This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, August 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.