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 27, 1997

August 27, 1997 - Circle Game - Art and DPLD

It was altogether fitting that on the day the library celebrated its 30th anniversary (last Saturday), I had the opportunity to meet with Jay Mead. Jay's mother was the woman I consider the mother of our libraries -- Genevieve (Nicky) Mead. Jay and his wife Carol had brought with them one Joyce Newman.

Ms. Newman, an artist who now lives in Pasadena, California, was a good friend of Nicky's. Ms. Newman is also the artist of the ceramic sculpture that lives outside the southeast corner of the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. Called "The Circle Game," this piece was made in 1970, and paid for by Lee Stubblefield, the dashing developer of Perry Park (who since dashed off, I'm told, just ahead of some broken promises).

I've lived around "The Circle Game" some 7 years now, and have had the pleasure of watching both of my children discover it. The art piece works on several levels. One level is much like the Joni Mitchell song after which it is named: it's an abstraction of people holding hands and dancing in a circle. To my kids it's "the castle." To me, it's a red rock formation, a kind of miniature cliff dwelling.

As someone with no artistic ability whatsoever, I am awed by the ability of artists to do things like this: to create masses of clay that conjure up whole universes of feeling.

Ms. Newman told me that she had just completed a model of the Circle Game when Nicky told her, "That's just what we need! May I take this to a library meeting tonight?" The Circle Game wound up at the dedication of the first Castle Rock Library on Gilbert Street.

The Circle Game is not the only piece of art to find its way into our libraries. Our Parker Library has a ceiling mural over the children's room, and whimsical paintings in the children's storytelling room. It also has ever-changing displays of the work of local artists. Our Highlands Ranch Library has a mural on the wall separating the children's room at the community meeting room. The Philip S. Miller Library has a mural by local high school students in its children's area. Recently, our Louviers Library was presented with a beautiful drawing of the library itself. All of our libraries, at various points of the year, display the creative work of local children.

But the Circle Game was surely the first piece of art to join us.

After Nicky Mead's death, the library established a memorial fund. At this point, it's worth roughly $1,000. The library also has a Foundation, and a bequest from Philip S. Miller. Over the past several months, we have been talking with the Meads to find an appropriate memorial to the woman whose vision and energy called our library forth.

Here's what we've come up with. Ms. Newman is intrigued by the notion of making a companion piece to the Circle Game. The Meads are particularly interested in some kind of fountain. (Library focus groups consistently tell us that one of the things they would like to hear in our libraries is the sound of running water.)

We expect to be doing some work on the Philip S. Miller Library in a year or so anyhow. We'll try to coordinate Ms. Newman's work - both old and new - into the design. Somehow I know that Nicky and Phil Miller (he's the father of our library) would have liked that.

To participate in this project, please address your checks to the Genevieve Mead Memorial Fund, care of the Douglas Public Library Foundation, 961 S Plum Creek Blvd, Castle Rock CO 80104.

Wednesday, August 20, 1997

August 20, 1997 - Staff Day

On Friday, August 22, all Douglas Public Library District Libraries will be closed. This will be our fifth annual Staff Day.

Why is it necessary to close the whole library district? Mainly because this is the only way we can get our 150 employees or so into the same room at the same time. Once a year, an "all staff" assembly helps to re-center us on the things we must have in common if we are to survive as a responsive public institution.

In general, the library is a very decentralized operation. Each library location has its own unique collection. (At least 12 percent of that collection is the result of direct patron requests for purchase.) Each library divides staff responsibilities according to its needs and the talents of various staff members. The hope behind such a structure is that the branch will be more tightly focused on its own community. Castle Rock is not like Parker, which is not like Highlands Ranch, which is not like the service populations of Acres Green and Lone Tree, which is not like Louviers. The libraries should reflect those differences. And they do.

But most important in this conscious decentralization is the idea that at the moment of truth -- an encounter between a member of the public and the member of our staff -- the staff member has the knowledge and the authority to do the right thing. The "right thing" means "to provide the best possible service." She shouldn't have to scurry behind an imposing desk because she doesn't quite know what to do. She shouldn't have to fumble around for permission from some distant supervisor. On behalf of the patron, she should be able to act, and know that the library values her knowledge, her initiative, and her creativity.

At our first Staff Day, the library highlighted the need for more intensive instruction in our computer systems. That instruction is now a key part of each new employee's orientation. Last year's Staff Day focused on employee reports on a handful of key long range planning issues (personnel, collection, new services, automation, and information needs about the environment in which we operate). Those reports have marked a trail for many changes in the way we do, or will do, business.

Most of our Staff Days have featured a keynote address from someone prominent in the library world. This year is a little different. This year I see that instead of bringing in people to teach us, we're teaching ourselves. The focus of the many workshops throughout the day is to strengthen the lines of communication among people who do similar work at different locations within the district. Thus we have people who provide story times getting together to compare notes. We have people interested in providing public programming to seniors or to young adults, sitting down to brainstorm ideas and share past experiences.

We have presentations by our people on what reference service really looks like at the front desk, and how new materials are ordered and processed. Staff members will have a chance to talk with members of our Board of Trustees, and with the architect of our new Oakes Mill Library (slated to open in the Spring of 1998).

I apologize for any inconvenience for those folks who had hoped to go to the library on the 22nd. But I do believe that this withdrawal of service for one day is an investment in better service for all the days to come. The library will be open as usual on Saturday.

Thanks for your understanding.

Wednesday, August 13, 1997

August 13, 1997 - The World in 1967

I have before me a book called The World in 1967, by the writers, photographers and editors of the Associated Press. The Foreward to the book states, "Certainly 1967 ... made more news than any other year since World War II."

Here's a sample:

January. Jack Ruby, assassin of Lee Harvey Oswald, dies in prison. Three American astronauts (Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, Edward White) die trapped in a spacecraft fire, just before launch.

Timothy Leary tells 15,000 "youngsters," "Turn on to the scene; tune into what's happening; and drop out -- of high school, college, grad school ... and follow me." Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler, is convicted of 13 acts of homicide over an 18 month period.

February. Newspapers report evidence of CIA infiltration and subversion of various student organizations over the past 15 years, which "used students to spy."

March. Jimmy Hoffa goes to prison, convicted of accepting a $1 million payoff from a trucking firm to assure labor peace. In prison, he gets a job in the laundry for $5.60 an hour -- the average minimum of his union (the International Brotherhood of Teamsters) is then $3.50 per hour.

The supertanker Torrey Canyon rams into the Seven Stones, a reef near the southwest tip of England: the first big oil spill.

April. The daughter of Stalin, Svetlana, defects to the West. Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov dies in space.

Richard Speck is found guilty of the murder of eight women in a Chicago student nursing dormitory.

May. Elvis Presley (32) weds Priscilla Beaulieu (21). Justice Thurgood Marshall is appointed to the Supreme Court.

July. The beginning of "the longest summer." Racial violence occurs in 114 communities in 32 states. At least 88 people die, 4,000 are injured, and more than 12,000 arrested. Damage is estimated well into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

A report by the U.S. Public Health Service states that cigarette smoking has a significant relationship to the incidence of various types of cancer, lung ailments and heart disease. The findings are hotly contested by the tobacco industry.

The "Red Guard" in China continues its reign of terror, part of the so-called "Cultural Revolution."

It's the "summer of love" in San Francisco. The amphetamine "methedrine" is introduced. The rumor that "smoking bananas can get you high" is exposed as a hoax: an attempt to get the Federal Food and Drug Administration to outlaw a fruit.

September. Two million children do not start school due to widespread teacher strikes. Hurricane Beulah hits Corpus Christi.

November. United Auto Workers win a Ford contract that sets precedents in labor negotiations: a dollar an hour increase in wages and fringe benefits (to $5.70 an hour), a significant increase in unemployment benefits, and an increase in pensions.

December. The first heart transplant.

Throughout the year, there were many stories connected to Viet Nam: a march on Washington here, and in Viet Nam, 24,000 civilian deaths, versus 19,000 deaths of American and South Vietnamese soldiers. Mohammed Ali is convicted of draft evasion (he sought conscientious objector status as a Muslim priest).

And in less serious news, Twiggy (5 foot 6 inches, 91 pounds) is hailed as the new fashion ideal. Five hundred people hold a "Fat-In" protest at New York's Central Park. Their motto: "Help cure emaciation: take a fat girl to dinner."

Some motion pictures of the year: A Man for all Seasons, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Bonnie and Clyde.

Some Grammy Award winning songs: "Strangers in the Night," by Frank Sinatra; "Winchester Cathedral" by the New Vaudeville Band; "Eleanor Rigby," by the Beatles; "Monday, Monday," by the Mamas and the Papas. Best female vocal performance: Eydie Gorme's "If He Walked into My Life."

Against this backdrop: the Douglas County Public Library begins its first year of operations.

And that's the news from 30 years ago.

Wednesday, August 6, 1997

August 6, 1997 - Long-lived Companies

As I wrote a few weeks ago, independent booksellers are facing some big challenges, chiefly the aggressive expansion of big retail bookstores. But recently, I’ve talked to several people who have predicted to me that while such expansions make money now (mostly by driving up stock prices), the prospects aren’t good over the long haul.

Why? Nationally, as I have written before, the market for readers -- while very good along the Front Range generally -- is fairly stable. That is, just because there are a lot more places to buy books doesn’t mean more people are buying books. It just means that more businesses are competing for the same number of sales.

In some respects, the consumer benefits by this competition. The discounts go up. But again, only the larger stores can consistently afford to operate with less of a profit margin -- and that’s only if they can also be confident of a high volume of sales AND a certain narrowing of what’s offered.

But if the market isn’t all that good for expansion of bookstores, why are there so many new bookstores? According to a local appraiser, “There’s too much capital.” Money is cheap.

I don’t pretend to be either an economist or a fortuneteller. As a librarian, I’m mostly pretty happy to see more books in the area. While I have a preference for the independents, and have some real concerns about their survival, I recognize that places like Borders or Barnes and Noble’s not only offer some great bargains, they can provide local versions of the “great good place” -- interesting spots to hang out and talk to people. Such places tend to knit a community together.

Likewise, the bookstores that also offer traditional library-type events -- children’s story times, book clubs, and the like -- generally raise the appreciation of literacy in a community. That’s all to the good.

But I recently ran across an article about long-lived companies, and why they last. (It also pointed out that long-lived companies tend to outperform America’s stock market by a factor or 15 since 1926.) According to the article (appearing in the May 10, 1997 issue of the Economist), long-lived companies share four traits:

-financial conservatism. They rarely borrowed money. Instead, they saved or invested it, then paid cash.

-sensitivity to the world around them. When the business or social climate changed, they changed, too.

-cohesion. Members of the companies saw themselves as belonging to an internal community with a history and a core philosophy, even a sense of mission.

-tolerance. This is the delicate balancing act. There needs to be a sense of corporate identity -- but there must also be some acceptance of divergent behavior within the company. A strict corporate hierarchy tends to stifle sensitivity, for instance.

The article begins, “For most firms, life is nasty, brutish and short. The life expectancy of a typical multinational is between 40 and 50 years, which means that of all the companies now featured in America’s Fortune 500, about one-third will have merged, been broken up or gone bust by 2010.” That’s not a pretty picture.

While I like to think the Douglas Public Library District works hard to fit this profile of a long-lived company, the truth is that we are sheltered from many business pressures. Even if every bookstores in the county does overextend itself, then go bust, the library will still be here. On the other hand, we won’t be making the sort of profits or personal fortunes of a company like Microsoft.

It just might be that such public institutions as the public library serve as something of a necessary counter-weight to the “nasty, brutish and short” existence of too many business ventures. We provide some continuity and stability in times of upheaval.

And it might be too, that more businesses need to adopt a longer perspective.