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, December 20, 1995

December 20, 1995 - new Parker Library

Last weekend marked the opening of the Parker Library -- a project that the library board and staff have been talking about for 5 years. My relief is great.

But so is my pride. I honestly feel that this is one of the best things the library district has accomplished. Why? Because 1) so many people were involved in it, and 2) everybody came through. They did what they said they would do, and they did it well.

Not only did we get enthusiastic support from virtually every community group we spoke with, we also got great ideas. We used almost all of them.

The community supported us financially, too: we raised over $60,000 in cash and in-kind donations. This enabled us to significantly upgrade the interior finishes, and to add the kinds of touches -- artwork, nice meeting room chairs, oak end panels -- that people told us they wanted, but we couldn't have afforded otherwise.

I was also impressed with at a classic example of intergovernmental cooperation. When we announced that we had purchased the bowling alley building, the Parker Water and Sanitation District quickly offered us a deal we couldn't refuse. Based on an independent appraisal of our old library, the water district paid us the market value, in cash, right up front, then let us live in the building, rent free, through the year.

That's worth an extended thank you, to the Board of the Parker Water and Sanitation District: Doug Neves, Randy Huls, Paula Makar, Richard Gallegos, and Chip Stern. If only all governments could work so well together.

There are many other folks to thank. In addition to our visionary architects, Dennis Humphries and Joe Poli, and our frugal and hard-working building crew, Ash & White Construction, we have a host of folks who each donated more than $1,000 in cash or services:

Here's the honor role of community and library supporters:

Reggie Barrett Black Creek Capital, Developers of Canterberry Crossing and Bell Mountain Ranch Community Bank of Parker Douglas Public Library Foundation Steve Evans Friends of the Parker Library Kiowa State Bank-Parker Library Crossroads Campaign Committee Adams & Dorothy Miller Estate Norwest Bank of Colorado, Parker Parker Breakfast Club Parker/Johnson, Inc. Stonegate Developments, Inc. Town of Parker Mrs. and Mrs. Dean Weaver Bob Weil

And of course, a thank you to all the folks who got their bricks onto the floor of our new "Mainstreet."

You hear a lot of stories these days about how communities are falling apart, or how there's no civic spirit. But the people who tell such stories weren't in line at the Human Bookworm, as the 25 books chosen to pass from the old library to the new, bobbed through the hands of over 500 people, all of them smiling.

And for the record, there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that somebody tried to slip their overdue books into the line. A great idea, though.

So again, to the people of Parker, a hearty "well done!" and "thank you."

From all of us at the Douglas Public Library District, very Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, December 13, 1995

December 13 - library trustee want ad


Job Title: Library Trustee, a member of the governing Board of the Douglas Public Library District.

Residency requirements: must live somewhere in Douglas County. This opening is an "at-large position."

Qualifications: Must believe in the value of strong public library services to the citizens of Douglas County. The Douglas Public Library District is an equal opportunity employer, committed to a vision of a literate community with unfettered access to the broadest, deepest possible range of information and library materials.

Responsibilities: Trustees are responsible for library finances (budget approval and review), the hiring, firing, and evaluation of the library director, and the setting of library policy. Position requires one Board meeting a month (average length, 1 to 3 hours each), probably one or two committee assignments (meeting 4 to 5 times a year), and other conferences as needed.

Pay: the satisfaction of a job well done. Convivial and thoughtful colleagues. The opportunity to make a difference in one of Douglas County's most effective governmental agencies.

Application process: Send a letter of interest, accompanied by a short resume, to Tom McKenzie, Board President, 961 S. Plum Creek Boulevard Castle Rock CO 80104. Applicants will be interviewed by at least one Board member and the Library Director. Successful applicant will be recommended for appointment by the Library Board of Trustees to the Douglas County Commissioners, who are the appointing authority.

Closing date: position open until filled by the right candidate.

Company background: founded by popular vote in 1990, the Douglas Public Library is an independent taxing entity serving the citizens of Douglas County, and through the Colorado Library Card, the entire state. It has at this writing over 200,000 items, circulates over a million materials annually, employs approximately 100 employees, and has an annual operating budget of over $3 million. It operates library branches in Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Lone Tree, Louviers, and Parker. It also partners with the Douglas County School District to operate "satellite branches" at Cherry Valley, Larkspur, and Roxborough Elementary schools.

Current projects: having completed its 5 year plan with the opening of the new Parker Library, the Trustees are just beginning a new Long Range Planning process. Among the issues to be considered are: automation planning (and the appropriate use of the World Wide Web and its resources), new services (literacy tutoring, books by mail, the expansion of reference services at our branches, support for alternative education etc.), facilities (our satellite experiments have demonstrated a demand for additional hours, materials and facilities in Roxborough), personnel models (what system best ensures a responsive and competitively compensated work force), and funding (the district in 1996 will face some statutory revenue restrictions, which will reduce our voter-approved mill levy).

Expertise in any and/or all of these areas is especially welcome.

For more information: please contact Jamie LaRue, Library Director, at 668-8752, or e-mail any questions to jlarue@csn.net.

Wednesday, December 6, 1995

December 6, 1995 - library as great value

Imagine that you inherit a business franchise -- a video rental shop. It has a pretty good inventory -- about 65,000 items (some a little battered), scattered among 3 locations, none of which is open more than 5 days a week, and some of which are open only a couple times a week. You don't have a lot of visibility, but do have a solid customer base -- about 60% of the service area -- which checks out about 350,000 videos a year.

Now imagine that it's five years later. Now you've got 220,000 videos, and a transaction level of a cool million annually. You're running 4 shops, 7 days a week, and 4 more twice a week. You've extensively renovated two of the original locations, and expanded the square footage of a third location by a factor of three. At the end of this period of phenomenal growth, your costs -- including personnel, facilities, all your overhead -- are just under $3 per transaction. An astonishing 72% of your target market has come in, registered for membership, and used your service in the past year.

Now add a new wrinkle: you don't charge by the transaction. You charge a membership, a flat fee based on the value of your customers' house: about $40 for a house worth $100,000. The cost of this membership has dropped each year. But for this fee, the customer (and anyone in his or her family) can rent as many videos as he or she wants. There's no limit at all. Beyond that, you offer a complement of other services, among them:

* terminals that let the customer search for and reserve any titles of interest

* connections to other computerized video rental systems that allow the customer to request items you don't have in stock, which will be purchased or delivered at no charge to the closest location, often within just a day or two

* friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient staff members, available some 68 hours a week in person or by phone, who are prepared to answer detailed questions about any of the videos in stock, or any of the issues or times they deal with

* a comprehensive collection of periodicals and reference works about videos, available either for rental or on-site consultation

* programs that provide live performances or interpretations of popular videos for people of all ages (with an emphasis on children)

* discussion groups concerning various videos in the collection

* comfortable surroundings in which the customer can view any of the videos in quiet privacy, or in groups

all of which (and more) is included in the membership fee. In fact, many of the services (answering questions, programs, in-house use) are offered to people who may not even have a membership card.

Ridiculous, isn't it? What business could possibly achieve such impossible levels of service at such a low price?

Welcome to your local public library.

Substitute "video rental" with "public library," replace "video" with "collection of materials" and every one of the above statements reflects the accomplishments of the Douglas Public Library District over the past five years.

A few weeks ago I talked about the ways in which public service differs from "customer service." I believe this: the public library is a public good, accessible to the lowliest and the highest among us without distinction. That's important.

But as the record shows, the public library is also a staggeringly cost-effective business. It delivers a cold cash value, a return on the investment, that is unparalleled.