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, March 29, 1995

March 29, 1995 - interfiling, American girls and ombudsmen

Lately my daughter, Maddy, has begun reading the famous American Girl books. This series, written for young girls, and featuring an variety of engaging young heroines who throw some light on American history, is a pleasure to read, and stimulating besides.

While my wife and Maddy have read lots of them, I've just read two: one about Addy, an escaped slave around the time of the civil war (wonderfully written!), and one about Kirsten, a Swedish immigrant in the late 1800s.

As I have mentioned before, our household is also highly aware of another series: the encyclopedia. Because of the latest American Girl book, Sweden was the topic today at lunch. While the rest of the family munched away, I read to them.

It turns out that there's a lot to admire about Sweden. For instance, it has among the highest standards of living in the world, the highest rates of literacy, and the lowest rates of infant mortality.

It also has an interesting governmental position, and was the first to create it, although it quickly became adopted by other Scandinavian and European countries. This position is called an "ombudsman." An ombudsman receives citizen complaints about governmental services, and investigates them.

This recognizes an important truth: public institutions don't always do the right thing by their constituents. Or to look at it another way, it's hard to please everybody all of the time.

It happens that the library is the object of some criticism these days from some home schoolers in Parker. In particular, they're worried about my suggestion that the new Parker Library combine its adult and juvenile non-fiction. I should say that the fiction sections would still be distinct, and all juvenile non-fiction titles would still be clearly identified both on the shelf and in the computer.

While I'm not the first person to dream up this idea, it is relatively rare in the library world -- mostly confined to small or rural libraries, where there's something of a space shortage.

Here's what I like about it: all of a library's books on a subject are shelved together. I see this as a matter of public and staff convenience. Child or adult, you go to one location to track down books on a topic.

To my mind, this OUGHT to result in at least two things: the increased use of juvenile non-fiction by adults, and the increased use of adult non-fiction by children. It offers a range of reading levels, which can be a big help no matter how old you are. It sends the message that our non-fiction collection belongs to everybody, all ages.

But the home schoolers raised some solid objections: putting children's non-fiction in with the adult books might actually be a DETERRENT to use by children. Typically, adult stacks are taller than children's, on occasion making it physically more difficult or dangerous for children to reach what they want.

Too, the sheer number of bulkier, more difficult texts might have a discouraging effect on both children and their parents, making it harder to quickly pull together some selections that are more appropriate to an age or reading level. The result? A non-fiction area that seems intimidating.

I tell you frankly, that this concern by our patrons is ... thrilling! It's a testament to the quality of our regular customers that they take this issue so much to heart. In most towns, who has given an instant of consideration to where the library shelves its juvenile non-fiction?

I've promised the home schoolers that I'd do a little more research on the issue, and also put out a call for more general public commentary. We've been using "interfiling" at the Highlands Ranch Library for almost 4 years, and while I've gotten one complaint, we've gotten many compliments on the system. Maybe that isn't representative.

So in the best American Girls tradition, here's your chance to participate in our shared culture. Next time you're at the library, let one of us know your thoughts or experiences with interfiling. Think of me as your ombudsman.

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