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

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

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

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, November 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.