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, October 18, 1995

October 18, 1995 - fort collins and ya

Recently I was asked to stop by the Fort Collins Public Library to help evaluate a federal grant. The purpose of this grant was to highlight Young Adult (YA) services at a new "mini-library" that opened up a couple of months ago.

I spent a day talking with staff at the little store front branch, with the project team that wrote and administered the grant, with a couple of teenage girls (sophomores in high school) who served as a sort of focus group for the project, and finally, with the library director and her Board President.

It was fascinating. In Fort Collins, just as in Douglas County, a lot of children -- even children who used to be big readers -- fall away from the library once they get to be about 12 years old.

To turn that around, the Fort Collins Public Library took about $25,000 of federal money and tried to build some resources that would pull in the YA audience (usually defined as people between the ages of 12 and 18.)

For a little over $6,000, the library bought roughly 3,000 paperback books. It reminded me of the opening of our own Highlands Ranch Library, which was also heavily stocked with paperbacks (and also located in a storefront). It may not be a coincidence that Highlands Ranch soon became, on a square foot basis, the busiest library we've got.

Next, the Fort Collins mini-branch bought some audio and video tapes. Finally, for another $6,000, the library bought two PCs, one to serve as a public terminal, and one to run the CD-ROM program called SIRS. SIRS is a collection of clippings on popular topics for junior and senior high school research papers. (We have it in paper at Castle Rock, and the CD-ROM version at Oakes Mill.)

As a class of people, young adults have a sort of nebulous status in our society. But in the process of talking about the project, writing the grant, then trying to live up to it, the Fort Collins Public Library staff learned to pay closer attention to this often invisible but nonetheless important segment of the library community -- the Lost Ones.

Based on preliminary surveys and follow up interviews, Fort Collins young adults, well, don't like to be stereotyped. Their interests can be no more accurately predicted than the reading interests of older adults. While they appreciated the effort to collect the usual YA bestsellers -- a lot of relatively tame horror stories -- by the age of 13, most teenagers weren't all that interested in that stuff anymore.

In fact, they weren't much interested in recreational reading period. They just didn't have the time. These were kids with Day- Timers. They viewed the library much as adults view a grocery store -- a place that you go to do what needs to be done. Adults go to grocery stores to buy food. Young adults go to libraries to do school assignments.

The young women I spoke with were mildly interested in having a comfortable and segregated section to hang out in the library, but mostly they wanted what all the other workers want: tools useful to their tasks.

I asked these young women if the library had met their expectations. Both of them assured me quickly (and with rare politeness) that the library had indeed. They liked the brightness of the place, the friendliness of the staff, and their unusual willingness to seek out the opinion of real young people.

They added, "But we never expected that much."

And there's the cautionary tale for the modern librarian. It may be that we are sometimes led astray in our effort to woo back our Lost Ones, to persuade them to love our wares, our classics, our Best Books, as fiercely as we do.

Maybe we just need to give them the materials they need to do their jobs -- and so establish an expectation that the library knows how to do that.

On the other hand, it still strikes me as sad. Even our brightest young people have trouble finding the time to laze about and know the comfy pleasure of a good yarn, slowly unspun.

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