This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, August 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?