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, February 22, 1995

February 22, 1995 - legislative database through PPLD

[No matter what you do for a living, sooner or later you run across something being considered by the State Legislature that you wish you could track more closely.

Until now, it hasn't been easy. To the outsider, the number of bills, amendments, committees, and related processes can be alternately bewildering and exasperating.

But for the past year, the Colorado library community has provided a way to cut through all the smoke, letting the average citizen keep a closer eye on what goes on at the Legislature.

This week I'm dedicating my column to a press release from the Colorado State Library, with some minor tailoring to make it apply to Douglas Public Library District patrons. Save this one, folks: even if you don't need it now, a time will come when you will.]

The 1995 Colorado legislative session is now available for monitoring by the public using home computers and the Colorado Legislative Database. The database contains up-to-date information about the Colorado General Assembly, and is provided as a joint project of the Pikes Peak Library District and the Colorado State Library, with information updated by Colorado Capitol Connection, a private legislative monitoring service based in Denver.

This marks the one year anniversary in Colorado that legislative information is easily and widely available to the public at no cost. Since the project was launched last January, the database has been accessed 18,840 times. People in Douglas County can reach the Colorado Legislative Database using a personal computer or from any public terminal at any Douglas County library.

Nancy Bolt, Colorado State Librarian, said, "Libraries are committed to providing Colorado citizens with information about how state government operates. This is just the first of many state government information resources to be made available to the people of Colorado through libraries. We think of libraries as THE information link between people in local communities and information from and about the state.

According to Pikes Peak Library District Director Bernard A. Margolis, "This continues the library's commitment to bring information to people where and when they need it. Accurate, up- to-date legislative information is vital, not only to those who create public policy, but to every citizen in a democracy."

The Colorado Legislative Database provides:

* Information on the Colorado General Assembly Legislative Process -- how the General Assembly works, what happens in joint sessions on the House and Senate, how bills are structured, and what other matters are considered by the General Assembly;

* Status of Bills before the Colorado General Assembly -- indicates where any particular bill is in the system, including its committee assignment, and whether it has been amended;

* Legislative Calendar -- consists of the most recently available Senate and House calendars, published on a daily basis during the legislative session;

* Full Text of Bills before the Colorado General Assembly -- contains text and amendments for all bills before the Colorado General Assembly; and

* Senate and House Journals -- a complete record of what transpired in the General Assembly on the day before, including attendance, voting records, and amendment language.

To access the Colorado Legislative Database with a personal computer, set the communications software to: full duplex, 8 data bits, 1 stop bit, no parity, and 300-9600 bits per second (the "baud rate"). Call one of two local numbers for the Access Colorado Library and Information Network (440-9969, or 786-8700) and answer the first two prompts with "ac" (in lower case letters, but without the quotes). Then follow the instructions on the screen to connect to the Pikes Peak Library District. Look for the menu choice, "Menu of Government Databases, including City Hall On-Line and Colorado Legislative Database."

Wednesday, February 15, 1995

February 15, 1995 - virtual communities & email

Here's an interesting discovery. Lately, whenever I ask for comments from the public about library issues, most of my responses come not by phone, not by personal visit, but by electronic mail.

Electronic mail -- or "e-mail" -- is beginning to mark a significant change in the way people communicate with one another. I do believe that in many respects, it will be to our age what the discovery of the printing press was to the 15th century.

Here's what's good about e-mail:

* It ends phone tag. You can send or receive letters literally 24 hours a day, whether or not there's anybody there to receive them. E-mail can replace huge chunks of time once devoted just to trying to get hold of somebody.

* E-mail has the freshness and immediacy of a phone call, but the preservability of print. Most e-mail communications are less formal than a business letter. Like a telephone conversation, they often have a chatty, personal, and direct quality to them. But unlike a telephone conversation, e-mail can be quickly saved or printed. This can be extremely helpful when you're trying to track down something you promised to do, or dig out some other useful bit of information you know somebody passed on to you, but you can't readily recall.

* E-mail offers a truly international scope of correspondence, broadening both your information and your influence. A year ago, I wrote a feature for a library magazine. Last week, I got an e-mail message from the Chief Information Officer of the State Library in Pretoria, South Africa. She had read the piece, liked it, and thought she'd drop a line to the address at the end of the article. Again, e-mail brings a spontaneity to communication -- she probably wouldn't have taken the time to write me a more formal letter, but the terminal was right there. To the e-mail correspondent, sending a letter across an ocean is no more difficult than sending a letter to someone who works across the hall.

* As a result of all the above, e-mail has the ability to build "virtual communities" -- where friendships exist in cyberspace, and are based on common interests, not geographic proximity. No matter how narrow your interests are, somewhere in the world, there are people who share them. Before, you might never have run across these folks. Now, it really doesn't matter where they live.

But like all new technologies, e-mail has its downside, too.

* It's easily "snoopable." When I write a paper letter to somebody, I don't worry that someone is going to open and read it along the way. With e-mail, the odds are very good that somebody, at some level, if only on a random basis, will take a peek at it. E-mail is often routed through several machines, and can be captured at any point. For this reason, it isn't wise to electronically transmit credit card information, social security numbers, or anything you wouldn't want to see in the newspaper some day.

* Because e-mail is less formal than written correspondence, it is often less considered. The medium makes the message a little hastier, even careless. Many people believe that it is also easier to give offense -- hence the invention of the "smiley" -- a sideways typographic wink to show that you're just kidding. A smiley looks something like this: ;^). (Tilt your head 90 degrees to the left to see it correctly.)

* Finally, the growth of electronic or virtual communities may have the effect of further distancing people from their physical communities, their literal neighborhoods. Probably most of us all already too far away as it is.

On the other hand -- as many Douglas County people have shown me lately -- it can also provide a remarkably responsive way for people to pass on their experiences and opinions to local public institutions. And in my opinion, that's great.

(My e-mail address, again, is jlarue@csn.org.)

Wednesday, February 8, 1995

February 8, 1995 - children's book bins and highlands ranch breakfast club

I have two items this week. First: a concern of the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock.

In seventh grade, I took a class called Shop. This was not by choice.

The first section of the class was Woodworking. Our mission was relatively simple. We were supposed to make a small table.

Let me give you the good news first.

There's this gizmo called a "planer." You hold on to one end (a ball of wood) while you push with the other. Underneath is a metal shaver. When you push a planer along the edge of a piece of wood, long curls of wood tumble from the surface.

It's ... enchanting. I loved planing, and I was pretty good at it, too. I had both rhythm and stamina.

Now the bad news. The truth is, I planed away my whole table top.

My teacher did not think this was funny. I tried to explain that I didn't, either. I hadn't MEANT to plane away my whole table top, I had just fallen into the rhythm of the stroke, and the pungent smell of freshly shaven pine. I had become obsessed with the perfect "plane" of wood.

When I was finished, there just didn't happen to be anything left.

If I'd been more creative, I might have figured out a way to glue all the curls onto some other surface, a sort of art piece portraying, I don't know, "Little Lord Fauntleroy In Wood." But probably, my teacher wouldn't have liked that either.

I got an F in woodworking, the first F in my whole life.

I say all this not because I revel in reliving my past failures (trust me), but because it explains why the problem I'm about to describe isn't something I can fix by myself.

In brief, the Philip S. Miller Library needs new book "bins" for the children's area. The design really isn't all that complicated, and the materials don't have to be all that expensive. Most of the current bins are made of pressboard.

The Friends of the Library are looking for someone to step forward and assume this project as a community service. They would be happy to pay for the supplies. But they're hoping the labor might be a donation.

If you're interested in this project, please call Suzanne LaRue, who by an astonishing coincidence, happens to be my wife. Her number is 660-1646.

Second item: every Thursday morning at 7 a.m., the Highlands Ranch Library sponsors a "Highlands Ranch Breakfast Club."

This club is ideal -- all you have to do is show up. You even get free food. (Our corporate sponsors to date include the Friends of the Highlands Ranch Library, and the publishers of the Highlands Herald). Each week, attendees hear a talk on issues of county- wide significance.

If you'd like to check out that scene, call Dorothy Hargrove at 791-7703 for more information about our schedule of speakers. You'll be glad you did.

In both these items, the discerning reader will find a common theme: libraries seek to build community. One of our libraries needs someone to step forward with a skill. Another needs people with the will to get up early and pay attention.

I have every confidence that both communities will be able to make the grade. And that's the "plane" truth.

Wednesday, February 1, 1995

February 1, 1995 - concurrency management

Lately the issue of "growth" has become especially controversial, most particularly in the Parker area. By "especially controversial," I mean that people have stopped listening to each other. Growth is becoming an absolutist discussion: you're for it or you're against it.

This hardening of the attitudes isn't unusual. For instance: at the library, anti-abortion people come in and check out materials that are uncompromisingly opposed to abortion. Pro-choice people check out books that unstintingly support the right of a woman to control her own body.

The interesting thing, to me, is that they never read EACH OTHER'S books. They read only what they already agree with. It's a little like two tribes who once shared a common language, but bit by bit, through isolation and hostility, find that they no longer have any words in common. As a result, they can't talk to each other. All they can do is grunt, shout, and throw things.

Almost a year ago, Cindy Murphy (Development Coordinator for the library) and I talked about putting together a "quality of life index" to be published in the paper on a regular basis. This index would include a sampling of some "key indicators" gathered from around the county. Some of these things might seem self-serving: the number of items owned by the library, for instance, or the number of square feet of library space. (I do believe, however, that these two numbers have a lot to do with the quality of life of MY family, and I'm not that unusual.)

But the purpose really wasn't just to promote the library. There are all kinds of other key indicators that might clearly delineate our "quality of life":

* the student-teacher ratio in public schools

* the number of miles the average Douglas County resident has to travel to find a swingset or a soccer field

* the density of automobiles on a given mile of I-25

* the percentage of dust and other particulates in the air

* the percentage of regular church or synagogue attendance

* the dollar sales of fresh produce as a percentage of total grocery expenditures

* the number of television stations, video stores, or movie theaters in the county

and so on. In fact, it gets to be kind of fun thinking up all the things that do determine how good you think life is in Douglas County.

What I like about this exercise is that it strives to establish that COMMON VOCABULARY I talked about, without which none of us can understand each another.

In many respects, the county's proposed Concurrency Management program does exactly that. It gives all of us a way to identify the levels of services that matter to us, then put some numbers to them.

The "numbers" are specific standards of service. For instance, it is the GOAL of the library to own 4 items per capita. But we have only managed to ACHIEVE 2.5 items per capita and aren't likely to significantly change that in the near future. In other words, our STANDARD is 2.5 items per capita.

If increased development results in a precipitous decline in the level of service available to Douglas County residents (whether it be libraries or something else), then the Concurrency Management program gives service providers AND developers a way to talk about it.

Has the service provider made a responsible attempt to anticipate growth in planned areas? If so, and the problem still exists, can the developer either phase in a project, or seek to offset the measurable drop of services?

This approach does several things. Instead of just making a lot of cross-accusations, it holds both sides to some responsibilities that are clear, laid out in black and white, and pointed toward holding on to the things that matter to us. It also makes them partners toward a joint goal: a place where people want to live.

One thing is clear: if we CAN'T talk to each other, we're not going to be able to solve our problems. When it comes to growth, "Concurrency Management" is the right place to start.