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, July 28, 1999

July 28, 1999 - Thanks

When asked to state his ideas about God, F. Scott Fitzgerald replied that he had never wished for a God to blame, but he often wished there were one to thank.

In that same spirit, I'd like to formally take note of the many people who have stepped in to help the library.

Foremost among them are our volunteers. And foremost among our volunteers is our Board of Trustees. A stint on the Board lasts 5 years. Our Trustees get no money, and precious little glory. Nonetheless, they give most generously of their time and their minds. In our age -- a time defined by a conservative swing socially and a mind-boggling series of technological surges -- our Trustees bring a thoughtful and temperate approach to new policy issues. They also cast an expert eye on library finances.

Other volunteers include the many people who give their time to provide children's story times, organize county-wide historical resources, and contribute to our daily operations in countless ways. Our library wouldn't be the same without them.

A major focus of library efforts this past year has been the construction of the Highlands Ranch Library -- a 42,000 square foot building. Through a series of exhaustive financial analyses, combined with some grueling cost-containment, we think we've figured out a way to open the library at "build-out" -- both floors will be functional at our projected opening date of June, 2000.

But I'd like to highlight a few key contributions. First is Shea Homes, which is donating the land -- 3.04 acres -- and kicking in an additional $200,000. Ten thousand of that went into our first Highlands Ranch Library, the current storefront building. The remaining $190,000 will go to upgraded finishes of the new building.

Shea Homes has also been a key player in the Town Center Work group. Sensitively and intelligently facilitated by Shea Homes's Steve Ormiston, this group has brought comprehensive research and much-needed coordination to the development of a new civic heart for the Highlands Ranch development.

Next is the contribution of the Highlands Ranch Metro Districts. I've worked with a lot of local governmental agencies -- most of them in the county, in fact. The HRMD is my favorite.

From the beginning of the project, they wanted to know how they could help. The HRMD was planning a Town Center Park. They were eager to talk about how it might relate to the library. They wanted to explore with us every possibility to gather citizen input. They impressed me with their obvious enthusiasm for public projects, their keen interest in cooperative planning, and their flat out generosity (they waived some $80,000 in development fees for the library).

Every single HRMD person I've dealt with -- Terry Nolan, Jeffrey Case, Tom Hoby, Brian Muller, and the members of their governing board -- has been almost frighteningly bright, personable, and dedicated. I learned a lot from them. They made our project better.

The Friends of the Highlands Ranch Library also came through for us. They anted up some $12,000 toward a fireplace in the new library. This fireplace -- one of the key features of the building will be composed of rhyolite. It will also have a tile mosaic depicting the entire floor plan of the library. This echoes the central fireplace of the Phipp's Mansion.

There are many other people to thank. The Douglas County Planning and Community Development Department waived its various fees for the Highlands Ranch Library. In past projects, so did the Town of Parker. So did the new City of Lone Tree (which even made a contribution of over $50,000 for a community reading garden).

I am deeply grateful for the cooperation of all of these individuals and governmental agencies for their assistance. Truly, Douglas County citizens seem to have grasped that the library belongs to all of us.

From my heart: thank you all.

Wednesday, July 21, 1999

July 21, 1999 - The Right to Arm Bears

A couple of weeks ago I remarked that I didn't know much about gun control. Well, since then, I've been doing some reading. In the process I've learned some things that the NRA doesn't want you to know. Here they are.

Every one talks about "the right to bear arms." There's much speculation about just what the Founders of this great nation had in mind.

Well, there are two theories, and neither one of them is what you'd expect.

The first theory was propounded by historian David W. Crockett, in his classic, "Dan'l, We Bar'ly Knew Ye." This still-popular biography of the famous frontiersman, Dan'l Boone, recounts a curious episode. Dan'l's father, Will'm, had some peculiar ideas about the relationship between the natural world and mankind. Crockett cites an occasion when Will'm learned that young James Madison was drafting a Constitution. Late one night, the rustic woodsman burst into Madison's hotel room, wild-eyed and stammering with indignation.

Disgusted by the growth of civilization, Will'm proposed that the Constitution give "critters" explicit legal authority to protect themselves. As Madison recorded in his journals, Will'm said, "I reckon a musket in the hands of a grizzly'd do more to curb the spread of these dag-nubbed cities than anythin' else."

In other words, Madison didn't mean to pen, "the right to bear arms." He was SUPPOSED to have written, "the right to arm bears."

I unearthed a second theory recently in the admittedly obscure collection of essays on the topic "Weather and Politics" (National Meteorological Society: Pittsburgh, 1995). Here one essayist notes that the weather in the District of Columbia (which even in 1786 had been identified as an early candidate for a national capital), was so beastly that ambassadors stated their intent -- if they had to summer anywhere near the place -- to seek hazard pay from their home governments.

This is understandable. As the author makes clear in a series of striking graphs, the air in D.C. does not move, apparently, at all. Ever.

Moreover, as numerous paintings of the Revolutionary era attest, diplomats, politicians, and men of letters were expected to wear yards of woolen clothes, heaped in fashionable layers.

The author writes, "Could the 2nd Amendment have been a simple recognition that no young country could survive if its leaders had to conduct their deliberations in the swelter of a swamp? Might not the plain meaning of the text be that all men have the inalienable right -- when faced with certain meteorological conditions -- to 'bare their arms?'"

It's an intriguing hypothesis. Certainly, misspellings were rife in the period before the publication of the inimitable Webster's Dictionary (1st edition).

Of course, the rest of the text of the Amendment does tend to cast aspersions on either of the above theories. In final form, Amendment II to the Constitution of the Unites States reads, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

But that's just one more value of the library. There are so many stories to choose from. I'm sticking to mine.

[Jamie LaRue is director of the Douglas Public Library District. And as the preceding demonstrates, he is long overdue for a vacation.]

Wednesday, July 14, 1999

July 14, 1999 - Kid's Rights

I'm still haunted by a cartoon I saw some 30 years ago. A clean- cut man in a business suit stands next to his wife. She's pushing a baby carriage and holding the hand of a little boy. They're all peering into a jail cell.

The man says, "It's looks so nice and safe in there."

I'm also haunted by something else. According to the most current report of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (based on 1996 data):

- Almost 1 million children were the victims of substantiated or indicated child abuse and neglect in 1996. That's about an 18 percent increase since 1990. (The incidence of most crimes has fallen since 1990.)

- Nationally, there were 15 victims of child abuse and neglect per 1,000 children in the population.

-An estimated 1,077 "child maltreatment fatalities" occurred in the 50 States and the District of Columbia in 1996. (You have to admire the bureaucratic circumlocution here. In plain language, this means that in 1996 alone, over 1,000 children DIED at the hands of their "guardians.")

Moreover, according to the national Child Rights Alliance, ten to thirteen children are stabbed, raped, beaten or burned to death by their parents or caretakers every single day in the United States.

Meanwhile, the press is filled with reports about how we're cracking down on minors. In Tennessee these days, you'll be relieved to know that no minor can get a tattoo unless accompanied by a parent. We're on our way to hanging the Ten Commandments in our schools. (Remember: "Honor thy father and thy mother?" Nothing about honoring thy children.)

There's talk about teenage curfews (let's get them off the streets and into their homes). There's a national push for school uniforms at least through elementary school. There's a tough new initiative by movie theaters to restrict children from buying tickets for R- rated movies. (Not from seeing them -- impossible to check ID's outside every door in the multiplex.) There's a national push to force libraries to use "child-friendly" Internet filters on Internet terminals, brushing aside the awkward truth that they are utterly ineffective.

Some well-intentioned souls are convinced that the answer to youth violence is simple: structured and supervised activities all the live long day. From sun-up to sun-down, let's get our children corralled into church groups, school groups, sport groups, and any other sort of group under the watchful eye of adults. (The adults can all be trusted. Right?) Plus, there's the opportunity for more uniforms.

And a recent poll shows that the American public is more than willing to rein in the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, in particular Freedom of Speech and the Right to Bear Arms. There are no specifically identified minors' rights in the Constitution, an omission that makes it far simpler to pass such urgent laws as the "parental consent to tattoos" legislation mentioned above.

Am I alone in thinking that this is all appalling? Columbine notwithstanding, by a clear and overwhelming margin, children are the victims of crimes, not the perpetrators. Yet suddenly adults seem bent on children's virtual imprisonment, or at least their military internment.

Last week I wrote about our summer reading program. Since then, I've realized all over again just how important the library was to me when I was growing up. It is, on occasion, absolutely vital that a child have a place to go where he (or she) can just sit and read, where the role of grown-ups is restricted to answering his or her questions -- any questions -- with thoughtfulness and courtesy.

The ways things are going, there won't be many places left where a child has the simple right to be left alone.

Wednesday, July 7, 1999

July 7, 1999 - Be A Bookaneer!

My daughter is now 11. My son is 5. I don't think they've missed a library reading program yet.

You might suspect that a librarian's children would be FORCED to participate. But the truth is, they've always been pretty eager. Maddy (my daughter) loves the process: getting the forms, filling them out, keeping track of everything. She's a highly organized person who reads constantly with or without an external reward.

Perry (my son) is the mercenary of the family: he's in it for the prize. Sure, he gets into the books (once a parent latches onto a good read-aloud) but for my boy, the payoff is the present. (This may change -- lately he's expressed some keen interest in learning how to read by himself.)

There are different philosophies about reading programs. Some parents and librarians think that reading should be enjoyed for its own sake. And certainly this is the HOPE of many librarians: we rope you in for the game-like aspect of the program, and pray that it sparks a lifelong interest.

But we also track program statistics: how many people sign up, how many finish, how many people came to the special performances. And the clear fact is: the better the prizes, the better we do in all these areas.

I believe our two most effective prizes to date have been the Olympic medals (with some real heft to them) and our Western camp cups (made out of mottled blue tin). We had ADULTS signing up for the cups.

This year, we go from a western theme to pirates. Or as it says on our web page (http://douglas.lib.co.us/missy/pirateprg.htm) "Come Aboard and be a Bookaneer! You'll find your treasure as ye read 15 books. Write the titles on your treasure map log, then bring the map to your library and ye'll get a prize: A real pirate hat and pirate gold to boot!"

I happen to know that demand for the hats has been pretty intense. Perry has been even more interested in another prize -- pirate tattoos for the young swabs! (Calm down, parents. The tattoos do peel off.)

Also to be found at our web site is a schedule of all the programs related to our summer reading focus, a thoughtful collection of books about pirating, and even some charming and/or educational piratical sites on the World Wide Web.

Many Douglas County students are in year round schooling, of course. As DCSD Superintendent Rick O'Connell told me some years ago, the relatively shorter breaks do help kids retain more between classes.

But quite aside from the fun of our reading programs, surely it can't hurt to have your children keeping their reading skills sharp at the library.

So avast, me hearties! A fair wind blows from the docks of the Douglas Public Library District. Take on this high sea book adventure or walk the plank, ye salty dogs! YOHOHO and a bushel o' books!