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, March 31, 1999

March 31, 1999 - The Next Generation

I had only been a librarian for a few years, when my boss offered me an amazing opportunity. It shaved some 5 years off the front end of my professional life.

He gave me the job of Assistant Director. It was no small move. I went from managing a department of 20 to overseeing four branches and a host of technical operations. I have never forgotten that act of faith, and his continuing support over the next three years.

Those years were intense, vibrant, exhausting, challenging on every level. But my director was always there for me.

These days, I'm a library director myself.

I've been thinking about all this because of some e-mail passed along to me got from another director, out in the Pacific northwest. One day she realized that in 15 years, every single one of her department managers would be old enough to retire. She started looking at the younger folks in her organization, and realized a couple of disturbing facts.

First, she didn't have that many young librarians. Second, of the ones she did have, she hadn't done much to encourage them to develop managerial expertise.

It could be there are other baby boomers out there who find this as astonishing as I do, but here's the truth. We're in charge!

I bet lots of managers find themselves in the same position I'm in. Although I have surrounded myself with people possessing a rich complement of experience and insight, most of them are roughly my age. I've begun to realize that institutional vibrancy and endurance depends not just on the skills of the boss, but on the boss's ability to pass the torch to a subsequent generation.

I had a director who believed in me. I must now believe in the next generation. Some debts are paid forward.

The first issue is recruitment. What have librarians done to recruit talented young people? Not much. I could say, truthfully, that few people pick librarianship as their first job. For most folks, the first job is an accident, the second is for money, and the third is for love. Most librarians are in their third job. Just maybe we should work harder at pulling promising people into the profession a little sooner.

Librarianship is, continues to be, will be for long into the future, at the cutting edge of all professions. Think about it. Our job is information: the gathering, organization, and delivery of that information to absolutely anybody. How cool, how ultimately democratic, can it get?

The second issue goes right to the core of management. Ultimately, management isn't about projects, it isn't about money, and it isn't about busy annual reports. It's about people. If the people around you have dared more, learned more, and grown on your watch, you're a manager. If they haven't, you're a place holder, a defender of the status quo. You will be replaced.

The question is whether you'll have anything more than a sound pension plan to pass on to those replacements. Whether you're a librarian or not, it's worth thinking about.

Wednesday, March 24, 1999

March 24, 1999 - DCTV Library Commercials

Some moments in life are both surreal and wonderful.

For instance, a few weeks ago, I was sitting in Bob Schultz's Prairie Canyon Ranch "Happy Days" Saloon, with some 16 other characters. We were playing poker with a mound of silver dollars (rounded up by Woody Shenk, President of Norwest Bank in Highlands Ranch). We were tossing down shots of pure apple juice, and on occasion, even the hard stuff: root beer. Outside, a shrill wind whined and whirled.

The piano man, George Acker, kept busy at the old upright. Some of the other tough hombres included Bob Schultz (proprietor of the Saloon), barkeep Jerry Vetter, Clyde Jones, Bill Duncan, and Mark Weston. Along with me, that made up the amateur cast.

Then we had some pros -- professional cowboy entertainers Bill Barwick and Dennis Fischer, and a delightfully quick study named Brandon Marks . He's a sixth grader from Cherokee Trail Elementary. We called him, "The Kid." You'll call him, "The Star."

The purpose for this gathering was to shoot library commercials for DCTV, our public access station (Channel 8). Dave Wruck, former library employee now working for DCTV, took an idea I tossed out in a column some 10 years ago and wrung it into a series of hilarious, utterly unexpected vignettes.

Jess Stainbrook, DCTV Administrator, tells me that some of these pieces should be ready in another 3 weeks or so. He took at least a hundred shots of us, and the editing process -- turning all those shots into a seamless whole -- takes some time. Usually, Jess was just getting different angles on things. Sometimes he was just trying to get us to say our lines right. (As an actor, I'm a fair librarian.)

The saloon was 12 by 16 feet, plus a pot-bellied stove, bar, piano, and poker table. In addition, we had actors, background characters, TV crew, and DPLD Public Relations Manager, Cindy Murphy, who catered the affair. In that crammed space, I have to say that we made some truly magical moments.

I suspect these commercials will make the Douglas Public Library District famous. I'ts not just because we were all pretty funny, but because DCTV has wracked up some impressive credentials in its short history.

For instance, last year it made several entries in the 1998 National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors Government Programming Awards competition. These are the Emmys of government TV.

DCTV was a finalist for its "Welcome to Douglas County" production under the category of "Creativity." Channel 8 took third place for its "personality profile" of Johnny King. It was a finalist for its production on the Douglas County Swat Team. DCTV won 2nd place for its video of the K-9 patrol. And it won first place for excellence in government programming in its category.

At the time, DCTV was essentially a two person shop: Jess and Dave. Their output, and its quality, are extraordinary. These library commercials will be, too.

The other great thing about these commercials is that I had to go out and buy a big black cowboy hat. I don't know why it took so long. I now understand that EVERY Colorado librarian needs one. At first, I attempted to borrow one from library staff and spouses. But nobody's head was anywhere near as big as mine.

And after these commercials come out, I don't expect my head to be any smaller.

Thank you, DCTV!

Wednesday, March 17, 1999

March 17, 1999 - Harry Potter

About a month ago I was doing something I don't do as often as I used to. I was reading my 11 year old daughter to sleep. These days, Maddy reads just fine, and fairly quickly, all by herself. But reading to your kids isn't just about books. It's about spending some extra time together. It's comforting.

I had chosen a book recommended to me by a friend. It was called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. Rowling, a female author from Great Britain.

In retrospect, it was not a wise choice to lull a child into slumber.

I got two chapters into the book before, basically, Maddy tore it out of my hands. Over the next two days, she stole every available moment to finish it herself. Then, before I could get it back, my wife, Suzanne, grabbed it. She, too, read it more or less non-stop.

And the women of the family agreed with each other. To quote them both, "It was great."

Here's how it starts. Harry is a young lad being raised by his aunt and uncle, Petunia and Vernon Dursley. The Dursleys also have a spoiled and bullying son, Dudley. Harry has a pretty dismal life. For instance, his relatives make him sleep under the stairs.

Then, one day, he gets a message. It comes by owl, of course. He has been accepted into the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry discovers that in another world, he is as famous and cherished as he is ignored and despised by the Dursleys. It seems that as an infant, Harry and his parents were attacked by the most powerful evil wizard of the time. While his parents were indeed slain, Harry was not. A livid lightning scar on his forehead is the only mark of the encounter. The evil magician vanished.

Harry's discovery that there is more than the world of "Muggles" (the words wizards use to describe non-magical people) is both thrilling and charming. He goes off to Hogwarts -- a boarding school -- and begins serious study.

Along the way he makes friends, enemies, and participates in the most astonishing escapades, alternately hilarious and pulse-pounding.

After we all read the book, we heard that Ms. Rowling had written a sequel. But we also heard that it was not available in the United States. It seems that the American publisher was revising it, "Americanizing" it.

At the same time we learned that in England, the first book was called Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Why a publisher thought that the word "philosopher" was beyond the grasp of American children is a mystery to me.

Well, my wife managed to buy the next book -- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets over the Internet. It came to us straight from England. We all loved this one, too. And for the record, Maddy didn't have the slightest difficulty following the story. Sometimes publishers don't seem to understand their own markets.

I'm encouraged that the phenomenal international success of this book doesn't owe itself to marketing hype. Rather, it's based on lively, intelligent writing that respects the smarts of young people.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets doesn't have the usual blurbs on the dust cover. It has testimonials from 8, 9, and 10 year olds. And although I doubt I'll make it to the next cover, it also has the unqualified endorsement of a grown-up. Me.

Wednesday, March 10, 1999

March 10, 1999 - Highlands Ranch Library - Half-full?

Pour water into a glass until there is as much glass above the water line as below. An optimist tells you it's half full. A pessimist says, "Half empty." Only the engineer gets it right: "This glass is improperly sized."

There's a lesson here for the management of our expectations.

Back in 1996, the library district planned to build a (roughly) 40,000 square foot building in Highlands Ranch by the year 2000. But based on financial projections, we thought we'd only be able to "finish" 20,000 to 30,000 square feet of it.

The investment in the larger building shell, however, would allow us to expand into the space later. This building, like all our library branches, will be built with hard-saved cash, not public debt. We can build only when we have the money. It's easier to add interior space than exterior.

As we went through our very extensive public input process for the library, it became clear that public expectations were very high. As the first building in the new Town Center, the library would set some design standards. The public wanted those standards to be high.

As we worked with our architects, the library team began to get very excited about the possibilities. An early draft of the design showed extensive use of Douglas County rhyolite -- a nice tie to the past, even as we built for the future.

The more we worked on the vision of the building, the more real it became to me. We planned to build 42,000 square feet, with twice as many parking spaces as county guidelines called for. This maximizes the 3.4 acre site donated by Shea Homes. (Thank you, Shea Homes!) Meanwhile, we worked closely with the Highlands Ranch Metropolitan District, whose own fine design for the neighboring Civic Green was taking shape. (And thank you, HRMD, whose staff has the same keen interest in citizen ideas that we do.)

Then, alas, constructions estimates began to come in. The rhyolite -- at least on the exterior of our library -- was the first thing to go. We replaced it with a redder structural brick, echoing the sandstone which marks the entrance to the modern Highlands Ranch.

But we preserved the silhouettes of the building, the depth of finishes -- one of the more obvious ways we hoped to distinguish our civic structure from the scourge of big box architecture.

The more numbers that came in, the more we realized that our original projections were correct. There simply was no way for us to finish both floors of the building within our budget.

By this point, I was definitely a pessimist. To me, the building was suddenly half-empty (actually 24,000 square feet of 42,000). Or to put it another way, in my mind, I was already living in the whole building. Then I got evicted from the second floor. It was hard to be happy.

But the more I've thought about it, the more optimistic I've become. This is a tight construction market. By putting the money toward the exterior and the first floor interior finishes, we will be able to build a library we can all respect.

On opening day, the new library will be three times larger than it is right now. The unfinished space gives us the opportunity to expand thoughtfully, based on solid revenues and a better understanding of how the community will use the -- half-full! -- new building.

Then again, I realize that the engineer perspective is right. The building will be neither half-empty nor half-empty. It will be sized correctly, given the "water" we have now, and expect to have in the near future.

Wednesday, March 3, 1999

March 3, 1999 - Murder Mystery Play

Back when my wife and I were still courting, she made some disparaging remarks about mystery writers in general, and Raymond Chandler in particular. By way of rebuttal, my college roommate and I talked her into reading The Big Sleep aloud to us.

Suzanne started in with a tone of utter cynicism, even disdain. The thing is, when my wife talks like that, she precisely captures the mood of Raymond Chandler. She sounds, in fact, exactly like Lauren Bacall in the movie also called "The Big Sleep."

She looked up once or twice and saw my eyes shining. Her voice lilted over one of those unexpected and exquisitely poetic passages Chandler tosses in from time to time. In just a few minutes, my wife-to-be fell for Chandler's writing in a big way. Saved our relationship, probably.

Or take Mickey Spillane novels. I never imagined I'd go for the hard-bitten, macho cop stuff. But I did recall hearing something about Spillane I liked. Once someone had referred to Spillane as an author. "I'm not an author, I'm a writer," he snapped.

What's the difference between an author and a writer? Spillane said, "Writers make money."

I finally got around to one of his books. It was I, the Jury. I admired its lean, muscular prose, the tightly-wound plot, the impeccable characterizations. He deserved to make money.

I haven't read many mystery writers. But the ones I have, were terrific. As a child, I curled myself into the corner of 221B Baker Street, smoking an imaginary pipe and matching wits with Mr. Sherlock Holmes (and faring about as well as Dr. Watson).

Much later, in college, I stumbled across the novels of Dorothy Sayers. Her Lord Peter Wimsey and the winsome Harriet Vane taught me nearly everything I know about the English countryside and high-born. More recently, I discovered John Dunning's bibliophile detective.

Compared to many, many thousands of library patrons, I haven't even scratched the surface.

Mystery readers are among the most fanatical of all library users. They do not read; they devour. Their appetite cannot be satisfied. To switch metaphors, they line up for new books like stiffs in a morgue. (Sorry. It's the subject.)

They re-read the old favorites endlessly. When most of us want to get to sleep, we count sheep. Mystery readers count corpses. But while they're counting, they're turning pages. Mystery readers are a big part of our business.

People who read mysteries tend to be a little sharper than average too. They like puzzles. A little excitement doesn't scare them. They're observant. They're thinkers.

So to thank them for their unstinting support of libraries everywhere, the Douglas Public Library District has decided to kill somebody.

Not really! But library staff will once again be involved in the antics of the Parker Cultural Commission. On March 6, 7 p.m., the "Murder of the Mystery Detective" will be held at the Parker Mainstreet Center, 19650 E. Mainstreet. For a paltry $15, you get a fabulous dinner, distinctly amateur (but often hilarious) theatrical performances, and the opportunity to interact with the characters.

And what characters! Parker Councilwoman Deb Lewis does girl-sleuth Nancy Prude, which is worth the price of admission alone. I even have a small, but key, role myself. You might even say I'm dying to play it.

Tickets are available at the Parker Town Hall, 20120 E. Mainstreet, or at the Parker Library, 10851 Crossroads Drive. For more information, call (303) 841-0353.