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, December 24, 1997

December 24, 1997 - Excursion Train Program

My son Perry is crazy about trains. He always has been. So for us, Christmas will be (again) a snarl of tracks and steam engines and train books and videos.

But it turns out that you don’t have to be three-and-a-half years old to be a train buff.

Johanna Harden, Archivist of our Local History Collection, recently presented me with an information folder on the Royal Gorge/Tennessee Pass Steam Excursion. You might have seen the historic train come puffing through Douglas County this past June. It left Denver and passed through the Royal Gorge and Tennessee Pass on its way to the National Railway Historical Society’s annual meeting in Salt Lake City. The excursion train slowed traffic on I-25 for miles, as people pulled over and waved at the proud Union Pacific #844 steam engine.

Or maybe you missed it. That’s too bad, especially since the Royal Gorge/Tennessee pass route was officially closed on August 23, 1997. No trains are now running on the former D&RGW tracks.

But do not despair. You can step back into time and relive the whole trip -- through video, slides, and human memory -- simply by attending a program on January 11, 1998, at 2 p.m., at the Commissioner’s Hearing Room in the Philip S. Miller Administration Building at 100 Third Street, Castle Rock.

Entitled “Riding the Cushions,” the multi-media presentation is part of our Local History Collection program series 1997-98 (see below for the list of remaining programs). So far, all of our programs have been blessed with extraordinary speakers. “Riding the Cushions” boasts three such speakers, each with a very different view of the excursion. Steve Patterson BNSF locomotive engineer on the Joint Line (which runs just west of the Philip S. Miller Library), was a passenger on the excursion train.

Our second speaker is Stephen A. Lee, Union Pacific Railroad, Manager of Train Operating Practices, is one of two steam locomotive experts in the United States. I’ve read his article “So, you want to run a steam locomotive” (in “Trains,” July 1989) in which he shows the fifty-six (yes,56) valves, gears and switches that make up the nerve center of a steam locomotive. He’ll be discussing the technical side of the trip.

Our third speaker is Eric Sondeen, a lieutenant of the Littleton Fire Department, who worked as a car attendant on the excursion. Lt. Sondeen, like our other two speakers, is also a member of Operation Lifesaver, which seeks to prevent train collisions. The Douglas Public Library District is thus far the only public library in Colorado to invite Operation Lifesaver to give public presentations.

You can bet Perry and I will be there.

Here’s a list of the 3 other Local History Collection programs (also held at 2 p.m. in the same location):

February 8 - “History by Mail:” Douglas County & Colorado Postal History, featuring James Ozment, and Erwin Engert.

March 8 - “Letters Home:” Love Letters to Baby Doe, a soldier’s words to his parents, Lizzie Smith’s first Christmas on West Plum Creek 1872, and more.

May 17 - National Historic Preservation Week 1998 Celebration, A Concert of Civil War Era Music, featuring the Fourth Artillery Regimental Band, For D.A. Russell, Wyoming Territory.

All the programs, sponsored by the Douglas Public Library District’s Local History Collection, are free and open to the public.

For more information, called Johanna Harden at 303-814-0795.

Wednesday, December 17, 1997

December 17, 1997 - Cults and New Faiths

I recently received a written complaint about a book called Cults and New Faiths. Published in 1981, it was written by one John Butterworth, editor of a newspaper in Northern England.

For the very first time since I have received such a complaint, I am going to remove the book from our collection. Let me tell you why.

The nature of the complaint was that the information in the book about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was incorrect. The book labeled Mormonism a "cult" and cast aspersions on both its origins and its theology. Also branded cults were Christian Science, Eckankar, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientology, and others. The term "cult" was never defined. The "new faiths" (also undefined) included Bahai'i, Freemasonry, Rastafarianism, and Transcendental Meditation!

In my formal response, I said that the issue was not whether the views of the author are true. The way I see it, most of what's in print these days is slanted in one direction or another. But the public library is in the business of collecting books, largely the offerings of mainstream publishing houses; it is not in the business of either editing those books or endorsing their contents. We do try, however, to achieve some balance in our coverage of various issues.

An example is the topic of abortion. Some support a woman's right to choose. Others believe that abortion is murder. Hence there are books both for and against abortion, both of which may be found in our collection. The same situation exists for a host of sometimes controversial topics: environmentalism, homosexuality, welfare, evolution, and on and on. In other words, our materials reflect some of the views and biases of the authors now writing on the subjects. The library has neither the means nor the wisdom to "correct" those views. Again, the mission of the public library is not to decide who is right. We reflect the views of our culture, and provide a place for members of the public to examine those views, and make up their own minds.

In the area of religion, it is even more difficult to get at the "truth." Butterworth, an English newspaper editor, holds up various faiths to his own yardstick -- some form of Christianity, although he never says which denomination. According to that yardstick, every other faith is found wanting. Such a view might be extremely offensive not only to Christian Scientists and Mormons, but also to the Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim reader.

But just because a view is offensive doesn't mean that it's wrong. It doesn't mean that it's right, either. It is simply the viewpoint of the author, whose name appears right there on the cover, and whose statements can be considered, further investigated, adopted in whole or in part, or utterly rejected.

So I do not believe the book should be removed on the basis of its content, however superficial. (And it is superficial. Most faiths get two-to-four pages of coverage, with lots of sidebars and photographs.) Moreover, the book has some historical value. It captures a certain perspective from the late 1970's. Such data is of potential interest to the social historian. The topic of cults is of undeniable interest to our patrons, who have checked out this book at least three times a year for many years in a row.

The problem is that the Douglas Public Library District is not an academic institution, determined to preserve historical records on all topics. We seek to maintain a relatively current collection. By our standards, the book Cults and New Faiths is in poor physical condition and very dated. It is not generally acknowledged as a key work in the field. In fact, we should have "weeded" it from our shelves some time ago. ("Weeding" is librarian shorthand for the part of collection management that removes older items to make way for new ones.)

So although the library must resist adopting the role of public censor, it would be contrarian to keep a book just because someone complained about it, when our standard procedures should have removed it for other reasons.

My decision, therefore, was to remove the book. We will, however, replace it with a more current title or titles on the same topic.

Wednesday, December 10, 1997

December 10, 1997 - Video Loan Periods

Every now and then, we get a patron suggestion for a basic change in how we do business. One of the more recent suggestions was to change the loan period for all videos to one week.

This notion came to us by way of a written comment card (you’ll see them scattered around our libraries). Every other week our library managers get together to keep apprised of each other’s activities, and to kick around any issues that have surfaced. The library manager who received the suggestion (Holly Deni at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock) then raised the suggestion at the managers meeting.

We have a bias about patron suggestions: we prefer to take them. The loan period for our videos started out as 2 days, mostly because we didn’t have very many of them, and wanted to keep them moving. Then, back in 1996, we moved the non-instructional videos to the way it is right now.

We have two different video loan periods. One of them is for 4 days. This applies to the basic non-instructional video. The other is for 7 days, which applies to how-to videos and educational videos.

But there’s something decidedly inconsistent about this. It’s confusing for staff AND for our patrons to have to keep track of two different due dates for what seems to be the same kind of material. In short, the patron had a good idea.

So it passed the manager review. Then we ran it past front line staff to see if they could think of any problems with it.

The most significant staff concern had to with “holds.” Right now, we usually buy an extra copy of something (except for the big blockbusters) for every four requests. Would the fact that videos checked out longer mean longer waits, and therefore more holds, and therefore more purchases of videos?

So we took a look at what winds up on hold. And we learned that while we do a fairly brisk business in videos, they don’t account for many of the holds. People tend to check out what they find on the shelves.

As it happens, all of our video shelves are getting a little crowded, and in some of our libraries, we’re running out of new room to put extra shelving. This is particularly so at Highlands Ranch and the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock: our building expansions at these locations are still a ways off. So the longer long period meant that we should be able to display a few more videos in less space.

In sum? The change made our procedures more consistent and therefore easier to remember, and gave us a little more breathing space.

Our only other issue was statistics. We track all kinds of materials uses, and it’s tidier to change loan periods at the beginning of the year.

So effective January 1, 1998, all our videos will check out for 1 week. Until then, it’s business as usual.

Our other limits on video use remain: there is no grace period for video checkouts. Overdue videos will be charged at fifty cents a day, up to $5.00. (That’s so you remember that even if they’re overdue, it’s cheaper to bring them back than to have to pay for their replacement.)

So there it is. Thanks to our patron for a good idea, and to our staff for giving it thoughtful consideration.

Wednesday, December 3, 1997

December 3, 1997 - Still Oakes Mill

Last week's front page headline was "Oakes Mill Library to be renamed." The first sentence of the story, written by Kathie Metcalf, declared that a new name was decided at a public input meeting on November 19.

Um, no. It wasn't. The sole purpose of the meeting was to gather public input to present to the Library Board of Trustees, in combination with other e-mail messages, phone calls and letters I've received on the topic. Only the Board of Trustees can change the name of the library, and they have not yet voted to do so. I not only made this point several times verbally at the meeting, I also wrote in big letters on a flip chart: "no decision tonight."

Further, I hope I made my own position clear: I will recommend to the Board that they hold off on a name change until just before the new library opens. With luck, the quality of the building will inspire someone to want to pay for the privilege of having it named after him or her. Such a "naming opportunity" (bidding begins at $100,000!) would enable us to make significant upgrades to the library at no taxpayer expense.

On November 19, after going through each of the options -- Oakes Mill, Oakes Mill at Lone Tree, Lone Tree, and a naming opportunity -- I did ask for a show of hands for the various options, a straw poll to give each person in attendance the opportunity to indicate support. This poll clearly split along neighborhoods. Lone Tree residents supported "Lone Tree Library." Acres Green residents supported the name "Oakes Mill Library at Lone Tree" rather than just "Oakes Mill Library."

I've been thinking about that. From other avenues of public comment, I know that many Acres Green residents were strongly opposed to "Lone Tree Library." But the meeting on November 19 was about more than the name of a library. It was about the building of community. I stated there, and pointedly restate here, that the library seeks to be a bridge, not a wall, between the communities of Acres Green and Lone Tree. The library has taken great pains to be scrupulously fair to the viewpoints of our patrons, and to give reasoned deliberation to our alternatives. Everyone is welcome at the library.

I believe those Acres Green participants in the meeting offered the compromise name as something of an olive branch, a genuine attempt at reconciliation. That's very much to their credit. But it still doesn't constitute a "decision." Again, until the Library Board decides otherwise, the name of the new library is the same as the old one: Oakes Mill.

I was encouraged by the fact that residents of both communities made it a point to say how much they valued the library. Historically, both Acres Green and Lone Tree are still young. It takes time to build a set of shared values. It also takes time to work out a process by which people can speak their minds and come to consensus. That process begins with people sitting down together to discuss things.

On behalf of our Board of Trustees, I'd like to express my thanks to all the people who have taken the time to talk to us -- and to each other.