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, May 29, 1996

May 29, 1996 - YAPP Program

I freely admit it. There are lots of things going on at the library that I don't know anything about. Mostly, I'm ok with that.

I finally figured out that it's impossible for one person to keep track of all the activities of 100 others -- especially when they're as creative as our staff. It's more important that the environment is lively than that I know all about it ahead of time.

Besides, I like surprises. (Usually.)

Here's an example. One of our staff people, Carolyn LaPerriere, dreamed up a reading program for Young Adults. It's called "Y.A.P.P." When I asked her what it stands for, she said, "Young Adult Program at Philip S. Miller Library." I'll bite, I said. Shouldn't that be, Y.A.P.a.P.S.M.L.? She just laughed.

The acronym may be complex, but the Y.A.P.P. program is pretty simple. If you're 12-17 years old, you need to fill out a green registration card for the program. This qualifies you for the drawing, held twice a week for the duration of the program, to win a $15 gift certificate at Bogey's West (a music store). If you complete the program -- which requires you to read 6 books of your own choice between June 10 and July 15 -- then you go into the big drawing. Win that, and you win a $35 gift certificate at Bogey's.

"Why should a Young Adult sign up for such a program?" I asked. Carolyn allowed that she thinks the odds are better than they were last year that you'll win something. (More prizes.) Then she laughed again.

There's another benefit, of course. Carolyn also walked me over to the Philip S. Miller Library's Young Adult collection. (We have over 4,000 young adult books and paperbacks in the district's collection these days.) She showed me the Young Adult Reader's Advisory Notebook -- something else I didn't know about. This notebook included various book lists staff have produced over the past year or so. But it also included book reviews written by the intended audience -- teenagers.

Here are a few samples.

"Chorus Skating," by Alan Dean Foster: "It is a witty fantasy with a strange sort of humor. Definitely a book that would produce at least a short grin." Then the phrase "a short grin" was crossed out and replaced with "a violent fit of hysteria."

"Johnny Mnemonic": "It was a depressing and violent book in an even more depressing and violent future. Definitely not your cozy- up-with-a-hot-cup-of-cocoa kind of book." That's one of the best short book reviews I've seen, concise and informative.

"Journey to the Center of the Earth," by Jules Verne: "This book was boring and hard to understand." And my favorite: "The Plant that Ate Dirty Socks," by Nancy McArthur: "...it's a strange book. It is also a funny book. The plants eat socks, some dirty ... and some clean."

I have to end this with a great story I heard from the Philip S. Miller Library's branch manager, Holly Deni. Holly says that a recent study about how people interpret street signs yielded an interesting observation. You've probably seen the library sign. It features a sort of international bald-headed kid, holding an book.

How did people interpret it? "People reading as they cross the street." A Readers Crossing.

Hey, it could happen. Who knows? Some of them might even be young adults.

Wednesday, May 22, 1996

May 22, 1996 - Long Range Planning Effort

Over the next several months, the library will be working on its long range plan. Our planning period is 5 years; a span that will sweep the library into the 21st century.

So far, our long range planning process has involved three basic approaches.

First, the Douglas Public Library District Board of Trustees has assembled a planning committee. Serving on it are board members Bob McLaughlin (of Parker) and Steve Roper (of Highlands Ranch). The committee also includes Denny Hill, whose number-crunching skills and demographic projections have served the school district so well. We are also pleased to have J. Tom Graham, publisher of the News-Press, who brings a freshness of insight to Douglas County, and a good deal of seasoned business experience. Another member of our team is Alvaro Pisoni, who recently has put a great deal of work into the master plan for the Parker's downtown, and brings an international sensibility to our discussions. Finally, we have Kim Wolz, a long-time citizen member of the Douglas County Planning Commission, and a big time library user, a woman of experience and penetrating insight. I serve as facilitator for the group.

Second, we have established several staff committees, chaired not by our managers, but by our front line staff. Our intent here is to make sure we capture the direct, service-point perspective in our planning. These committees include "Looking Around" (a survey and statistical review committee), Automation (to look at trends and costs for technology), Collections (to look at how we acquire materials, and what formats of materials should be phased in or out), New Services (to identify useful and appropriate new library functions), and Personnel (to consider not only our whole compensation package, but to look at staff training needs, organizational structures, and so on).

Third, I've worked up a document detailing what kinds of things I see in our immediate future. Among other things, I've proposed a new service model (contrasted with the old "organization chart") and tried to predict some of the key trends that will affect the library environment.

I know that there are hordes of people out there "visioning" and the like. It could be that you have been involved in such efforts yourself, and as a result, cast a cynical eye on such doings.

But I humbly submit that the library is different. The last time we worked up a plan, we stuck to it. In fact, we exceeded it. We're not just compiling nicely formatted documents to be shelved and forgotten. We're trying to pull together the best thoughts of our best minds to hammer out a solid action plan through the year 2001.

I'll be reporting on the results of our efforts over the next few months. The point of this week's column is to remind you that you, O Gentle Reader, are also part of the library's braintrust. You are the source of some of our very best ideas, and the final judge of their worth.

So if there's some burning issue that has been bothering you about the library, or some wonderful idea that we need to know about, don't hesitate to let us know.

Stop in and talk to us about it. Give either your local branch, or me, a call (I'm at 688-8752). If you have e-mail, try me at jaslarue@earthlink.net. Too, be prepared for a library survey. We haven't worked out, yet, whether it will be by telephone, by mail, or even door to door. And you may not hear from us until fall. We're still working on which questions are the most important.

But if we do contact you, we hope you'll be willing to talk to us.

Wednesday, May 15, 1996

May 15, 1996 - 3 Ways to Connect to Library Home Page

Over the past year or so, many librarians have been exploring a new technology. That technology is the World Wide Web.

Let me say at the outset that the Web won't solve everything. But, for some kinds of library tasks, it has potential.

The Web also addresses several identifiable trends among our library patrons. More people have home computers and modems. More people are looking for ways to conduct their business and do their research from home. More people are working odd hours.

As I've written here before, the Douglas Public Library District offers a "home page" of its own -- the address is: http://douglas.lib.co.us.

This home page does several things. First, it gives some information about the library: our hours, locations and phone numbers of our branches, brief descriptions of some of our special services, and even the names and e-mail addresses of our Board of Trustees. Second, it links to various library resources: our catalog, an Interlibrary Loan connection, and something we call "Local Reference Information." Third, it connects to a host of other library or library-related sites. More recently, we have also included selected articles from the Douglas County News- Press.

The purpose of this week's column is to tell you the three ways you can connect to our home page.

* Come to the library. At some of our branches, we have set aside a terminal running "Lynx" -- a non-graphical program that lets you surf the internet. Ask one of our staff for directions. Look, too, for our hand-out about using Lynx.

* Connect through the Access Colorado Library and Information Network (ACLIN). ACLIN is free, and you don't have to have an Internet account with anybody. You can connect either from our "Other libraries" option from our main catalog (if you come to the library), or by connecting your home computer to a telephone (see below). * Connect through an Internet account. Just point your browser to the two addresses listed above (http://www.csn.net/~jlarue OR http://douglas.lib.co.us/).

The ACLIN connection is probably the trickiest to explain. These are the steps.

1. Set up your computer's communications program to use 8 bit word, 1 stop, no parity. Set your modem's speed or baud rate to the fastest it will support. (If you can't connect at the higher speed, just back it down one.) Use the VT100 terminal emulation, if possible.

2. Call the ACLIN modem (modems, actually -- they have hundreds). Use any of these three numbers: 786-8700, 440-9969, or 294-7260. When you see the "Annex username" prompt, type "ac" (again, no quotes, but you must type this in lower case).

3. You'll be prompted with a list of terminal emulations. Again, if possible, choose #1 -- VT100.

4. You MAY get asked to choose a menu: the older "gopher" or the new ACLIN or Lynx menu. (I say "may" because the gopher will soon be phased out.) Choose Lynx if necessary.

5. Now you get the main ACLIN menu. You might want to explore a little. ACLIN is adding interesting new selections almost daily. But if you want to connect to the DPLD home page, use the down arrow key to put your cursor on the line right after "Code." Type "dpld" (without the quotes) then hit the Return key. This moves you to "Find." Hit the Return key again. You'll soon highlight a heading for Douglas Public Library District. Press Return a third time. Now you're at our home page. To quit, just type the letter "q" (without the quotes).

I recognize that at first, Lynx seems a little confusing. But you can use just 6 keys to navigate. The space bar scrolls to the next page. The minus sign scrolls to the previous page. The up and down keys move you to the previous or next links. The right arrow key selects the current highlighted link, and the left arrow takes you back to where you were before you chose the current link. Beyond that, you can type the number of a link that appears anywhere on the screen.

Happy surfing!

Wednesday, May 8, 1996

May 8, 1996 - Seeing Isn't Believing - Faking of Photographs

Seeing isn't believing. Not anymore.

I started thinking about this when I saw a video clip from the first moon walk. I have to say, it looked a little cheesy -- about on a par with the special effects of Star Trek (and I mean the original series).

Not long after that, I watched a rerun of "Terminator 2," the science fiction movie blockbuster. I saw a man walk through steel bars, just ooze right through them, and recongeal on the other side. I believed it.

But the moon walk happened. The shape-shifting liquid metal android from the future did not. (I think.)

Part of me longs to believe those great photographs on the covers of tabloids: the "alien talks to Clinton" photos, or the half- alligator child, born to a seven-year old.

But even National Enquirer has admitted -- when it ran the photo of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding skating side by side, almost hand in hand -- that a cover photo can be faked. These days it doesn't really take all that much technical expertise to splice two photos together. When such products are created with care, even the pros can't swear that the picture is real.

The day has almost arrived when videotapes and photographs cannot be accepted as evidence in court. Connie Willis, a science fiction writer and a friend of mine, maintains that this highlights a new and heretofore unrealized purpose of the library: to maintain the evidence. When an unscrupulous publisher comes out with a book showing that Hitler and F.D.R. had lunch together in Munich just before the invasion of Poland, the only way more ethical researchers can disprove it is to go back and examine the sources. That's assuming that the original photographs can still be found.

The same point can be made about historical documents. I spend a lot of time on the Internet -- my wife would say, too much time. I've watched a sort of electronic credulity come into being: a lot of people seem to believe that if you find something on the World Wide Web, then it must be true.

You can see how this might be dangerous. Suppose in our haste to digitize our documents, we scan in the United States Constitution, then destroy the original paper. If somebody then goes in and changes the Constitution on-line -- removes those pesky Amendments, for instance, or even just changes a phrase or two -- how would you know?

The answer: only by comparing it to text that pre-dates the on- line version. In this age of instant information, just who is going to take the time to do that? The danger is greater with less well-known materials -- local laws and policy statements, for instance. Why? Because they haven't been as widely disseminated. The electronic version may be the only version.

For a long time, I have held the philosophy that the public library must keep its inventory current. A well-used library gets "weeded" regularly; unused materials get pulled and placed into book sales. Mostly, I still believe that. Public libraries are not museums; they are cultural retail outlets.

But lately I'm beginning to look up a few basic historical documents, just to make sure that the library still has a copy. Like I always say, reading is believing.

Wednesday, May 1, 1996

May 1, 1996 - Robert Heapes Long Expedition

Consider yourself invited to an unusual and sophisticated foray into Colorado history.

On Saturday, May 18, 1996, thanks in part to a grant from the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities, the Douglas Public Library District will sponsor a multi-media event entitled "The 1820 Stephen Long Expedition." The time and location: 7 p.m., Kirk Hall (at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Castle Rock).

The presentation is the work of Robert Heapes. A Douglas County resident, Heapes is a multi-talented man. He an historian, author, photographer, and gardener. He and his wife Anette spent some time retracing the historic Long Expedition of 1820, which happened to come through Douglas County.

Stephen Long, you may know, gave his name to "Longs Peak." Three members of his expedition (Edwin James, J. Verplank, and Z. Wilson) were also the first to scale Pikes Peak. (Zebulon Pike tried, but failed, when he "discovered" the mountain in 1806.)

Further to his credit, Long was responsible for the identification of many botanical specimens, among them the blue columbine. Like Zebulon Pike before him, Long reported that the area we call Colorado was uninhabitable. For almost 40 years, this kept a lot of white people away from the "Great American Desert." I have no idea whether Long intended this or not.

I've talked to Robert Heapes on several occasions. The story of how he got interested in all this in the first place is a librarian's delight. In brief: one thing tends to lead to another. A Master Gardener, he got interested in the history of some of the plants he worked with. This got him hooked on the story of frontier explorers. Combined with his interest in natural photography and some grant money from the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities (for another presentation in Denver last year), this impressive final production was just a matter of time.

Heapes is a careful researcher with a passion for both independent verification and for organization. He has stood where Stephen Long has stood. He has a private library that would make a professional cataloger proud. Beyond that, he's an engaging story-teller.

So if you're just the least bit curious about how this country looked 176 years ago, please consider attending this unique event.

Incidentally, the presentation is part of National Historic Preservation Week (May 12-19). Admission is free, but all are encouraged to bring a pot-luck dessert to share. If you have any questions, call the Douglas Public Library District's Local History Collection at 688-4875.