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 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.

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