Read To Me program in county schools, and an international exchange program for students.

To reserve a space, or for more information, contact Dave Watts, Rotary President, at 688-2401.

Saturday, September 9, 1995

August 9, 1995 - hacker story

The system was running slow. Anybody who has worked with a computer system knows that happens sometimes. I was watching it, but wasn't especially worried.

Then, on July 17, I got an e-mail message from the system administrator of the Royal Military College in Canada. He wrote that he had received some "unwanted attentions" from somebody calling in through the Internet, originating from OUR computer. He told me the accounts that this person had tried to log into -- all old accounts that our system software didn't use anymore. But I checked to make sure, and did find one old account that I removed.

On July 19, I got another call, this one from the Weber College in New York State. Same thing -- somebody tried to break into their library computer from ours.

This time, I called our Ameritech Library Services technical support staff in Provo, Utah. We both started looking at our computer on a random basis, every day. Nothing showed up.

On July 24, I got a phone call from a friend, someone running another library computer system, this one right here in Colorado. Excited, he announced that he'd just tossed somebody off his system, someone who was prowling around with "superuser" privileges (accounts which give you access to every system file, and the ability to add, revise, or delete virtually anything). My friend said he'd seen this person -- who was using an account called "hume" -- flee back to my system.

Immediately I logged in, and there he was -- an account called "kant." At this point, I unplugged our connection to the Internet. "kant" disappeared.

We stayed off the Internet for about five days to assess the damage. We found some 40 megabytes of data on our system in the "kant" account. We learned that kant tended to use our system most in the wee hours -- from 1-4. We learned that he had connected to our computer from a terminal server at the University of California-Irvine.

The contents of his directory were eye-opening. He had programs that sniffed out system passwords (to allow him access to the system). He had programs that when he logged off, went around and erased the obvious signs of his presence. He also had huge text files that spelled out in clear, beautifully organized prose, how to "crack" almost any kind of computer system. It was a complete hacker curriculum.
After five days of work with our Provo people, we re-opened our Internet connection. We had left a lot of kant's files alone -- which we were still examining -- but thought we had plugged the obvious holes.

On Monday, July 31, 10:30 p.m., I dialed into our computer to check it just before I went to bed. He was back.

The next three hours were a little frantic. From my home, I logged kant off the system, then hurriedly looked around the system to see what he'd done this time. Almost immediately, he logged back in, under another account name, but again with superuser privileges. I threw him off again. Then he came back on as kant. I threw him off. Then I got thrown off.

Then I logged back in and this time got a message from -- one of our people in Provo. "Why are you throwing me off?" he asked.

Cautiously, we tested each other. "What's my extension?" he asked. I told him. "Who's my team leader?" I asked. He told me. I started to apologize for over-reacting, when kant came back on again. He even had the effrontery to try to strike up a side-conversation with my system support person!

Finally, our Ameritech associate shut off the Internet access through software. And over the past week, we've taken a hard look at EVERYTHING.

We've erased kant's files (then up to 61 megabytes) -- and uncovered a few other tricks that gave him access to our machine.

Every single password has been changed. We've installed a variety of operating system patches to plug some little-known bugs that can be exploited.

Here's the good news: the hacker COULD have wiped out every single file we've got. He didn't. As near as we can figure, he (and it could well be a she -- I just THINK of kant as a he) was just appropriating our $100,000 computer as his personal toy, apparently setting it up as a hacker-friendly waystation on the cracker network. He wasn't interested in any of our data (other than passwords).

Here's the bad news: although we'll be back up on the Internet by the time you read this, and although we think we have vastly improved our computer security, we've also learned that absolute system security isn't possible.

Computers are like houses -- you can make them difficult and inconvenient to break into, but there's always a way around it.

Next week: hacking and the law.

Wednesday, September 6, 1995

September 6, 1995 - why circ isn't the whole story

As an honest librarian, it's important for me to know how well (or how poorly) the library is doing. As an honest library user and taxpayer, it's important for you to know, too.

The most commonly used measure of library service is circulation -- how many items get checked out in a year. In that number, most libraries also include renewals (the same person extends the loan on an item for another three weeks).

Generally speaking, the idea is that if people are checking out MORE books than last year, the library is better. If the library is checking out fewer books, then it's getting worse.

While some fluctuations from year to year are to be expected, circulation figures are in fact fairly reliable yardsticks for library performance. A drastic increase in library circulation usually does mean the library is getting better. A drastic decline usually means that it's lost funding, or lost the knack of matching up the things patrons want with the things the library is offering, or both.

It happens that over the past five years, library use in Douglas County has increased by almost 400%. From this year to last, things have slowed down tremendously -- largely because of the deliberate change of our loan periods from 2 weeks to 3 weeks. But even with that change, overall library circulation continues to rise.

Rather than just measuring the number of checkouts, however, a better measure is to calculate circulation per capita. By this measure, the Douglas Public Library District does very well indeed -- we're second in the state, just after Boulder Public Library.

Yet another measure is the "fill rate," usually determined through a survey. This is what we're after when we hand you a survey that asks if you actually found what you came in for, or had to settle for something else.

Another traditional measure is reference services, calculated as the total number of questions the library receives and tries to answer.

By this measure, the Douglas Public Library District is still among the lesser-used public libraries in the state. It happens that my wife and I use the reference services fairly frequently -- to track down population figures, article citations, things we read in the paper that seem to us unclear or unsubstantiated, used car prices, the relative safety of infant car seats, and much, much more.

Long before the Internet, the public has had access to a staggering amount of information through the relatively old- fashioned but utterly reliable technology of a phone and a reference librarian. The number is 688-8721. Try it.

Yet another measure of library services is programming. I'm not talking about computers, here, but about story times, public lectures, and other public meetings. Here again, the Douglas Public Library District does very well, offering more children's programming on a weekly basis than many libraries offer in a month.

There are many other measures as well. How many books get used within the library, but not checked out? Are the buildings and grounds well-maintained? Do the staff speak well OF EACH OTHER?

Among the more intriguing measures of library performance is revealed by the question: What percentage of the budget goes to new materials and to staff?

The "industry standards" for this are usually 10-12% for materials, and 65-70% for staff. As a relatively young library district, we have spent between 12-14% for materials, and a little over 50% for staff -- the rest of our money has been banked for capital improvements. As time goes on, and the district matures, however, we too will have to transfer a greater percentage of this money to the people who provide all our services.

But finally, the measure that matters is the intangible measure of "reputation," both within and without the library. Perhaps the single most important factor here is simple responsiveness.

When you walk through the library's door, how long does it take to get a smile and a greeting? When you ask for a book, or have a problem, does the staff find a way to say "yes!" -- or do they give you lists of reasons why they can't provide a particular service?

The public library, like any public institution, is healthy only so long as it remains focused on its job, and stays close to the people it serves. And while I may believe that the value of the public library is immeasurable -- its performance MUST be measured if we are to know its ultimate worth.

Wednesday, August 30, 1995

August 30, 1995 - zap

Things are hopping in the area of Interlibrary Loan (abbreviated by librarians as "ILL").

Ideally, public libraries have just the book (or article, or tape) that you're looking for. Sometimes, of course, we don't. On those occasions, we have developed various procedures to try to find another library that does, and would be willing to lend it to our patrons.

Nearly every public (and academic) library in America is part of this network. Most of the time, ILL is free to the patron -- although sometimes a library will charge a small shipping fee.

But until recently, much of this process to locate another library that owns the book, that has it on the shelf, and can send it swiftly has required a lot of tedious paperwork.

That's about to change.

Were very pleased to announce our participation in a program called ZAP. In essence, ZAP is a patron-directed interlibrary loan request system. It works like this.

You've looked in our computer catalog and can't find what you were looking for.

Then you go to our Other libraries menu. From there you search the catalogs of a few metro areas you don't mind driving to -- the Arapahoe Library District, or Aurora, or Denver, for instance.

But let's say either that you don't want to drive up for the item, or you weren't fortunate enough to locate it.

In that case, you choose the ZAP option, also located on our Other Libraries screen. Immediately, you'll get a screen that tells you how to connect: touch the "C" key, press Enter, and when you see a login: prompt, type "dpld" (without the quotes, but in lower case letters) then press Enter again.

Now you'll be prompted for your Douglas Public Library District card number. Here's a little secret. You don't have to type in the whole thing, just the significant digits -- the numbers appearing after "2 3025 000."

Now the ZAP computer will see if it has a record for you. If you haven't used the system before, ZAP will prompt you through a series of questions: your name, address, phone numbers, which library you want to have things sent to, and so on. At the end, you'll get a chance to review this data. YOU ONLY HAVE TO DO THIS ONCE -- the next time you type in your library card, the system will just quickly display your information, and ask if it's still correct.

But what happens next?

Now you get a menu that's about as straightforward as these things get. You can do one of three things:

* Request an Item (and be prompted to fill out another form, with as much information as you may have about a topic).

* Examine some Frequently Asked Questions about ILL services.

* Type X to exit the program (come back to the DPLD screens).

After you fill out your request, it will be routed through the Internet to Patty Mathisen, our Interlibrary Loan Assistant. She in turn, will route it to other libraries, through various other electronic means.

So what's the advantage of all this to you? If you still want to fill out little blue forms, you can. But for those of you who dial in to the computer from home, this means you'll have access to Interlibrary Loan 24 hours a day.

About a year ago, I did a survey about trends in public library services. ZAP is a perfect match for one of them: the trend of self-service. Some people -- although not ALL people -- prefer to do for themselves. With ZAP, they can.

Give it a try, and let us know how if it's a good fit for the way YOU would like to use the library.

Wednesday, August 23, 1995

August 23, 1995 - staff day

This Friday, August 25, 1995, we'll be holding our third Staff Day. All Douglas Public Library District libraries will be closed. As in our first Staff Day, the time will be devoted to training workshops, presentations by other librarians in the state, and planning exercises.

Why a Staff Day? In brief, the library is closed just 10 days each year, and with four, full-service, seven-day-a-week libraries, the one-of-a-kind Louviers, and three "satellite libraries" in Douglas County elementary schools (Cherry Valley, Larkspur, and Roxborough) it takes something special to try to keep our roughly 100 employees in touch with each other.

At our first Staff Day, in 1992, we asked our employees to tell us their over-riding concerns for the future. What did the district really need to be working on? What would most directly effect their ability to serve the public well?

They told us: they wanted computer training. At that time, we were facing a local software update, and about to come on-line with ACLIN (the Access Colorado Library and Information Network). Since then, we've had THREE software upgrades, seen the addition of many new libraries and services on ACLIN, and (as anyone knows who reads this column) have experienced some recent, uh, challenges regarding the Internet.

In short, the training was a very smart idea, and thanks to a lot of hard work by our Circulation Supervisors and Missy Shock (the district's full-time Computer Trainer), virtually everyone on our staff is a lot more sophisticated about the wonderful world of automation.

Of course, the problem with computer training is that you're never done. About the time you've just about got something figured out, it gets "improved" into a whole new set of bugs.

But here's another nice thing about having a trainer around. Since Missy has created all these great training materials, why not share them with another group that has expressed a desire for additional training? Why not pass them on to the public?

Accordingly, we've scheduled some PATRON training sessions at our branches over the next several months. We are asking people to sign up for them in advance so we can guarantee some quality, "hands-on" training. If these sessions, called "Byte Back," are successful, we'll do more of them.

Here's the schedule (and note that we've scheduled them at various time of the day to allow for today's flexible work scheduling):

Philip S. Miller Library, August 30, 7-8 p.m.,, call 688-5157.

Parker Library, September 14, 1-2 p.m., call 841-3503.

Highlands Ranch, October 7, 9-10 a.m., call 791-7703

Oakes Mill, November 6, 7-8 p.m., call 799-4446.

So if you've always wanted to tickle some of the secrets out of our terminals, if you've always suspected that you're not searching for things as efficiently as you might, or if you just what to see what kind of training documentation we use in the district, I invite you to give us a call.

Not on Friday, though. We'll be open again for business on Saturday.

Wednesday, August 16, 1995

August 16, 1995 - hackers and the law

After the Douglas Public Library District computer got "hacked" (see last week's column for details) I reported the incident to the local County Sheriff's Department. Together, an officer and I reviewed the Colorado Computer Crimes law.

To my astonishment, I discovered that no crime had been committed, or at least none that could be prosecuted.

Remember that we traced our hacker back to California. Until an organization or person suffers in excess of $1,500 in real property damages, breaking into a computer system is a misdemeanor in Colorado. Misdemeanors can't be prosecuted across state lines.

Imagine that somebody steps into your house through an open window. They find your housekeys, make copies of them, toss some of their stuff in one of your closets, then walk out the front door. What have you lost, exactly?

Nothing but your peace of mind.

So I've concentrated on the computer equivalent of cleaning my closets, securing the windows, and changing the locks.

I've also been doing some reading. Computer crime is on the rise. According to some surveys, hacking has increased by 77% between 1993 and 1994. Not only that, it is estimated that most hackers have only a 3% chance of getting caught.

Why do so many hackers get away with it? There are two explanations.

The first is the sheer volume of Internet traffic. Guy Cook, CEO of Colorado SuperNet, Inc., said in a recent interview with the "Denver Business Journal" that it wouldn't be difficult for a particular computer scam -- even something like fencing stolen goods -- "to slip through unnoticed among the libraries of information and the more than 1 million e-mail messages that move through [SuperNet] each month."

The second explanation is the lack of crime-fighting resources. Although there have been several high-profile successes, even the FBI (whom I also called about our hack-in) has trouble ramping up to deal with "virtual" criminals. Hackers may be operating out of the terminal in the room next to you, or a cellular phone and laptop in Washington State. A problem like that requires enormous technical expertise and available staff -- both of which are expensive.
Things may be changing. The FBI is toughening its stance. Clinton's staff is working on a federal computer crime bill. And people are going to jail for hacking, some for as long as 55 years for a single incident.

But according to computer security expert, Terence McManus (in a February, 1995 piece in the journal "Asian Business [Hong Kong])," "The only way of protecting a computer system is not to link it to the outside world at all."

Well, for a day or two, I thought about it. Why not pull the Internet plug? Would it be so bad if we could only look up stuff in our own catalog?

But both our patrons and our staff find it a great convenience to browse through the library catalogs of our neighbors. Many times, we are able to quickly locate information that simply isn't readily available any other way. And as the Internet begins to carry even more content, our connection to it will be even more important to the library's daily operations.

We can't go back.

What can YOU learn from our experience?

Mainly, be prepared. The literature suggests that hackers usually break into systems in one of the following ways:

(1) impersonating an authorized employee or vendor agent to get information or physical access. Don't be too friendly over the phone. Ask for a phone number, a full name. Then check the number and call them back. In person, ask for ID, and check it with your vendor.

(2) taking advantage of the defaults shipped with the system and its software. This was our weak spot. Change your passwords regularly, and get rid of any accounts you don't use. A special security audit isn't a bad idea, either.

(3) convincing system hot line support personnel to give out critical information or make system changes -- such as resetting a user's password. Make sure your vendors know who is authorized to deal with them.

All of this may seem like a lot of trouble. That's because it is. Once you open Pandora's box, there's no getting it closed again.

Still, there is Hope. Despite our troubles, our computer connection has demonstrated its value to us. As a result of the break-in, we're a little savvier about system security and the Internet generally. With diligence and luck, we should be able not only to ensure the integrity of our data, but also to offer solid, useful, new services to our patrons.

And that's what it's all about.

Wednesday, August 2, 1995

August 2, 1995 - school media centers

[Carol Paul, the Douglas County School's District Media Services Coordinator, had some things to say about my last couple of columns about school and public libraries. I'm pleased to share her thoughts with you. Please see my comments at the end.]

I read with interest my colleague Jamie LaRue's columns of July 19 and 25, 1995, regarding the struggle to maintain school library media centers. It is very true and unfortunate that with the overall underfunding of education in this country, that some school library media centers are understaffed, underfunded, and on occasion, closing. This is occurring, to a greater extent, outside of Colorado. I want to emphatically state, however, that this is not occurring in the Douglas County School system.

In fact, the Douglas County School System views the school library media center (LMC) as the hub of the school. We will be opening three new elementary schools in August which will boast state of the art LMCs including library automation and excellent print and nonprint collections. Fully 39% of the opening school budgets have been allocated to the library media and technology programs. In addition, the designs for our two new high schools and middle school also feature cutting-edge library media facilities.

Not only does the school district invest in new facilities, it also makes ongoing investments in our existing schools LMCs. An average of 20% of a schools' annual budget is spent on supporting our library media programs. Each secondary LMC is staffed by a certified teacher who also holds a Master's in Library Science, as well as a support staff. Each elementary LMC is staffed by 1-2 very capable paraprofessionals, many of whom are educated as teachers.

Although I agree with Jamie's philosophy that "professionalism" is measured by one's enthusiasm and commitment to one's profession, preparation through education and training is also important. We have a significant ongoing training program providing 7 full days of training per year.

In addition to school LMCs, we also have the District Media Center (DMC) which is housed in the Cantril Building in Castle Rock. The DMC includes a collection of computer software, books, kits, manipulatives, novel sets, realia, music, CD-ROMs, laserdiscs, production equipment, and over 3000 videos. We not only serve our schools, but our 3 charter schools, and the 150 registered homeschooling families in our district.
Technology in LMCs has also been a significant focus since 1989, when we automated our first school LMC. We are currently completing our library automation project and will be merging all our databases into a realtime access Union Catalog. This will allow us to search one another's databases and facilitate resource sharing, just like the public library's system. Naturally, this project represents a considerable investment on the part of the school district to the continued success of LMCs.

I concur with Jamie in regard to all of us being in the business of "supporting formal education." We strive to inculcate the love of lifelong learning in our students. We teach them how to use all types of information centers. We hope they make frequent visits to the public library. That is why we have allowed the public library to establish three satellite branches at Larkspur, Roxborough and Cherry Valley Elementaries. We strongly believe in cooperation.

However, there is a distinction between and a need for both public libraries and school LMCs. In Douglas County, we are fortunate to have excellent programs in both arenas.

[I have two comments. First, I was glad that Carol mentioned the satellite libraries -- a truly innovative, cooperative venture based on the notion that shared facilities can stretch taxpayer dollars. Together, we wrote the grant for the necessary equipment; together, we pool resources to swiftly deliver materials to our patrons; together, we manage to provide an unusually high level of service to teachers, students, and the community at large. We have even cooperated on payroll for satellite staff. (This year, the public library has picked up that cost.)

Second, as I wrote in my last column, "Lively, intelligently managed, well-stocked school libraries make for enthusiastic young public library patrons." Thanks to Carol, the librarians who work with her, and a supportive school district, I'm delighted to report that that's just what we've got.

But the fact remains that for the rest of the state, particularly outside the metro area, things aren't so rosy. - LaRue]

Wednesday, July 26, 1995

July 26, 1995 - library role in public education

Last week I wrote about the crisis in Colorado's school libraries. Since then, I've talked to several other public librarians about just what this means to US. I've spent a lot of time thinking about it.

I'll be frank: my job as a public library director is much easier if my school colleagues are doing well. They can collect materials that directly support the public school curriculum far more easily than I can -- if only because they're in closer daily proximity to the students and teachers. This frees up the public library to buy a broader range of supporting materials.

Children who are surrounded by a rich environment of print, including a wide range of recreational reading materials, not only tend to learn to read more easily, but they are also more likely to continue to read, for pleasure, all the rest of their lives. Lively, intelligently managed, well-stocked school libraries make for enthusiastic young public library patrons, just as they make for better students.

Nonetheless, I can point to several trends pushing the public library into more of a distinctly educational role.

1) The crisis in school libraries. When one public institution is under attack, the demand tends to get shifted to another. The funding doesn't.

2) Year-round schooling. It used to be that some books got used just once or twice a year. Now they go out three or four times, solely because the classes are staggered. When we see increased use in an area -- we buy more books to put there.

3) Home schooling. Parents and children are turning to the public library for direct curricular support -- of more than one curriculum. Generally speaking (and unfortunately, in my opinion), public school systems tend to adopt just one educational philosophy or approach at a time. Public libraries provide information about all of them, including Christian education, which public schools really can't do.

4) Changing expectations of public education generally. We've seen it right here in Douglas County. Charter schools have been a significant and innovative force, pushing the ideas of a core knowledge curriculum and school uniforms -- ideas that some three years later have been dressed up and repackaged for general consumption as "content standards" and "student behavior codes." The trends of Whole Language Learning and hard curricular focus are merging, both of which require strong libraries. None of our charter schools HAS a school library.

5) Changing expectations of the public library. A national Gallup poll, conducted several years ago, showed that the number one role picked by most citizens for the public library was "support for formal education." Meanwhile, most public librarians were thinking that our roles were "popular materials center" (bestsellers, audio tapes, videos, etc.) and "pre-schoolers door to learning" (children's books and programming). More recently, a lot of people are asking us about our Internet connections -- indicating an increasing emphasis on our role as information providers in the electronic age.

So what does this all mean?

(a) Most people just don't grasp the distinction between school and public libraries?

(b) In a time when there's so much educational ferment, in a time when most adults change not just jobs but CAREERS three times in their life, in a time when information technology appears to be a key element in the reshaping of our society, the public library is beginning to look like a logical place to retool?

(c) Public librarians are going to have to rethink their jobs?

Wednesday, July 19, 1995

July 19, 1995 - crisis in school library media centers

I am turning into such a wimp. A hairline crack in one of my molars -- exciting exquisite sensations whenever I chewed -- sent me cringing to the dentist. He told me I needed a crown.

The lingering memory here, for me, came at the end of the process. After torturing my little tooth nubbin to the extreme pitch of receptivity, they banged on the replacement tooth, in which was cradled a puddle of fast-drying cement.

The scientific explanation for the incredible "zing" this gave me is that the exposed raw nerve of the tooth sends a flood of fluoride when the cement hits it. My dentist believes this is good for what's left of the tooth.

I have another opinion.

But the point of this column is not to complain about my dental woes and increasing wussiness in the dentist's chair. (Well, okay, it's not the ONLY point.)

But I've been very mindful of this tooth through a variety of meetings lately. One of those meetings was with some 20 other librarians from around the state. We've been working for the past year on a Long Range Plan for the libraries of the state of Colorado. It was our hope to get some kind of fix on where things would or could be by the year 2001.

In many respects, the future for Colorado libraries looks very exciting. The Colorado Library Card and the Access Colorado Library and Information Network are just two programs from the recent past that have greatly extended the ability of libraries to serve the citizens of the state.

Already announced is the "Colorado Home Page" -- a World Wide Web screen that points to even greater possibilities of statewide electronic library services.

But most library technology focuses on questions of access. An electronic connection to a library catalog lets you see what that library owns, even if it's far away and the library is closed.

Slowly surfacing in our planning group's consciousness -- like the rising awareness of an extremely sore tooth -- was our realization that if there's no product at the end -- no library RESOURCES -- then access to the catalog doesn't matter.

Here's what brought the point home: based on repeated testimony, Colorado's school library media centers are in big trouble.

Here's the pattern: first, those schools fortunate enough to have school librarians (people with extensive training in libraries and media services) are losing them. When these positions become vacant, they are filled by former volunteers, often with little training, and usually paid close to minimum wages.

Even so, many of these librarians continue to provide exemplary service. While I don't mean to trivialize the importance of education, true "professionalism" is a quality of individuals, not of credentials. Most of the media services librarians I've met are professionals. There just aren't enough of them, and they deserve better pay.

The next, and more serious, pattern is that in the wake of "site- based management," a school media center is only as strong as the support of the school principal. According to the testimony of many school librarians in Colorado, school media centers are being shut down throughout the state, just closing operations. Maybe a few books are still there -- but no new ones. There's no librarian at all.

I have written before about a statewide study of a couple years ago, demonstrating conclusively that the greatest single predictor of student academic success is the presence of a strong school library in each building. Despite this widely disseminated study, the public education community across the state has allowed its school library media centers to deteriorate, and in many locations throughout Colorado, to disappear.

The State Librarian, and a host of library leaders around the state, think that the single most important message of our Long Range Plan is this: Colorado has a crisis in its school library media centers.

Like a cracked tooth, it needs some attention. Now.

Wednesday, July 12, 1995

July 12, 1995 - student answers to tests

While "surfing the Internet" last night, I ran across this compilation of student test answers, submitted to science and health teachers by junior high, high school, and college students around the world. It was posted to "alt.best.of.internet" by Bob Musat, from a community college in Ohio, and it's too good not to share.

"When you breath, you inspire. When you do not breath, you expire."

"H2O is hot water, and CO2 is cold water"

"To collect fumes of sulphur, hold a deacon over a flame in a test tube"

"When you smell an oderless gas, it is probably carbon monoxide"

"Nitrogen is not found in Ireland because it is not found in a free state"

"Water is composed of two gins, Oxygin and Hydrogin. Oxygin is pure gin. Hydrogin is gin and water."

"Three kinds of blood vessels are arteries, vanes and caterpillars."

"Blood flows down one leg and up the other."

"Respiration is composed of two acts, first inspiration, and then expectoration."

"The moon is a planet just like the earth, only it is even deader."

"Artifical insemination is when the farmer does it to the cow instead of the bull."

"Dew is formed on leaves when the sun shines down on them and makes them perspire."

"A super-saturated solution is one that holds more than it can hold."

"Mushrooms always grow in damp places and so they look like umbrellas."

"The body consists of three parts - the brainium, the borax and the abominable cavity. The brainium contains the brain, the borax contains the heart and lungs, and the abominable cavity contains the bowls, of which there are five - a, e, i, o, and u."

"The pistol of a flower is its only protections agenst insects."

"The alimentary canal is located in the northern part of Indiana."

"The skeleton is what is left after the insides have been taken out and the outsides have ben taken off. The purpose of the skeleton is something to hitch meat to."

"A permanent set of teeth consists of eight canines, eight cuspids, two molars, and eight cuspidors."

"The tides are a fight between the Earth and moon. All water tends towards the moon, because there is no water in the moon, and nature abhors a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins in this fight."
"A fossil is an extinct animal. The older it is, the more extinct it is."

"Many women belive that an alcoholic binge will have no ill effects on the unborn fetus, but that is a large misconception."

"Equator: A managerie lion running around the Earth through Africa."

"Germinate: To become a naturalized German."

"Liter: A nest of young puppies."

"Magnet: Something you find crawling all over a dead cat."

"Momentum: What you give a person when they are going away."

"Planet: A body of Earth surrounded by sky."

"Rhubarb: A kind of celery gone bloodshot."

"Vacumm: A large, empty space where the pope lives."

"Before giving a blood transfusion, find out if the blood is affirmative or negative."

"To remove dust from the eye, pull the eye down over the nose."

"For a nosebleed: Put the nose much lower then the body until the heart stops."

"For drowning: Climb on top of the person and move up and down to make artifical perspiration."

"For fainting: Rub the person's chest or, if a lady, rub her arm above the hand instead. Or put the head between the knees of the nearest medical doctor."

"For dog bite: put the dog away for sevral days. If he has not recovered, then kill it."

"For asphyxiation: Apply artificial respiration until the patient is dead."

"To prevent contraception: wear a condominium."

"For head cold: use an agonizer to spray the nose untill it drops in your throat."

"To keep milk from turning sour: Keep it in the cow."

OK, now suppose you're a Young Adult, and you're appalled by the seeming ignorance of some of your peers. Well, if you're between the ages of 12-17, it's still not too late to do something about it. For starters, stop by the Philip S. Miller Library and catch some of our final "Y.A.P.P" programs.

On July 18, 1:30-2:30 p.m., we'll host a program on local history -- an area in which Castle Rock young adults have already made a significant contribution.

On July 13 and 27, 1:30-2:30 p.m., we'll have a book discussion group about your best books of this summer. Free pizza will served.

Oh yes, the program has prizes, too. But you'll find out about those when you register.

Wednesday, July 5, 1995

July 5, 1997 - cybersmut

After six months of work, I've finally resolved some computer security issues. I'm ready to put out a new public tool for searching the Internet.

And - wouldn't you know it? - in the past two weeks debate has erupted across the nation about "cyber porn" - pornography available through the Internet.

Recently, in fact, Senator Exon has sponsored a "Communications Decency Act" which would make it illegal to transmit any "indecent" material across the Internet. The Senate passed this, too, by 84-16, although Newt Gingrich has since called this a clear violation of the First Amendment, and he's right.

For one thing, this is exactly like holding the phone company responsible for obscene phone calls. The problem isn't the phone system, the problem is some of the people who use it. If the phone system were to be held responsible for the content of its traffic, it would have to monitor every single conversation to make sure nobody was breaking the law.

For another, while it is certainly possible to find lascivious talk on the Internet, it won't jump out of your computer at you. You have to go looking for it. Most people don't. (A survey, cited in a recent Time cover story, claims close to a million pornographic images, messages, and short stories are out there - although use of such content accounts for less than a third of one percent of all Internet activity.)

For many people, the question is "how do we prevent the exposure of dubious material to children?" If we can't do it through legal means, can we do it through technology - somehow automatically block the availability of racier content? Right now, the answer is no.

So what's left? - as always, involved parents. We need to pay attention to what our children are doing. We need to communicate our values to their offspring, and the need for sensible precautions. Just as we remind our children not to give their names to people who call them on the telephone, or get into cars with strangers, we need to tell them to stay away from some kinds of electronic places, and not to respond to e-mail from people they don't know. The answer is not to outlaw telephones, automobiles, or computer networks.

Does Internet access belong in a public library at all? Library staff have been talking about this for some time now. On occasion, we have found our connection to be indispensable, particularly for connecting to other library catalogs or for tracking down some kinds of government information.

There are disadvantages, too. The Internet is sometimes stupefyingly slow. At certain "peak" times of the day, connections don't go through at all.

At present, our Internet connection is text-based only. That is, it won't display pictures, just words. Right now, that's okay by me. A "dumb terminal" is cheaper and far faster than a graphic workstation. Too, this may help to allay parents' fears about pornography on the Internet. While children might indeed saunter over to look at an image left displayed on a public terminal, they're far less likely to stand by a terminal and read multiple screens describing the same thing.

What is most troubling to librarians is that there's so little quality control on the Internet. While some of it is spectacularly good, the Internet is just so vast that it's impossible in advance to know how good a particular source may be. Fortunately, that's starting to change, as a few reputable sources are establishing themselves in the new environment - many of them, libraries.

I've concluded that the provision of Internet access is fast approaching a basic expectation for public library service. But with this new service will have to come a public understanding that, much like the variety of printed materials, much like the world itself, the Internet is a mixed bag. It won't all be - it can't all be - appropriate for elementary school students.

Wednesday, June 21, 1995

June 28, 1995 - castle rock centennial quilt

[Author's note: I write this column, but I don't get to write the headlines. I don't know who DOES write the headlines, frankly, although whoever it is does a great job. But this time, just this once, I'm hoping that my suggestion (I sometimes do turn in suggestions) will be picked up.

My headline: "Castle Rock Quilters Keep History in Stitches."]

Over the past several years, I've begun to develop a feel for history. It's come slowly.

Part of the reason may be the way history is taught, or at least the way it was taught to me. Everything was so distant, so objective, so monotone and matter of fact.

Or maybe the problem was more personal. Maybe I was just incapable of empathizing with people who died before I was born. After all, what could we possibly have in common?

I have since learned that there's more to history than I thought. For one thing, history is a lot closer to me than I expected. Last week, a month ago, a year ago, a score of years ago -- these are now periods of time within my memory, close at hand. The older I get, the more my sense of time collapses.

For another thing, one day I realized that when I listen to or read what other people think about events I lived through, I often disagree with them.

And that's when I realized that history is the collection of INDIVIDUAL interpretations of past events. As such, it is no more sacred than is any other exchange with people.

In other worlds, history is equal parts faulty recollection and unfounded bias -- AND reflections of the tellers' unique talents. Some people have a flair for characterization; some for plot. Some, alas, have no talents at all.

They're the ones who write the history books.

I have often thought that what we really need is a history book that doesn't have any words. We need a kind of tapestry -- a real, tangible demonstration of how the past felt to people, a sample of the threads of people's lives woven into the larger events, a symbolic representation of the forces that warped and woofed them together.

Well, my wish is your reality.

As of June 14, 1995, the Castle Rock 1881-1991 Centennial Quilt is on display at the Philip S. Miller Library. It's hard to miss: walk toward our circulation desk, then glance over to the left. This massive group-artpiece consists of 21 twelve-inch squares, and one larger center square.

This centerpiece, designed by Girl Scout Troop 820, depicts the Rock itself, in subtle shifts that capture all four seasons in a single profile.

And the remaining scenes? My favorites have to do with a rich, invitingly contoured Old County Courthouse -- contrasted with a jarringly crass, cold, and boxy New Courthouse. Gee, how DID people feel about that?

You'll also see many other snippets of just what life was like in the earlier days of the capital seat of Douglas County.

The quilt, formerly on display at the Town of Castle Rock offices, will be at the library for up to two years. It's worth more than a short look -- every time I spend some time with it, I catch another insight, another joke.

I don't have at hand the names of the many women whose vision and hands made this magnificent artifact. But I am deeply grateful to them.

Do stop by and see it.

Wednesday, June 14, 1995

June 14, 1995 - Philip S. Miller dies

When I was a boy, my grandfather -- a white-haired gentleman who always wore a suit and tie, even on his days off (even when he mowed the lawn) -- would take me around to the various civic offices of Findlay, Ohio, and introduce me to folks.

They always knew him. They had always worked together on one thing or another.

Granddad encouraged me to ask them questions. I enjoyed that part of it. If I didn't get all the answers the questions deserved, he took me to the library.

At the time, I thought all this stuff was alternately boring and strangely interesting. (And I was always proud to go anywhere with my Granddad).

In retrospect, I think he was trying to lay the groundwork for a life of public service -- a cross-generational lesson.

I've been thinking about these and other things since the death of Philip S. Miller last week. As I've looked over the historical record (much of it at the Douglas Public Library District) and as I've listened to his friends talk about him, I find myself thinking that I haven't met even a handful of men like Phil Miller.

The litany of one man's life is a solemn thing. Try writing your own obituary to see just how rapidly your life can be summed, and how rare it is to do great good.

It's a sobering exercise. I've never known anyone else who brought electric lights or a sewer system to a town. I've never known any other survivors of international depressions who became founders and executive directors of remarkably vital small town banks -- and stayed late to sweep the floors.

Phil Miller was INVOLVED. He was active in the Lions, the Masons, the fire department. He served on the Town Council. And as I'm sure everyone in Castle Rock knows, he donated stupendous sums of money (over $800,000) to the public libraries of Douglas County.

It happens that I had a chance to meet Mr. Miller. He was 94, and living in a nursing home.

He treated me with courtly grace, a selfless majesty. He spoke with great feeling and intelligence about the value of the public library to the community of 30 years ago.

I admired him. These days, I admire him even more.

A persistent human myth is the idea that "giants once walked among us." In every way that matters, Philip Simon Miller was just such a giant.

He worked WITH people to do good.

Behind him I can detect not a trace of acrimony or pettiness, can witness neither vainglory nor boasting. Rather, he left a legacy of hard work, selfless vision, and an abiding testimony from his many friends.

Too often in our times, our public debate is too harsh, too quick to criticize, too slow to offer the simple solution of willing human labor.

I know that for me and for others, Phil Miller is both cultural antidote and shining example.

If you're interested in discovering more about the life of a man whose life spanned one century and whose works will resound into another, you might want to visit the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, Colorado.

He would have been pleased to meet you there.

Wednesday, June 7, 1995

June 7, 1995 - public turning nasty?

Once every other month, I attend a meeting of a group called the Front Range Public Library Directors.

Sometimes we have specific agenda items. Past topics have included the changing role of the State Library, the intelligent use of federal grant monies, long range planning for Colorado libraries, and cooperative purchasing agreements.

Sometimes, we just get an inside report on what's really going on at our neighboring libraries. All of us are famous for stealing any idea that appears to be working; we try to steer clear of the ones that didn't pan out elsewhere.

The meetings also alert us to trends.

At our last meeting, one of the directors brought up a subject like this: "Is it just me, or does it seem that the public is getting a little nastier lately?"

Then the stories began. Here's one that stuck in my mind: a patron strolled into a neighboring library to use the copy machine. Apparently, he had some trouble with it -- it seems the copy wasn't quite to his standard of clarity.

Put yourself in this man's place. What would you do?

Let's hope it's not what he did: he picked up his walking stick, and smashed through the glass. Then he calmly began walking toward the door.

The director of the library happened to be there, and called the police immediately. The cane-wielding patron didn't understand why people were mad at him. After all, he said, he was a taxpayer. He'd paid for the copy machine!

Said the library director: "You paid for the police cars, too. Do you think they'd let you take one out for a drive?"

It turned out that all the directors had recent stories: some funny, some bordering on frightening. But after awhile, it did seem that this kind of stuff is picking up all over Colorado.

I do understand that everybody gets a little peeved sometimes. There are times when anger is understandable -- somebody insults you, ignores you, gives you bad and/or expensive advice, or otherwise disturbs your peace of mind.

But some folks seem to think a public institution ought to be perfect. We are not ever supposed to make any kind of mistake. We must never fail to anticipate each and every patron's needs and special circumstances. We are expected to accede immediately to any taxpayer's demands, however unreasonable.

Now please understand that here at this library we do, in fact, try very hard not to make mistakes. Moreover, many of our staff invest a great deal of time trying to figure out how to make our operations as patron-friendly and convenient as possible. After all, the reason we got into this business in the first place is because we really believe in excellent public service.

Too, I want to be clear that the vast majority of our patrons are perfectly reasonable people, who are a pleasure to serve.

But because any institution -- public or private -- is run by people, mistakes do happen sometimes. They always will. WHEN they happen, I have instructed our staff to admit it, lay out some options, and try to set things right.

But based on anecdotal evidence, it seems that sometimes, for a growing (?) number of people, that isn't enough.

I want people to understand that library staff are public servants. They are not, however, doormats.

Is there a trend toward hyper-critical responses to inevitable foul-ups in the workings of public institutions? Take a look around, and decide for yourself.

But just in case there is, the next time something goes wrong, let's strive to recall a little elementary etiquette.

None of us can be perfect. But we can try to be polite.

Wednesday, May 31, 1995

May 31, 1995 - media center programs and California

In recent months, a lot of Californians have moved to Colorado. This column is for them. And it may contain a lesson for the rest of us, too.

On June 17, 1992, I summarized in this column a comprehensive two year study, conducted in Colorado. This study conclusively demonstrated that the greatest single predictor of school test scores -- beyond all other school characteristics -- is the school media (library) program. The stronger the school library (as reflected by the size of the collection and the ratio of staff to students), the better the academic achievement of the student.

Now let's talk about the great California "Tax Revolt" -- Proposition 13, adopted by California voters in 1978.

According to a recent article by Michael Gorman in a magazine called "School Library Journal," "More than half of California's school libraries closed between 1982 and 1992; the state is dead last in the ratio of librarians to students (it would take more than 3,000 additional school librarians to move the state to 49th place); and, only 32 percent of school libraries have a certified librarian on staff (in elementary schools, 21 percent). The ratio of librarians to students is 1:6,248 (the national average is 1:722). The national average school library book budget per student is $7.47 -- in California it is 78 cents. Eighty-five percent of non-fiction titles in our school libraries are more than 10 years old. The truth is that a prison inmate in California has a much better chance of good library service than a public school student."

The effect of Prop 13 on many other institutions -- public libraries among them -- is now indisputable. To quote from a book called "California and the American Tax Revolt," published way back in 1984, "California's public libraries have weathered the financial setbacks about as well as books left in the rain."

Gorman, dean of library services at the California State University in Fresno, points up another problem: the need for "remedial reading" courses at the university, students who lack the most basic of library skills, and incoming freshman whose sole experience with computers is ... Nintendo.

Now I don't know exactly what brought folks from California to Douglas County. Certainly, the county has much to offer: great natural beauty, still largely unspoiled; homes that are far more affordable than homes in California; relatively few earthquakes; generally speaking, little crime; schools and libraries that have, I believe, good reputations.

All of these things are worthwhile. And as a transplant from out-of-state myself (I hail from Illinois), I'm not about to say Californians aren't welcome. No one is so rich that he or she can't afford a few more good neighbors.

But it's all too easy, in times abuzz with talk of "growth management," to focus on such things as roads and bridges; it's all too easy to ignore such pains in the pocket book as public education expenditures -- which includes libraries.

After all, you see the effect of a pothole right away. (Which reminds me, a big thanks to the Schmidt Construction folks, who during a brief moment of calm between snow storms, rainstorms, and sunny weather last week, managed to patch our Philip S. Miller Library parking lot.)

Potholes are obvious. But it takes a little longer to find out the hidden cost of skimping on literacy.

Maybe thanks to the California experience, Colorado won't have to.

Wednesday, May 10, 1995

May 10, 1995 - the library and the poor

There was a time -- after I got my undergraduate degree but before I figured out what to do with my life -- when I was very poor. I had struck out on my own, just inches ahead of one of the coldest winters in the midwest, for the sweet, benevolent warmth of Arizona.

I was utterly confident that I could find work. After all, I didn't think anything was beneath me, and I was willing to work hard. I was young, healthy, fearless, and completely enthusiastic about the prospect of learning a whole new city and regional lifestyle.

But it turns out that I wasn't the only midwesterner with that particular destination that year. After some 100 job applications, 26 interviews and 100 percent rejection rate, I began to panic.

The public library saved me. On the days (or evenings) when I had no money, but had to get out of my little hovel or scream, I could go sit in a cool, calm, unhurried space. I could read the newspaper (and comb through the job ads for the next round of applications). I could make (a few) calls from a public pay phone.

But even better than that, I could think about things that didn't have anything to do with my situation. I could read Japanese poetry, or French science fiction, or sample Native American mythology.

I could people-watch by the circulation desk. I could even listen to music. Once, I got to play chess.

In a city full of strangers, I had one place I could go that didn't cost a dime, where people began to know me, and where they even trusted me with treasures I could take home with me.

Eventually, things changed. But it took almost four months before I went from calculating whether I'd have enough food for the day to having the great luxury of knowing I had enough food for a whole week.

Of course, not all poor people are just starting out. Some get spit out of the gears of commerce just when they thought they were safe. Others scrape along the bottom their whole lives. Still others lose their security through disaster.

Whatever their ages, whatever the cause, these people still find their way to the library. And they are still welcome.

Beyond all the services I've already named, the Douglas Public Library District has some additional offerings. One of these is our Community Information Resource Files, accessible from any of our terminals. This is a listing -- always being updated -- of social service agencies in the county, as well as many other not-for-profit, civic, counseling, and educational agencies. More recently, we have added volunteer opportunities (type "volunteer" as a subject keyword search).

Another service is our literature stand. Often in several places in our libraries, we have locations where we stock free material from many organizations.

Yet another service is our meeting rooms. Some programs -- like Social Services' Commodities Exchange -- provide direct aid to people.

There are also many other agencies who have public meetings. Here, people can begin to find out about the area, make connections, get help -- or give it.

Whether our patrons are just passing through a bad time, or coming to grips with a permanent change, the library offers what is sometimes the hardest thing to come by: a safe haven, populated with employees whose very purpose is to provide information.

Or, sometimes, just the name of a good book.

Wednesday, May 3, 1995

May 3, OKC

It's been an odd week.

First, I got flown out to Boston (with about 50 other folks) to attend a 2 day focus group on a new electronic product -- full text periodical and reference information, delivered to your computer screen or fax. You'll be seeing it at DPLD this July.

Second, after just one night at home, I got flown to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I was a last minute substitute speaker for Dennis Day. Dennis is the City Librarian of Salt Lake City, and one of the most respected leaders in librarianship. Recently he was discovered to have an inoperable brain tumor. He is 52 years old.

Originally and ironically, Dennis had been asked by the Oklahoma Library Association to address their annual conference about a terrorist attack at his library some months ago. An armed gunman took several staff and patrons hostage. In the background, some courageous and remarkably cool-headed employees quietly whisked every child and most adults out of the building. Finally, one of the hostages -- an off-duty law enforcement professional -- subdued the terrorist. No one was injured.

My talk wasn't about anything so interesting. Thank God. But I sure heard a lot about terrorism.

One of the librarians in my session had lost three friends in the Oklahoma City bombing. Fighting back tears, she described a "torment" in her soul.

On the one hand, she said she still recognized her professional obligation to maintain full access to the wide world of print materials, even including the gun books, the mercenary magazines, and the detailed techno-thrillers that are often requested by some patrons, and therefore stocked by some libraries.

On the other hand, she said she wanted to throw on a bonfire every scrap of paper that advocated the violent destruction of human beings. She set she'd set it ablaze herself.

On my way back, I set off the Tulsa airport security alarm, even though I had emptied all my pockets, and taken off my watch. It turned out that the alarm had been set off by the steel shanks in my boots.

"That's a pretty sensitive detector," I said to the guard, who finally cleared me.

"Since Oklahoma City," he said, then stopped. "We don't want anything like that to happen here."

As I had a cup of coffee, I met another librarian, waiting for her flight to western Oklahoma. She was worried. "It was a great tragedy," she said. "But I'm concerned by the kinds of things I hear people talking about -- the influence of talk radio, the need for broader police powers, the disturbing messages of some books in some libraries. I think many -- maybe too many -- Oklahomans want to do SOMETHING so desperately that they'll trade away all their civil liberties for the illusion of safety."

Like every place else I've been, Oklahoma has some wonderful people. Most of the folks I met were wide open -- friendly, funny, warm and often wise.

But the horrifying death of over 100 neighbors and friends has hit them hard. And it will take some time to work it all through.