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.