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, February 26, 1997

February 26, 1997 - Nicky Mead and More

I talked to a fellow recently who told me he once attended a funeral and a wedding on the same day. He said it left him feeling ... odd. I think I understand.

Saturday, February 22, I attended the dedication of the Genevieve Nichols Mead Community Room, at the beautiful new Virginia Village Branch of the Denver Public Library.

Genevieve, known to her many Douglas County friends as “Nicky,” was the mother of our Douglas County libraries, founded exactly 30 years ago. A little over 20 years ago, she moved to Denver, where she worked for the Denver Public Library and became an vital part of the Virginia Village neighborhood.

The lovely community room, funded by over $15,000 of local contributions, was standing room only. The Denver School of Arts String Ensemble played quietly in the adjacent children’s room. One of the speakers was Laura Christensen, President of the Denver Public Library Commission, who praised Genevieve’s spirit of service.

Next, Susan Casey of the Denver City Council spoke about how a childhood meeting with a librarian was her first encounter with a professional woman in a managerial role. She spoke movingly about how many lives Genevieve may have inspired, how many young women for whom she was a life-altering role model.

I spoke briefly about her contribution to Douglas County’s library system. I also expressed the hope that the people who will use the new community room in Virginia Village will continue Genevieve’s tradition of bringing people together around a common cause, of working cheerfully and persistently to build a better community.

Finally, her son, Jay Mead, spoke on behalf of Genevieve’s family. I suppose it’s not surprising that such an extraordinary woman had such intelligent, articulate, and gracious children.

That same night, I attended a second community event. But this one, frankly, was much sillier. It was part of Parker’s Celebration of Literature: a light-hearted murder mystery. This occasion, one of several events sponsored by the Parker Cultural Commission, was sold out. I heard that 110 people were in attendance.

The Parker Library proved to be a great spot for a play. There’s a natural stage just west of the circulation desk; and the Mainstreet area was perfect for the buffet.

The script came from Tom and Penny Warner, of Danville California, but was edited to include many local references and characters. And I do mean characters. Frank Yaeger (Parker Water and Sanitation District) was most impressive, in drag, as Ms. Page Turner. Debbie Lewis (Parker Town Council) was an utterly fetching and dramatic Alexa Dynasty, diva of the trashy mini-series. David Casiano (of the Cultural Commission, I believe) was Dell Doubleday, the brisk, big-city publisher. And Chip Stern (Town Council) was right out of the 60’s as the romantically challenged Dalton B. Walton, bookseller.

When author Miss Agatha Mystry (the Parker Chamber’s Mary Looney) staggered to her hilariously long, drawn-out death, investigative matters were attended to by Chief Sam Slayed (a correctly costumed Tom Cornelius of the Parker Police Dept.), with the befuddled assistance of Detective Blind Side and Sergeant Speed Trap, whose real names shall remain, mercifully, unreported.

Other folks included Parker Library Manager Patt Paul as Lotta Books (librarians just don’t dress like that anymore), Aden Hogan (Town Administrator) as the flag-waving Mr. Short Term, and David Aldridge (Town Council) as the cigar-chewing, fashion-disabled Mayor Ron Bonzo. They were all a delightful, if utterly suspect, lot.

I even had a small part myself as “Rocky,” Alexa’s lounge lizard fourth (fifth?) husband. I put almost $3.00 of greasy kid stuff into the act, and in my modest opinion, it was worth every penny.

The audience may not have been overwhelmed by our troop’s acting ability. They were, I hope, entertained.

The Celebration of Literature, funded in part by the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, is clearly catching on. It’s a mystery to me how they can improve on this year’s activities.

But I bet they do.

Wednesday, February 19, 1997

February 19, 1997- Philip S. Miller Library Gets New Lighting

I’ve held a lot of odd jobs in my life. But I realize, looking back, that they have always had something in common. I have almost always worked in beautiful buildings.

One of my first jobs was in an architect’s office. I ran errands, did tracings, answered the phone, and ran prints around. I was fascinated by the process of designing buildings.

But, alas, I soon learned that I would never design them myself. Perry, my three-year-old son, can slap 24 piece puzzles together in just a few minutes. I still can’t.

Nonetheless, I recognize a good building when I see it. I probably wound up in libraries because so many of them are lovely places. I volunteered in the catwalked library of my youth. In college, I worked at a “modern” library, carpeted with a lovely rust, overshadowed by the heavy rust of the metal roof. Later, I worked in a university library, with interior stairs of marble, high ceilings, and two-story windows.

When I first interviewed for the director position in Douglas County, I was utterly captivated by the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock.

As I pulled in to the parking lot, a train rolled by. In the quiet afterward, I could hear the wind through the tall grass. When I stepped inside, I thought, “This feels like a church.” It had such a high ceiling, with such warm, dark wood. The small, high, southwestern windows lent a sense of calm and detachment. The building has a kind of pristine elegance.

Some years back now, we remodeled the building, and to my mind, improved it, opening it up even further, clarifying the functions of its spaces.

I still love this jewel of a building, every day I work there.

Of course (like most buildings), it has its problems. It reverberates. Like a church, it is built to carry speech, not to swallow it. That’s annoying when you have come to study, come to read in peace, and the sound of children’s (and librarians) voices seems altogether brassy and intrusive.

But more bothersome to me is the fact that (at night in particular) the bookstacks are towering canyons of shadow. Holly Deni, the library’s manager, once suggested that we should issue our patrons miner’s hats, with built-in lanterns. I seriously considered it.

But thanks to the continuing generosity of Philip S. Miller, we’ve got a better solution. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be shuffling around our shelves, and pulling new wiring. Soon, our central area will have shelving of a more uniform height and hue. Shortly thereafter, we’ll have something called “Unistruts” -- suspended over every-other-one of our tall shelves.

Attached to the Unistruts will be lights, lights that instead of glaring uncertainly from 40 feet, will beam softly just above the center of each aisle, enabling those folks who (like me) angle their bifocals toward the call numbers with something approaching hope. Soon, this hope shall be rewarded.

The Philip S. Miller Library will continue to be a beautiful building. But thanks to Mr. Miller’s final bequest, you’ll be able to see it even better.

Wednesday, February 12, 1997

February 12, 1997 - What's Hot -- Holds Lists

A couple of weeks ago, News-Press editor Rich Bangs called me to say he was devoting a section of the paper to books and local writers. As a librarian, I enthusiastically approved. (And as a poet, I'll even be submitting a piece or two.)

He also asked the library to contribute a weekly list of "What's Hot." We define that as items that have more than three people waiting to read them. You'll be seeing that listing weekly.

But I thought I should explain a few things about how the library does business.

When you see that the number one title on our "what's hot" list is John Grisham's "The Partner," you may want to sign up for it. But when you see that 248 people have signed up ahead of you, you might get discouraged. And if you search our catalog and see that the library hasn't even received the book (because it hasn't been published yet, although it has been ordered), you might get very discouraged.

It might help to know that, in general, the Douglas Public Library District buys 1 copy for every four requests.

That means that you still may have a waiting period. Our new books check out for 3 weeks. If each new book in fact stayed out that long, you could be waiting as long as 12 weeks to get a hot new bestseller. Three months can seem like a long time.

But there are two caveats. First, most people don't keep bestsellers the full length of the loan period. That tends to move things along a little faster.

Second, we don't stick strictly to the rule, for obvious reasons. Sixty-two copies of "The Partner" would cost the library $1,000 or so. Yet, a year later the demand for the book is likely to drop significantly. Sixty-four copies eats up a lot of shelf space (although we tend to pass on the old, extra copies to our Friends of the Library book sales). So for the big blockbusters, we buy fewer copies than usual, which tends to slow things down a little.

Third, sometimes we have copies of hot titles in other formats. For instance, it might be available in large print. Or there might be an audiotape version. If either of these is acceptable to you, you can get the item faster. It's worth the bother to check our catalog.

I analyzed the current list of "What's Hot" to see how we were doing in terms of how many copies per request. In general, things look pretty good.

For instance, we have about 5 copies per request for "Hornet's nest," by Patricia Cornwell, 4 copies per request for Michael Crichton's "Airframe," 3 copies per request for Sue Grafton's "'M' is for Malice," 3.8 copies per request for Tony Hillerman's "The fallen man," and 3.38 requests for Jacquelyn Mitchard's "The deep end of the ocean." In short, the library is doing a good job of keeping up with popular demand.

But if you have another view of this matter, please give me a call at 688-8752, or e-mail me at jaslarue@earthlink.net. While there is much more to a library's collection than what's the rage at the moment, we do strive to keep up with public expectations. That includes yours.

WHAT'S HOT - Items with more than three holds
# of holds, (number of copies), title, author
248 (not yet published) The partner, by John Grisham
157 (30) Hornet's nest, by Patricia Daniels Cornwell
141 (40) Airframe, by Michael Crichton
114 (40) "M" is for malice, by Sue Grafton
107 (not yet published) The ranch, by Danielle Steel
93 (24) The fallen man, by Tony Hillerman
88 (26) The deep end of the ocean, by Jacquelyn Mitchard
75 (not yet published) Chromosome 6, by Robin Cook
68 (15) The clinic, by Jonathan Kellerman
60 (28) Silent honor, by Danielle Steel
59 (10) Small town girl, by LaVyrle Spencer
58 (not yet published) Evening class, by Maeve Binchy
58 (12) The book of Ruth, by Jane Hamilton
57 (14) She's come undone, by Wally Lamb
50 (19) The laws of our fathers, by Scott Turow
49 (15) Drums of autumn, by Diana Gabaldon
47 (not yet published) Dancing floor, by Barbara Michaels
47 (12) The cat who tailed a thief, by Lilian Jackson Braun
45 (not yet published) Illusions, by Janet Dailey
45 (12) Sole survivor, by Dean R. Koontz
45 (not yet published) Unnatural exposure, by Patricia Daniels Cornwell
44 (not yet published) Sanctuary, by Nora Roberts
42 (7) The English patient, by Michael Ondaatje
41 (15) Hawk O'Toole's hostage, by Sandra Brown

Wednesday, February 5, 1997

February 5, 1997 - Sex and the Net

There’s an old joke about the guy who goes to a psychiatrist. “I want you to take a look at these ink blots,” says the psychiatrist. “What do you see?”
The man looks at the first picture. “A man and a woman making love on a rock slide,” he says. “It’s pretty torrid.”

“Hmm,” says the psychiatrist. He shows the man a dozen more pictures. For each one, the man describes a very explicit sexual encounter.

Finally, the psychiatrist says, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to recommend some follow-up counseling. You seem to be utterly obsessed with sex.”

“Me!” says the man. “You’re the one with all the dirty pictures!”

The way I see it, librarians are mainly in the ink blot business. Although we do carry audiotapes, a smattering of CD’s, and some videos, our primary stock is books. “Ink on a page” captures it pretty well.

To most of our patrons, the library is what it always was: a good place to find useful books and magazines for business, entertaining materials for families, and classic books for kids. They find, in general, the products of mainstream publishing.

To other folks, librarians are no longer the spinsters of popular stereotype; instead, we are purveyors of pornography. It’s like the joke: if all you see is sex, then sex is all you see.

But there’s a new kind of library information resource where sex isn’t just in the mind of the beholder. On the Internet, it is undeniably true that there are many explicit, graphic depictions of sexual behavior.

How many? Even the famous (albeit subsequently discredited) Time Magazine article on “Cyberporn” (July 3, 1995) estimated that only about one-third of one percent of Internet traffic was pornographic. Subsequent studies suggest that this estimate was far too high. But we’re still talking about a lot of images, and some of them are way out on the fringe.

The Internet is a challenge for librarians in several respects. Most significantly, what’s “on the web” isn’t like what’s on the shelf. Every other library material was selected (or approved) by library staff, much as you might approve a magazine subscription for your family.

But the World Wide Web is more like TV broadcasting. Some of the fare is excellent, some you don’t care about one way or the other, and some of it you don’t want at all. But whether you want it or not, it’s part of the broadcast.

In another couple of months, the library will set out our new, graphically-based, World Wide Web workstations. These truly are the “library terminals of tomorrow,” offering far more information than we have ever been able to offer before.

Over the past months, the library has looked at the advantages and disadvantages of “filtering software.” Such products (with names like “NetNanny” and “CYBERsitter”) block access to Internet locations believed to contain inappropriate material for children. This software has its problems. For instance, a site that provides information on breast cancer might be blocked because of the word “breast.” But we might use this software to provide a sprinkling of more “family friendly” workstations, where parents and children can at least sample the Internet.

But most of our terminals will not be so restricted. We will rely upon the good judgment of our patrons and parents. Better that, than try to decide ahead of time what isn’t appropriate, and thereby deliberately cripple a powerful new tool for research.

Staff have also spent, and will continue to spend, a good deal of time creating “links” to authoritative information on the Internet. In a similar fashion, we use our computer catalog to guide patrons from one book to another.

Beyond that, however, the library intends to treat the Internet much as we do any other kind of library resource. We will use it to locate information for you. We will assist you in using it to find information for yourself. And we will continue to respect your privacy.

If you have thoughts on this issue, please feel free to contact me at 688-8752, or by e-mail at jaslarue@earthlink.net.