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 30, 1998

December 30, 1998 - 1999 Resolutions

Three times a year I grow pensive: the anniversary of my hiring (April), my birthday (July), and the end of the year. April tends to be a review wholly related to my job. July tends to be a backward look on my personal life. New Year’s Eve tends to be about “resolutions” in both spheres.

Here’s what I’m resolved to do in 1999.

WORK. The top priority for the library district is to get our “support services building” up and running in Castle Rock. A recent study conducted by Holly Deni, Associate Director for Support Services, demonstrated that our technical services staff is among the most productive on the Front Range. Each full time employee orders, receives, catalogs, and processes some 6,000 items per year in less physical space than any neighboring library. If we’re to keep up with the growth of our collection, we have to move even more books. To do that, we need this new building (and additional staff) yesterday; we probably won’t see either until August. This is the crunch in the district right now.

The next big issue is trickier, because it’s less tangible. Despite our rapid growth as an organization, I think we’ve managed to hang on to a “service first” philosophy. But larger organizations tend to lean more on policy than independent judgment; on hierarchical communication rather than less formal means. The great challenge our library faces is how to remain responsive where and when it matters most: at the front line, at that make-or-break moment of contact between staff and patron.

I keep thinking of one of my granddad’s favorite sayings: “You can teach a monkey to follow the rules. It takes a human being to make an exception.” We must remember to be human.

One of my strategies for staff communications is to launch a staff intranet: a way for the curious employee to stay abreast of what’s happening all around the district. But it will take more than that.

More immediately, I have to hire a new manager for Lone Tree Library, which I hope to accomplish by the end of January.

We hope to break ground on our Highlands Ranch Library by summer of 1999. Before that can happen, a whole lot of developer infrastructure -- and local community networking -- has to happen first.

I also resolve that we will find some better service solution for Roxborough patrons: staff are exploring two options right now.

PERSONAL. I resolve to give myself the great gift of more time with my wife and children. I resolve to write at least one really fine poem. I resolve to work through Scott Joplin’s piano works until I can finally master a Fats Waller number. I resolve to land a minor part in a local musical production, and to steal the show at least once. I resolve to read more, both in the pursuit of pleasure and of wisdom. (Besides, it’s good for business.) I resolve to start some regular schedule of writing to finish this book I’ve been carrying around in my head for the past five years.

Finally, I resolve not to start using Rogaine, although I’m powerfully tempted. At this stage of the game, it’s as important not to give into vanity as it is to fight cynicism. Surely wisdom and grace do not require a full head of hair.

Here’s wishing you a resolute 1999.

Wednesday, December 23, 1998

December 23, 1998 - Christmas Gift-giving

Back in 1992, I reprised a column I'd written even earlier. I find that I still don't have much to add. So here it is again. Happy holidays!

What we really need is an all-purpose gift that will satisfy everybody. It should be suitable for all ages. It should require no assembly. It shouldn't need batteries. You shouldn't have to feed it. It should last forever. It should be constantly entertaining. The more the recipient uses it, the more he or she should like it.

And of course, it should be free.

No such animal, right? Wrong. I'm talking about a library card.

I'll never understand it. Most adults these days carry cards of every description; most of them DON'T have library cards. So for the woman or man who has everything, why not offer everything else? -- access to the total accumulated knowledge of the human race, not to mention the most wonderful stories ever told.

Of course, the real winner of a gift like this is not an adult. It's a child.

Here's all you have to do to make your holidays a success. First, come down to the library and fill out a library card application for your child. Then, check out three of four books. Wrap the card and the books and set them under the tree. Save this very special package for last.

When the child rips it open, say that this unassuming little card will let him or her get presents all year long. Then read your child to sleep that night with one of the books.

After your children have gotten bored with all their expensive toys, read them (or have them read) the other books, then trot them down to the library in that slow week after the main event. Teach your children about exchanging one present for another.

At the library, every day is Christmas. Behind every book cover there are riches. After introducing your kids to a treasure trove beyond Aladdin's wildest dreams, why not mosey over to the adult section, and browse through the latest offerings yourself? You know you deserve it.

A few years back, former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett urged every child to obtain and use a library card. It was good advice then; it's good advice now.

Besides, at prices like these, who can argue?If you are not fully satisfied after a lifetime of learning and pleasure -- I'll cheerfully refund your money.

Trust me, this could be the best Christmas card you'll ever send.

OK, so I do have something to add. Recently, a patron complained about some "Christmas" decorations in the library, and some of the Christian newspapers set out -- not by library staff -- as giveaways. I do recognize that many people do not celebrate Christmas. The public library certainly does not promote any religion over another, nor intend any slight to people of faith, or of no faith. Our decorations are meant to be seasonal and non-sectarian.

On the other hand, the giving of gifts is not the exclusive property of any belief system. Whether you're a Jew, a Muslim, a Baha'i, a Hindu, a Zoroastrian, an agnostic or an atheist, all of the above still applies.

To all, Peace.

Tuesday, December 15, 1998

December 15, 1998 - Northridge Snake Story

The real reasons for things don't always get written down. For instance, Gina Woods, manager of the Lone Tree Library, recently passed on a bit of library district history that was certainly news to me.

I'd read that we once had a small library outlet at the Northridge Elementary School. But before I started working here in April of 1990, the library had been asked to move out. I never knew why.

A couple of times over the years I asked people connected with the school district what had happened, but they didn't say very much. I could tell the topic made them uncomfortable.

It turns out that we had a library employee back then who collected snakes. One day, she brought her 20 foot python to the Northridge Library as Exhibit A for a library program. As always, she'd fed the snake ahead of time, which tended to make it a little sluggish. A sated and sluggish snake, as you might imagine, is better than a hungry and quick one.

There was still a large bulge in its body that corresponded to a slowly digesting rabbit. This is the sort of gruesome detail that children love.

Well, right before the program, the snake did something unexpected. It peed on the new school carpet. A lot.

Despite the prompt best efforts (and cleaning compounds) of library staff, the rank odor persisted. Immediately thereafter, we were asked to take our books (not to mention our incontinent animals) and go.

For the record (finally!), I don't blame the school district one bit. While I strongly doubt this contingency was covered in our agreement with them, the event reeks, you might say, of poor manners on our part.

Since then, we've had both sheep and performing pigs in our branches. Staff have taken appropriate precautions. Here we see proof that even if knowledge is not recorded, the lessons remain.

I'm grateful that Gina passed this story on. But she's been in a storytelling mood lately, as soon she will be leaving the library. Her last day of employment is December 23. After that, she'll focus on being a sports mom during her son's last semester at DCHS. Then she'll be joining her pilot husband, who is now based in Cleveland.

During her time with us, she's seen the library grow from an institution of just 12 Full Time Equivalent employees to our current 80 FTE's. She's seen the astonishing growth of library use in Douglas County, and a host of transformations within the district. She's even built a new library branch.

Throughout all these changes, Gina has served as one of the district's touchstones for warm, neighborhood-based service. That's one of the things we'll try to hang onto in her absence.

Meanwhile, do stop by and see Gina before she leaves. As a favor to me, though, leave your pets at home.

Wednesday, December 9, 1998

December 9, 1998 - In Pursuit of Peace

Stop me if you've heard this one. You're doing more and more racing around. If you're a white collar worker, you're slipping in late from one meeting and sliding out early to make another.

Or consider traffic. Recently someone asked me where young families hang out around here. "In minivans," I said, and my family is no exception. If you have any driving to do (or to put it another way, if you live in Douglas County) you're either tearing through traffic, sitting in traffic, or fiddling with your car to get it ready for traffic.

Or think about Christmas shopping. No, on second thought, don't. Don't think about your Christmas card list, either. If you're reading this column at all, it's not to have somebody add to the guilt and stress you're already carrying.

Enough. What nobody talks about these days -- in part because no one has the time -- is the pursuit of peace.

I have a friend back east who learned a hard lesson. He had a tendency to focus on just one thing -- whether a job or a hobby -- until he totally burned himself out. Then it was on to the next obsession. Finally his wife told him something that he never forgot: the secret to peace was two things to worry about.

I remember a slim volume I read some 35 years ago, which I think my mom got from the Book of the Month Club. It was written by Winston Churchill. Churchill, I think it's safe to say, was an overachiever. He wrote that it was hard for him to be idle. If he wanted to find refreshment -- and there were times when he desperately required it -- he just turned to something else, something intensely involving and demanding. In his case, it happened to be painting. Others may turn to different art forms: music, say, or dance.

Judging from health club memberships, many people at least intend to find peace in physical activity -- "working out."

Some people find refreshment in travel. Probably, nothing that happens in a human community in the remotest corner of the globe is much different from what happens in your home town. But travel wakes you up, gives you perspective. Some people travel to make sociological observations, and find that those observations have surprising validity back home.

Others travel just to get another landscape in their heads. I think of the trip my wife pushed me to take earlier this year to the Pacific Northwest. There I was utterly absorbed in a landscape of water and the tallest trees -- it broke the spell of too much focus on work in Colorado. It brought me, as she intended, a measure of peace.

Some find "surcease of sorrow" in prayer, meditation, or some other spiritual exercise. The quest is for states of attunement -- a pause in life that listens to what's happening inwardly, rather than reacting to the insistent rhythms of the external life.

But for those who can't afford to travel, don't have a lick of artistic ability, are bored by recreation centers, and don't feel particularly drawn to any religious pursuit, there's still a way to change the channel of your life that doesn't involve total vegetation in front of the television.

You can go to the library.

You have my most solemn promise that none of our libraries will pipe in Christmas carols. If you just sit quietly in your library chair, our staff will leave you alone.

It happens that reading is a marvelous path to peace. It lifts you out of the troubles of your life. It allows you to follow a host of new interests, all without spending a dime.

At a time in our society's life -- and perhaps yours -- when everything is rush rush rush, the public library serves no purpose so important as providing a place where you can seek peace, as no one else but you defines it.

There's a word for that. Sanctuary.

Wednesday, December 2, 1998

December 2, 1998 - Libraries Last

Before I came to Colorado I was Assistant Director of Lincoln Library, the public library of Springfield, Illinois. I replaced a fellow named Jim Sleeth, who went on to become director of the Elmira Public Library in New York.

Our director, Carl Volkmann, was a wonderful teacher, scrupulously ethical, well-respected in the community, modest, hard-working, conscientious. He retired a few years back, whereupon he became a full-time community volunteer, to his genuine joy. I've stayed in fairly close contact with him, as well as developing a warm friendship with Jim, mostly through correspondence.

Just before Thanksgiving, we learned that Carl had had surgery for colon cancer. The doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to his liver.

It's only been about a year since I went to Illinois for my father's funeral. He died of cancer that had metastasized to the liver. Frankly, I hadn't planned to go back for a long time. There were too many painful memories.

But Jim and I contrived to meet in Springfield. My family and I got to have Thanksgiving dinner with Carl's family and friends -- some 22 folks. Jim arrived the next day, and we got to spend most of the afternoon and evening with Carl, who for now is still in reasonably good health, in that fragile holding pattern between chemo treatments. He'd lost some weight, but he'd never been especially overweight. He looked trim and vigorous.

We reminisced together about some of the characters who worked at Lincoln Library. There were plenty, from cataloging assistant Paula (who worked with a cardboard box on her head and bubble wrap on her legs) to Russell, the head of Security, who had once created a sign declaring, "The door is alarmed." Someone immediately attached another sign nearby: "And the carpet is terrified."

We also compared notes about politics. The big lesson of directorship is that so many outside factors can affect the success (or failure) of your library. You have to pay attention. In Springfield, the library is a part of city government. The past few years have been very hard on it. Despite good times locally -- a 20% population increase, solid business expansion -- the library is in decline, a political football apparently designed to be kicked. Even though he's been out of the job for almost 6 years, this pained Carl, much as it hurts his wife to have to witness his ill health.

In New York, Jim struggles along with annual handouts from some six municipalities, plus federal grants, plus a grudging partial stipend from the county, plus an ever-shifting amount from the state. His library system is succeeding, Jim said, but just barely, entirely dependent upon his sales skills. Once he tried to form a library district like ours, a district that is directly accountable to the people it serves -- but incredibly, that takes an act of the state legislature, which is almost impossible.

Both Carl and Jim were fascinated by a Colorado phenomenon not present in Illinois or New York: the state-wide referendum. To their minds, this was a Western thing, a repudiation of the very idea of representative government.

They were also astonished to hear about the three kinds of tax limitation imposed on Colorado's public libraries: the mill levy limit, the TABOR limits (local growth plus inflation), and the 5.5% growth limit on property tax revenue. They shook their heads when I said that just which limits applied to you varied according to various elections, changing interpretations of state agencies, and the latest court decision.

But just before our very emotional farewell, I realized that both Jim and I really had learned something important from Carl: libraries mattered to us, spoke to the best within us, even when the tasks of librarianship were momentarily frustrating. We always know that the life of our institutions is important to the thousands and thousands of people whose lives it touches, to the remarkably varied communities we serve.

Carl laughed when I joked about the two students coming back to study again at the foot of the master (and Jim and I both bowed), but it was true.

Some things survive.

Wednesday, November 25, 1998

November 25, 1998 - Barnes & Noble buys Ingram

This is the week many of us will be sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner. But what shall we talk about?

There's the food, of course. The library has a marvelous audiotape that recounts the dinner time sounds at Roy Blount's momma's, a veritable choir of "mm-HMMM's" and "LOOK at them yams!" Such talk flatters the host and arguably spices the meals. (I include the side discussion, usually among the children, about at least one peculiar victual that goes back a generation or two. "What's IN that jello?" "Why do they call it a 'Watergate Salad?'" "Do I have to eat this?")

It is generally held that you should never discuss politics, religion or sex at the dinner table. That's a tragedy, since these are, of course, three of the most interesting topics we have. And in America, they're generally connected, whether the subject is, for instance, "freedom of choice" versus "anti-abortion" or, alas, anything to do with President Clinton.

Librarians will probably be talking about something the rest of the world may not have even noticed. Barnes and Noble, America's biggest bookstore, is in the process of buying Ingram, one of the nation's two biggest book distributors.

The world of books is like any other business these days. That is, there are fewer and fewer players all the time. Several years ago, Ingram was doing the buying. It acquired a company called Gordon's, which had a huge book warehouse in Denver.

This year, Ingram supplies more than half of all the books the Douglas Public Library District buys -- some 30,000 items a year. (Incidentally, some 90,000 items a year -- 60,000 new, and perhaps 30,000 older items that need mending, reclassification, or deletion -- flow through our tiny 1,300 square foot processing area in the corner of the Philip S. Miller Library. It's this space crunch that drives our need for a new "technical services" area.)

When you fill out a "blue slip" (our request form) for a book at the library, we place an electronic order with Ingram. If they've got it in the local warehouse (which they usually do), we get the book the very next day. Their service is prompt, reliable, and relatively inexpensive. Given the extraordinary growth of our county, Ingram has been an important part of our strategy to keep up with our patrons' unending demand for new materials.

But how will their acquisition by Barnes and Noble change things, if at all?

Not only librarians are asking this question. The independent bookstores, from Denver's Tattered Cover to Castle Rock's Hooked on Books, are also troubled. Barnes and Noble is their main competition. There have already been several lawsuits about book discount rates that favor the large chains. With Barnes and Noble also owning the book warehouse, the company has achieved a huge competitive advantage.

Some independent bookstore owners project two outcomes of the Ingram buy-out: more independents going out of business, and a narrowing of the diversity of Ingram offerings. If so, libraries may also find it harder to come up with anything but the blockbusters and movie-tie-ins that provide the main fare for chain bookstores.

Since this is Thanksgiving, I have to say that I've always been grateful for the independent bookstores, their quirky stock, their wide-ranging areas of special interest, their piquancy and character. It saddens me that the local bookstore may soon go the way of the mom and pop grocery store.

But then there's the other side of Thanksgiving. Call it the business end of the holiday: when you've got an insatiable appetite, you're just liable to gobble everything in sight.

Wednesday, November 18, 1998

November 18, 1998 - Tellabration

There's a group, really, called "The National Storytelling Association." The first time I heard of them, I suspected it was a nom de plume for the Arkansas branch of the LaRue clan. They couldn't tell the straight truth if they got paid good money for it.

See, in their home town of Mountainburg, population 454 (most of them my kin), nothing much goes on. Ever. So anything that does happen gets a remarkable dose of embellishment. The chief form of entertainment is stretching out a minor incident (say, Joyce went to the store for a sweet potato and brought home an onion) into a two hour long, highly dramatic yet thigh-slappingly funny saga.

Nobody was better at this than my late Uncle Bill Rogers. Properly speaking, he was a LaRue only by marriage. But as he might have put it himself, he perked up the line considerable. He once completely enthralled my wife and me for most of an evening with a story I was sure was pure fiction.

It was all about how a down-on-his-luck California crooner named Tony Alamo found Jesus, then came to Alma, Arkansas and started a restaurant. He staffed the restaurant with wayward, pregnant teenagers. Then he sold off their babies on the black market, mostly to rich folks.

Then Tony's evangelist wife got cancer and died. The slave laborers of the restaurant put her in a special freezer that had a permanently illuminated, internal switch. When Tony's wife came back to life -- as a result of a 24-hour-a-day prayer vigil that had been going on for a couple of years -- she'd just have to hit that switch with her elbow.

Not only would the freezer pop open, but the sounds of Elvis (her favorite) would swell through the refrigerated air. The event would also set off an alarm in the main restaurant.

Uncle Bill filled in the story with a side narrative about how the Tony Alamo followers had taken over the political machinery of the little town of Alma, to the consternation of the locals.

I didn't believe a word of it. Not that that slowed down for a second my appreciation of the tale.

Imagine my surprise when two weeks later, the same story hit Time, or possibly Newsweek. That's the trouble with a really good liar -- you never know when he might be telling the truth.

Which brings me to this week's topic: "Tellabration." The brainchild of the aforementioned National Storytelling Association, this is a national event that whoops up the ancient art of stretching the facts.

The Douglas Public Library District will observe Tellabration on November 21.

At our Highlands Ranch Library, storyteller Brad Bowles (who happens to be Chairman of the CU Theater Department) will provide a program at 10:30 a.m. There will be music. The audience will have a chance to join in, and I hope they take it.

At the Castle Rock Starlighting Ceremony, Brad Bowles will regale families on the 2nd floor of the Masonic Hall, located on the northeast corner of 3rd and Wilcox.

(Incidentally, I strongly urge you to stand across the street on the south side of this remarkable, historic building. Look at the windows. They do not line up. But it's perfect. The two floors manage both to complement and to ignore each other. I love that building.)

Shortly after Bowles's presentation (from 3:30 to 4 p.m.), Santa Claus, I have been informed, will make an appearance.

Finally, at our Parker Library, Liz Masterson and Sean Blackburn will present a medley of stories and songs from classic western movies. In 1998, two key cowboy crooners -- Gene Autrey and Roy Rogers -- Went West. Here's a chance to remember some of their songs, among others. Sean adds some eye-popping rope tricks. While this performance is mostly geared toward adults, older children will probably find lots to enjoy as well. The time: 7:30 p.m.

Anyway, that's my story. And I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, November 11, 1998

November 11, 1998 - Philip S. Miller Biography

Beware, you teachers! A single comment on a school assignment can mark a young woman. It can twist whole lives.

Consider, for instance, a five page research paper written for Douglas County High School teacher Mr. James McKay. The year was 1967. The title was "The History of Banking in Castle Rock." The author was one Debbie Bubolz.

Now it happens that Debbie was and is the daughter of Willie Bubolz, who was on the Board of Directors of the Bank of Douglas County. And it's also true that the Bank of Douglas County was the ONLY bank in Castle Rock at that time. (This is in marked contrast to today, incidentally, when there's a bank every three or four feet.)

Well, thanks to family connections, Debbie did a lot of interviews, learning about two predecessors to the Bank of Douglas County, which opened in 1939. She also unearthed original scrapbooks from stockholders of those banks dating back to 1917. The proud 16-year old author submitted her thoroughly researched paper, a paper steeped in source documents and the living memory of people now gone. She was sure she'd get an "A."

And she was devastated to receive a humiliating "B-". McKay's verdict: ".... it needs many more footnotes."

Now on the outside, Debbie seemed fine. She became the owner of the Powder Box Beauty Salon in Castle Rock through the mid-70's. Then she sold the salon and taught at Beauty Schools in Denver, Englewood, and Greeley. (I have always thought, incidentally, that "Beauty Operator" is the best job title ever. It pleases me still to know that SOMEBODY is keeping Beauty going.)

Later, she became a journalist, then editor for the Rapp Street Journal in Littleton. Finally, she earned a B.A. in English and Education, moved to Arizona, and taught GED classes.

But always in the back of her mind was that "B-", that careless remark about footnotes.

Thirty fateful years later, Debbie, now Debbie Bubolz-Bodle, has published a book entitled Philip Simon Miller: Butcher, Banker and Benefactor.

(The discerning reader will note that preponderance of "B's" in her name and her work. Coincidence?)

Mr. Miller is of course well known to Douglas County. His name graces two buildings in Castle Rock: the Philip S. Miller Library, and the Philip S. Miller Building of Douglas County.

The astonishing legacy of the Philip S. Miller Perpetual Charitable Trust will continue to benefit not only the library and the county, but also (among others) the Douglas County Fair, the Douglas County School District, and the Castle Rock Fire Department, long into the future. But the great value of Debbie's book is that it reaches into, that it rescues and preserves, the PAST.

In Debbie's own words, "I could never have guessed that the research would take me clear back to the mid 1800's in Germany, then to the late 1800's in Peoria, Illinois, then to the early 1900's in Denver, Colorado and Elizabeth, Colorado and finally to the early 1920's in Castle Rock."

To celebrate the publication of this book, the Douglas Public Library District is pleased to announce a reception for the author. It will be held, fittingly, at the Philip S. Miller Library on Sunday, November 15, from 2 to 4 p.m. Copies of the book will be available for sale in soft cover. Orders may be taken for hardcover versions, which will be carried by area stores and through the Friends of the Philip S. Miller Library.

Please plan to join us to welcome a most welcome contribution to the rich history of our county.

And you teachers, think about those comments you scrawl on your assignments.

Wednesday, November 4, 1998

November 4, 1998 - Library Programs

A couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail message from a patron who located the library’s web page before she found information about various library programs in the newspaper. She asked how difficult it would be to post the same listings on the Internet.

It turns out that it’s not difficult at all. You can now find weekly programming updates at http://douglas.lib.co.us -- and thanks for the suggestion.

In the process of converting the information, I noticed some things. During the week of October 28 through November 4, we offered 8 programs at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, 16 at Parker, 7 at the new Lone Tree Library, 15 at Highlands Ranch, and 1 at Louviers. That’s 47 programs in just one week.

Of the total, three were targeted toward adults (one at Philip S. Miller, 2 in Parker, one at Highlands Ranch). All of the rest were for children, primarily story times.

These story times are among the key strategies the library has for recruitment. Some of our richest offerings “take” best in young minds, and build a lifelong pattern of literacy. That pattern not only benefits our libraries, but our entire community.

Our enthusiastic staff has spent a lot of time the past year coordinating children’s story themes, working up new puppet shows, learning new songs and finger plays, and generally working hard to ensure the highest quality library experience for young children. Incidentally, the themes of our story sessions, as well as the ages of the target audiences, are also listed on the web page, just as they are in the paper.

While a good many adults make use of library facilities for meetings (we’re booked almost every night, at almost every one of our buildings), we don’t right now have an aggressive menu of programs for adults.

There are exceptions. The Parker Library has had great success with its Travel Series. A prime example is this November 4’s "London to West Africa" presented by Al Batik. The peripatetic Al hit the "Chunnel" Train, lighted in Paris, then visited the Cape Verde Islands. The Friends of the Parker Library provide their usual tasty refreshments. The time: 7 p.m.

In addition, the Parker Library also announced an art exhibit by Nate Liederbach (surrealism in oils) and Jeff Michalek (photographic creative portraiture), which will run through October 31.

Coming up shortly will be Philip S. Miller’s durable Lunch ‘n’ Learn programs -- the opportunity to brown bag it and listen to programs rounded up in cooperation with CSU’s Extension Service.

Another district program for adults is our Internet training class, which mostly happen in Parker, but pop up anywhere there’s interest (this week, it’s Highlands Ranch).

It is the experience of most libraries that adult programming simply isn’t as popular as children’s programming. Adults are busy. In a commuting county, most folks stay put when they get home. Besides that, they have access to a range of educational and recreational choices not so readily available to kids.

But every now and then I do like to poke at my own professional prejudices. Moreover, sometimes patterns change. Are we missing something?

If you have ideas about some library program the library should be offering on a regular basis, something you yourself would leave home to attend, please let me or your local librarian know about it.

Wednesday, October 28, 1998

October 28, 1998 - Running the CLA Conference

I was the eldest of five children. We rotated the chore of doing dishes.

On the whole, I can't say I enjoyed it much, mostly because five kids and a varying number of adults produced a lot of things to be washed. But it could be OK, depending upon my partner.

I learned from this experience something fairly important: some things just have to get done, whether or not there's glory, money, or pleasure in it. Sometimes, it's just your turn.

Two years ago I was approached by the outgoing president of the Colorado Library Association. She asked me if I would consider tossing my name in the hat for the position she was leaving.

Basically, it was a three year job: the first year you were "President-Elect." What you got for the glory was the privilege of planning the annual conference for the state.

Then you were "President" for a year, and mostly just presided over association business meetings. Then you were "Past-President," when you finally had enough experience to be useful. Most Past Presidents spend the year cleaning up the messes they made the year before, and serving as counselors to the next folks.

There's no money in it, of course, and at first the thought of a three year commitment scared me off.

But then I realized: sometimes it's your turn. Nobody else wanted the job, so it wasn't hard to get elected. My own backyard was pretty much in order, and there were several state-wide issues facing libraries that I had some strong opinions about.

I decided it was my turn to do the institutional dishes.

Running the conference -- which went from October 16 through the 19th at the DoubleTree Hotel-World Arena in Colorado Springs -- was fascinating.

First, I had to locate some committee chairmen and chairwomen. We had a Programs Chair, responsible for getting enough (mostly unpaid) presenters on subjects of interest to librarians. By the time we were done, we had over 90 programs, delivered from Friday morning through noon on Monday.

We had an Exhibits Chair, our own Holly Deni. The task here is to contact companies who sell to libraries, and set them up in a hotel display area, where they interact with potential customers. Holly pulled in so many vendors that they spilled out of the exhibit area into the hotel hallways.

We had a Local Arrangements Chair, responsible for coordinating meals, identifying sources for audio-visual equipment, and generally making sure the room arrangement worked.

We had a Publicity Chair, responsible for letting the roughly 500 Colorado Library Association members know about the conference. We had a Registration Chair, who set up a way to register for the conference over the Internet. By the time we were done, we'd swelled the ranks of CLA to some 800 people, over 700 of whom came to the conference.

We had some other positions: DPLD's Cindy Murphy and Patt Paul looked after special events at the conference, such as evening entertainment, author signings, and back up for vendor support.

My job? I talked to the hotel a lot, brought in a couple of big library speakers, and worried myself into insomnia.

And you know what? I enjoyed it! While I don't plan to run another conference for at least a decade, it was interesting to get a close-up at the inside of the conference business. I'll never look at a conference the same way again. It's a lot like running a library, with a big focus on service, intellectual content, and a host of details about the facility or facilities. It works, or doesn't work, depending upon how well you pick your people. I picked some good ones.

And I also had a chance to touch base again with two of the more influential people in my professional career: Michael Gorman, Dean of Libraries for University of Southern California-Fresno, and Will Manley, director of the Tempe Public Library in Arizona. They're both famous librarians -- which means, of course, that nobody but librarians knows about them. Fame is relative.

But by the end of the conference, I was proud of my profession, glad to have been of use, and amazed by the sheer diligence, passion, and intelligence of my colleagues.

Now I'm ready for year two, CLA President.

So what dishes need washing in your professional life? Could it be your turn?

Wednesday, October 21, 1998

October 21, 1998 - Buying a Car

Most of the time I drive an utterly distinctive 1978 Datsun. It satisfies all my requirements for a car: it starts (except the time I filled the tank with Diesel fuel), it moves, and it stops.

But recently, our family car, a 1990 Plymouth Acclaim, had one trouble too many. In 8 years it had required us to replace the head gasket not once, but twice. Finally, we put a rebuilt engine in it. Then the electrical panel failed. Then the heater and air conditioning unit failed. Then we had to spring for a couple of expensive brake jobs.

On the day the transmission failed, we said, "That's it!" We gave it to the Big Brothers, providing that they came and hauled it away. I hope they won't hate us for it.

But then we needed a new family car, and I find that my standards for my loved ones call for something better than a 20 year old Datsun.

My wife is very active, trekking kids not only around the county, but all up and down the Front Range, with the occasional cross-county trek. We needed something safe, comfortable for long trips, with enough power to move up and down hills at highway speeds.

For some men, I realize this would be a masculinity crisis. Yes, I'm talking "minivan." Of course, I was thinking V-6.

But I'll be honest. The power of the engine wasn't as big a deal to me as something else: reliability. I am not mechanically inclined, I will never be mechanically inclined, and I deeply resent having to parade my ignorance in front of those who ARE mechanically inclined. I wanted a car that was as close to maintenance free as possible.

So I turned to the library to do something I've mentioned in this column many times: consumer research.

I started by looking on the library web site, where I connected to "SearchBank" -- a database of some 600 of the most popular general interest magazines. I typed in phrases like "best car for family." Then I narrowed the matches to full-text articles, so I could read the reviews right on the screen. I learned about everything from handling to consumer satisfaction surveys.
The library reference section also has a number of car buying guides. I pawed through those.

I also spent some time at several free web sites. The two I found most useful were Edmunds (www.edmunds.com) and the Kelly Blue Book (www.kbb.com). These sites not only rated the various cars according to many factors (what's new in that model year, warranties, insurance costs, etc.), but also provided dealer invoices. That meant I could find out just exactly what a local dealer had paid for a car, with any options I wanted.

Along the way, I discovered something else. If you belong to triple-A (the American Automobile Association), you have already paid for a "buyer." These buyers take care of all the dirty work, and depending upon the car, they can save you a lot of money, or just a respectable amount of money.

At any rate, thanks to library resources, I think we picked just the right vehicle for us: a 1998 Toyota Sienna minivan.

I sure hope so. It's got to last us 20 years.

Wednesday, October 14, 1998

October 14, 1998 - Lone Tree Library Opening

I still remember the very first time I went to a public library. I kept thinking, "What's the catch?"

First, there were more books than anybody could read in a lifetime. Second, there were people who were paid to help you FIND books precisely tailored to your interests, even if you were just a kid.

Third, they let you take most of these books (just excepting reference materials) home with you -- for free. Sure, there were fines if you didn't get things back on time. You had to pay for stuff you damaged or lost. But if you played by the rules -- and those are some mighty lax rules -- it was essentially free.

Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, wrote that "Public libraries are the only thing towns do for smart kids." I don't know as I was particularly smart, but thanks to the library, I was certainly better read.

The library had a profound effect on my understanding of the world in another way. It showed me by example that the community was looking out for me.

Today it's fashionable in some circles to think of any governmental expense as some kind of boondoggle. But from the beginning, I experienced the public library as tangible proof of the competence and good-will of the society I lived in. It was "good government." I grew up in my public library, in more ways than one; it gave me an enduring faith in the power of human achievement.

It happens that just a few days after this column hits print, I begin a year as President of the Colorado Library Association. As President-Elect this past year, I've attended a handful of library openings around the state, from the west slope to suburbia. Every time, I am thrilled all over again by the excitement of a library opening, the genuine appreciation of parents, business people, students, seniors. When I attended the grand opening of the new Montrose library, the children were lined up for two city blocks.

I like most of the libraries I see. But I'm particularly proud of the first library we've built from the ground up in the 8 years I've worked here.

So I am pleased to announce the Grand Opening on Saturday, October 24, of the Lone Tree Library. The celebration lasts from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Designed by the architectural firm Humphries Poli of Denver, the building grows right out of a river bank on the corner of Lone Tree Parkway and Yosemite.

From the south, the building is a long, low wall. At the western edge, by the entrance, is a "kiva" -- an altogether distinctive, inward tilting barrel that will serve as our public meeting space. At the east end of the building is the children's reading garden.

Most staff spaces -- circulation desk, work rooms, offices, etc. -- live within a tear-drop nestled against the south wall. Heading north, the building blinks higher and higher to the sky, wider and wider to the view, culminating in commanding windows that bring in that fine, even, northern light.
On opening day, not only have we reassembled the materials of the former Oakes Mill Library and the bookmobile, but we have added over 4,000 new items. The library will also have a reference desk, CD-ROM and Internet workstations, a quiet study room, many tables and chairs, and a fireplace.

The old Oakes Mill Library had just 3,000 square feet upstairs, and about an 800 square foot meeting room downstairs. The new building has 10,000 square feet, all on one level.

I warmly invite the public to attend the opening. This is a community library, geared for families. I gratefully acknowledge the extraordinary design work of Humphries Poli, the construction expertise of Ash and White, the profoundly thoughtful involvement of Gina Woods, Library Manager, and the strong community support evident in a variety of touches throughout the building.

Please join us in this celebration. And do bring the children.

Thursday, October 8, 1998

October 7, 1998 - New Philip S. Miller Library Manager

I recently hired a new manager for the Philip S. Miller Library -- Greg Mickells. He'll be starting the first week of November.

The position opened because I've promoted Holly Deni to Associate Director for Support Services. She'll be directing our computer operations, staff training effort, and the building of our collection. These operations have grown rapidly in our district, and I need some help coordinating them.

I picked Greg after he went though a (frankly) grueling day. Our library uses something called the "assessment center."

When you apply to be a library manager at the Douglas Public Library District, you run several gauntlets. Here's how it worked this time.

First was the resume, where candidates were screened for relevant experience. Second was the phone interview, where I narrowed the field from around a dozen to three or four.

The third gauntlet was a half-day when candidates had to participate (among other exercises) in a panel discussion with all of the other candidates. I gave them three questions our library is really grappling with.

This is called a "leaderless discussion group." I said, "here are the questions. Think about them for 5 minutes." Then I said, "Begin."

I'm looking for folks who demonstrate good communication skills. In this library district, managers need not only to be self-starters, but also to pay close attention to the people around them, patrons and staff. Many people talk a good game. This exercise forces them to SHOW their skills.

The rest of the morning was aimed at the other side of the "interview." It gave our candidates an opportunity to decide what they thought about us.

In the second half of the day, the candidates went away. I gathered together many of the staff of the branch, and several other folks from around the district -- about 16 in all. We talked through the observed behavior of each candidate, and thought about what that behavior revealed. It was a great set of choices.

I should stress that this is not quite a democracy. I pay very close attention to staff comments, and I usually learn a great deal. Those comments always influence me, and on occasion they persuade me to change my mind. But it's not a vote.

Why did I select Greg?

I liked the way he looked to staff to come up with good ideas. In my experience, that expectation is justified. I was also impressed with Greg's ready grasp of the importance of community outreach, particularly to local small businesses. You can expect to be hearing more from him in the future.

The trick to managing an organization that has to keep up with an ever-growing population of patrons and staff is to find good people. The assessment center has proved to be an important and successful tool toward that aim.

Wednesday, September 30, 1998

September 30, 1998 - Banned Books Week

September 26 through October 2 is the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. This is the 17th year of its observance.

At the end of last year, all of Colorado’s public libraries were asked to submit a list of all of the library materials that had been “challenged” (complained about) by library patrons.

Eighteen public libraries reported 68 challenges to materials, exhibits and even library architecture around the state. (The full report can be found at http://douglas.lib.co.us/97challenges.html.)

The Library Research Service noted with some surprise that no formal complaints had been filed about Internet sites.

Next year, there will be. Here’s some background: a couple of years ago, the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress passed the Communications Decency Act. It mandated various criminal and financial penalties for people providing access to pornography on the World Wide Web. This Act was eventually struck down in many particulars by the Supreme Court.

Well, in September of 1998, just in time for Banned Books Week, the same Congress that wanted to CENSOR Internet pornography is now a PUBLISHER. Yes, you can find the Starr Report through the Douglas Public Library District’s web site. We point to it from our Government Information page: http://starrreport.excite.com/toc.html.

But I remind you that the library didn’t publish this. The federal government did.

I’ve thought a lot about the issue of censorship through the years. And I’ve reached two basic conclusions.

First, things really aren’t so bad. Aside from Salmon Rushdie, no authors have been threatened with death -- and even that situation seems to be looking up. No Colorado authors or librarians have been burned at the stake.

As for the Starr Report, I’m so disgusted by the whole thing that I’ve stopped reading anything at all about it. When it comes on the radio, I turn the radio off. I have a choice, and I use it.

Meanwhile, I can guarantee that more than 68 library materials were complained about last year in Colorado. Not all complaints get reported.

But it’s important to contrast that with the hundreds of thousands of materials added to libraries’ collective shelves last year. Statistically speaking, the complaints are small to the point of insignificance.

Moreover, objecting to the content of books is almost as much fun as talking about the things you like. That’s what free speech is all about. You’re entitled to your opinion -- and at least you’re reading!

Second, I’ve decided that the real problem in America isn’t the decline of intellectual freedom. It’s the decline of civility.

A small part of the population has always abused whatever information retrieval systems were in place at the time. Good public policy doesn’t take the worst case as the norm.

If 18 uniformed men walked into the library and started setting up a baseball diamond, I wouldn’t sue them for criminal acts. I’d say, “Whoa, guys! Wrong place!”

The same thing holds true for those who seek to turn libraries -- funded by the general public primarily for research -- into peep shows. We don’t need the federal government to adopt a new Prohibition. We just need library patrons who realize, “Whoa! Wrong place!”

On the other hand, there are lots of circumstances when what may seem pornographic from a distance is actually a perfectly legitimate medical inquiry, or concerns art.

As always, the purpose of Banned Books Week is to pause a moment to reflect on the balance between public decency and consideration for others, without trampling all over the fundamental civil liberties guaranteed by our Constitution. It’s a worthwhile exercise.

Wednesday, September 23, 1998

September 23, 1998 - Marilyn Monroe's Dress Size

On occasion, libraries are called upon to decide weighty matters.

Recently a local Rotary newsletter editor who shall remain nameless (except to admit that it was me) stuck in filler material from another newsletter. Among these "odd facts" was the statement that "Marilyn Monroe wore a size 16."

This was promptly challenged by another Rotarian (Jim Watson), who pledged $100 to the club if it could be proved true. He said the only way Marilyn Monroe -- from now on, MM -- could have worn a size 16 was if she were pregnant at the time.

I could quickly dredge up two sources confirming that yes indeed, MM wore size 16. Those sources were: People Magazine (Sept. 29, 1997) and the prestigious New Statesman (July 31, 1998). Moreover, the claim was repeated in a number of web sites, many of which contained remarkably comprehensive information about MM's life.

End of story, right?

Wrong. Just having sources doesn't mean that something is true.

Besides, various other web sites denied it. One site stated (rather authoritatively, I thought) that MM wore a dress size of 12, pants 8, shoes 7AA.

So I combed through some MM biographies. No help there.

One of my magazine articles mentioned that MM's famous white dress of "Seven Year Itch" (the one she was wearing when she stood over the subway grill) was at the Debby Reynolds Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. There I managed to locate and speak with one Michael Rennie, Manager of the Hollywood Movie Museum, of the Debby Reynolds Private Collection.

This collection boasts 15 MM dresses, all sized differently. According to Rennie, the white dress was a size 8 "in today's sizes." The other dresses range from 4 to 8. "But she was busty," he said. That's a significant comment.

Here's what I can verify from several sources. MM was 5' 5-1/2" tall. Her weight varied from 118 to 140 (during her pregnancy, when "Some Like It Hot" was filmed).

Again according to Rennie and other sources, MM's measurements around 1955-56 really did reach what she herself said should be her epitaph: "Here lies Marilyn Monroe, 38-23-36."

According to the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, she once wore a 36D bra. (Isn't it terrible when a newspaper knows your underwear size?) (And isn't it worse that here I am, repeating it?)

Today, a 5' 5-1/2" woman weighing 140 pounds probably would wear a size 12 dress. A dress chart from 1962 (culled from dress making patterns) shows that anyone with a bust of 38" would wear a size 18 dress. A dress chart from 1976, however, gives the same measurement a size 16.

Dress sizes (for you men out there) are based on bust and hips measurements. Usually, there isn't 10 inches difference between the larger of these measurements and a woman's waist. Because of MM's famed "hourglass figure" (generous bosom and hips, but very slender waist), all of MM's most memorable movie dresses were custom-made. Custom dresses don't really have "sizes."

But, as suggested above, dress sizes have changed over the years. According not only to the charts I cited, but an article quoting Ellen Goldsberry, director of the Southwest Retail Center for Education and Research and a professor of retailing and consumer studies at the University of Arizona, women's clothing sizes are deceptive.
A size 8 dress, for example, would have been a size 12 back in the 1940's, when clothing standards were originally determined. "Over the years manufacturers have added on slightly, then slightly more, to areas of the body where women have gotten larger -- the waist, the hips, and the bust," she said.

According to Goldsberry, "Women feel better about buying dresses in smaller sizes, so the designers figured out that they could please customers by cutting the clothing larger." Dubbed "vanity sizing," this trend has caught on practically everywhere. The article concluded, "The result is that women who weigh a few pounds more than they did a decade ago may actually be purchasing clothing a size smaller -- no matter where they shop, from the classiest boutique to the cheapest discount house."

So what's the answer? Basically, MM did not wear (for most of her career) a dress that would be considered a size 16 today. But since dress sizes have changed by at least two sizes over the past forty years, she might well have worn something considered size 16 in the fifties even when she wasn't pregnant.

So it seems to me that MM both did, and did not, wear a size 16 dress. Reluctantly, I have to conclude that Jim Watson does NOT owe $100 to the club.

And that's the reference business in a nutshell: interesting, informative, but not necessarily quite what you wanted to hear.

Wednesday, September 16, 1998

September 16, 1998 - Adult Literacy Statistics

If you’re reading this column, congratulations! You have mastered a skill denied to some 40 million adults.

You are literate.

About a year ago (October 1997), the teacher’s journal Phi Delta Kappan reported on the results of the First International Adult Literacy Survey. The adults (ages 16-65) were tested on their ability to understand text information. The news wasn’t good: 20.7% of US adults are at the lowest reading level. Just 3.8% of US adults were at the highest level.

Again, the raw number of adult illiterates in this country is estimated at around 40 million. What’s the cause? Poverty is often correlated with illiteracy, although in fact the inability to read stretches across every socioeconomic class (as well as age group). Some attribute illiteracy to our cultural fascination with electronic media and the emphasis on visual imagery -- but even before TV, not everyone learned to read.

Some interesting research into the history of textbooks demonstrates that shortly after World War II, textbooks suffered an abrupt decline in the complexity of their vocabularies. This roughly parallels the introduction of the staggeringly boring and inane Dick and Jane reading primers.

In a recent column I lamented the rise of USA Today as the most popular newspaper in America. But it should surprise no one that when you treat children as morons, they grow up demanding newspapers based on little words and big pictures.

In schools, even the best schools, there are educational trends, swinging from highly structured phonics to more unstructured immersion, to such faddish approaches as the “look say” method (where you were supposed to learn to recognize words by their SHAPES), then back again. Many educators seem not to grasp the obvious fact: some children learn best through one method, some through another. ANY method, if offered as the sole approach, will inevitably fail some students.

Other research proves that it takes just 20 hours of instruction and practice for most people (barring profound learning disabilities) to learn at least the basics of reading.

So consider this a challenge. Would you be willing to give back that 20 hours, or perhaps twice that in a year, to pass on your skill to another human being?

If so, the Adult Literacy Program of the Douglas Public Library District needs you. At this writing, we have 7 students waiting for tutors.

All of our tutors receive training and materials, provided by Penny Perkins, Coordinator of our program. Our next training session will be held at the Parker Library, 9 a.m. to noon, and stretches across three days: October 17, 24 and 31. All are Saturdays.

In the training, you’ll learn about all kinds of tips and tricks to help people grab hold of a skill most of us can’t imagine living without. And you’ll come to realize just how precious that skill can be.

Our tutors are volunteers. Most of the tutoring happens at one of our libraries -- a sort of business appointment with the student, typically one hour a week. The program is free to those in need of it, although we may ask them to purchase a workbook -- our experience is that the modest purchase makes students literally feel “invested” in the process, and stick with it.

It takes courage for adults to come forward and admit their inability to read. To overcome that inability, it takes thoughtfulness, discipline and patience for student and tutor alike.

But every single year, our program racks up incalculable human victories: people who become citizens, people who get their GED’s, people who for the first time fill out a job application by themselves, people who are now able to read a book to a beloved grandchild.

Please call 303-841-6942 if you would like to be a part of that. I guarantee: it will change your life. And you will make a difference in someone else’s.

Wednesday, September 9, 1998

September 9, 1998 - Staff Day Ideas

On August 28, the last Friday of the month, the Douglas Public Library District held its 7th annual Staff Day. On that day, we close all locations and assemble our entire staff -- the 160 people scattered across the county.

The day follows a certain pattern. I get a short period to give a "state of the district" talk -- our notable achievements over the past year, our plans for the next. Then we have a series of workshops, lunch, service awards, more workshops, then we end with a real live author.

In past years, we've tended to bring in some "outsiders" to teach our workshops. But this year, with just one exception, we used our own staff.

They were great. Some talked about our "outreach services" -- for instance, the Adult Literacy Program, our use of Volunteers, our Books by Mail program for the residents of far-flung Deckers. Others talked about those tricky situations that pop up at the front desk, and how we like to handle them. Still others talked about computer trouble-shooting.

Our final speaker was Connie Willis, a science fiction author from Greeley. Connie has won more Hugo and Nebula awards than any science fiction author in history (5 and 6, respectively). Not only that, she has a wicked tongue, and peppered her talk with references to some half a hundred books.

At the end of the day, I heard our staff members spilling out saying, "I have GOT to do more reading." Not a bad attitude for library workers, in my opinion.

The other important thing I get out of the day is the direct opportunity to hear what our staff is really thinking about. I gave every one a card: what one thing would you change at your branch? At the district? I asked them to fill out the cards sometime during the day, then drop them off in a box by the door.

Almost everybody did take the opportunity. And a very clear message emerged. Our current system of telephones is breaking down. I don't mean mechanically. I mean that our traditional system of picking up the phone at the front desk has begun to interfere with our service.

What's the answer? A central switchboard? Staffed how many hours a day? An electronic telephone menu (ugh)? A rotating position whose job it is to keep the calls away from the circulation desk? At this point, I don't know. But we'll be taking a closer look at those calls to see the best way to handle it.

Another problem that came up was the relatively slowness of one part of our Internet connections: old Macintosh LCIII's, pressed into service once more, and this time, beyond their capacity. But we've budgeted for their replacements next year.

Yet another issue we spent some time on this year was around the persistent issue of inappropriate use of the Internet by some of our patrons.

To tackle that one, we'll be holding a series of what we're calling "Roundtables: Libraries and the Internet" -- part staff presentation on both the benefits and the dangers of children accessing the World Wide Web, part public commentary. We're taking another look at our policies.

Our first Roundtable will be held at the Parker Library, from 7 to 9 p.m., Thursday, September 24.

The second will be held at Highlands Ranch, also from 7-9 p.m., on Thursday, October 22.

The third and final Roundtable will be held the following Tuesday night (October 28) at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, again from 7-9 p.m.

I hope you can join us. As you can see, we try to pay close attention to what our staff and public tell us.

Wednesday, September 2, 1998

September 2, 1998 - Reading Levels

I started writing newspaper columns in 1987. Shortly afterward, I stumbled across a great little piece of software called PC-Style. You ran it against a text file, and it told you what grade level the piece was.

In general, the more short words you used, the better you scored. It was better to use fewer words in a sentence, rather than more.

As a fledgling newspaper columnist, I found the software useful. If I scored high on the "Fog Index," the average reader probably wouldn't know what I was talking about. I was trying to train myself to write clean and comprehensible English. PC-Style helped.

I sometimes wonder how publishers determine reading level. Some books say right on the dust jacket that they're "Easy," meaning that they're for children just learning how to read. Others say, "3rd-4th grade."

I suppose publishers use something like PC-Style to come up with these ratings. I don't always agree with them, though. You shouldn't, either.

Reading level ratings always raises two questions in my mind. First, how do you tell if a particular book is too hard for your child?

Second, so what if it is?

But let's start with the first one. I have a nice little hand-out produced (I think) by a neighboring library. I regret that I don't know the author. It's titled: "How Can You Tell Whether a Book is on Your Children's Reading Level?"

"Some educators suggest using the 'rule of thumb.' Have your child read a page of the book aloud. Have her hold up one finger for each word she doesn't know. If she holds up four fingers and a thumb before the end of the page, the book is probably too difficult for her to read alone. However, it might be a great book to read aloud."

There's some good advice in that passage. Particularly for young readers who don't much care for books yet, this is a quick check on how frustrating a particular book might be.

And note another bit of good advice: there's a difference between what you read, and what you hear.

My reading vocabulary is much greater than my speaking vocabulary. That's true for most literate adults. My eye recognizes words that my tongue has trouble with.

But for children, their HEARING vocabulary is often richer yet. That's not too surprising: think about how we learn to speak. Nobody gives infants a series of thorough definitions, carefully built up in logical and consistent sequence. Our kids get tossed bodily into the sea of language -- total immersion.

I find it fascinating to watch how people talk to babies. Some people talk baby talk. Some speak slang. A rare few speak grammatically.

And yet, somehow (usually) by about the age of 4 or 5, almost all children demonstrate a remarkably sure grasp of syntax and meaning. The more exposure to language they get, and the sooner they get it, the stronger that grasp can be.

That's one of the reasons my wife and I have always read aloud to our kids, and why we didn't limit our selections to books of the "One Fish, Two Fish" variety. (Although we didn't rule them out, either.) As a result, Maddy and Perry (ages 10 and 4) do have astonishingly varied vocabularies.

That leads me to my second point. Suppose you find your children reading something that is clearly way past their reading level.

Encourage them! I can remember working my way through some books almost sentence by sentence, with a heavy reliance on a dictionary. I still like to keep a dictionary handy. (Warning: a good dictionary can be more interesting than the book you're trying to read.)

Finally, "reading level" is a deeply individual, profoundly personal thing. It has no necessary connection with your age, and it can change overnight. Just one book can spark a bonfire of linguistic acquisitiveness. I think of my daughter, who raced from elementary to secondary reading skills in what seemed like a matter of days: from American Girls to the Animorphs series to Star Trek novels. Now she can read anything she wants to read.

USA Today, the most successful newspaper in America, is written for a 7th grade reading level. We can do better than that.

Wednesday, August 26, 1998

August 26, 1998 - DPLD Web Statistics

Tell the truth. Do you find your life interesting?

And if you do, do you think other people do?

I admit that I find the “life” of the Douglas Public Library District very interesting indeed. Recently, I’ve discovered that so does the rest of the world.

I mean that literally. I’ve been reviewing some statistics from our home page, the library’s location on the World Wide Web (http://douglas.lib.co.us).

Would you believe that from July 1 through August 17, 1998 our web site was “visited” by 158 Australians, 137 Canadians, 49 Germans, 37 folks from the UK, 37 Mexicans, 24 Portuguese, 22 Israelis, 21 Malaysians and 20 New Zealanders? It’s true.

Not only that, 19 people from Singapore dropped by, 18 from the Czech Republic, 13 from Slovenia, 11 from the Russian Federation, and (if I can skip down the list quite a ways) 2 from Estonia, 2 for Bahrain (a country I did not even know about), and 1 from Guyana.

Altogether, 42 countries are represented (including our own).

Another way to group the data is this: in the same period, we were visited by 11,552 people on commercial networks, 8,144 folks on other networks, 1,841 from educational institutions, 258 from governmental organizations, 168 from military institutions, and 1,331 from non-profit companies.

So you have to wonder (at least I do) -- what were they looking at?

Well, 21,095 of the “hits” were on the library’s home page. Over 5,000 of them were looking at various web searching tools prepared by Missy Shock, the woman who has designed most of our internal training program, as well as various Internet navigational pages.

Well over 2,000 people were looking at various items created by the Douglas County News Press -- the Douglas County Guide at 728 and the rest sprinkled among various newspaper search pages. (We host these pages, which are just about due for an update, in an effort to make local historical information more easily retrieved.) 281 were checking out the News Press page about Douglas County courts. Let us hope the judges were kind.

1,196 people were checking out the Colorado Library Association’s web page for the 1998 conference in Colorado Springs. (The web site happens to reside on our library’s computer because I’m the President-Elect for the Association).

Almost 400 folks looked at our Highlands Ranch Library project page.

252 people checked out our Making Democracy Work pages.

Frankly, I’m staggered. That’s a lot of attention not only from our own patrons, but from the world. It may reflect the fact that our library was one of the first to firmly establish itself on the Web. It may have something to do with the variety of information we offer, far more than many of our sister libraries.

Or it just might be that life in Douglas County is one of the more interesting spots on the planet.

Makes sense to me.

Friday, August 21, 1998

August 21, 1998 - Election Follow-up and Thanks

Well, the elections are over (for now).

I admit that on the day of the Primary, I still hadn't made up my mind about a few races. So I devoted some private time not only to reviewing the library's Making Democracy Work folders, but to finding out what was available on the World Wide Web.

In keeping with observations I've made in previous columns, I found newspapers to be the definitive information source. But now they're online: the Douglas County News Press, the Denver Post, and the Rocky Mountain News.

When I was done with my research, I was so impressed that I linked to these resources from our Making Democracy Work website. Remember this site in November: available from any library Internet workstation, or from your own home (if you've got Internet access), this is one stop shopping to review in-depth information about issues and candidates.

I didn't get around to looking at Primary results until the following morning. (The best source for Douglas County, incidentally, was Douglas County -- at its recently expanded website: http://www.douglas.co.us. You'll find that link at our website, too. It's worth a look.)

One of the races I was following with particular interest was State Senate District 30. According to the Post, John Evans won, although the Post's tallies didn't add up (it turns out that the AP had added an inadvertent zero to the count). The Rocky Mountain News proclaimed Ted Harvey the winner. The News Press, incidentally, got it right: Evans.

I was also struck by Chuck Herman's comment about how he'd never appreciated what candidates went through until he actually had to campaign. As a veteran of two hard campaigns (one of which Herman opposed), I entirely sympathized.

Another important piece of the democratic puzzle happens behind the scenes, in the Elections office of the Clerk and County Recorder's Office. I think at this point I've worked every part of it that a member of the public can: as election judge, as supply judge, as write-in recorder back at the main office, and as general hanger-on as the old cards were batched and run through the machine (and this year's election equipment upgrade was clearly an improvement).

While many people have worked as judges through the years, many more have not. So they don't know what the rest of us do: Reta Crain has run a very tight ship, so clean it squeaks. She and her staff are invariably well-organized, responsive to the public, and painstakingly correct in every procedure. Reta has maintained these high standards through a period of explosive growth, and sweeping changes in campaign regulations. I'm sure Carole Murray will do a grand job. But when she does, that will be part of a well-established tradition.

It's easy to focus on the winners of a campaign, the fresh new faces, glowing with victory. But I'd like to take the time to congratulate, first, all the candidates. Whether you won or lost, thanks for participating in our democracy, thanks for giving the electorate some choices, and thanks for caring enough in the first place.

Second, I'd like to thank those who have served in the past, but through term limits (Dick Mutzebaugh, Jeanne Adkins) or personal reasons (Reta Crain) have moved along. We are in your debt.

Wednesday, August 12, 1998

August 12, 1998 - Family Friendly Library

I gave a speech last week at a conference of "paraprofessionals" -- folks who work in libraries, but don't happen to have library degrees. After my talk was over, I got a private tour of the recently refurbished Regis University Library. The Dean, Andrew Scrimgeour, was my tour guide. He was a good one, too.

University libraries are different than public libraries. Or they used to be. This one had a lot of great touches I wouldn't mind having in our libraries. There were lots of group study rooms -- devoted to anywhere from just two people up to as many as 8. There were some very interesting study carrels: custom furniture fancifully arranged into tiered towers climbing toward slices of windows and mountain views.

My favorite was a "family study area." One part of it was designed for adults. But an attached room was for the toddler children of the students. It had a hobby horse, a couple of small tables and chairs, some carpeted benches carved right into the wall, and windows just at kid height.

All of this was close on one side to the bathrooms (with changing tables), and on the other side to the university's children's collection (used to support the curriculum of the education department).

I was reminded all over again how much I just plain LIKE libraries. They're swell buildings, great places to be.

Of course, part of the Regis University library space was devoted to computers. They hummed away from several areas on every floor. In most other places (study tables), you could plug your laptop right into the university network.

But you could also see just by percentage of square footage that the real business of libraries is still mostly about books, then about spaces to sit and consider them, then about places to meet and talk about them. Only then do we get space for machines.

I think that's just about right.

It's good for me to see other institution's libraries. In accordance with past campaign promises, virtually every library building in Douglas County will be getting some attention over the next several years.

The Lone Tree Library -- an altogether striking building -- will open this September (if rain doesn't wash away the reading garden's retaining wall again!). The library has a surprising openness, nestled into the bank of an arroyo and reaching north to the sky. I think people will be particularly pleased by the kiva -- our public meeting space.

Next up is the Philip S. Miller Library. We'll be moving some "back room" functions to a new, ultra-functional new space just south of the current building. What happens to the existing building? It gets more public space, and an expanded Local History area.

Then we're back in the northern part of county, building the first civic structure in the Highlands Ranch Town Center. The proposed building draws a little bit from the Prairie school of architecture, and features a keen awareness of the civic green just south of it.

Then it's over to Parker, where we hope to finish out some space "banked" several years ago.

Somewhere along the way, we hope to come up with new library space for Roxborough. A potential public/private partnership with area builders may save the library some money and help us to get a facility to this community even faster.

Is there a guiding vision behind all these libraries?

We have good continuity on our Library Board of Trustees. (Trustee terms last 5 years.) I've been involved in all the buildings. The architectural firm of Humphries Poli will be doing the design work on all the projects I've mentioned.

But beyond that, every one of these buildings is unique. The truth is, the community of Lone Tree is not like the community of Castle Rock is not like the community of Highlands Ranch is not like the community of Parker is not like the community of Roxborough. Each library site is likewise unique, with its own challenge of orientation to sky and ground and street.

So what DOES endure? -- The belief that libraries welcome the public. We offer sanctuary. We celebrate the core value of literacy, whether for newborn or senior citizen.

And one other thing: behind all of these projects is the idea that every one of these buildings should be a place that our patrons come to love.

We think they will, too.

Wednesday, August 5, 1998

August 5, 1998 - Making Democracy Work

Let’s face it, most political information isn’t so much presented as sprinkled: a road sign, a sound bite, a phone call, a card.

Newspapers do the best job of reporting on campaign issues and the stands of various candidates -- certainly in greater depth than TV or radio.

But newspapers come out in various editions. It could take a month or so to cover all the questions and races. Even for the diligent voter, it takes a lot of digging and sorting to assemble all of the relevant data.

This task is compounded by the fact that more than one newspaper carries good articles you might want to review before voting. If you’re like me, you sometimes remember to set that article aside. About as often, you don’t.

That’s me talking as a private citizen. But if there is anything librarians are particularly good at, it’s identifying topics, gathering significant information about them, and organizing that information for public inspection.

Last year, the library teamed up with the Douglas County League of Women Voters to launch what it called the Making Democracy Work project. Much of the information -- how to register, how the caucus system works, and a list of credible sources of political summary and analysis -- we put on our web site. This year, our web site will again help you take a look at a variety of ballot issues.

But we also gather information about candidates. This one is a little harder -- there is no single web site that does a dispassionate summary of candidate views. So we have established a second approach: notebooks.

The Douglas Public Library District sent a letter to all of the people you’ll see on your Douglas County ballot. We asked for a copy of their campaign literature. These pieces have been assembled into notebooks available at the reference desks at the Highlands Ranch, Parker, and Philip S. Miller libraries.

The library, it goes without saying, does not endorse any candidate. We present the information provided to us, utterly without commentary. On occasion, candidates have not sent us anything, in which case that fact will be so noted.

Voting is a self-selecting privilege. The victories belong to the ones who bother to show up.

But it’s not enough to walk into a ballot booth. Successful democracy depends upon not just an involved, but an INFORMED electorate.

Balancing your life’s responsibilities is tough enough. So look at the Making Democracy Work project as a simple citizen convenience: a way to get up to speed about the issues and the people in a single sitting, just by strolling into your local library.

As library programs goes, it gets my vote.

Wednesday, July 29, 1998

July 29, 1998 - E-mail Policy Issues

I use e-mail. A lot.

At work, I'm logged into a high speed network that makes grabbing my messages a snap. I do it many times a day -- it's a good filler for those odd moments between tasks. When I get home, I usually check my mail at least once again before I go to bed.

Most of the e-mail is work-related -- usually from other librarians who can't keep off their computers, either. Some of it is just for fun, keeping up with friends, swapping jokes and poetry. As is true of so many people, my job is not just a job, it's a lifestyle. The lines between work and fun blur sometimes.

But checking e-mail in two locations (work and home) occasionally leads to trouble. Most e-mail programs fetch messages from a central server, transfer them to your hard drive, then delete the mail from the server. So when I fetch my mail from two computers, sometimes my work messages wind up at home, and my just for fun messages wind up at work. That's fine until the message I really need to review before a meeting -- isn't there. It's at home.

I mention this not because my e-mail habits are exceptional. In fact, I think they're fairly common. But that leads me to a library issue.

I announced in a previous column that our computer system now has the ability to send out e-mail notices. When your hold comes in, when you have something overdue, or for any of a host of other reasons having to do with your library card, the notice goes to your e-mail box. I thought some people would like the option and it might cut down on phone calls and postage.

Almost immediately, what I thought was a minor patron convenience turned into a ticklish policy question. The very first person who asked for the e-mail option also wanted it for everyone else in her family. But she wanted all the notices to come to her e-mail address.

At first blush, you may ask, what's the problem? Isn't an e-mail address like a postal address?

No. It's not. When we mail a regular notice to somebody's house, it's because that's where the person lives. We imagine that the person has access to his or her mail. It may be the case that someone else opens the mail. (Not, I want the world to know, in MY family's house. We view these things as sacred.) But when the library mails a piece of paper to somebody's house, we know that we've done our job. We've notified the person at the place where that person lives.

E-mail doesn't work like that. Let's say a husband and wife share an e-mail account. Both of them have access to it. Both of them grab their mail from work and from home. But suppose the husband is at work when he snags the e-mail message (a book on hold) for his wife?

There are two questions. First, why is the library automatically revealing to the husband what the wife is reading? Second, even supposing that the wife gave us permission to do so, have we, in fact, delivered our message?

When we leave a voice message on a phone machine, at least the wife can listen to the message herself. But if it's on her husband's work machine... Well, we're going to get yelled at because she never KNEW about the message, and she's been waiting for eight months for that book, and now we've gone and given it to the next person on the list because she never came and got it!

Then we get into the issues about the right to privacy of children. Again, parents may feel they have the perfect right to open their children's mail. That's between them.

But I have to wonder, does the child even have access to the e-mail account? By delivering his or her mail to somebody else's account, it seems to me that I not only haven't delivered the message, but I have just handed over whatever confidentiality used to exist between that child and the library. I realize that this is the worst case scenario, but suppose the book on hold is about incest?

Should a library allow a new technological wrinkle to rewrite whole library policy and procedure?

As I say, this automation stuff gets tricky. About fifty percent of my job, lately, is steering our institutional raft through the rapids of computer-induced change.

At any rate, I have informed our staff that e-mail notices only go to individual e-mail accounts, not shared accounts. If we catch a duplicate, we'll ask the family to choose: who gets it? This procedure prevents goof-ups, protects patron rights, and makes sure that the mail goes through to the person intended to receive it.

And that's ALL we're trying to do here.

Wednesday, July 22, 1998

July 22, 1998 - Russian Artist Exchange

I once read that it was the custom among the leaders of certain Plains Indian tribes to exchange sons. The exchange lasted from the ages of 8 through adulthood. The sons guaranteed peace -- who would attack his own children?

The practice also bespoke the willingness of tribal leaders to pass on to their own children the lifestyles and perspectives of former enemies.

Could YOU do that? I would imagine that there would be at least three hard transitions: letting your own son go, accepting a stranger and raising him as your son, and finally, re-integrating the long absent son back into your heart, with all of his foreign experiences.

As difficult as it seems, this old practice (if indeed it happened this way) may point the way to the future. If we are ever to eliminate the many forms of tribal hatred in this world, we must somehow learn to enlarge our idea of "family."

I've been considering this from several angles lately. It happens that I'm a member of the Castle Rock Rotary Club. Recently, one of our members, Jim Watson, took a trip to the Russia east of the Ural mountains. The intent was to charter a new club in Tyumen. Jim doesn't speak a word of Russian. Most of the people he needed to talk to didn't speak a word of English.

But through perseverance, even, perhaps, through a practical demonstration of Rotary principles, he made significant progress. There is now a core group of Russians willing to give it a try. (Incidentally, most of Russia falls within what was already the largest Rotary "district" in the world: Alaska.)

Just last week, one of our local Renaissance Festival folks -- a portrait artist by the name of Nancy Christensen (or NanC, as she signs herself) stopped by our Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. She had a videotape, an interview the cable company in Minneapolis had done after her trip from Moscow through Siberia.

Traveling by train, staying with the parents of a children's pen pal program, bureaucrats, and other artists, she managed to tour the country almost immediately after the breakup of the Soviet Union (and just after the tearing down of the Berlin Wall). In her quiet, compelling way, liberally illustrated with her sketches and portraits, NanC describes a way of life most Americans can barely imagine.

I liked her comments about the Russian people: they were cold and stern in public, but once you stepped into their homes, were abruptly warm, intimate, loving, generous. (They were also great readers.)

NanC offered the tape as a library program. I am most pleased to accept. So, at the Philip S. Miller Library, on Wednesday, July 29, beginning at noon, the public is warmly invited to watch a video that runs about an hour and a half. I hope to have NanC there, and will even try to cajole Jim Watson to sit in. Feel free to bring your lunch.

In could be that an artists' exchange -- swapping our creative talent across nations -- is the first step toward something like planetary understanding.

Wednesday, July 15, 1998

July 15, 1998 - The Colorado Library Card

Several years ago, I served on something called the Colorado Library Card Committee.

Public libraries in the Denver metropolitan area used to charge each other to loan materials to "non-resident" library patrons. For instance, Douglas County paid Englewood a couple of thousand dollars a year. It wasn't a process that did much good for libraries. Not only did it reduce the money we could have used to buy the books our patrons had to go looking for elsewhere, but the Englewood Library never even got the money. It just went into the city's general fund.

So after a lot of discussion, the Colorado Library Card Committee worked out a way to let patrons of any participating library use their library cards at any other participating library. Cost to the patron: zero. Cost to the library: zero.

The program was completely voluntary. Nobody was forced to join.

At first, there was some concern on the part of smaller libraries that hordes of big city folks would swoop down and grab all the bestsellers. That didn't happen.

It's true, though, that library patrons (particularly those along the Front Range) are pretty footloose. They may live in Douglas County, but they work in Denver. Or they may live in Colorado Springs, work at the Tech Center, and drive through Castle Rock every day.

So the Colorado Library Card was a good deal for almost all of our own patrons, greatly expanding their access to materials. With the money that we saved from the old fee arrangements, all of us were able to buy a lot more new materials.

Shortly after the Colorado Library Card program was launched, circulation (our word for how many items get checked out) rose sharply all over the metro area. Coincidence?

Today, roughly 9 out of every 10 Colorado public and academic libraries have joined.

Fewer than half of the school libraries have signed up -- in part because of issues of building security, in part because few school libraries have their collections available through the Internet, nor are they open in the evenings. All of these are issues of public accessibility.

On the other hand, the program also embraces a number of private libraries -- medical libraries, law libraries, museum libraries, and others -- most of which used to be closed to the general public.

While there are a few other states with a state wide card, most involve only public libraries. In this program (and in others) Colorado leads the nation.

The Library Research Service, associated with the Colorado State Library, recently conducted a survey of Colorado Library Card participants.

The report is not yet final. But here was the finding that jumped out at me: when asked to characterize the amount of effort involved in providing this service, 80.7% of the respondents felt there was either "no noticeable effort" or a "negligible effort." 18.3% of the participants said that it required "modest effort," which was defined as "noticeable but absorbable." Nobody said it required a "substantial effort."

When asked what kind of rating participants would give the program considering its public relations value, 1.8% said it was "unsuccessful." 28.4% said it had no effect. But a whopping 66.9% said that the program was either "modestly successful" or "very successful." (2.8% did not respond.)

Let's review. Here is a program, instituted voluntarily by public officials, costing nothing additional to taxpayers, that opened library doors all over the state. Its impact is staggering -- millions of books (and other library materials) are circulated per year. But the program is so simple and straightforward that the overwhelming majority of the libraries simply incorporated it into their daily routine, and over two thirds consider it successful.

If you haven't used your Colorado Library Card, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, July 8, 1998

July 8, 1998 Recent Computer Enhancements

We've done all of our big computer upgrades. So what's in it for you?

How about -- speed? Our machine is much faster than it used to be. That means faster searching, faster connections to other library computers.

Or how about -- dial-in renewals?

If you've got a computer and a modem, you can connect to our library computer either directly (688-1428) or through ACLIN (440-9969, 294-7260, 291-0986). Once you get to our main search screen, choose "Review patron record."

Here you'll be asked a couple of questions. First is the significant numbers of your library card. The "significant part" is anything after 2 3025 and any zeroes that immediately follow those digits. So if your number is 23025001234567, you would type 1234567.

The second question is the last four numbers of your phone number (alternatively, you can provide us with a PIN number, as for a credit card).

Assuming you've entered this information correctly (and also assuming that you HAVE a library card and phone number in our database), now you get a screen that lets you view several kinds of information: which books you have checked out, what's waiting on hold for you, and a few other extras. If you choose to review the books you have checked out, you can also renew any of them that don't have somebody waiting for them.

Another new option here is at the end of this "Review Patron Record" screen. It's called "Yearly Holds List." Ask a circulation clerk to turn on this option for you. Once activated, this lets you go back and see all of the items you have placed on hold (even the ones you've already read). This new feature of our software can be a handy way to keep track of which bestsellers you've already looked at.

While you're talking to the clerk, you might also ask them to turn on another new option: e-mail notices. Many people in Douglas County have e-mail accounts. How about getting all of your hold notices, overdue notices, etc., straight from our computer to yours? No more fumbling at the mail box or missing a phone call. Find out the very hour your book comes in!

We're working on some other options, too. The big one is web-based access to our catalog. While our patrons have always been able to log into our catalog through the Internet, this has been based on a "telnet," or non-graphical, session. The web-based version will let you navigate our catalog much as you navigate any World Wide Web page -- pointing and clicking. This will add a significant level of ease-of-use to our offerings.

Some of these new services are still in process (there are still a few kinks in the e-mail notices, and the web-based catalog needs a little tweaking, too). But most of them should be up and running by the time this column sees print.

And with these changes mostly behind us now, it's time to back to the core of our work: connecting people and books.

See you at the library, real or virtual.

Wednesday, July 1, 1998

July 1, 1998 - Upgrade Congratulations

As I've written before, the library recently had to go through two intense computer upgrades. The first was hardware. Based on the experiences of other libraries, we figured that would take about three to five days.

The next upgrade was software. This one was a little trickier. It involved not only an operating system upgrade (to take care of the pesky Year 2000 problem), but THREE library software upgrades. (The first two didn't have much that was significant to us. The last one did.)

Because of the complexity of this second upgrade, we'd figured we'd be down for five to seven days.

Well, that didn't happen. The first upgrade took 22 hours. The second took 17 hours.

The fact that both of these were so smooth, so swift, is largely due to the work of five staff members. They deserve to have their names in the paper.

The team consisted of:

* Kevin Watkins, our Network Administrator;

* Julie Halverstadt, our Cataloger (and backup System Administrator);

* Donna Harrison, Technical Services Manager;

* Missy Shock, our Software Specialist; and

* Holly Deni, Branch Manager of the Philip S. Miller Library.

Kevin, Donna, and Julie were responsible for the almost obsessively detailed planning during the many months preceding the change.

These folks, with a crucial assist from Missy and Holly, were responsible for the jump-on-it effort to troubleshoot problems from the instant the software upgrade was complete. Library software is a complex universe of inter-related functions. You cannot imagine how much they tested in a matter of hours.

Most of our patrons just see the folks at the public service desks. But there's another whole sphere of library activity that goes on behind the scenes.

The one that has the most obvious impact on our services has to do with ordering, receiving, cataloging, and "processing" (marking, jacketing, etc.). Nobody does it faster or better.

But our automated services folks are another important piece of the library puzzle. Once again, I won't mince words. I have to say that this team is one of the best.

Frankly, I didn't contribute much. During both upgrades, I finagled a way to let people keep looking things up in the OLD (and a little out-of-date) computer catalog while we worked on the new one. That's it.

The real achievement was the planning, the careful preparation -- followed by a thoroughly conscientious and intelligent implementation. That was entirely the work of the people mentioned above.

I am very often impressed by the work of our staff. This time, I think they made history, at least in library land.

Incidentally, we now have a thoughtfully divided system of "servers." One of them (catalog.douglas.lib.co.us, accessible by telnet) is our library's catalog. Another looks after our World Wide Web offerings (http://douglas.lib.co.us). A third (not accessible from outside our buildings) manages our Internet workstations. What this means is that if any one of the systems crashes, the other two keep chugging along.

We think this strategy wrings the most life out of our machines, and protects us to the greatest possible extent from Murphy's Law.

Once again, I'm very proud of our staff. To all of you: congratulations on a job well done!

Wednesday, June 24, 1998

June 24, 1998 - Commencement Address: Intertia

I have never been asked to give a high school (or college, or, for that matter, an elementary school) commencement address. For all I know, I never will be.

But just in case, I have prepared the following remarks.

Dear Graduating Class of [fill in the blank],

The whole idea of historical lessons probably sounds tedious to you right now. The golden days of summer beckon. School is ended.

But before you go, let me tell you about one of history's lessons I find inspiring.

By the age of 19, an Englishman named Isaac Newton came up with something called the Law of Inertia. It had two parts. The first part was that an object at rest tends to stay at rest.

There's no surprise there. Picture yourself on the couch, watching TV. Inertia.

But the second part was completely contrary to common sense. He said that an object in motion tends to stay in motion.

Ridiculous! Push a ball downhill, and the one thing we can be sure of is that it stops. How long that takes may vary with the height of the hill, but the ball stops. Always.

What kind of madman was this guy?

But he wasn't. The genius of Newton was that he said things didn't stop all by themselves. Something stopped them. That thing, that force, was friction, an independent force operating against motion.

The whole understanding of the human race changed at that moment.

The key lesson I want to convey to you today is that when your mind is engaged, when you're alive and alert and paying attention, when you are learning (quite apart from what other people may think they are teaching) you are an object in motion. You're moving. And you're going to keep moving.

Engagement with life is a force that endures.

But you may also find that sometimes that marvelous sense of growth and learning suddenly seems to give out. You stop.

Trust me. This will happen.

What you need to hear now, what you need to remember for later, is that this doesn't necessarily mean that YOU have pooped out. It may mean that something outside of you, an independent force, has blocked you. When you get stymied in life, maybe it's not you.

It's friction.

It may also be useful to remember that more profoundly than ever, our society urgently requires your energy, your insight, your tolerance, your kindness, your eventual wisdom. Never doubt it.

Meanwhile, you have an incomparable opportunity to think deeper and wider, to feel farther, than any generation before you. And you only have to do one thing.


You might also talk to each other about what you've read. Then read some more.

I believe in you. Even when your parents forget to say it, or honestly don't know how to say it, know in your bones that all of us believe in you.

It's the whole secret of the human race.

You are alive. You are objects in motion. Fight the friction.

Meanwhile, right here in the summer of 1998, the Douglas Public Library District is again offering a Young Adult Reading Program. It runs from June 15th through July 27th. We're encouraging you to read 6 books in 6 weeks.

Do that, and we'll put your name in a drawing for free movie tickets and videos rentals. (Is this ironic, or what?)

You can also write book reviews, some of which will be published in the local paper. There are more prizes.

Check all this out at our web site.

I realize that you may have other things on your mind. But humor us. Swing by the library, sign up, read some stuff.

You know what? We'd be pleased to see you.