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, January 25, 1995

January 25, 1995 - Internet access, part two

(This is the second of a two-part article on public Internet access at the library. The first appeared in the January 18, 1995 News Press.)

There are two or three emerging "navigational tools" for the Internet. One is called a gopher: it's a fairly simple menu that reduces most Internet connections to a matter of pressing the appropriate cursor control keys. Gophers are easy to use, surprisingly powerful, and run on almost any terminal.

Gophers come in two flavors: client and server. A client just points to gopher servers, and is limited to displaying whatever the server decides to put up. A server has more control over what is displayed, and can also point to other servers.

Using some very smart volunteer help (Scott Krone of Littleton and Bob Wintheiser of Douglas County), the library has managed to get a client gopher up and running. Staff is testing it now, and you'll probably see it in February.

Meanwhile, we're working on bringing up a gopher server, which will enable us to add some new information resources to our public, including (we hope) the full text of articles published by the Douglas County News Press. These articles would then also be available THROUGH the Internet for other folks doing, for instance, genealogical research. We would also be able to include various other documents of potential local interest (local government information, library policies, bibliographies on home schooling, lists of local daycare providers, and much more).

We're also tinkering with a second Internet navigational tool: the World Wide Web. The WWW is characterized by "hypertext links." This means simply that some words in a document might be highlighted. To find out more about that subject, you either tab over to the word (or click on it with a mouse), and you're off into a related document.

WWW also has two flavors: a character-based version called "lynx," and a more graphically sophisticated version called "Mosaic." By the end of the year, we'll have one or the other of these up and running as well.

But here's what the library will NOT be offering in the foreseeable future:

* individual public e-mail accounts. Put simply, the costs for additional storage, network administration staff, and general drag on the system, would be exorbitant. For much the same reason, we don't deliver letters, either.

* USENET newsgroup feeds. There are over 5,000 newsgroups on the Internet. Think of them as electronic bulletin boards. People post questions, answers, opinions, news items; they argue and inform. Some newsgroups are packed with up-to-the-minute technical information. Others are crammed with interesting but hobby-related stuff. Others are mighty racy, and veer into the distinctly bizarre. The traffic of these newsgroups (over 50 megabytes of data daily) could create a monumental drag on our computer.

* dial-in access. When people dial-in to the library now (with a modem and PC or Mac) the usual connection lasts under 3 minutes. When you dial into the Internet, you can spend an hour, easy. The cost for additional lines and ports would again be very expensive, and have little to do with our own resources.

The way I see it, we are not in the commercial Internet provider business, and to enter that business would put us in direct competition for people who charge for such access. All of the above services are available from several sources in Colorado (see sidebar).

On the other hand, there are two kinds of people who do not have access to the Internet now, and the public library makes sense as a logical alternative.

* the "information poor." These people don't have, and can't afford, a modem, computer, and Internet account. But they may need access to similar information. Very soon, the Internet may be the ONLY source for some kinds of data. The Internet is a valid reference tool, and is a reasonable addition to the arsenal of public library resources.

* the "information consumer." Some people can afford all this stuff, but can't imagine why they would need it. The public library can give them a chance to do a test drive, to try before they buy.

If you have opinions about public Internet access, give me a call (688-8752), drop me a line at the library, or send me an e-mail message (jlarue@csn.org). I'd appreciate your reactions to my thoughts so far. When you're laboring on the frontier, it helps to share information about the territory.

Wednesday, January 18, 1995

January 18, 1995 - Internet Access, part one

(This is the first of a two-part article on public Internet access at the library. The next will appear on January 25.)

I've been running some focus groups lately, and a surprising fact has emerged about Douglas County's residents expectations about libraries. People EXPECT us to be leaders in the field of information technology.

In other words, the old stereotype of the librarian as the steely- eyed matron who will brook no noise has begun to give way to a sort of cleaned-up hacker image, an "information professional." On the whole, that's progress.

Some of the focus group comments have been very specific: when, people wonder, will the Douglas Public Library District be connected to the Internet?

Why do people want Internet access? There are several reasons: in the past year, there has been a veritable explosion of information, as documents that were once available only in print are now instantly available online. This includes everything from the transcripts of last night's Public Broadcasting System interview to reams of government documents, to technical information on such topics as Artificial Intelligence or computer products, to online weather maps, updated hourly.

Beyond that, there's a lot of media hype about the "information superhighway."

Well, the Douglas Public Library District been connected since August of 1994. Every time you use our "Gateway" menu to connect to the Access Colorado Library and Information Network (ACLIN), or the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries (CARL), or the Pikes Peak Library District, you're using a "telnet" Internet connection.

As it happens, libraries jumped on the Internet bandwagon fairly soon. As of June of last year, 20.9% of U.S. public libraries were already online. The number is much higher now.

However, based on that same June, 1994 study:

* public library access to the Internet is not equitable. Public libraries serving larger communities are more likely to have access to Internet than public libraries serving smaller communities.

* there are regional variations in public library Internet connectivity.

* few public libraries offer direct public access to the Internet.

* there are wide variations in public library Internet costs: libraries for smaller populations report annual costs of $412. Libraries for larger populations report annual costs of $14,697.

At the Douglas Public Library District, our costs look like this: as of this year, Colorado SuperNet, Inc., our Internet provider, has assessed an annual $4,000 "subscription" charge. U.S. West charges us $150 monthly for our high speed dedicated phone line connection -- that's $1,800 annually. Beyond that, the library also pays SuperNet for several staff Internet accounts, enabling us to participate in electronic mail and library discussion groups around the world.

These connections have often proved useful both for professional development, and to answer reference questions. Each staff account costs us about $15 a month, and we have five accounts, for a total of $900 annually.

Add them all up, and the Douglas Public Library District is spending $6,700 a year for the Internet connection. I find this steep, given that until recently, all we were able to offer was a "telnet" connection to other library catalogs.

So in the past couple of weeks, we've been trying to explore some ways to deliver more Internet bang for the buck. In fact, we think we've got a couple of plausible strategies that we can offer the public as early as the next couple of months.

Next week, I'll describe these strategies, and probe some of the key issues regarding public access to the Internet.

Wednesday, January 11, 1995

January 11, 1995 - 1994 in review

In some ways, I hate to admit this. But January 2 is probably my very favorite day to come to work. Everybody else takes their vacation day, and I have all those wonderful end-of-the-year statistics to tickle out of our computer, work up into spreadsheets and graphs, and ponder.

The year of 1994, as it happens, was record-breaking in several respects. Here are some of the totals:

Items checked out (all branches): 1,029,739 (That's an 18.15% increase over 1993.) Items now owned by the district: 208,885 Number of individual titles: 111,311 Number of patrons who used their cards in 1994: 63,304 Percent of checkouts by location (exclusive of our satellite libraries in Cherry Valley, Larkspur and Roxborough) -- Castle Rock - 30 Highlands Ranch - 28.9 Parker - 27.7 Oakes Mill - 11.7 Louviers - .7 Percent of items owned by location - Castle Rock - 33.4 Parker - 27.9 Highlands Ranch - 18.2 Oakes Mill - 17.7 Louviers - 2.8

In 1994, Highlands Ranch for the first time ever checked out more books than any branch but the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. In part, that's because the folks in Highlands Ranch (both public and staff) are wildly enthusiastic readers. In part, it's also because that library is among our most "consumer friendly." Located on a major residential and business artery, it's a spacious storefront that nonetheless manages to capture the warm feel of a family room. Of course, the balance may change again when the new Parker Library opens.

Dave Letterman style, here are the top ten most popular categories of materials in Douglas County (based on the number of checkouts at all branches throughout 1994):

10. Periodicals - 2.09% of all checkouts. 9. Paperback fiction - 2.72% 8. New (hardbound) fiction - 3.68% (This is a little misleading. After six months, "new fiction" becomes "adult fiction," so many of the numbers wind up in that statistical category by year's end.) 7. Juvenile fiction - 5.19% 6. Adult fiction - 6.1 % (Again this includes both new books and old.) 5. Books on tape - 6.45% (These items, especially the unabridged versions, are real up-and-comers in the commuting community of Douglas County.) 4. Video tape - 9.85% (I should note here that we don't buy feature films, except those that win major awards. Most of our videos fall into the category of "made from children's literature," and "adult how to's.") 3. Juvenile non-fiction - 15.93% (This is something of a jump from previous years, and deserves comment. Does this reflect home schooling and charter school activity in Douglas County? Or is it just that more people have discovered that some of the clearest, most focused writing you'll find is in the children's area? Or both) 2. Non-fiction (excluding biographies) - 19.26% (In most public libraries around the country, the use of fiction far outdistances non-fiction. The anomaly probably reflects Douglas County demographics: college-educated professionals. 1. Picture books - 21.44% (This is actually something of a drop from previous years, but still indicates that Douglas County parents are getting lots of books into their young children's hands and lives. With luck, the appetite will stick. As my grandfather used to say, "The only thing you're born liking in this world is the taste of your mother's milk. Everything else you have to LEARN to like.")

Here's another batch of numbers I find of interest: 927,496 items were checked out by Douglas County residents. Non-residents -- people from surrounding areas, mostly Elbert and Arapahoe County -- accounted for a combined 46,303 checkouts. But staff, all by themselves, checked out 48,614 items in 1994. We only have about 100 people, most of them part-time. I suspect that their high degree of library use is a big part of what makes us so successful.

I have tons of other numbers, too, (such as the 12.4% jump in the number of questions our reference staff has handled since last year). But let's just say that I can clearly demonstrate that last year was great.

The year of 1995 will be even better. You can count on it.