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

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

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

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, October 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.