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, September 24, 1997

September 24, 1997 - Urban legends and Deep Thoughts

Ever since Jan Harold Brunvand came up the phrase “urban legend” (in his book, The Choking Doberman and Other ‘New’ Urban Legends, among others) we’ve all gotten a little savvier about those stories that “really happened” to the now-proverbial FOF (friend of a friend).

The latest incarnation of such legends now fly through the Internet. The most recent case was Kurt Vonnegut’s “graduation speech to the 1997 class of MIT.” I got this at least six times from various friends through e-mail. It began, “Wear sunscreen.” it was quite clever, and I forwarded it to about 100 people myself. Trouble was, Vonnegut didn’t have anything to do with it. The “speech” was actually a column that appeared in the Chicago Tribune, and it was written by a woman.

With that caveat, I pass along the following list of quotes (slightly abridged from the original list). They are ALLEGED to come from “a newspaper contest where entrants ages 4 to 15 were asked to imitate ‘Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey.’” “Deep Thoughts” was a short feature that used to run on Saturday Night Live (and maybe still does, for all I know).

I’ve included them here for two reasons:

1) They’re funny. Funny is good.

2) I’m flying back to Illinois for an occasion that won’t be funny at all, and found it really hard to come up with a column idea this week. So forgive me for not having anything much to say about the library this week (besides recommending a good book, and a good newspaper). Enjoy!

I believe you should live each day as if it is your last, which is why I don't have any clean laundry because, come on, who wants to wash clothes on the last day of their life? --Age 15

Give me the strength to change the things I can, the grace to accept the things I cannot, and a great big bag of money. --Age 13

Democracy is a beautiful thing, except for that part about letting just any old yokel vote. --Age 10

Home is where the house is. --Age 6

I bet living in a nudist colony takes all the fun out of Halloween. --Age 13

For centuries, people thought the moon was made of green cheese. Then the astronauts found that the moon is really a big hard rock. That's what happens to cheese when you leave it out. --Age 6

I once heard the voice of God. It said "Vrrrrmmmmm." Unless it was just a lawn mower. --Age 11

I don't know about you, but I enjoy watching paint dry. I imagine that the wet paint is a big freshwater lake that is the only source of water for some tiny cities by the lake. As the lake gets drier, the population gets more desperate, and sometimes there are water riots. Once there was a big fire and everyone died. --Age 13

As you make your way through this hectic world of ours, set aside a few minutes each day. At the end of the year, you'll have a couple of days saved up. --Age 7
Often, when I am reading a good book, I stop and thank my teacher. That is, I used to, until she got an unlisted number. --Age 15

It would be terrible if the Red Cross Bloodmobile got into an accident. No, wait. That would be good because if anyone needed it, the blood would be right there. --Age 5

Think of the biggest number you can. Now add five. Then, imagine if you had that many Twinkies. Wow, that's five more than the biggest number you could come up with! --Age 6

Wednesday, September 17, 1997

September 17, 1997 Radiant Identities

September 20-27 is what the American Library Association calls “Banned Books Week.” This is the 16th year of its observance.

I think of it like this: libraries try to stay on guard against censorship, much as firefighters keep an eye out for smoke. Banned Books Weeks is a Fire Prevention Week for libraries.

Most of what libraries do, of course, doesn’t involve standing up for unpopular books. I do get somewhere between 5-10 challenges to materials a year (where a challenge can be someone just complaining about how much they disliked a book, or an aggressive push to get me to remove it from our shelves altogether). Some of the complaints I agree with. Some, I don’t. So far, I’ve never removed a book on the basis of such a complaint.

On the other hand, occasionally somebody catches us in a cataloging goof. Often, they recommend titles that give a different view of the subject. We correct the goofs, and add the recommended titles.

From my perspective, challenges make the library’s collection better.

But contrast that sprinkle of challenges with far more positive news about the Douglas Public Library District. In a single year, we add almost 40,000 new items, over 12% of which are direct patron requests.

Moreover, we check out over a million items, a quarter of a million to children. We offer hundreds of programs that result in tens of thousands of visits by parents and their children together. Our reference staff answer countless questions about everything from home repair to homework assignments. That’s a far truer picture of what the library does, and how it is received by this community.

Well, a couple of years ago (September 18, 1995, to be exact), a group called Focus on the Family (a Colorado Springs-based Christian organization active in various political causes) issued a press release that denounced Banned Books Week as “alarmist,” “misleading,” and even “hysterical.” The American Library Association was accused of trying to silence concerned parents by branding them as censors.

Nobody was trying to ban any books! they suggested. That was just ALA propaganda.

It’s two years later. And now, as evidenced in the letters to the editor section of this very paper (September 10, 1997), those same self-styled Christian leaders are pushing a “nationwide movement” to remove books from libraries. The target in Douglas County is something called Radiant Identities. (More about this below.)

The timing is no coincidence. Another organization -- Family Friendly Libraries, which is heartily endorsed by Focus on the Family -- has recently proposed replacing the “negative and divisive” Banned Books Week with a “Family Friendly Libraries Week.”
And what is a family friendly library? Why, (among other things) it’s a library that bans books!

Frankly, I find all this a little frustrating. There’s not much conservative radio commentary about the thousands of dollars of materials public libraries purchase from Focus on the Family and other Christian publishers, or the many truly “family friendly” services I described above.

Instead, we get a call to the public to “draw the line” at (i.e. “remove”) a book called Radiant Identities, by critically acclaimed photographer Jock Sturges.

This book, which we have owned since 1995 and has been checked out and returned without comment several times, does have a theme some will find disturbing.

The subject of the black and white photographs is “emergent sexuality.” Most of the photographs were taken on nudist beaches in Northern California and France. Most of the models are young women, transfixed by film in that all-too-brief moment between childhood and maturity.

While the girls and women are (usually) nude, the pictures, in my judgment, arouse not lust, but a kind of wistfulness. They portray the unconscious beauty, the true “radiance” of these young women.
It’s worth noting that the models (and the models’ parents) all gave express permission for the use of these photographs.

Incidentally, the book also includes some of their comments on the experience of being photographed, and what they see in the pictures.

Sturges is a serious craftsman, an artist who has done something artists are good at: discovering beauty while at the same confronting one of the neuroses of our society.

In these United States of America, we have thoroughly eroticized (and commercialized) the female body, using the subtext of sex to sell everything from shampoo to stockings. At the same time we learn that young women are reaching puberty some two to three years earlier than ever before, the debate rages about how to shove that emergent sexuality back into unconsciousness, to wall it off somehow.

School uniforms with longer hemlines? All-girl schools? Sex education that focuses only on abstinence? Teen marriage?

In short, Sturges’ photographs aren’t just controversial because they expose human skin. They actually make you think. As I understand it, that’s just the kind of situation Banned Books Week was designed to highlight.

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” - Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, in Texas v. Johnson

Wednesday, September 10, 1997

September 10, 1997 - Oakes Mill Cooling

I have a friend back east who loved old houses. She and her husband bought a rambling old three story farmhouse in an older neighborhood. Over almost 20 years, they wallpapered, and refinished, and repainted, and rebuilt. And when she finally got it just the way she wanted it -- she sold it.


Well, it was complex. The children had grown up. She wanted more outlets and closet space. She wanted a modern kitchen. The character of the neighborhood was changing in a way that was more commercial, less comfortable. So she bought a nice new house, into which she busily packed her Victorian furniture.

Along the way she got the usual gifts that attend a house-warming . But on the last night of the move, she realized that she needed something else. She needed a house-cooling.

So she invited some dozen of her closest friends over to the now almost empty farmhouse. We filled our glasses with a suitably nostalgic wine, then wandered from room to room. She and her husband told at least one story about something that had happened in each room (plus a few stairway stories, and one involving a broom closet).

By the end of the evening, we were all pleasantly tearful and sentimental. It’s good to say goodbye sometimes.

Well, as the patrons of our Oakes Mill Library are aware, but the rest of you may not be, we’ll soon be saying goodbye to the little 3,000 square foot building that launched library services in the northwestern quadrant of Douglas County.

Within a month or so, we hope to have set up a temporary structure at the same site. Library services will continue while the construction work goes on. Then, we’ll tear down the existing building, and start construction on a new, 10,000 square foot building. The new building will be all on one level, a beguiling combination of ceramic brick, stucco, and glass, with far more natural light, and a more conscious view of its surroundings.

The new community meeting room will receive greater pride of place. The building will more easily accommodate Internet workstations. We’ll have more tables and chairs and shelf space. We’ll have a new reference desk, and an expanded children’s area.

By spring of next year, we’ll be inviting all of you to say hello to the spanking new Oakes Mill Library.

But before we say hello, it’s time to say goodbye.

The “Goodbye to the Old Oakes Mill Building Party” will take place on Friday evening, September 12, at 7 p.m. Bring your family (and camera) to take a last look around. The entertainment for the evening will be a lively puppet show, written and performed by Oakes Mill staff. Following the puppet show we will host a dessert potluck. We will provide plates, forks and napkins. You are welcome to bring a dessert (although we’ll also have some extra goodies on hand).

Please join us as we toast the successes and special moments of a library about to pass into history.

Wednesday, September 3, 1997

September 3, 1997 - Sybil Downing Signing

On Thursday, September 4, from 7-9 p.m., Sybil Downing will speak at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. The event is sponsored by Hooked on Books.

It happens that I’ve met Ms. Downing several times. In 1994, she served as the Chairwoman of the Colorado State Board of Education. I knew she had a keen interest in libraries. What I didn’t know was that she used libraries a great deal, churning research into first class historical fiction and non-fiction.

A fourth-generation Coloradan, Ms. Downing grew up hearing stories about her great-grandfather, Tom Patterson. “After awhile,” she told me, “you wonder how much of all that is fiction and how much is fact.”

So she started digging. “This may sound strange,” she said, “but I have always felt since I was a little girl that I had a psychic connection with grandfather. He died long before I was born. But if we’d had a chance to get to know each other, we would have been on the same wavelength.”

This research led to increasing admiration, then to a book: Tom Patterson: Colorado Crusader for Change, which she wrote with Robert E. Smith. Patterson bought the Rocky Mountain News in 1892, and held it to 1914. After that he bought the Denver Times, which was “an old republican newspaper.” Downing says, “Patterson was a staunch democrat, and I think he really enjoyed stirring people up.”

There were two more result of all this research. First, “his whole love of the American West -- I absorbed that.” Second, as any librarian can tell you, “one thing leads to another.”

It turns out that Patterson, who had served as attorney for union leaders, but “was also a man of means and therefore acceptable to the kind of men who owned the coal mines,” was asked by the governor of Colorado to mediate the dispute that we now know as the Ludlow Massacre. Obviously, Patterson failed.

Her next book, a novel Fire in the Hole (which won this year’s Colorado Author’s League award for outstanding fiction) explored the rest of the story. The lead character is a woman attorney who seeks justice.

The Patterson biography also lead her to some research about one of his early partners. She managed to track down a book written by the partner’s son. The first two chapters told Downing just what she wanted to know. But “by the third chapter, the book was suddenly all about life in Goldfield, Nevada during the gold strike. Then the author began talking about a ladies stock exchange, formed when the men wouldn’t let them participate. The back of the book included a 1907 Los Angeles Times article about how hysterically funny it was that a group of woman would even try to start a mining stock exchange. I thought, this would make a wonderful story! “

The rest, as they say, is history. Downing’s latest book is called Ladies of the Goldfield Stock Exchange. Incidentally, Downing reports that the Goldfield exchange was one of just two mining stock exchanges ever founded by women in the country. The first was in Colorado Springs in 1896.

Downing will not only be signing copies of this book on September 4 (copies will be available for purchase), but she will also talk about another passion: the Women Writing the West.

It started when she saw the report of a survey in which 1 out of 4 people in America (many of them professional women between the ages of 28 and 45) said they considered themselves western enthusiasts -- not just for traditional westerns, but historical fiction. Next, Downing and another author followed the success of a marketing group called “Sisters In Crime,” formed by Sara Paretsky and other female mystery writers who didn’t feel publishers were really pushing their works.

Both these things, said Downing, “gave us courage.”

Three years later, Women Writing the West has over 500 members across several countries. Their members focus on the marketing of what they call “the real women’s west” -- intelligent, well-researched historical fiction that features strong female protagonists.

A portion of the sales of Ladies of the Goldfield Stock Exchange at the September 4 event will benefit the Douglas Public Library District’s Local History Collection.