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, November 26, 1997

November 26, 1997 - Reading Scores

I’ve been measuring my own experience as a parent, as a former home educator, as a librarian, as a charter school advocate and former charter school board member, and as a passionate believer in the importance of high quality public education, against the recently published results of reading and writing scores throughout Colorado.

On the one hand, like most parents, I suffer from the “Lake Wobegon Effect.” I want to believe that my children are “above average.” As local taxpayers, we likewise want our local school district to be above average. Well, the Douglas County School District 4th grade students ARE above the state average.


There’s the sociological analysis. Douglas County has a relatively homogeneous population. Most of our students’ parents are white, well-educated, white collar workers. All else being equal, that analysis alone tends to place us statistically “above average.”

Another factor is based on research I’ve cited in this column several times, but bears repeating. In 1992, the Library Research Office of the Colorado State Library conducted a study. It demonstrated conclusively that the greatest single predictor of Colorado student success in reading (itself a reliable predictor of academic success generally) was the presence of a well-funded school library. The study was adjusted for general funding. In other words, strong school libraries (with lots of books and trained staff) were more important than the per capita income of the various student families, or the income of the school. Douglas County school libraries are better than the state average, particularly in the book-to-student ratio. So are our reading scores.

Some pundits argue that the whole issue of 4th grade student achievement in reading and writing reduces to a single educational thrust: phonics versus whole language. That’s nonsense. As any home schooler with more than one child can tell you, some children need phonics, and some don’t. It should be provided to those who do, as promptly as possible. In my opinion, phonics is a very good place to start with all students. But you don’t learn to love reading, you don’t learn the rhythm of speech and written language, by phonics drills.

Let me be absolutely clear: the more books and magazines you read, the better you read and write. Reading, not classroom instruction, is the key to better reading scores. That’s why not only school libraries are important to the education of your child, but also the regular use of a public library.

Yet another factor is curriculum. Charter schools tended to test very well in the state, in particular those schools based upon the Core Knowledge Curriculum (even more particularly the Core Knowledge Institute of Parker). Such schools differ from most public schools in our district in that they are focused around a remarkably specific set of curricular expectations.

Speaking as a strong advocate of the Core Knowledge Curriculum, as one who has served on a district curricular advisory committee, and as one who reads widely in the area of public education (albeit as a layman), I can’t help but view this as confirmation of my prejudices. In brief: a clear, demanding curriculum sets a higher standard of performance. That higher set of expectations results in a higher level of student achievement. In my opinion, the curriculum (to the extent such exists at all) of general public education in this state still trails the Core Knowledge Curriculum in clarity and consistency.

You will no doubt draw your own conclusions from the reading score data. Here are mine: aside from such broad social factors as the education and income of the parents, the greatest single influence in a child’s education is parental involvement in instruction. If children are lucky enough to have parents who check their homework every night, those children will outperform their peers. Educational reform starts at home.

The second greatest influence in the child’s education is the presence and use of a well-stocked and well-staffed school (and/or public) library. The third is the presence of a demanding and well-defined curriculum.

But regardless of your take on these matters, here’s one thing surely we can all agree on: the education of our young must be one of our most important concerns. It’s a subject that deserves our most vigorous debate, and most honest appraisal. To that end, the publication of local and statewide reading scores is a big step in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 19, 1997

November 19, 1997 - Noise in the library

When I was an undergrad, I had a friend whose roommate flipped out.

My friend came back from a class to find (let’s call him) Joe cowering in a corner of the room. Every electric device, table lamp, radio, stereo, amplifier, receiver, was pointed away from him, towards the door. Joe himself would have been completely naked, except that he was wrapped in aluminum foil.

In the (as you can imagine) somewhat confused conversation that followed, it turned out that Joe had been thinking. Earlier that day, when he turned on the radio and sounds blared forth, Joe suddenly realized that all kinds of invisible but very real pulses were at every moment radiating through his body. And the more he thought about it, the more he realized that his body really wasn’t his. It was a conductive medium. Hence the aluminum foil.

On the one hand, it’s easy to dismiss all this as the chemically induced chaos that prevailed on many college campuses in the late sixties and early seventies.

On the other hand, Joe may have been onto something. I recently sat through a meeting with some fire department and emergency response types. In the course of the meeting, every one of these people had their beepers go off. Nobody, as it happened, ever left the room.

And I remembered Joe. Back then, it was just radio. These days, it’s radio and satellite TV and cell phones and pagers. Surely, at the cellular level, it can’t be doing our bodies any good to have all these signals beaming through them.

These thoughts resurfaced at a recent staff discussion about a new issue in our libraries. Noise.

It is unquestionably true that the libraries of today are noisier than the libraries of my childhood. But every place else is louder, too. Movie theaters. School rooms. Even funeral homes. It’s not a library change. It’s a societal change.

In a generation raised on multiple TV’s and cell phones and video games and CD players with headphones and PC speakers, in a time when there may be only a few square miles left on the globe where you can’t hear the roar of a jet, it could be that we have forgotten the meaning of silence.

But much like Joe, people have begun to demonstrate increasing intolerance for things as they are. Do we have more children crying, and at the same time more parents oblivious to the sound? Probably not. We DO have more library patrons who cannot TOLERATE such sounds.

I suspect that behind the sometimes unreasonable expectations of these patrons (“It’s your JOB to shut everyone up!”) lies the very real longing for sanctuary. They want a place where they just won’t be bothered. They want a place where, for a change, there’s no background noise, a place where they can listen to themselves think.

Is that totally out of line? No. Will it take some significant revisions in the way libraries do business these days? It might.

Our librarians have begun talking about how we can make our libraries a little quieter. We’ve got some ideas. We could start whispering. Seriously. Library staff set the tone for what’s acceptable.

We could turn down our phone bells and replace phone paging with voice mail.

We could step up our campaign to educate the children who attend our story times about “library voices.” We could start a more vigorous enforcement of quiet when patrons yell across the library to their children to shut up, or when they pull cell phones out of their briefcases, or when they launch into conversations that more properly belong outside.

And this is the tricky one. Can we in fact expect that our patrons will understand when we ask them to pipe down, or to whisk away their children when they have become disruptive of what many people seek in libraries -- a holy silence? How do we communicate this new expectation?

Your thoughts on this matter are hereby solicited. E-mail me at jaslarue@earthlink.net, or write me at 961 S. Plum Creek Blvd, Castle Rock CO 80104.

You can also call me at 688-8752. But keep it down, eh?

Wednesday, November 12, 1997

November 12, 1997 - Merging of Newspapers

As previously reported by this paper, the owners of the Douglas County News-Press recently acquired the Highlands Herald.

For News-Press readers, my column is familiar. I’ve been writing it for the past seven years. Readers of the Herald, however, are probably wondering what happened to Cindy Murphy’s column. Cindy has been writing for the Herald for ten years about library goings-on, all of her columns packed with useful information.

Fear not. Cindy is still working for the library, still buzzing around the county, still baking brownies as necessary (and it’s surprising just how often it IS necessary). She’s still writing newspaper columns, too, just not here.

It happens that Cindy and I used to alternate columns for another Douglas County newspaper (Parker’s Weekly News Chronicle). When my column got merged across two papers, she inherited the other one full-time.

So since my column is new to some people, and since it’s always the case that some people are new to Douglas County, I thought I’d take the time to say what the Douglas Public Library District is, and what you’re liable to find in this column.

DPLD (the Douglas Public Library District) is, like many Douglas County entities, fairly young. We were formed, by taxpayer vote, as an independent taxing district in November, 1990. Before that time, we were an impoverished department of Douglas County government. The district includes the following service locations:

Highlands Ranch Library (791-7703), 48 W. Springer Drive, Highlands Ranch;

Louviers Library (791-7323), Louviers Village Club House;

Oakes Mill Library (under construction through next summer, although we should shortly have a bookmobile at 8827 Lone Tree Parkway, Lone Tree);

Parker Library (841-3503), 10851 S Crossroads Drive, Parker;

Philip S. Miller (688-5157), 961 S. Plum Creek Blvd, Castle Rock;

as well as “satellite” operations at the Roxborough and Cherry Valley Elementary Schools. We also operate a Books by Mail program for residents of the community of Deckers.

With the exception of Louviers, Roxborough, and Cherry Valley, our libraries are open 7 days a week: Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 1-5 p.m.

Most of our libraries offer children’s story times every week day, and in some cases, several times a day. Call for exact schedules, or look for the calendar elsewhere in this paper.

All of our libraries also offer, in addition to hundreds of thousands of new materials, the ability to place those materials “on hold,” either in person, or by connecting your computer to ours. Patrons (that’s you) can direct that the items be sent to a particular library for convenient pick-up. Speaking of computers, we have an always developing World Wide Web site, too, at http://douglas.lib.co.us.

Yet another service is “reference.” Yes, we pay people to answer your questions, by phone or in person. For free. Whether it’s a consumer question, a homework resource, or a business question, you’ll find that our reference staff are eager to track down the right answer.

DPLD is the 7th busiest library in the state. Our population is far from the 7th largest. What that means is that our patrons are among the heaviest library users you’ll find. But we also offer a free literacy tutoring service.

What will you find in this column? I promise to use the word “library” at least once each week. Beyond that, I might talk about new services, issues library staff are grappling with, or any of a number of things I’ve been reading or thinking about that have some bearing on the role of the library in Douglas County.

If you want to contact me, my phone is 688-8752. You can also write me care of Philip S. Miller Library, or e-mail me at jaslarue@earthlink.net.net.

Generally speaking, I also try to have some fun. After all, I’m the director of a library. Libraries are the best places in the whole world. Why shouldn't I be enjoying myself?

Wednesday, November 5, 1997

November 5, 1997 - Oakes Mill Naming

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
- Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 43

After this week, the Oakes Mill Library, in existence for over a decade, will be no more. The old building will be torn down. Construction will begin immediately on a more expansive (over twice as large), all-on-one-level building which will take its place. We hope it will be open before the end of summer in 1998. (In the meantime, we will offer services from a bookmobile parked at the same site.)

At the regular October 1997 meeting of our Library Board of Trustees, the City of Lone Tree made a formal request. As a newborn civic entity, Lone Tree is seeking to establish a stronger sense of place and of community. We were asked to consider renaming the library -- or rather, naming the new library -- "Lone Tree Library."

Certainly, there is some logic in the request. "Lone Tree Library" says where the building is located, after the fashion of our Highlands Ranch, Louviers, and Parker libraries. Such a name would aid the new Douglas County resident in finding us, and there are a lot of new residents.

But sometimes, what a library is called is very important to its users, and even a matter of some emotion. So before the Board takes any action, we're holding a public meeting at 7 p.m., November 19 (a Wednesday). The nearest public meeting space TO the library is at the Lone Tree Civic Center, at the northeast corner of Lone Tree Parkway and Sweetwater, just west of the current library. So that's where our meeting will be held.

There are three other options which will also be presented for public consideration.

First is to leave the name as it is. Back in 1984, the Trustees announced a county-wide contest for the naming of the building. The winning entry was written by Hilda E. Anderson of the Douglas County Historical Society. Major D.C. Oakes established at least one, and perhaps several saw mills in Douglas County, one of which may have been near Lone Tree. In the 1860's, "Oakes Mill" (also known as "Oaksville") even had a Post Office. In 1861, it was briefly considered as a possibility for the county seat of Douglas. But given that it was "only a lumber mill site," the nod was given to another community -- Franktown.

In short, the name "Oakes Mill Library" captured a bit of Douglas County history that was otherwise obscure. Given that the funding for the library then (and now) came from the entire county, and no municipality was then in existence, this seemed most fitting. It also did for the county library system just what the City of Lone Tree seeks for itself: establish some sense of place and tradition.

A second option is to merge two traditions into one: "Oakes Mill Library at Lone Tree." It even has a very contemporary sound to it.

A third option is to do what the library did for our Philip S. Miller Library, and attempted to do for our Parker Library: offer the naming of a library as a fundraising opportunity. While the district has sufficient funds to build a fine library, this is a good time to raise private funds as well. Such funds can make a profound difference in the level of internal finishes and other amenities. In Parker, no one donor sought this honor, but hundreds of lesser donations kept us well under our construction budget. Names of various community members showed up in paved bricks, in the purchase of a small fountain, and in various other touches. Those touches, coming from local residents instead of a county mill levy, make it feel like "home."

To the north, the Koelbel Library reflects a $250,000 cash donation. Our Oakes Mill Library is one quarter the size of Koelbel; I believe the Board would consider a comparably sized reduction in the donation.

A mailing has gone out to all current library card holders in the 80124 zip code area. Our November 19th meeting will help us to gather useful information for the Board, which they will use to make a decision at some later date. Please join us to give your considered opinion on what you think we should call this "rose" of a new library.