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, 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.