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 28, 1997

May 28, 1997 - Storytelling in the Park

The library has many friends. These friends perform two important functions for us. First, they aid in recruitment. They talk up the library, drag their neighbors along with them, and in general increase our visibility to the community.

Second, they improve the library. Like our library staff, our friends are creative people, with lots of good ideas about new services, or new twists on old ones. Let me give you an example.

The Friends of the Highlands Ranch Library, currently presided over by Susan Alaimo, recently requested a contribution from the Highlands Ranch Foundation (funded by the Mission Viejo Company). The request was successful. The Highlands Ranch Foundation presented a check for $1,000 to the Friends of the Highlands Ranch Library’s 1997 Storytelling in the Park series.

This year’s series kicks off with an event we call “Picnic Storytimes.” Popular Highlands Ranch storyteller Kathleen DiLeo will be using special “book props” for such stories as “The Lady with the Alligator Purse,” “Once There was a Bull ... Frog,” and “The Wolf’s Chicken Stew.”

The storytimes will begin at 10:30 a.m. and run until about 11:15 a.m. All of them will be held at Northridge Park Shelter #2 (by the baseball fields). The dates for the storytimes are as follows:

• June 11
• June 25
• July 9
• July 23
• August 6
• August 20

Each storytime concludes with “parachute play,” and I am advised the parental assistance is required. (I would hope so!)

Children and the folks looking after them are invited to bring a picnic lunch and stick around to enjoy it. In short, our Storytelling in the Parker series is not only a great way to get or keep kids interested in books, it’s also not a bad way to meet some of your neighbors.

Another important date for your calendars is June 2. That’s when registration begins for our 1997 summer reading program — Camp Read-Along. To complete the program, preschoolers and students have to read (or have read to them) 15 books. They list their titles on their own personal reading log, provided by the library, which is studded with summer camp drawings.

The children who complete the program will have their names entered into a drawing for free family tickets to the Children’s Concert at the Rocky Mountain Storytelling Festival in August — the premiere storytelling event west of the Mississippi.

The Summer Reading Program will also feature a program called “Wild Rascals of Roxborough State Park.” Presented by park rangers, it is scheduled for

• June 18 (Oakes Mill, 4:30 p.m.) and
• July 10 (Highlands Ranch, 4:30 p.m.)

We’ve experimented over the years with our “prizes” for successfully completing the reading program goal. In my mind, the books themselves are the prize. For parents, seeing their children maintain reading skills over a summer break may be sufficient reward. But this year, children who complete the program also earn an invitation (for the whole family) to attend a “Hootenanny.” This will feature an old-fashioned Sing-along, kazoos, watermelon, cookies, and a humorous skit (we hope) performed by librarians.

Again, it takes good friends to offer such events. On behalf of the Board of Trustees of the Douglas Public Library District, I am pleased to thank the Friends of the Highlands Ranch Library, the Mission Viejo Company, the Highlands Ranch Foundation, the Highlands Ranch Community Association, Douglas County Parks Department, and Roxborough State Park.

Let the reading commence!

Wednesday, May 21, 1997

May 21, 1997 - The LaRue Companion (tm) Time Management System

I don't remember the name of the story or who wrote it. (This guy is a librarian?) But it was a science fiction yarn about people who could travel in time, all by themselves, without any machinery. This ability was a rare but persistent human mutation, like being born with six fingers on one hand.

Most of these time travelers, when they became adults, eventually went back to the period when they were children. Their purpose was to teach themselves to master their gift at the earliest possible age.

I thought of this story recently because at the age of 42, I finally have something I deeply wish I could go back in time to teach myself when I was, oh, 13 or so.

You'll have to bear with me on this one for a few paragraphs. I realize it sounds a little anal, and possibly pathetic. But I suspect I'm not alone in the need that prompted me to such desperate activity.

I'm a very intuitive person. I work on things I sense I ought to be working on. Mostly, this works pretty well, and sometimes spectacularly so. But over the years, I got more and more frustrated at the things I forgot to do -- deadlines I missed, appointments I spaced, obligations I just plain lost track of.

So over the past few months, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I actually work. I perused my datebooks for the past five years, figuring out what I wrote in each book, and why. I combed through examples of how other people managed their time (both at the library and in business supply stores).

One weekend, I started doodling. Then I went up to my personal computer and started some serious page design. By the time I was done, I put in some 40 or 50 hours designing various forms. I made a form for taking notes at meetings. I made a form for tracking and managing projects. I made a form for keeping track of appointments. I made my own daily "to do" list.

Then I went back to the business supply stores. I bought a 3-ring binder, an insert for punching three holes in a half-size sheet, some dividers, and a clear plastic pouch. Total cost: about $5. Everything else I ran off my home computer at less than a penny a page.

To buy a similar time management tool would have cost me between $30-60 dollars, with another $20 a year in inserts. But I've been testing this for over a month now. It works. The others didn't, at least not for me.

I call it, only half-jokingly, "the LaRue Companion (tm)."

If I could just go back in time, bearing the LaRue Companion (tm) with me, I could have saved myself scores of humiliating moments. Better, I could have gotten more done in the areas that mattered to me then, and matter to me now.

If you'd like to see this wonderful gimmick, by all means stop by. I'd be glad to show it to you. And by way of balancing my message this week, I also recommend The Tao of Time by Diana Scharf-Hunt. Available from the Douglas Public Library District, it's a book that argues convincingly that time management systems, by themselves, won't solve your life's problems. Those of us who live in the Western world, generally speaking, feel that time uses us, rather than the other way around.

Thinking about that is worth some time, too.

Wednesday, May 14, 1997

May 14, 1997 - Brain development and Reading

A lot of people lately have been researching and writing about the human brain.

Much of this research focuses on childhood brain development.

“At birth a baby's brain contains 100 billion neurons, roughly as many nerve cells as there are stars in the Milky Way,” according to an article in the February 3, 1997 issue of Time. And according to an article in the March 10, 1997 issue of U.S. News & World Report, “... the brain reaches 80 percent of its full development by a child's first birthday.”

Yet as reported in Newsweek (April 28, 1997), “25 percent of parents of young children do not know that what they do with a child can affect his intelligence, including increasing curiosity, confidence and problem-solving ability.”

“Just loving” your child isn’t enough. A clear finding of all this research is that parents must talk to their children -- and that too many of them don’t. Children in that first year have minds that literally hunger for language; thousands, perhaps millions, are starved.

But brain development doesn’t end at the age of 1. A February, 1997 issue of a magazine called Neurological Research reported on a study that children aged 3 and 4, after six months of piano lessons, boosted their performance on spatial-temporal reasoning to 34% above average. This is called the “Mozart Effect.”

Here again, early stimulation seems important. Most concert musicians, international chess players, and even accomplished golfers, have to start young, preferably before the age of 8.

Speaking of chess, Richard Nadeau, a math teacher at a French-speaking school in Canada, said this in Maclean’s Magazine (February 10, 1997): “Chess is kind of like Lego for the mind. You're actually building thoughts."

Many things once thought to be true about the human brain turn out not to be. For instance, after adulthood, we do not lose over a million brain cells a day, as was once believed. It just feels like it.

Of course, some people, as they age, do “lose intelligence.” But researchers now believe that mental fitness is much like physical fitness. We have two choices: “Use it or lose it.”

An article in the Saturday Evening Post (November/December, 1996) reported that “Bridge players do very well on mental tests; bingo players don't. Crossword-puzzle workers do better on verbal skills, and jigsaw-puzzle players tend to maintain their spatial skills.”

The article continues: “Seven factors stood out among those people who hung onto their intellectual prowess as they aged:

A high standard of living marked by above-average education and income.

A lack of chronic diseases.

Active engagement in reading, travel, cultural events, education, clubs, and professional associations.

A willingness to change.

Marriage to a smart spouse.

An ability to quickly grasp new ideas.

Satisfaction with accomplishments.”

Biologically, there need be little difference among the brain of a 25 year old man, and that of a 70 year old man. And some kinds of intelligence actually grow with age.
What does all this have to do with libraries? Put simply, libraries are brain development institutes.

For children aged 0-3, we have thousands of brightly colored board books, picture books, and music tapes. For children from the ages of 3-5, we have daily storytimes, rich celebrations of language, rhythm and music. For older children, we have materials to help them learn to play an instrument, to excel at a sport, or to maintain those vital reading skills so important in school, and in the development of a rich inner life.

For adults through seniors, we have newspapers, magazines, books, and computers, all of which keep the mind active, probing, constantly acquiring new skills.

Oh, and at the Parker Library during the month of May, we also have Chess night -- every Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. You can stop by to learn how to play, or to pick-up a game.

It’s your move.

Wednesday, May 7, 1997

May 7, 1997 - Meeting Rooms

My wife and I allow Perry, our 3 year old son, to pick out his own clothes every day. But we don’t just open a drawer and let him grab something. We set two choices out for him: two shirts, two pairs of pants, two colors of socks. This is the way, it seems to us, to begin to develop the sort of child who isn’t afraid to make decisions. (Based on data to date, I don’t think this will be a problem for my boy. Patience: that might be a problem.)

This is much like an old trick I learned as a shoe salesman. Give people two choices, and they pick something. Give them three, and they figure they’re not ready to buy.

It’s important to carefully consider such delicate decision-making processes. They determine, as in the first case, how a person grows, and in the second case, what that person will buy. These decisions are just as important for public entities as for real people.

Here’s a case in point. At a recent gathering of our branch managers, the subject of meeting rooms came up. We asked ourselves:

Would it be better for our patrons to call just one central number to book meeting rooms all around the district? OR

Is it better to deal just with your local library?

There are lots of ways to size this one up. The Aurora Public Library, for instance, actually contracts out their meeting room services. Meetings are centrally booked. The subcontractor is responsible for setting up the rooms, and breaking them down afterwards. They supply such amenities as pitchers of water. In fact, Aurora even caters meals for the meetings, for a price. For obvious reasons, booking the room also has a price.

Right now, the Douglas Public Library District is at the other end of the spectrum. We don’t set up the room for you, and we don’t cater it. But we don’t charge anything, either. (Although donations are always welcome!) It’s clear to me that there is an acute need for free meeting room space in this county, particularly for not-for-profit and/or civic groups. The library is a logical place for community meetings, a non-partisan public space.

Too, there is something to be said for the flexibility of local control. Most of our libraries are open 68 hours a week. There’s almost always someone to talk to, or to take a look at the schedule. With a centralized system, public inquiries are usually confined to certain hours of operation: banker’s hours.

Just as a child grows from making decisions about his clothing to making far more -- and far more complicated -- decisions about how to manage his time, the library has witnessed extraordinary growth in the use of our meeting rooms. Centralized administration of the booking has some advantages.

From the public’s perspective, it might be nice to call just one number to determine room availability for every library location. Now, scheduling a meeting at a library might involve as many as five or six calls. Too, growing the “meeting room management” service might raise the level of meeting room amenities (for instance, room set-up).

But it would also generate new costs. By asking the public to set up the rooms themselves, we keep costs to a minimum. And MOST of our meetings are specific to an area anyhow. A Castle Rock group wouldn’t meet in Parker, and vice versa.

After we kicked it around for awhile, our librarians decided that it’s probably too soon for a change. Right now, we like the local contact and the relative absence of bureaucracy. But we can see that the time might be coming. That’s a perfect opportunity to ask the public to chime in about this issue.

So this is a call to those people who use our meeting rooms:

Would you rather that things continue as they are (free, arranged at your local library)?

Or would you rather see a more professional, but also more expensive meeting room service (centralized, with additional amenities, and possibly at some nominal fee)?

Let us know, either by talking about this to the staff at your local library, by giving me a call at 688-8752, or e-mailing me at jaslarue@earthlink.net.