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, August 30, 1995

August 30, 1995 - zap

Things are hopping in the area of Interlibrary Loan (abbreviated by librarians as "ILL").

Ideally, public libraries have just the book (or article, or tape) that you're looking for. Sometimes, of course, we don't. On those occasions, we have developed various procedures to try to find another library that does, and would be willing to lend it to our patrons.

Nearly every public (and academic) library in America is part of this network. Most of the time, ILL is free to the patron -- although sometimes a library will charge a small shipping fee.

But until recently, much of this process to locate another library that owns the book, that has it on the shelf, and can send it swiftly has required a lot of tedious paperwork.

That's about to change.

Were very pleased to announce our participation in a program called ZAP. In essence, ZAP is a patron-directed interlibrary loan request system. It works like this.

You've looked in our computer catalog and can't find what you were looking for.

Then you go to our Other libraries menu. From there you search the catalogs of a few metro areas you don't mind driving to -- the Arapahoe Library District, or Aurora, or Denver, for instance.

But let's say either that you don't want to drive up for the item, or you weren't fortunate enough to locate it.

In that case, you choose the ZAP option, also located on our Other Libraries screen. Immediately, you'll get a screen that tells you how to connect: touch the "C" key, press Enter, and when you see a login: prompt, type "dpld" (without the quotes, but in lower case letters) then press Enter again.

Now you'll be prompted for your Douglas Public Library District card number. Here's a little secret. You don't have to type in the whole thing, just the significant digits -- the numbers appearing after "2 3025 000."

Now the ZAP computer will see if it has a record for you. If you haven't used the system before, ZAP will prompt you through a series of questions: your name, address, phone numbers, which library you want to have things sent to, and so on. At the end, you'll get a chance to review this data. YOU ONLY HAVE TO DO THIS ONCE -- the next time you type in your library card, the system will just quickly display your information, and ask if it's still correct.

But what happens next?

Now you get a menu that's about as straightforward as these things get. You can do one of three things:

* Request an Item (and be prompted to fill out another form, with as much information as you may have about a topic).

* Examine some Frequently Asked Questions about ILL services.

* Type X to exit the program (come back to the DPLD screens).

After you fill out your request, it will be routed through the Internet to Patty Mathisen, our Interlibrary Loan Assistant. She in turn, will route it to other libraries, through various other electronic means.

So what's the advantage of all this to you? If you still want to fill out little blue forms, you can. But for those of you who dial in to the computer from home, this means you'll have access to Interlibrary Loan 24 hours a day.

About a year ago, I did a survey about trends in public library services. ZAP is a perfect match for one of them: the trend of self-service. Some people -- although not ALL people -- prefer to do for themselves. With ZAP, they can.

Give it a try, and let us know how if it's a good fit for the way YOU would like to use the library.

Wednesday, August 23, 1995

August 23, 1995 - staff day

This Friday, August 25, 1995, we'll be holding our third Staff Day. All Douglas Public Library District libraries will be closed. As in our first Staff Day, the time will be devoted to training workshops, presentations by other librarians in the state, and planning exercises.

Why a Staff Day? In brief, the library is closed just 10 days each year, and with four, full-service, seven-day-a-week libraries, the one-of-a-kind Louviers, and three "satellite libraries" in Douglas County elementary schools (Cherry Valley, Larkspur, and Roxborough) it takes something special to try to keep our roughly 100 employees in touch with each other.

At our first Staff Day, in 1992, we asked our employees to tell us their over-riding concerns for the future. What did the district really need to be working on? What would most directly effect their ability to serve the public well?

They told us: they wanted computer training. At that time, we were facing a local software update, and about to come on-line with ACLIN (the Access Colorado Library and Information Network). Since then, we've had THREE software upgrades, seen the addition of many new libraries and services on ACLIN, and (as anyone knows who reads this column) have experienced some recent, uh, challenges regarding the Internet.

In short, the training was a very smart idea, and thanks to a lot of hard work by our Circulation Supervisors and Missy Shock (the district's full-time Computer Trainer), virtually everyone on our staff is a lot more sophisticated about the wonderful world of automation.

Of course, the problem with computer training is that you're never done. About the time you've just about got something figured out, it gets "improved" into a whole new set of bugs.

But here's another nice thing about having a trainer around. Since Missy has created all these great training materials, why not share them with another group that has expressed a desire for additional training? Why not pass them on to the public?

Accordingly, we've scheduled some PATRON training sessions at our branches over the next several months. We are asking people to sign up for them in advance so we can guarantee some quality, "hands-on" training. If these sessions, called "Byte Back," are successful, we'll do more of them.

Here's the schedule (and note that we've scheduled them at various time of the day to allow for today's flexible work scheduling):

Philip S. Miller Library, August 30, 7-8 p.m.,, call 688-5157.

Parker Library, September 14, 1-2 p.m., call 841-3503.

Highlands Ranch, October 7, 9-10 a.m., call 791-7703

Oakes Mill, November 6, 7-8 p.m., call 799-4446.

So if you've always wanted to tickle some of the secrets out of our terminals, if you've always suspected that you're not searching for things as efficiently as you might, or if you just what to see what kind of training documentation we use in the district, I invite you to give us a call.

Not on Friday, though. We'll be open again for business on Saturday.

Wednesday, August 16, 1995

August 16, 1995 - hackers and the law

After the Douglas Public Library District computer got "hacked" (see last week's column for details) I reported the incident to the local County Sheriff's Department. Together, an officer and I reviewed the Colorado Computer Crimes law.

To my astonishment, I discovered that no crime had been committed, or at least none that could be prosecuted.

Remember that we traced our hacker back to California. Until an organization or person suffers in excess of $1,500 in real property damages, breaking into a computer system is a misdemeanor in Colorado. Misdemeanors can't be prosecuted across state lines.

Imagine that somebody steps into your house through an open window. They find your housekeys, make copies of them, toss some of their stuff in one of your closets, then walk out the front door. What have you lost, exactly?

Nothing but your peace of mind.

So I've concentrated on the computer equivalent of cleaning my closets, securing the windows, and changing the locks.

I've also been doing some reading. Computer crime is on the rise. According to some surveys, hacking has increased by 77% between 1993 and 1994. Not only that, it is estimated that most hackers have only a 3% chance of getting caught.

Why do so many hackers get away with it? There are two explanations.

The first is the sheer volume of Internet traffic. Guy Cook, CEO of Colorado SuperNet, Inc., said in a recent interview with the "Denver Business Journal" that it wouldn't be difficult for a particular computer scam -- even something like fencing stolen goods -- "to slip through unnoticed among the libraries of information and the more than 1 million e-mail messages that move through [SuperNet] each month."

The second explanation is the lack of crime-fighting resources. Although there have been several high-profile successes, even the FBI (whom I also called about our hack-in) has trouble ramping up to deal with "virtual" criminals. Hackers may be operating out of the terminal in the room next to you, or a cellular phone and laptop in Washington State. A problem like that requires enormous technical expertise and available staff -- both of which are expensive.
Things may be changing. The FBI is toughening its stance. Clinton's staff is working on a federal computer crime bill. And people are going to jail for hacking, some for as long as 55 years for a single incident.

But according to computer security expert, Terence McManus (in a February, 1995 piece in the journal "Asian Business [Hong Kong])," "The only way of protecting a computer system is not to link it to the outside world at all."

Well, for a day or two, I thought about it. Why not pull the Internet plug? Would it be so bad if we could only look up stuff in our own catalog?

But both our patrons and our staff find it a great convenience to browse through the library catalogs of our neighbors. Many times, we are able to quickly locate information that simply isn't readily available any other way. And as the Internet begins to carry even more content, our connection to it will be even more important to the library's daily operations.

We can't go back.

What can YOU learn from our experience?

Mainly, be prepared. The literature suggests that hackers usually break into systems in one of the following ways:

(1) impersonating an authorized employee or vendor agent to get information or physical access. Don't be too friendly over the phone. Ask for a phone number, a full name. Then check the number and call them back. In person, ask for ID, and check it with your vendor.

(2) taking advantage of the defaults shipped with the system and its software. This was our weak spot. Change your passwords regularly, and get rid of any accounts you don't use. A special security audit isn't a bad idea, either.

(3) convincing system hot line support personnel to give out critical information or make system changes -- such as resetting a user's password. Make sure your vendors know who is authorized to deal with them.

All of this may seem like a lot of trouble. That's because it is. Once you open Pandora's box, there's no getting it closed again.

Still, there is Hope. Despite our troubles, our computer connection has demonstrated its value to us. As a result of the break-in, we're a little savvier about system security and the Internet generally. With diligence and luck, we should be able not only to ensure the integrity of our data, but also to offer solid, useful, new services to our patrons.

And that's what it's all about.

Wednesday, August 2, 1995

August 2, 1995 - school media centers

[Carol Paul, the Douglas County School's District Media Services Coordinator, had some things to say about my last couple of columns about school and public libraries. I'm pleased to share her thoughts with you. Please see my comments at the end.]

I read with interest my colleague Jamie LaRue's columns of July 19 and 25, 1995, regarding the struggle to maintain school library media centers. It is very true and unfortunate that with the overall underfunding of education in this country, that some school library media centers are understaffed, underfunded, and on occasion, closing. This is occurring, to a greater extent, outside of Colorado. I want to emphatically state, however, that this is not occurring in the Douglas County School system.

In fact, the Douglas County School System views the school library media center (LMC) as the hub of the school. We will be opening three new elementary schools in August which will boast state of the art LMCs including library automation and excellent print and nonprint collections. Fully 39% of the opening school budgets have been allocated to the library media and technology programs. In addition, the designs for our two new high schools and middle school also feature cutting-edge library media facilities.

Not only does the school district invest in new facilities, it also makes ongoing investments in our existing schools LMCs. An average of 20% of a schools' annual budget is spent on supporting our library media programs. Each secondary LMC is staffed by a certified teacher who also holds a Master's in Library Science, as well as a support staff. Each elementary LMC is staffed by 1-2 very capable paraprofessionals, many of whom are educated as teachers.

Although I agree with Jamie's philosophy that "professionalism" is measured by one's enthusiasm and commitment to one's profession, preparation through education and training is also important. We have a significant ongoing training program providing 7 full days of training per year.

In addition to school LMCs, we also have the District Media Center (DMC) which is housed in the Cantril Building in Castle Rock. The DMC includes a collection of computer software, books, kits, manipulatives, novel sets, realia, music, CD-ROMs, laserdiscs, production equipment, and over 3000 videos. We not only serve our schools, but our 3 charter schools, and the 150 registered homeschooling families in our district.
Technology in LMCs has also been a significant focus since 1989, when we automated our first school LMC. We are currently completing our library automation project and will be merging all our databases into a realtime access Union Catalog. This will allow us to search one another's databases and facilitate resource sharing, just like the public library's system. Naturally, this project represents a considerable investment on the part of the school district to the continued success of LMCs.

I concur with Jamie in regard to all of us being in the business of "supporting formal education." We strive to inculcate the love of lifelong learning in our students. We teach them how to use all types of information centers. We hope they make frequent visits to the public library. That is why we have allowed the public library to establish three satellite branches at Larkspur, Roxborough and Cherry Valley Elementaries. We strongly believe in cooperation.

However, there is a distinction between and a need for both public libraries and school LMCs. In Douglas County, we are fortunate to have excellent programs in both arenas.

[I have two comments. First, I was glad that Carol mentioned the satellite libraries -- a truly innovative, cooperative venture based on the notion that shared facilities can stretch taxpayer dollars. Together, we wrote the grant for the necessary equipment; together, we pool resources to swiftly deliver materials to our patrons; together, we manage to provide an unusually high level of service to teachers, students, and the community at large. We have even cooperated on payroll for satellite staff. (This year, the public library has picked up that cost.)

Second, as I wrote in my last column, "Lively, intelligently managed, well-stocked school libraries make for enthusiastic young public library patrons." Thanks to Carol, the librarians who work with her, and a supportive school district, I'm delighted to report that that's just what we've got.

But the fact remains that for the rest of the state, particularly outside the metro area, things aren't so rosy. - LaRue]