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?

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