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 25, 1996

December 25, 1996 - Kwanzaa

There comes a time in the life of every new family when it has to make some decisions: which holidays matter, and where and how they'll be spent.

After the birth of our first child, we made one trip to my wife's family, and one trip to my family for Christmas. Then, together, we decided that from now on we'd spend Christmas at our own house. My wife was adamant that we also pick a special breakfast.

It worked. Until that moment, we were adjuncts to other people's families. After that moment, we were our own family.

Back in 1966, Maulana "Ron" Karenga, a college professor, thought that the establishment of a special holiday would help African-Americans make their families stronger. After studying the rituals of many African peoples, he invented a new holiday, incorporating ideas from many different harvest traditions.

He called it "Kwanzaa," based on the Kiswahili word meaning "the first fruits of the harvest." (Kiswahili is an East African language -- it is non-tribal and spoken by a large portion of the African population. It's also easy to pronounce: the vowels are like those in Spanish, and the consonants are very like English.)

The idea of Kwanzaa spread. Now, thirty years later, it has become one of many Christmas traditions around the world.

Kwanzaa is based on seven principles: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Juumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). Over the 7 day celebration (beginning December 26), each of these principles is highlighted. There is a ritual that involves the lighting of candles, the chanting of certain phrases, and personal reflection on the meaning of each principle to that person.

The purpose of Kwanzaa, ultimately, is to maintain a history: to identify a body of beliefs and memories, and to unite families in their ritual observance.

I'm pleased to report that Mollie Badger, a Douglas County school teacher, has volunteered to do two very special Kwanzaa storytelling sessions for us this year. (Her grandchildren are in town, and she wanted not only to celebrate the holiday with them, but share the experience with others.)

On Thursday, January 2, Mrs. Badger will perform at our 10 a.m. storytime at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. On Friday, January 3, she will perform at our 9:30 a.m. storytime.

Mrs. Badger will also provide some light refreshments. I encourage all those with children from pre-school through 5th grade to stop by. You'll be glad you did.

I'd also like to report our library hours over the changing of the year. We will close at 5 p.m. on New Year's Eve, and remain closed on January 1, 1997.

The year 1997 is just 3 years from the millenium. I can remember adding up the years as a kid and trying to imagine what life would be like when I had reached such an incomprehensible age. Now that it’s in sight, I find the prospect even stranger.

Here’s wishing you a very Happy New Year from all of us at the library.

Wednesday, December 18, 1996

December 18, 1996 - Christmas History and Call for Board Member

Whatever your religious background, you probably find something in the Christmas season that speaks to you. To the Druids (from whom we get the Christmas tree), it was the winter solstice -- the idea of the "evergreen," a life that sustained itself through the cold, but reveled in the seasons of the sun and the promise of warmth to come.

Even the occasionally crass excesses of "Christmas shopping" can claim lovely roots: the gifts of the Wise Men to the Holy Child. And who among us does not believe, when all the presents are wrapped or assembled, and he or she looks in on the sleeping little ones, that all children are holy, and deserve the best we can give them?

Or maybe you just like sending cards -- for many of us, it's the only time we have contact with our distant friends in a year. Christmas cards, incidentally, are fairly recent -- dating back to about 1843, designed by the artist John Calcott Horsley, then more widely produced and distributed by Charles Goodal & Sons of London in 1862.

Even Ayn Rand, an atheist, wrote, "The secular meaning of the Christmas holiday is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men ... The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: "Merry Christmas" -- not "Weep and Repent."

As usual, the library will be closed on Christmas Day to give our families time to be together. We will also close the library a little early on Christmas Eve (5 p.m.).

But when we open back up on Thursday, December 26, we would very much like to see you and YOUR families. As I have written before, a library card is the gift that keeps on giving, no matter how old you are. The gift of reading unwraps treasure after treasure.

Remember the library in your holiday season -- as a place where you can find respite from the fast-paced life of malls, a place where you can sit down and escape to worlds limited only by your imagination.

The Board of Trustees of the Douglas Public Library District has an opening. The successful appointee will serve out the term of Tom McKenzie, a former Board president. It expires on January 1, 1999.

The all-volunteer Board meets on the third Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. Most Board meetings last between one and two hours -- although various committees (Building and Grounds, Finance, Long Range Planning, Personnel, Policies, etc.) may meet more frequently as necessary.

Under Colorado law, the Board is responsible for the approval and oversight of the budget, for the adoption of library policies for the library, and for the hiring and evaluation of the library director. More basically, it sets the overall direction of the library.

If you would be interested in applying for an interview, address a brief letter detailing your interest and experience to Maren Francis, c/o Douglas Public Library District, 961 S. Plum Creek Blvd, Castle Rock CO 80104. Please have your letter to us by January 6, 1997.

What's on the Board's plate these days? From my perspective, there are three main trends: 1) The library is looking forward to some significant capital expansion during the next five years,particularly in the northeast quadrant of the county. 2) We are investing in new information technologies. 3) The library continues to grow from a relatively smallish rural library to an increasingly urban library -- and one of the busiest in the state. (Thus it might be useful for the Board to have someone with leadership experience in larger organizations.)

After the Board reviews the qualifications of the candidates, it will make a recommendation for appointment to the final appointing authority: the Douglas County Commissioners. At present, we have two library representatives from each of the Commissioner districts, so the position is open to anyone from the entire county.

If you have applied for such a position in the past and are still interested, just give me a call at 688-8752 and I'll see that your name is added to the list of new applicants.

Wednesday, December 11, 1996

December 11, 1996 - Aunt Edith, Douglas County Senior Writing, and Santa

My Great Aunt Edith was a live-in cook. She worked for a wealthy family in Lake Forest, Illinois -- Adlai Stevenson III's maternal grandmother, as it happened.

Like most children, I didn't really pay that much attention to the adults around me. Particularly this time of year, my biggest interest in Aunt Edith concerned what she might have gotten me for Christmas.

She came to see our family every Thursday and Sunday -- her days off. One cold Sunday evening, a week or two before Christmas, we were sitting around the fireplace and playing a game. We had to try to describe a whole day from the earliest day of our memories.

None of the children (there were five of us) were that old. But I notice that it doesn't seem to make much difference how many years you've lived: everybody tends to go back to about the same earliest memory. There's a snatch or two under the age of four, then a real continuity.

After a couple of us kids took a turn, we urged Aunt Edith to remember her earliest whole day for us. To our utter astonishment, she recounted a life that was straight out of the frontier: pulling water from the well, feeding chickens, washing clothes, tending the garden, looking after the small children. When we pressed, we found that there had been no internal running water in the house of her youth, no electricity, no automobiles, no radio.

From that day on, Aunt Edith always seemed like a sort of time traveler to me: transported from the hard scrabble life of an Ozark mountain girl to Chicagoland and a time when people walked on the moon. The experience opened the door for a lot of great stories. Those stories made our relationship with her far richer.

All this came back to me as I was reading through one of the library's new books. It's called. "Voices of Douglas County, Colorado," by the Douglas County Senior Friend's Writing Group. The issue I've seen is dated Spring, 1996.

Here you'll find a collection of stories that ranges from piquant detail (a doggerel poem written by an ancestor who fought in the Civil War), to the amazing story of the cow who fell down a well (and got out again), to a war time tale, to a harrowing interstate travel experience, to a touching remembrance of seasons on a southeastern South Dakota farm.

All of these stories are told by people now living in the county -- your neighbors, perhaps. I suspect that you'll find it as bemusing as I found the stories of my Aunt Edith -- giving a glimpse of a time beyond your own, and a little insight into the American story, as well. Recommended.

I'm already a little late on this one. As always, Santa is coming to the library this year. I'm sorry to say that I didn't report the dates he visited our Highlands Ranch and Oakes Mill libraries (December 9, and December 11, at 10:30 a.m., respectively).

But your children can still catch a visit on December 12, 2:30 p.m., at the Louviers Library (off U.S. 85, between Titan Road and Sedalia). Santa will be at our Parker Library on December 16, at 5:30 p.m., and at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock on December 18, at 10:30 a.m. We hope you can join us.

Wednesday, December 4, 1996

December 4, 1996- Sickbed/Bedside Library

One of life's great mysteries is how fascinating it is to talk about your own illnesses -- but how boring it is to listen to anybody else's.

So rather than regale you with the heroic saga of my week-long battle with vertigo (my third bout in six years, as it happens), followed and compounded by the flu, I'll get right to the point: when you can't get out of bed, it's important to have a whole bunch of your favorite books immediately at hand.

By "favorite" I do NOT mean "all of the books you've ever owned." One of the greatest contributions of the public library, in my opinion, is that it keeps so many of those books, in reasonably good order, somewhere other than your own house.

I'm talking about the core group of books that I need to read every year. Here's a look at the current contents of my overstuffed bedside bookcase.

I keep a few non-fiction titles: Zinsser's "On Writing Well," Strunk and White's "Elements of Style," and about six translations of the Tao te Ching. A fairly recent non-fiction addition to my bookcase is a book called "Generations," written by William Strauss and Neil Howe, published in 1992. It's a history of the United States told through a series of generational biographies -- and one of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read. I just finished it for the second time, and strongly recommend it for those (like me) who came to history relatively late in life, and hadn't understood its power to illuminate the present.

But mainly, I keep a lot of science fiction around: all the works of Robert A. Heinlein, a good collection of Orson Scott Card, and most of the early works of a contemporary black writer, Octavia Butler.

While going through Butler's works this time, I suddenly remembered one of her books that I'd read, but never owned. When I finally got back on my feet again, I went out and bought it.

It's called "Kindred," and it should be recommended reading for every high school student, or indeed anyone interested in the role of race in American society. The general plot of the book is this: Dana, a 26 year old black woman, has just moved into a new house in California with her white husband. Suddenly, she is pulled away, is pulled, in fact, back in time, where she saves a young white boy from drowning. It takes a while, and a few uncontrollable yanks back and forth across more than a century, before she realizes that she has been trapped in the antebellum South. Here her job is to save the life -- several times! -- of a white slaveholder who will father the woman from whom Dana is herself descended.

But the science fiction elements aren't the focus of the story. "Kindred" is a "slave narrative," part of a genre of writing that told, from the inside, just what the early days of American slavery were like. It's a book that will leave you haunted -- but wiser, I think.

A lot of things that wind up in my bookcase are things that I mean to get to eventually. For instance, there was a Spring, 1993, Wilson Quarterly article about China, written by Anne Thurston. Thurston is also the author of a book called "Enemies of the People," which described the disastrous consequences of Mao Zedong's 1966 "cultural revolution." In the Wilson Quarterly, she wrote, "My formative intellectual experience was as a student of the Cultural Revolution, and the deepest conviction that such research instilled was a belief in the fragility of civilized behavior, a humbling recognition ... of how easily human beings, seemingly no better or worse than you or me, succumb to barbarous behavior."

So after a week in bed, I'm feeling well enough to go back to work. But I'm also in a thoughtful mood: like the flu, some kinds of social illness break out pretty regularly in the human story, and it's not at all clear when we'll get better.

Wednesday, November 20, 1996

November 20, 1996 - Tellabration '96

About 12 years ago I did a poetry workshop for a K-6 private school. First I got to talk to the kindergartners, then the first graders, and so on up to the 12 year olds.

My approach was pretty basic. I started off by asking, "How many of you had a dream last night?" My next question was, "Who taught you how to dream?"

My point was that imaginative storytelling is hardwired into the brain. It's the primary way we make sense of the universe. It's as fundamental a part our being, as necessary to our health, as breathing.

This is literally true. People deprived of the Rapid Eye Movement period of sleep (during which dreaming takes place) for as short a period as a week begin hallucinating, become paranoid, and often turn violent. We need to dream.

I hoped that by pointing to this innate talent, I might be able to get a few kids to realize that the hard part of poetry (starting!) was in fact utterly natural. They had it within them, they didn't have to be taught it, so let fly! On the other hand, the form of the thing could take as much polish and study as they were willing to give it.

But what bemused me most was the effect of age. When I asked the kindergarten class, "Who had a dream last night?" almost every hand went up. They not only remembered that they had dreamed, they most enthsuiastically wanted to tell me the details.

Grade by grade, the percentage of hands dropped by about 10-15 percent. By the time I got to 6th grade, either nobody remembered their dreams, or they were in no mood to discuss them.

Then and now, I find that unspeakably sad. Night after night, all over the world, humans are falling asleep and creating complex and fascinating universes, richly textured, laden with profundity and humor. Then -- poof! -- they wake up. Gone.

But if you're looking to promote a little dreaming and storytelling in your waking hours, there's good news. In celebration of an annual event called "Tellabration! '96" the library will be bringing in a fellow named Mike Gilbert. Gilbert is a "Storymaker" who uses audience suggestions to weave funny tales. His first appearance will be during Starlighting activities in Castle Rock (Saturday, November 23). Gilbert will appear from 3:30 - 4:15 p.m. at the Masonic Hall, top floor.

At 7 p.m. on the same day, he will be at our Parker Library at 7 p.m.

At our Highlands Ranch Library, at 11 a.m., also on the 23rd of November, Pam Faro will be our professional storyteller. Ms. Faro uses musical instruments to supplement her family-oriented storytelling.

Since you know you're going to be telling stories in your sleep anyhow, why not take the whole family out to dream a little together?

Wednesday, November 13, 1996

November 13, 1996 - Thanks!

I'd be remiss if I didn't start this column by thanking the many, many people who helped pass the 1996 library mill levy increase.

It wasn't big money that carried the day. The campaign's total budget (including in-kind contributions) was less than $5,000. Nor was it due to the tricks of slick campaign professionals. This exciting new chapter in the history of our library depended upon the hard work of a group of dedicated volunteers (special thanks go to Mark Weston, Sue Meacham, and Cindy Murphy), the consistently good service of our staff, and the staunch support of regular library users. To all: my deepest gratitude.

I'd also like to thank the Mission Viejo Company. At the Say Yes Committee's request, they donated four large signs to the effort, created, posted, and removed entirely at their expense.

Too, I was impressed as always by the energy, dedication, and consummate professionalism of County Clerk and Recorder Reta Crain's election staff.

Finally, I'm especially thankful for the support of Douglas County's newspapers. We seek and serve the same literate, civic-minded audience. May we all thrive together; the public will be the richer for it.

And now, for something completely different.

Below is a collection of what people put on their insurance forms after an automobile accident. Like the column I did about funny headlines, the quotes were pulled from the Internet. Enjoy!

* Coming home I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don't have.

* The other car collided with mine without giving warning of its intention.

* I thought my window was down, but I found it was up when I put my head through it.

* I collided with a stationary truck coming the other way.

* A truck backed through my windshield into my wife's face.

* I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law and headed over the embankment.

* In an attempt to kill a fly I drove into a telephone pole.

* I had been driving for forty years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.

* I was on the way to the doctor with rear end trouble when my universal joint gave way causing me to have an accident.

* My car was legally parked as it backed into another vehicle.

* An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my car and vanished.

* I was sure the old fellow would never make it to the other side of the road when I struck him.

* The pedestrian had no idea which way to run as I ran over him.

* I saw a slow moving, sad faced old gentleman as he bounced off the roof of my car.

* The indirect cause of the accident was a little guy in a small car with a big mouth.

* I was thrown from my car as it left the road. I was later found in a ditch by some stray cows.

Finally, my personal favorite:

* The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.

Wednesday, November 6, 1996

November 6, 1996 - Playing the Piano

Mimi (my grandmother) played the piano. She started young. By the age of 9, she was the local church organist. Her legs were so short she had to tie wooden blocks to her feet so she could reach the pedals. If the congregation had trouble singing something, she just nudged the piece into another, more comfortable key.

But her heart wasn't in sacred music. Mimi liked boogie-woogie. She had a bass line that just STRUTTED up and down the low keys. I loved that stuff, and I loved to watch Mimi play it.

Because of my obvious interest, when I was 8 years old my mother rented a piano. I took lessons for about 6 months. Suddenly we couldn't afford it anymore, and the piano went back.

When I turned 12, the family bought a piano, and I took lessons for another two and a half years. But frankly, I didn't enjoy it as much.

Why? Well, partly because just as I was learning my first serious piece -- "Sonatina in G," written by Beethoven when he was a child -- I was also reading a Beethoven biography. At first, this really spurred me on to dedicated practicing. I wanted to BE Beethoven.

But -- and I remember the exact moment -- shortly after I turned 13 I realized with a kind of cold shock that it was too late for me to be a child prodigy.

This sounds ridiculous now, but at the time I thought that if I couldn't be Beethoven, then I really wasn't interested in playing the piano at all.

In an effort to hold my attention, my long-suffering piano teacher gave me a few other songs that he'd refused to give me before (he was a strict classical teacher). I learned "Alley Cat," and a Scott Joplin piece. He even let me work on some sheet music Mimi gave me, called "Getting Sentimental Over You." At times, I grudgingly enjoyed these. But somehow, it was too late. Shortly after I turned 14, I quit.

It wasn't until this fall, 28 years after I stopped taking lessons, that I began to spend some serious time at the keyboard again.

Originally, I had planned to write a book. A publisher offered me a contract. I'd cleared aside my schedule. I had written up a fairly detailed outline of the chapters, and gotten a solid start on the research. Then, as part of our long range planning process, our library board decided that if we wanted to keep up with the demand for services in Douglas County, we needed to undertake some serious capital projects. We didn't have the money to do them. After a lot of looking at the alternatives, we decided that we needed to go back to the voters.

Directing a library takes some time and attention. Working on a political campaign does, too -- and you can't do it while you're at work. That's your own time (as are these columns). After putting in some 40-50 hours a week at work, then putting in another 10-30 hours a week on the campaign, depending, I just didn't have the mental oomph to write a book as well. (The subject of the book also related to libraries.)

You'd think that all I would want to do on those odd hours off is lie down. Sometimes, I did, but mostly to read. I found that if I tried to just relax I worried about the job or about the campaign. I needed to have something else to think about.

Then, one afternoon, I sat down at the piano. I dug out my old classical music book and tried to play something I'd never played before. This is called "sight reading." To my astonishment, I did much better than I had when I was 14. It was such a relief to be learning and thinking about something new. It was such a relief not to use words.

To encourage me, my wife went out and bought a whole book of songs by a lyricist named Mitchell Parish. It included a song I remember Mimi playing (and had told my wife about): "Sentimental Gentleman from Georgia." At about the same time, I ran across a book called "Piano lessons : Music, Love & True Adventures," by NPR regular Noah Adams. Adams was trying to learn to play piano for the first time. (The library owns the book, incidentally, and I highly recommend it.) Adams was 53 years old. While some people may find his approach a little bizarre (step one: buy a $15,000 Steinway Grand!), I found it oddly inspirational.

Over the course of the campaign I learned some 6 or 8 new songs, mostly from the 1920s and 30s.

So OK, I'll never be Beethoven. I won't even be as good as Mimi. But my, those old songs are lovely.

Wednesday, October 30, 1996

October 30, 1996 - Vote!

This is the last News Press column before the 1996 election. Aren't you glad?

This year, many Douglas County citizens voted early. But for those of you who haven't, here's a quick round up of the information sources you might want to consult before you walk into the ballot booth.

* "An Analysis of 1996 Ballot Proposals," by the Legislative Council of the Colorado General Assembly. This document provides the complete text of all the state initiatives, and arguments both for and against. This publication was mailed to the households of all registered voters in Colorado. It is also available at your local library.

* "Ballot Issues 1996," sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Colorado Education Fund. This pocket-size brochure again concerns statewide issues. While the publication does not include the full text of each measure, it offers summary information on the measure's major provisions that many will find much easier to read and understand. The brochure also includes comments from "those in favor" and "those opposed." In addition, there is a good deal of useful information about voter registration. This League of Women Voter publication is available at your local library, Norwest Bank of Parker, and 1st Bank of Douglas County in Castle Rock.

* "Notice of Election," prepared by the Douglas County Election Office. This document provides the text of local issues, and prints all comments, both for the measure and against it, that were received by the sponsoring entity by the statutory deadline. This was mailed to all residences that have a registered voter. The library does NOT have copies of this publication.

* "1996 Voter Guide Information on Colorado State Judges." This publication, from the Commission on Judicial Performance reports recommendations from surveys and questionnaires completed by attorneys, jurors, litigants, probation officers, social services case workers, court personnel and law enforcement officers, as well as several other sources, including a personal interview. Most voters are surprised when they see judges' names on the ballot. Without this publication -- unless you've been in court quite a lot recently -- you may not have enough information to make an informed decision. This is available from your local library.

* Newspapers. In addition to the Douglas County News Press, the library subscribes to several other local and metro Denver papers, all of which have editorial endorsements or local voter opinions. Often, the papers include fairly detailed analyses of various proposals or candidates -- certainly far MORE detailed than offered through TV sound bites.

This year, 1996, the last presidential election of the millennium, may be best remembered as the first year in which electronic political information became widely available. If you have an Internet account, you might want to check out the following locations for a solid introduction to a whole new form of voter research:

* http://www.politicsnow.com/campaign/ -- "PoliticsNow" is supported by a large staff of experienced journalists and offers surprisingly comprehensive analysis. The "Campaign 96" section has seven sections: White House, Senate, House, Governors, States, Resources, and Calendar. It boasts great lead articles and exhaustive links.

* http://allpolitics.com/index.html -- "CNN/Time All Politics" combines the strengths of Time Warner and Cable News Network. There are "quick takes" that give candidate positions on various issues. In a sign of the times, perhaps, the site also contains multimedia games -- with a political twist.

* http://www.vote-smart.org/ -- "Project Vote Smart" is a project of the Center for National Independence in Politics, a national, nonpartisan, non-profit organization based in Corvallis, OR, whose founding board includes former Presidents Carter and Ford. This site offers more background information than the others -- and is the only one of the three to offer much information about various state ballot issues in addition to candidates.

The Founders of our country envisioned a nation ruled by "an informed electorate." It's important that we not only cast our votes -- but that we've given some time and thought to them. As Joseph de Maistre wrote in 1811, "Every nation has the government it deserves."

Wednesday, October 23, 1996

October 23, 1996 - Promises Kept

It's easy to be a little cynical in a campaign year.

Especially at the national level, candidates are out there promising things no one really believes they will, or can, deliver. Too often in America, a "campaign promise" is a little like cotton candy: sweet, but when you bite down on it, mostly air.

So I realize this is a little unusual. But this week, I'd like to remind Douglas County citizens just exactly what the first "Say Yes to Libraries" committee promised voters back in 1990. That was the year the Douglas Public Library District was formed.

Even if you weren't here then, or even if you don't exactly remember what was promised, the library DID remember.

The first thing the library said it would have the resources to do is to stay open 7 days a week. At the time, none of our branches was open more than 5 days a week. (We were closed on Fridays and Sundays.) It happened in April, 1991.

The second promise was to double the budget for books, videos, cassettes, magazines and other library materials. Back then our materials budget was $148,000 annually. Now it's $512,000 -- over 3 times larger.

The third promise was to improve children's collections and programs at all branches. Back in 1990, most libraries only had 2 or 3 children's programs a week. Now, many of our libraries host that many programs in a single day. Take a look at the library calendar elsewhere in this paper. Meanwhile, our collection of all materials has almost quadrupled.

The fourth promise was to buy a bookmobile to serve the rural areas of the county, senior citizens, and shut-ins.

Well, I confess. We didn't buy a bookmobile. How come? In 1991, we did a phone survey of rural residents and discovered that most of them drove into town once a week anyhow. By a wide margin, they preferred to have a larger selection at a place they already visited, than to have to make time for a new visit, and have even less to choose from.

Nonetheless, the library did establish 6-day-a-week courier service among all our branches, a books by mail program for Deckers residents, and some "satellite libraries" (in conjunction with Douglas County elementary schools) in Cherry Valley, Larkspur, and Roxborough. I'd say that lives up to the spirit of the promise, if not the letter.

The fifth promise was to open a new library in Highlands Ranch. As I discussed in last week's column, we not only opened a storefront library (of 4,000 square feet) in August of 1991, we managed to double it two years later.

Finally, we promised to expand and renovate existing library branches: additional shelving at Castle Rock, a meeting room to the Oakes Mill Library in Lone Tree, and at least 3,000 square feet to the Parker Library. We did the first two in 1993. Last year, we added not three thousand square feet, but THIRTEEN thousand square feet to our library space in Parker.

All of these were accomplished without once going into debt. Thanks to an aggressive savings program, the Library Board of Trustees was able to set aside enough money (and earn interest on it) to pay cash for all our capital needs these past 6 years. (Unfortunately, this strategy will not work for the capital needs of the NEXT five years -- the population and demand for service is growing faster than our revenues.)

But the next time you're feeling that you just can't trust local government, remember that your local library district not only keeps its promises -- it exceeds them.

Wednesday, October 16, 1996

October 16, 1996 - Highlands Ranch

In 1990, the citizens of Highlands Ranch had no library at all. Well, that's not quite true. They could trek to the small Oakes Mill Library over by I-25. Or they could leave the county altogether.

But Highlands Ranch residents -- like most of the rest of the county -- are the perfect profile of the regular library user. Beyond that, many of them have kids, and tend to be very supportive of education. South of C-470, the only other place a family could go together was the Highlands Ranch Recreation Center on Broadway.

In 1991, less than a year after the voters approved the formation of the Douglas Public Library District, we managed to find just about the only leased space available in the area. We opened up a 4,000 square foot library at the other end of the same Convenience Center that houses the 7-Eleven.

Two years later, a vacancy in the center -- plus the very welcome assistance of County Commissioner Michael Cooke and the Highlands Ranch Community Association -- allowed us to double our space. We were also able to sublease some space to Douglas County's Department of Motor Vehicles, overseen by Reta Crain, the County Clerk and Recorder. It's a partnership that has worked well (and saved money) for both of us.

Building a library collection takes time. When we first opened our Highlands Ranch Library, the core stock was some 5,000 paperbacks, suitably reinforced for intensive use.

Just this year, the library surpassed its nearest neighbor -- the Oakes Mill Library -- in number of volumes. Highlands Ranch is up to over 48,000 volumes now. In a little over three years (January, 2000, which is when our current lease expires), the building will be full, just as our Oakes Mill Library is right now.

Now we introduce another library friend: the Mission Viejo Company. Jerry Poston, a Vice-President of the company, served for awhile on the Library Board. During that period, Mission began to firm up their plans for their first "Town Center," located on the southwest corner of Broadway and Highlands Ranch Parkway (just behind the new Safeway).

Jerry presented a plan to the Douglas County Planning Department that placed a 3.4 acre parcel of land -- space for a permanent, replacement Highlands Ranch Library -- in the heart of the Center.

The cost to Douglas County taxpayers for this land? Zero. In addition, Mission Viejo has pledged $190,000 to the project.

A 3.4 acre parcel translates (after parking and landscaping) to a footprint of 20,000 square feet. The various architectural restrictions of the town center project limit the library to a two-story structure. The probable build-out of the Highlands Ranch area is 100,000 people. A two-story building would give us 40,000 square feet -- within shouting distance of the basic library standards of half-a-square-foot per capita.

In the best of all possible worlds, the library district would put up a two-story shell of a building, but only finish half of it. Why? By the year 2000, we'll only need 20,000 square feet. But it's much cheaper to build a larger structure, than to try to expand a smaller one later. We could lease out the unfinished space to other entities such as Motor Vehicles -- until we need it.

As I've mentioned in previous columns, library planning envisions three regional libraries: one in Castle Rock, one in Parker, and one in Highlands Ranch. Thanks to the generosity of Mission Viejo, the library district can easily acquire the land we need in Highlands Ranch.

Yet although the land is free, construction is not. And not only does the library district have a need for a replacement Highlands Ranch Library, it also needs to expand the Oakes Mill Library, the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock (particularly, to accommodate the need for additional space for our Local History Collection), and by the year 2000, the Parker Library (we'll need to finish the space we reserved in the new building). Beyond that, Roxborough needs a small library, and we're looking at significant costs for technology upgrades.

Based on our best read of the future, the library will not have the revenues it needs to do all this. After due deliberation, the Board of Trustees voted to place a request for a mill levy increase on this November's ballot.

We need to find out just how close our vision of the library's future is to the desires of the people who pay for it.

Wednesday, October 9, 1996

October 9, 1996 - Oakes Mil

The Oakes Mill Library is an attractive brick structure on the corner of Yosemite and Lone Tree Parkway. The two-story structure has a footprint of 3,000 square feet. It backs up against a mostly dry creek bed.

In 1990, the Oakes Mill Library was open just five days a week. It was finished only on the top level. This space housed not only the adult and children's collections, it also reserved a small clearing for story times. At the time, Oakes Mill served the population of Acres Green, the community of Lone Tree, and all of Highlands Ranch.

In 1992, two years after Douglas County voters approved the formation of the independent Douglas Public Library District, the building was improved.

First, we finished the downstairs of the building, adding a small room for a Friends of the Library booksale, a lone staff office, an unfinished storage space, public restrooms, and a roughly 1,000 square foot community room. This community room then became our area for story times, which allowed the library's collection to grow a little bit. Upstairs, we carved out a very small staff workspace, reoriented the manager's office, and gave everything a fresh coat of paint.

The Library Board of Trustees spent a lot of time trying to decide how to fix a problem: access from one level to the other. The building was so small that we were loathe to give up interior space to an elevator. Finally, we believed that independent access to the downstairs space -- directly from the parking lot, or down an exterior set of stairs -- was probably sufficient.

At the time, especially with the opening of another 4,000 square foot library in Highlands Ranch, that seemed to take care of things for awhile. But this is Douglas County. Things tend to change pretty quickly.

The Oakes Mill Library remains -- like our Louviers Library -- a neighborhood facility. Oakes Mill is well-used and a source of real community pride for an area that, except for local elementary schools, has no other public centers. But as anyone can tell you who has driven through the area recently, the neighborhood has a lot more people than it used to.

Since our last expansion, the Oakes Mill Library has packed almost every available space with new materials. It has now reached the point where for every new book in, an old one must come out. In other words, although the collection is constantly changing, it is no longer growing.

And there's a problem with that exterior stairway. After a couple of staff people took a tumble down it, we found ourselves closing it off in bad weather.

So in 1995, the Douglas Public Library District's Board of Trustees engaged an architect to look at the maximum expansion of the building. Just how much space could we add? And how could we squeeze in an elevator?

Our architects -- the very innovative folks who also transformed a bowling alley into our new Parker Library -- came back with several options. We could move the entrance of the building from the south to the west, where people would step into a platform halfway between the two floors. From here, they would have a choice to take stairs up or down, or ride an elevator. Projecting to the south and east, on each level, would be a 3,000 square foot wedge. By the end, the building's total size could climb to about 10,000 square feet -- roughly twice what it is now.

Of course, this strategy has its own special costs. All of our other libraries maintain just one level -- which is far cheaper to staff, shelve, and to supervise.

The Board is currently conducting another study. Over the next five years, just how many people will the Oakes Mill Library have to serve? Will the proposed expansion of Oakes Mill prove sufficient? What other strategies might the Board consider to provide services to the area?

The Oakes Mill Library may seem of interest only to the folks who live in its service area. But I believe it has a larger significance. Within the next five years, all of our libraries may find themselves in much the same situation: too small, too crowded, boxed in by growth.

Next week, I'll look at our Highlands Ranch Library.

Wednesday, October 2, 1996

October 2, 1996 - Growing the Collection

How good is the collection of the Douglas Public Library District?

Well, it depends on how you measure it. One of the standards public libraries set for themselves has to do with what percentage of the collection has been published in the past 5 years. Generally speaking, a collection that approaches 80 percent is considered excellent.

By this standard, DPLD does very well, mostly because the biggest build-up of our collection took place since 1990, the founding of the library district.

Another measure looks at the collection from the perspective of the patron. How much of the time do I find what I'm looking for, right there on the shelf? Again, the higher the percentage of success, the better the library.

By this standard, DPLD doesn't always do so well. Take bestsellers. We buy one copy for every four requests. This means that for our hottest titles - anything by John Grisham, for instance - we can very quickly build up some 65 or 70 copies. But then we start to get a little stingy.

Yes, buying more copies would mean a shorter wait for the folks who follow the bestsellers. But a year from now, we'll be looking at 65 or 70 copies of a book that doesn't go out that much anymore. That's a big commitment of money and shelf space for a relatively short-term need.

Or consider audiotapes. We buy almost every audiotape published in America by all the commercial publishers, both the abridged bestsellers (which come out very close to the hardback books), and the unabridged (which tend to come out a little later.) In fact, we usually buy at least four copies: one for each of our 7-day-a- week libraries.

But people tend to browse for audiotapes. That is, they don't search the catalog for them - they just stroll over to the books- on-tape section and check out anything they haven't checked out before. The trouble is, the new stuff is never on the shelf. It's snapped up the minute it comes in.

The right answer, of course, is to buy additional copies: 4 or 5 at each location. Audiotapes tend to keep circulating in Douglas County, more so than older hardback bestsellers. On the other hand, if we do buy extra audiotapes, then we can't buy as MANY titles.

So do we buy lots and lots of what's hot right now, or just buy quite a bit of what's hot, plus a reasonable spread of other stuff?

That's an important question, because not everybody comes in looking for new titles. Sometimes what our many school age or adult patrons need just hasn't been published in the past five years. A good public library has to have depth.

A final measure has to do with number of holdings per capita. Back in 1990, the library had a tad over 1 title per person county- wide. We set a goal of 4 titles per person.

For awhile, we made impressive gains. We went from 65,000 holdings to almost 250,000. Alas, the population grew, too. We're up to about 2.5 items per capita. But for the past two or three years, we've been losing ground.

The library has been very successful in negotiating big discounts on library materials. But even with a growing population, there's more to managing a library collection than just buying everything you see, no matter how much you save on each purchase.

Librarians also REMOVE materials from the collection. Some items are old enough to have bad information in them. Some have been used to death. Some have never been used at all. What matters in a library collection is not just the count, but the relevance of the holdings.

And there's another issue. Our Oakes Mill and Louviers libraries are full right now. For every new book in, one comes out.

Our Philip S. Miller Library - assuming a collection growth roughly the same as that of our previous 6 years - will be in the same position in two years. Our Highlands Ranch Library will be full in three years - about the time our lease runs out.

Our Parker Library is in the best shape. It was built with some unfinished space we can carve out in five years.

Ultimately, the right answer to the question, "how good is the collection of the Douglas Public Library District?" is simple: not good enough. But MAKING it good enough is going to take not only more money for materials, but for more space as well.

Such capital needs, incidentally, are the primary reason the Board of Trustees decided to put a mill levy increase on this November's ballot.

Wednesday, September 25, 1996

September 25, 1996 - Banned Books Week

When I was young -- still in fifth grade -- my local public librarian (the ever-enigmatic Mrs. Johnson) persuaded me to read Plato. Somehow, I got hooked. After many hours of reading, I remember sitting on our tiny concrete porch and thinking, "When I grow up, I want to be wise." That's what I thought Socrates was after, too.

I regret to say that over 30 years later, I'm not making much progress. (And in retrospect, I think Plato didn't do so well, either.) But I have run across a few wise people in my life.

My grandfather was one of them. "You may not have any respect FOR somebody's opinion," he said, "but you should always have respect TO it." Over the years, I'm put this in my own words -- which is how you know an idea has found a home in you -- "Everybody's entitled to his opinion. But some opinions are better than others."

I learned this lesson so early in life that it still seems obvious. You listen respectfully to people's ideas. You test them to see if there's any evidence behind them. And if there is, you change your mind.

If, on the other hand, there doesn't seem to be any supporting data for the opinion, if, in fact, the idea seems out and out loony or malicious, well, I still don't see the value in personal humiliation. If you have facts on your side, that's enough.

If you don't, all the sarcasm in the world won't make you right. And it doesn't usually change anybody else's mind, either.

I'm remembering all this because I was asked by several Arapahoe County librarians to serve as a moderator for a debate this week, which happens to be the American Library Association's "Banned Books Week." (See elsewhere in today's paper for the results of our "In Defense of Reading" contest.)

The debate, held at the Aurora Public Library, was between a representative of People for the American Way (a liberal watchdog group very concerned with First Amendment rights) and Focus on the Family (the conservative Christian organization, headquartered in Colorado Springs).

I got to write the questions. Since I subscribe to the publications of both organizations, I've got a pretty good idea of what they do. I believe they define something like the poles of public opinion on most of the essential issues in current American culture.

What were the topics? Well, I asked both of them to address the appropriate role of the public library in today's society. I asked them to talk about the rights of parents -- AND of children. I asked each of them to expand on their views about the intent of the founders of the Constitution regarding the separation of church and state. Finally, we opened everything up for questions.

How did it go? I don't know. I'm writing this column well before the debate. I have no idea how it will turn out.

But I can say this: I find it appropriate that the library should be the location of such a public event. It has always been our role to provide a forum for the expression of opinions, to gather and arrange our collective memory of the evidence. Best of all, it is our role to encourage all citizens -- regardless of their economic, political, or social status -- to examine this evidence, and to make up their own minds.

Here's hoping that during this week, you'll visit the public library and investigate some topic you've never dared to study before. It just might be the first step on the long path toward wisdom.

Wednesday, September 18, 1996

September 18, 1996 - Reference Staff

I remember the precise moment when Maddy, my daughter, hit the Age of Reason. We were on a long drive back from Arizona. She asked me where people came from -- not "the birds and the bees" kind of question, but more along the lines of "how did human beings wind up on the planet?"

On the one hand, this is one of those tricky moments in parenting. Whether you go with creation or evolution, the next question is, "How do you know?"

On the other hand, that moment -- when Maddy was 7 -- was when my little girl started to grow up. She was thinking big, and her questions will one day lead her to adulthood.

True, she's a whole lot less likely to just take my word for something. But she's also a good deal more interesting to talk to.

I believe the Douglas Public Library District is going through a metamorphosis very similar to my daughter's.

Six years ago, the DPLD (then the "Douglas County Public Library System") served a largely rural area.

Since then, as the county changed around us, the services we've focused on have been "volume" services, the first concern of young libraries. We greatly expanded children's materials and story times. We snapped up every best-seller, in sufficient numbers to match one copy with every four requests.

But the users of our libraries have changed. Our preschool regulars are growing up. There are more homeschoolers and charter school students. There are two new community college locations in the county.

More mothers are back in the work force. More men use the library. There are more home-based businesses.

The expectations of the public have changed. People still want the volume services, but now they also want relatively sophisticated reference services, everything from up-to-the-moment business information, to obscure technical reports.

As I discussed last week, one of the ways the library has tried to gear up for this new challenge is to boost our collection of reference materials.

But an equally important response is staff. At present, most library employees are front line circulation desk workers.

Although we have very talented, very well-educated people who wear a number of hats (everything from story telling to snow shoveling, depending upon need and circumstance), serious reference work takes a lot of specialized training and experience.

Let me switch professions to make a point: just because you go out and buy a lot of car parts doesn't make you a mechanic.

The Age of Reason is when the questions begin to surface, when you recognize the gaps in your knowledge, when you start investing in formal education: the building of knowledge and skills.

The usual response for libraries that find themselves facing this rite of passage (from rural to metropolitan) is to run out and start hiring seasoned reference librarians. In fact, we plan to be doing some of this over the next couple of years, particularly in those libraries where we have no dedicated reference staff.

But we'll also be doing something libraries don't usually do: encourage those of our staff with the inclination and potential to get some additional training, to work with reference staff to gain some hard experience.

This training isn't easy to come by. That means we'll have to pull a lot of it together ourselves. Too, once people pick up these extra skills, they become worth more to the organization. It's important to find ways to recognize that increased value.

But I believe that a smart organization gives its people a chance to grow. This not only keeps their jobs interesting, but helps to spread around the knowledge, increasing the odds that someone will be on hand to answer a patron's question. It also saves money, phasing in the costs for specialized knowledge.

Yes, DPLD is growing up. And it's expensive and complicated. But like my daughter, it's getting more interesting all the time.

Wednesday, September 11, 1996

September 11, 1996 - Reference Collections

No matter who you are, there are things you don't know. Ignorance is a defining element of the human condition.

Still, most of us aren't satisfied with that. We seek knowledge. But where?

Before you go to school, you believe that the best source of the truth is your mom or dad.

In elementary school, you think that your teacher has the authoritative answer.

By the time you get to middle and high school, you're sure that your more experienced peers are the only ones you can trust.

In your freshman year in college you become convinced that you, only you, can be utterly relied upon for the Truth. And you will never think so again.

I quote Oscar Wilde, who said, "I am not young enough to know everything." I paraphrase Mark Twain (I'm working from memory here): "At the age of 18, I left home, largely because of my father's insufferable ignorance. When I returned at the age of 22, I was impressed by how much he'd learned in 4 years."

Back in library school, I learned that most folks, when they have a question about something (what kind of car to buy, what politician is the more nearly believable, what to do for an ailment, etc.), have a predictable pattern of consultation.

First, they talk to their immediate family: their spouses, their parents, their kin.

Next, they talk to their friends.

Next, they talk to their business associates.

Then, and only then, they turn to experts. They take the car to the shop. They put their conscience in the hands of their party. They actually visit a doctor.

WAY down on this decision tree is your humble librarian.

Now why is this? After all, information is our business.

Well, there's convenience. You're more likely to see a family member, friend or business associate than you are to make a special effort to contact the library. People don't change their habits easily.

Please understand that I'm not casting aspersions on the knowledgeability of your social circle. I'm sure they're all very well-informed.

I am just suggesting that you might give a little more thought to your local library. It happens that we have a reference librarian on call every hour the library is open (try 688-8721). Behind these librarians is a fairly impressive array of resources.

Trust me: two calls a year (if, for instance, you make two big purchases a year of almost any major consumer item) can save you literally thousands of dollars.

Did I mention that you've already paid for this service?

The Douglas Public Library District dedicates almost $50,000 every year to reference materials. We buy encyclopedias. We buy almanacs. We buy statistical compilations. We buy consumer guides of several descriptions. We buy numerous specialized resources: pamphlets, annual reports, abstracts, indexes, guides, and much more.

Another (roughly) $40,000 goes to magazine subscriptions and indexes, both paper and electronic.

What are the odds that your friends or associates have assembled a similarly up-to-date gathering of data? (Even if they have, I'd be willing to bet that our stuff is better organized.)

As I say, the Douglas Public Library District has a good, solid reference collection. But there are limitations.

This collection is not available at every library in the county. Our largest collection is at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. The second is at Parker. While our Oakes Mill Library is too small to house much of anything, its staff is very savvy about online resources. (We could use more electronic resources, too. There are many more of them this year than last.)

Our Highlands Ranch Library has just begun to build its reference collection. It's already clear that it needs to concentrate on business materials. The area has a surprisingly high percentage of home-based businesses.

Our limitations are getting clearer. The children we serve so well, the popular fiction readers who can reliably find all the bestsellers on our shelves (or within our collection), have begun not only to demand more sophisticated resources from the library, but also to seek greater depth and readier access throughout the county.

If the library district is to meet this new challenge, we must either duplicate core resources among all our libraries, or build up strong new collections in the right subject areas, at the right locations. Either choice is expensive. Both may be necessary.

The question is, which is cheaper in the long run: knowledge ... or ignorance?

Wednesday, September 4, 1996

September 4, 1996 - Miller Money

I'd always heard that Philip S. Miller didn't like being called P.S. Miller.

But it turns out that his only objection was that there was another P.S. Miller in town, and the two sometimes got confused.

To the people that knew him, to his friends, he was Phil Miller. I regret that I knew him too late in his life to call him a friend. But I've always been impressed with the quality of the people who claim that distinction.

More to the point, I continue to be impressed by the man himself. It's hard for me not to think about Philip S. Miller. He figures so prominently in the history of our library. In the first year of county library services -- 1968 -- the county pledged $5,000 to the effort. Mr. Miller pledged $25,000. There are three things about this gift that stay with me. The first is the most obvious: he HAD $25,000, and was willing to give it to a public project.

Second, he didn't put up his own money until the county anted up first. In much the same way, Mr. Miller was willing to grant loans to young couples -- but only if at least one of them was working. He MATCHED funding, or in today's parlance, he leveraged his capital. Here's another example. On the day the building now called the Philip S. Miller Library was opened, he walked in, and with tears in his eyes, wrote a check for $500,000 -- the exact amount of the unpaid public debt for the new public structure.

But note carefully: he didn't write the check until AFTER the building went up. Again, his generosity was astonishing. But first, there needed to be evidence of will and of action.

Third, he took the long view. Throughout his life, his gifts to the library had strings on them: that $25,000 was for a library building. His $500,000 check was to retire the debt on a new building, not for operations. He put his money toward the enduring infrastructure of the future, not the transient expenses of the present.

I recall another story I heard about Mr. Miller. According to one longtime business associate, Mr. Miller felt real loyalty to his employees only when they'd chosen to stay with the business for a good while -- no less than fifteen years. It was the long view all over again, the notion that obligations attended evidence of commitment.

At his death, several Douglas County institutions learned of Mr. Miller's continuing legacy. His net worth -- some $32 million -- was to be set up as a trust. There were many beneficiaries of this extraordinary boon.

The library was one of them. Perhaps as early as next year, we should receive an astonishing 10% of the interest on the trust: perhaps as much as $150,000 each year.

Of course, Philip S. Miller is not our only philanthropist. Personal donations toward our new Parker Library last year helped us bring in the project under budget, and saved taxpayers some tens of thousands of dollars. Mission Viejo has pledged 3.4 acres of their new Town Center to the library.

As welcome as these gifts are, however, all of the donations ever made to the library throughout its entire history would not run today's Douglas Public Library District for a single year. Long term, reliable library funding depends upon its users, not upon wealthy benefactors.

But in much the same way as loving parents invest the down payment of their children's homes, Philip S. Miller (and his wife, Jerry) invested in the library. And the Douglas Public Library District has proven itself a frugal child, securing its own resources to match the beneficence of its forebears. Also like Mr. Miller, the library district saves for its future, and assiduously avoids debt.

I think he would have liked that.

Wednesday, August 28, 1996

August 28, 1996 - In Defense of Reading Contest

In about a month, librarians all across the country will observe "Banned Books Week." As usual, we'll have various displays about materials that have been challenged in school and public libraries.

I write about this event every year, because I believe few issues are so central to the very purpose of librarianship. Opposition to censorship isn't about calling people names (zealot! liberal! censor!). It's about "intellectual freedom", even for those people who disagree with you. It's about the sanctity of individual inquiry.

From the safety of a library chair, you can walk the inner city, or the surface of Mars. You can immerse yourself in the words of Jesus -- or of Darwin. In a library, you're limited only by your vocabulary and your reading speed.

But as I say, I've written about this every year. As I talked this over with the editor of the News Press, Rich Bangs, we thought it would be an interesting change of pace to let you, the reader, tell us what Banned Books Week means to you.

I am pleased, therefore, to announce the 1996 In Defense of Reading Essay Contest, jointly sponsored by the Douglas County News Press and the Douglas Public Library District.

Who can participate? There are two categories: High School and Adult. For the High School category you have to be either in High School or if in private school or learning at home, between the ages of 13 and 19. For the Adult category, you have to be 18 or older, and no longer in high school. The contest is open only to Douglas County residents. Library, newspaper, or school district employees may not participate.

What are the rules for the contest?

SUBJECT: the general topic is "In Defense of Reading." Specifically, you have to "defend" one of the 50 books that has been challenged in a library. See the sidebar, "The Most Frequently Challenged Books in the 1990s."

The approach is up to you. But in some fashion you must address the central idea: defending the reading of a book that someone has asked that a library remove from its collection.

FORMAT: each entry should be typed on 8-1/2 by 11" paper, double-spaced, accompanied by a cover page that has your name, the name of your essay, and the category of the entry: HIGH SCHOOL or ADULT. Your name should NOT appear anywhere else on the essay. Pages should be numbered. Do not staple or paper clip them together. Each entry should be submitted, not folded, in an envelope labeled, "IN DEFENSE OF READING CONTEST."

LENGTH: entries may be no longer than 400 words.

DEADLINE: all entries must be received by September 11, 1996. (Please note: that's RECEIVED, not postmarked.)

LOCATION: drop off your entries at any Douglas Public Library District location whose phone number is listed below. If you don't know where YOUR local library is, shame on you! Here's a quick list of phone numbers: Castle Rock: 688-5157; Highlands Ranch: 791-7703; Oakes Mill: 799-4449; Parker: 841-3503. Or you may mail your entry to IN DEFENSE OF READING, Douglas Public Library District, 961 S Plum Creek Blvd, Castle Rock CO 80104.

JUDGING: the entries will be judged by Rich Bangs, me, and one other person (I'm trying to get someone from the school district). The decisions of the judges are final.

WHAT DO I WIN? The winning entries will be printed in the September 25, 1996 edition of the News Press. Winners will also receive a gift certificate for the Hooked On Books book store in Castle Rock, and a free one year's subscription to the News Press. There will be at least one winner in each category. Depending upon space, some of the other entries may appear in the News Press as well.

SIDEBAR: "The Most Frequently Challenged Books in the 1990s"

This is taken from the table of contents of "Banned in the U.S.A." by Herbert N. Foerstel. It lists the fifty books that were most frequently challenged in schools and public libraries in the United States between 1990 and 1992. ("Challenged" means that a library patron requested that the title be withdrawn from the library's collection.)

1. "Impressions" Edited by Jack Booth et al.
2. "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck
3. "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger
4. "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
5. "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier
6. "Bridge to Terabithia" by Katherine Paterson
7. "Scary Stories in the Dark" by Alvin Schwartz
8. "More Scary Stories in the Dark" by Alvin Schwartz
9. "The Witches" by Roald Dahl
10. "Daddy's Roommate" by Michael Willhoite
11. "Curses, Hexes, and Spells" by Daniel Cohen
12. "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle
13. "How to Eat Fried Worms" by Thomas Rockwell
14. "Blubber" by Judy Blume
15. "Revolting Rhymes" by Roald Dahl
16. "Halloween ABC" by Eve Merriam
17. "A Day No Pigs Would Die" by Robert Peck
18. "Heather Has Two Mommies" by Leslea Newman
19. "Christine" by Stephen King
20. "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou
21. "Fallen Angels" by Walter Myers
22. "The New Teenage Body Book" by Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman
23. "Little Red Riding Hood" by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
24. "The Headless Cupid" by Zilpha Snyder
25. "Night Chills" by Dean Koontz
26. "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding
27. "A Separate Peace" by John Knowles
28. "Slaughterhouse-Five" by Kurt Vonnegut
29. "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker
30. "James and the Giant Peach" by Roald Dahl
31. "The Learning Tree" by Gordon Parks
32. "The Witches of Worm" by Zilpha Snyder
33. "My Brother Sam Is Dead" by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
34. "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck
35. "Cujo" by Stephen King
36. "The Great Gilly Hopkins" by Katherine Paterson
37. "The Figure in the Shadows" by John Bellairs
38. "On My Honor" by Marion Dane Bauer
39. "In the Night Kitchen" by Maurice Sendak
40. "Grendel" by John Champlin Gardner
41. "I Have to Go" by Robert Munsch
42. "Annie on My Mind" by Nancy Garden
43. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain
44. "The Pigman" by Paul Zindel
45. "My House" by Nikki Giovanni
46. "Then Again, Maybe I Won't" by Judy Blume
47. "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood
48. "Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols" by Edna Barth
49. "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
50. "Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones" by Alvin Schwartz

Wednesday, August 21, 1996

August 21, 1996 - Library Technology

The first time I ever saw a library terminal was in 1978.

At the time, the idea was revolutionary. Imagine being able not only to look up what the library owned (the card catalog did a pretty good job of that), but to find out if it was actually available!

But automating our library catalogs was tough -- the work of a whole generation of librarians. The hard part was the data: converting paper records into bits and bytes. Once that happened, there were four more purchases: library terminals, wiring the buildings, buying new phone lines, and training staff and public to use it all.

Once the work was done, however, automation saved big money for libraries. No longer did we have to type, and retype, and file, all of those catalog cards. No longer did we have to file every day's checkouts manually. No longer did we have to type thousands of overdue notices. It was all cranked out by the computer.

On the other hand, library automation, like every other kind of business computing, wasn't static. We bought new, more powerful central processors. We bought bigger, faster, hard drives. We replaced older terminals with new ones. But terminals were getting cheaper and better. So too were processors and hard drives.

Even so, it wasn't until the last two years, and really only this year, that two FUNDAMENTAL changes became necessary.

The first has to do with a whole new metaphor for moving around what we now call "cyberspace." The startling success of the World Wide Web isn't based on just the new information it offers. It's based on an easier way to use computers altogether: the icons, mouse, and other multimedia first introduced to the market by the Apple Macintosh, the metaphor of "the desktop."

But our older terminals are too clunky and too slow to take advantage of this new computing style. The old rate of data transmission (both over our internal wiring and the phone lines connecting our branches) was 9600 bits per second. That's plenty fast for text. But to move graphics and sounds, the new lowest common denominator of computer communications, we need speeds of at least 14,400 bits per second (a speed increase of about one and half times). A better speed would be 28,800 -- the speed of today's faster modems.

No speed would be too fast; all of them seem too slow. To stay current with today's torrent of data, libraries need a minimum "pipeline" of 56 kilobytes (57,600 bits per second) both internally and across branches.

As a result of these two key needs -- new workstations and a new telecommunications infrastructure -- most libraries in America are now facing a crisis of capital. For instance, the Douglas Public Library District has about 50 terminals. To replace them all with microcomputers would run about $1,800 each, or a total of $90,000. And of course, we'll be needing more terminals, by and by.

Many of our branches were wired with cables following a standard that has now been superseded. We may be looking at costs of another $10,000 to $30,000 to upgrade our internal communications.

Beyond that, to connect branch microcomputers to the Internet requires a jump in the bandwidth of our telephone lines. Current costs per line (at 9600 bits per second) are about $150 per month, or about $1,800 annually. Moving our phone lines to acceptable speeds will at least double that, at each library branch.

Moreover, the telecommunications equipment that attaches the phone lines to our computer will also have to be replaced.

By the time I add all this up, the library will need to spend a minimum of $200,000 over the next two years in order to position ourselves to be a player on the emerging World Wide Web -- to both receive data from, and contribute data to, a complex and responsive local and global network.

Like a lot of businesses, we've come to realize that these new technologies don't just save money anymore. Now, they cost money: to install, to maintain, and to manage. But also like businesses, libraries must remain competitive. Increasingly, these technologies bring previously unimaginable speed and convenience to a primary task of the library: the delivery of information to the general public, both within the library and without.

Our choice is to remain leaders in this arena, or fall behind. And this is one of many areas where libraries must be leaders.

Wednesday, August 14, 1996

August 14, 1996 - Library Growth in Income, Population, Demand

I remember the day I proudly informed an old college friend that I was going to be a father. He said, "I'm really sorry to hear that."

Surprised, I asked him, "Why?"

"Mark my words," he said darkly. "Right now, there might be two or three years between our visits. When we do get together, it doesn't really seem like that much time has passed. We look and feel about like we did the last time we saw each other. But now -- one visit your daughter will be in diapers, and the next time she'll be graduating from college. There's only one way to interpret that: I'm getting old. Kids are responsible for it."

I laughed. I'm not laughing now.

Three months ago, I carefully marked the spot on the wall that equaled my daughter's height. Now she's two inches taller. Three months. As I often say to my wife, they don't make a year like they used to.

But kids just make it personal. I've been reviewing some library statistics lately, and my business life echoes my personal life.

For instance, I've been looking at library revenue, the library's budget since 1991, which was our first year as a library district. In 1991, our income was $2,181,868. In 1995, it had risen to $2,818,905. That's an increase of 29 percent, which seems very healthy.

But consider the population growth in Douglas County. In 1991, 64,857 people lived here. At the end of 1995, there were 99,091. That's an increase of 53 percent.

Now consider the jump in library business. In 1991, we checked out 510,211 items. Last year, we checked out 1,038,322 -- an increase of 104 percent. That's almost twice the rate of population growth, and three and a half times greater than the growth of library revenues.

But to anybody with children, this is downright familiar. It doesn't matter what kind of growth you see in your income. At some point, it occurs to you that what you need for the future is intelligent investment -- setting aside for a purpose. These days, I think that the real, tangible manifestation of love is the will to plan. If you don't have that, you may have affection -- but you don't have love that is alive and conscious.

Your children will need adequate funds to go to college. Your libraries will require adequate structures to house the broad curriculum of new library materials. Responsible parents plan for the well-being of their children. Responsible citizens plan for the well-being of their public institutions.

It's a hard thing, discovering that those marks on the wall not only add up to the bewildering growth of our offspring, but to deep new obligations, our sweat for their future. But mark my words, the right time for planning is yesterday. If not then, then today.

Two inches in three months. Astonishing.

Wednesday, August 7, 1996

August 7, 1996 - Regional Versus Neighborhood Libraries

The library, like the county, is deeply concerned with the question of "quality of life." In our case, let's call it "quality of service."

There are at least two broad models of library service. One of them is "the regional library." The Arapahoe Library District's Koelbel Library would be a good example. It's a big building, with a big collection, including special areas for children, reference, and business databases. Denver Public Library would be another example.

We have a lot of sophisticated library users in Douglas County. They appreciate the resources of libraries like that.

The other broad model is "the neighborhood library." It's a place where everybody knows your name. When you walk in the door, the staff is likely to have pulled a book for you, not because you requested it, but just because someone thought you would like it.

There are strengths and weaknesses to both models. Which kind of library YOU prefer to use depends on lots of things -- your age, your interests, your career, or just how you look at the world.

Lately the Douglas Public Library District has been doing a lot of thinking about long range planning. We think there is room for both kinds of libraries in our district. (And a couple more kinds as well.)

Douglas County, a planning consultant once told me, is clearly "tri-furcated" (split into three parts). These parts roughly correspond to county commissioner districts: northwest (Highlands Ranch), northeast (Parker), and south-central (Castle Rock). We believe, over the next five years, these will best be served by "regional libraries:" the Highlands Ranch Library (although not at its current location), the Parker Library, and the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. These three libraries will be the locations where more expensive resources (computer equipment, special collections, reference staff, for instance) will be concentrated.

But there is also a place for neighborhood libraries. Our oldest (and smallest) neighborhood library is Louviers, where local resident Fran Snyder provides warmly personal service. Our Oakes Mill Library, although a little larger, is also a neighborhood library, with a solid connection to its Lone Tree and Acres Green patrons. While we hope to do some upgrading at both facilities (Louviers needs another terminal or two, Oakes Mill should be twice as big as it is right now), these libraries are defined by their locations. They are "good fits."

Now for those other two kinds of libraries.

Over the past several years we have tested what we call the "satellite library" model at three locations: Cherry Valley (in southeastern Douglas County), Larkspur (in southwestern Douglas County), and Roxborough (in the northwest corner). Each of these areas tends to be somewhat isolated geographically.

In brief, a federal grant helped us buy a terminal and CD-ROM workstation for each location. The library and the school district share the costs of providing public service two or three times a week.

The Cherry Valley experiment works just fine as it is: open twice a week to enable local residents to request items from other branches, then come pick them up. Our Larkspur location proved to be a useful addition to the existing school library, but never found much general public use, so although the equipment and delivery system remain for school staff and students, we won't be continuing it as an after school program.

Roxborough is another story. It has been intensely used by the public -- enough, I believe, to justify the establishment of our third "neighborhood library" sometime between now and the turn of the century.

Finally, the library sponsors a "books by mail" program for the residents of Deckers -- a unique community in the extreme southeastern edge of the county. The program is very popular, and remarkably cost-effective.

If the library succeeds in fulfilling this vision of the future, that would leave us with three regional libraries, three neighborhood libraries, one school satellite, and a books by mail program. That seems like a good balance to me. But I'd be interested to hear from the rest of you. Somewhere in this menu, can you find the kind of library YOU like?

Wednesday, July 31, 1996

July 31, 1996 - Kid's Cat Comes to Library

When children get really interested in something, you can see on their faces the naked truth of human existence: we are most alive, most alert, when we're exploring.

As we get older, our explorations get, in most cases, more abstract. We go from sticking our hands in the mud to the study of gardening or agronomy. We go from the rapt tugging at a kite string to a career in aeronautical engineering. We go, in short, from direct sensation to a more intellectual adventure.

For most very young people, the library is at the level of a physical experience. They develop an almost bodily sense of where things are. They know that the stuff they like is in the wooden bins, or by the train, or near the big bug pillows, and that those areas feel, smell, or look a certain way.

But as children get older and their interests break into discrete categories, that kinesthetic awareness of the library gets more diffuse. You can have special feelings about a general area of the library. But one metal shelf looks and feels a whole lot like another.

So at some point, children stop just poking into odd corners of the area, physically investigating the space. With luck, they turn to the catalog, and scrutinize it mentally.

There are two problems with this, though:

* computer terminals put off some people. There's too LITTLE tactile response. Especially for the folks who remember the big, gleaming wooden card catalogs, a terminal feels, ironically, too disconnected.

* computer terminals are boring. In general, librarians group library holdings into just three broad categories: listings by author and title (including series titles), and subject descriptions. To find things in our computer system, you have to work through a series of relatively dull menu screens. You can learn to appreciate its power and efficiency. But only a cataloger or programmer can learn to love it.

Things are about to change. As of this week, thanks to $500 donations by each of their Friends groups, our Highlands Ranch, Oakes Mill, Parker, and the Philip S. Miller libraries all have something called "Kid's Cat." "Cat" is short for "catalog."

Kid's Cat encourages children to delve into the intellectual structure of a library catalog in a far more involving and intuitive fashion. All they have to do is slide around a trackball, built right into the keyboard, until the on-screen pointer is over a colorful graphic. Then they click a button. More graphics come onto the screen.

The choices are still, in a way, subject descriptions. But they're not the subject descriptions children usually see. The headings are in plain English. The Kid's Cat screen is more interesting, more beguiling, than the screens of our other terminals.

But unlike, say, a TV screen, the child is in charge, and the payoff is a list of titles that match the various searching strategies: lists of books about bears, or ghost stories, or tall tales. Once a particular title has been identified, the Kid's Cat will even display a map of where in the library the item can be found.

For a long time, library technology has been a tool for grown-ups -- even though many children have picked it up far more quickly than their parents.

Only now are we beginning to take a fresh look at these tools through the eyes of a child. By and by, I suspect that all of our catalogs will look more like Kid's Cat. And that just might herald a bold new age of exploration.

Wednesday, July 24, 1996

July 24, 1996 - Funny Newspaper Headlines

Just last week I got a letter from a careful reader who noticed a sprinkling of spelling and grammatical errors in local newspaper columns and articles, and took issue with my assertion that Douglas County citizens are better educated than some.

One of the special pangs of writing for the newspaper is that no matter how many times you pore over your text before you give it to the paper, the instant it hits print, you see the obvious error. I know this is true for other writers as well.

But just to set the record straight, columnists don't write their headlines. Newspaper staff does that. And as a columnist, I find goofs in headlines to be MUCH funnier than the ones I make. Below is just a sample, gathered from all around the English-speaking world.

Something went wrong in jet crash, experts say
Police begin campaign to run down jaywalkers
Safety Experts say school bus passengers should be belted
Drunk gets nine months in violin case
Survivor of Siamese twins joins parents
Farmer Bill dies in house
Iraqi head seeks arms
Is there a ring of debris around Uranus?
Stud tires out
Prostitutes appeal to Pope
Panda mating fails, Veterinarian takes over
Eye drops off shelf
Teacher strikes idle kids
Squad helps dog bite victim
Shot off woman's leg helps Nicklaus to 66
Enraged cow injures farmer with ax
Plane too close to ground, crash probe told
Miners refuse to work after death
Juvenile court to try shooting defendant
Stolen painting found by tree
Killer sentenced to die for second time in 10 years
Enfiels couple slain; Police suspect homicide
Screwdrivers were made to tighten, loosen screws
Liquor sales dip blamed on less drinking
Bush gets briefing on drought; says rain needed to end it
Living together linked to divorce
Boys cause as many pregnancies as girls
Tribal council to hold June meeting in June
Death ends fun
Police use tear gas, SWAT team, battering ram, stun gun to oust woman, 65
Cockroach Slain, Husband Badly Hurt
Slayings put end to marriage
Animal unit seeks rabbit witnesses
Jail's $34 million price tag doesn't include cell doors
Grandmother of eight makes hole in one
Deaf mute gets new hearing in killing
House passes gas tax onto senate
Stiff opposition expected to casketless funeral plan
Two convicts evade noose, jury hung
William Kelly was fed secretary
Milk drinkers are turning to powder
Quarter of a million Chinese live on water
Queen Mary having bottom scraped
NJ judge to rule on nude beach
Soviet virgin lands short of goal again
Organ festival ends in smashing climax
Dealers will hear car talk at noon
Lawmen from Mexico barbecue guests
Two Soviet ships collide - one dies
Two sisters reunite after eighteen years at checkout counter
Never withhold herpes from loved one
Nicaragua sets goal to wipe out literacy
Drunk drivers paid $1,000 in 1984
Autos killing 110 a day let's resolve to do better
If strike isn't settled quickly it may last a while
War dims hope for peace
Smokers are productive, but death cuts efficiency
Cold wave linked to temperatures
Child's death ruins couple's holiday
Blind woman gets new kidney from dad she hasn't seen in years
Man is fatally slain
Death causes loneliness, feeling of isolation

And there you have it. I'm glad I aren't making mistakes like them.

Wednesday, July 17, 1996

July 17, 1996 - Libraries Close for District-Wide Inventory

In 1990, the Douglas Public Library District owned 65,000 items. Now we own 240,000.

Or do we? Well, our computer says we do. Of course, a certain amount of those items are checked out at any given moment. It's also true that some of them don't come back, although eventually they get deleted from our database.

But some of them also get stolen -- just walk out the door. How many? We don't know.

A great number of them get misplaced. My son Perry, who's 2 now, likes to pull titles from one bin in the children's area, exclaim over them, then carefully put them back in another bin altogether. I scoot along behind him and put things right. But I'm not always right there, kids move pretty fast, and Perry is not the only little one who enjoys this game.

Grown-ups do the same thing, selecting an item, looking it over, and sticking it back somewhere close to the right place, but not quite. Multiply this by literally tens of thousands of transactions over the course of a year, and it's hard to know what's where.

The result? You can't find the book the computer says we own. Librarians can't find the books they need to answer reference questions. Popular new materials get swallowed into little pockets of chaos.

Naturally, we do try to stay ahead of the problem with something called "shelf-reading" -- going through the shelves and putting things back in order. But more and more people come to the library these days, and they check out more and more books. To be brutally frank, it's time for us to attack this problem in a big way, with all-out concentration and force.

So the library will be doing its first ever district-wide inventory. Each of our libraries will be closed in turn as teams of computer-wand-wielding librarians handle every single item we own, then put them where they belong.

The schedule for closings looks like this:

Oakes Mill Library - August 1 and 2 Highlands Ranch Library - August 4, 5, and 6 Parker Library - August 8, 9, 10 Philip S. Miller Library - August 14, 15, 16.

We'll be moving at a pretty fast clip through all these collections, and hope to wrap it up on schedule. Emphasis on "hope." It's possible that the schedule won't hold.

We'll make sure that none of the items you check out will fall due on these days. And since we'll be closing the libraries in sequence, you'll still be able to phone or visit the other libraries. Think of it as "Reading Douglas County: a Literary and Architectural Tour." You'll find that each of our libraries has a distinct personality, reflecting the differences in its materials, its furnishings, its neighborhood, and its staff. One thing won't change: good service at each location, and lots of good things to choose from.

When we're done, we'll clean up our computer records, calculate our loss rate, replace the popular or core materials that have disappeared, and revel in the brief moment of glory that comes from knowing that all our shelves are in perfect order.

Then we'll open the doors, and you'll be able to find things again.

Thanks for your understanding.

Wednesday, July 10, 1996

July 10, 1996 - Survey Coming Up

As I've mentioned here before, the library has been working on its long range plan. Our various committees have been coming up with some questions they'd like to ask the public.

This is to put you all on notice that about a thousand of you may get a phone call sometime in the next month. Tagged onto the end of another survey will be some questions about the library. I hope you'll take the time to answer them. Teaming up with another market research effort enabled us to get an amazing break on our costs, and we really do want to know what you think about these items.

Asking questions is a tricky business. To make sure that we'd picked some good ones, I invited Keith Lance and Julie Boucher of the Library Research Office of the Colorado State Library to come down and talk to us. Both of them are number junkies. They're responsible for gathering, tallying, and analyzing the statistics turned in by every public library in the state.

At first, Dr. Lance's perspective shocked me. He tried to talk us out of doing a survey at all. Surveys, he said, are expensive. He emphasized that before we went to all the trouble of designing questions, gathering data, and then trying to make sense of it, we might want to find out if we already had the data we needed.

An astonishing amount of patron data is available in census information, or through local planning departments. Library computers also do a good job of collecting useful facts: how many people have a library card, how often they use it, where they live, and what (in the aggregate) they check out. Taken together, these sources of information can provide a wealth of knowledge.

Dr. Lance stressed another point. Often, libraries ask questions they already know the answer to. It's clear to many of us in the profession that there's a major trend toward remote access to the library -- people who connect to us from their home computers. Our patrons are looking not only for information about what books the library owns. They also want to browse through periodical indexes. If they hit pay dirt, they want the full text of the articles.

We know this is true. We can track its growth, month by month. We know we need to get ready for it. Why ask?

Likewise, we can determine that there's a major interest in books on tape. Right now, we buy virtually everything that's produced. We don't have to ask if the public would like us to continue this service. We know they do.

So what will we ask? Well, if you don't use the library, why not? And if you do, what do you most seek from us in the improvement of our services? In other words, what aren't we doing? What new services are most likely to succeed?

Most important of all, how well are we doing? Are you, as a taxpayer, getting your money's worth?

I used to know a librarian in a very rural area of Illinois. She assured me that she saw everybody in the community, and that everybody just loved the library.

She was wrong. Her manner was seen by many people as patronizing and provincial. Some folks drove 30 miles to the next closest library system, just to avoid her.

I'd rather know the truth about the quality of our services than get comfortable with a lie.

Wednesday, July 3, 1996

July 3, 1996 - The Godless Constitution

Several years ago, I wrote a column on the general public ignorance about religious denominational differences. I proposed a public lecture series on the topic. I also asked for public comment.

Outside of several staff members, I got just two responses. One was from a woman who thought this was a GREAT idea. Why? "Because those Mormons are up to something."

The second response was from a friend, who -- to my utter astonishment -- wrote me that for the library to sponsor such a series was a violation of the separation of church and state. He said he'd sue.

I weighed these responses and concluded that there obviously wasn't much general public interest in the program as I'd construed it: an open, non-partisan review of the doctrinal and historic differences between various religions.

Since then, I've become even more convinced that we know too little about the role of religion in our culture and history. Part of the reason is the timidity of our textbooks. Textbook publishers have worked out a simple response to controversy: drop the subject. In my opinion, it's a national disgrace.

Based on the historical record, clearly many of our founding fathers (and mothers!) were very religious. Equally clear, however, is the fact that the United States Constitution omitted all religious references save one. Article 6, section 3 of the Constitution states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Unlike every other founding document for every other nation on earth (at that moment in history), there was no mention whatsoever of God.

What were the founders thinking?

Well, I just finished a book that has some interesting things to say on the subject. The title is "The Godless Constitution: the case against religious correctness," by Cornell University professors Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore.

The authors are at odds with the historical interpretations of such Christian conservatives as James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and Pat Buchanan. But the book isn't a one-sided attack. Here's an example:

"The religious right today wants only half of the laissez-faire ideal to which the founders of this country adhered. They accuse those we call liberals today of abandoning the founders' faith in economic laissez-faire, and there is much truth to this accusation. But they themselves have abandoned the other half of our founders' ideals, religious laissez-faire, in the name of a restored religious tyranny, the religious correctness of a revived Christian commonwealth."

The book covered lots of things I'd never heard of before. For instance, in 1788 and again in 1864 there were attempts to amend the Constitution to make it a more consciously Christian document. Both proposals were resoundingly defeated.

The essential thesis of the book can be summed up as follows: "It is not true that the founders designed a Christian commonwealth, which was then eroded by secular humanists and liberals; the reverse is true. The framers erected a godless federal constitutional structure, which was then undermined as God entered first the U.S. currency in 1863 ["In God we Trust"], then the federal mail service in 1912 [when Sunday service was stopped], and finally the Pledge of Allegiance [one nation "under God"] in 1954."

It's been over a century since the last attempt to amend the federal constitution to make it more religiously correct. I wouldn't be surprised to find that we're gearing up for another one. For evidence on both sides of the debate, check out your local library. In addition to the names listed above, investigate the writings of John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

Especially on the eve of Independence Day, it's your civic duty.

Wednesday, June 26, 1996

June 26, 1996 - Raising ILL Fines

When one of our patrons asks for a book, we usually buy it. Sometimes we can't.

Many titles are no longer in print. Borrowing it from another library -- a process called "Interlibrary Loan" or ILL -- is the only way to get it. Sometimes an item is unusually expensive, or of little general interest. In that case, ILL is more cost- effective. (Even then, if such a book is requested several times by more than one person, we usually try to pick it up.)

Generally speaking, ILL transactions don't make up a huge percentage of our business -- less than 1% of all our circulations. Direct patron purchases, by contrast, account for roughly 12-15% of our purchases. But interlibrary loans take up far more staff time per title.

How come? First, we have to find out who owns it. Even then, the item isn't necessarily on the shelf at the library that does own it.

Second, once the lending library snags it, the item still has to travel through various courier routes around the country and state before it gets to us. We've gotten books from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii, and as close as the Arapahoe Library District.

Third, all along the way, there's a small but significant amount of paperwork necessary to track the request.

Fourth, then we loan the item to one of our patrons, which requires both additional processing, and a phone call to the patron.

Fifth, on occasion, we send out an overdue notice or two to get the item back. Sixth and finally, we have to return the item to the lending library, with our thanks.

On the one hand, this level of cooperation among all types of libraries -- academic libraries, public libraries, school libraries, even such special libraries as medical and art collections -- is very unusual in American government. Many people aren't even aware that it exists: you just ask for something, and before very long, we get it for you. In my opinion, Interlibrary Loan is a library success story.

On the other hand, there are lots of ways for this cooperation to go wrong. And lately, at the Douglas Public Library District, we've noticed that some of the items we get through Interlibrary Loan just aren't coming back on time. We get them to our patrons, but some of our patrons don't return them when they're supposed to.

Frankly, this hurts our library's reputation. Before very long, other libraries begin to be unwilling to loan things to us. This threatens the quality of the service for the rest of our patrons.

As a result, I'm taking advantage of one of the (few!) powers enjoyed by a library director. I'm raising our late fees for interlibrary loan materials, effective June 26, 1996.

The fines used to cost a nickel a day. From now on, they'll cost fifty cents a day. (Incidentally, our old nickel-a-day charge was the lowest in the metro area.)

I emphasize that if you return Interlibrary Loan materials when you're supposed to, the service is still free. (Well, USUALLY free. Sometimes the lending library charges us a small fee, which a very few of them do, but we pass on to the patron.) The late fees only apply if you don't get the books back to us by their due dates.

Frankly, I don't view this as a money-maker. I hope we don't make a dollar on it. But I hope it does help us get those books back on time.

The interlibrary loan system depends upon the thoughtfulness and courtesy of all parties. It's important to keep up our end of the bargain.