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 27, 2000

December 27, 2000 - The Search for Peace

Yes, yes, it's good to spend time with family. And there are many magical moments around the holidays. There's the sound of Christmas carols, possibly the best music in the world. There's the moment when the last present is assembled, boxed, wrapped, and placed under the tree. There's the excited screech of the children, stampeding down the steps. There's that moment when all the opened presents are stacked, all the trash has been picked up, and that glazed look of satiation appears on every face.

But what's missing too often in our holiday season is something you see on all the holiday cards: peace.

There's just too much to do. Race up to this store, place that order on the phone, pick out the cards, purge the mailing list -- and all while maintaining the other business of life. In America, the Land of Plenty, we have plenty of everything. Except peace.

Well, I've given this a lot of thought, and I've come up with a simple, one word solution. (And it's not the word I bet you think it will be.)


It started when I took a business trip back to the Midwest. I got put up in a funky little hotel downtown. I set my things in the closet, and wandered into the bathroom to set out my toothbrush and other travel necessities.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear but ... possibly the biggest bathtub I have ever seen. A big, magnificent, curving bathtub. It had those puffy white handles for the waterspout that always remind me of the gloved hands of Mickey Mouse. I love those.

Well, I had all sorts of things I was going to do. Hit the streets. Call friends. Follow up on some of the business of the day. Busy, busy, busy. Instead, I ran a hot bath.

The water came up almost to my neck. I was able to lie back and have the water slosh around my chin.

So I sat in a bathtub for about an hour.

And I knew peace.

It happens that for many years, the Philip S. Miller Library had a bathtub in the children's room. It was piled up with various stuffed animals.

It was very popular. Children crawled into the big tub and played with the toys, or read. A couple of times, local seamstresses donated huge bathtub cushions, custom made to protect little heads from cracking against the enameled iron. (And it's not easy to get a cushion to fit the interior curves of an old-timey bathtub.)

One day, a three year old girl found the bathtub irresistible. As her father poked around the best sellers, this sweet little girl demonstrated her good breeding. She had been taught, you see, that one removed one's clothes before getting into the bathtub. When the father came around the corner a few minutes later, he found his daughter in the library's bathtub -- stark naked.

She had a big grin on her face. His expression was more ... complex.

A combination of various factors -- more comfortable furniture, more bookshelves, those cracked heads -- finally led us to remove the bathtub. It now sits, forlorn and overturned, exposed to the elements, right behind the administrative offices on the south side of the building.

But I'm thinking of turning it over, and maybe slipping out there every now and then during the day.

I am thinking of peace.

Wednesday, December 20, 2000

December 20, 2000 - Christmas Column

For the past several years, I've been reprinting what I've come to think of as "my Christmas column" -- a tradition. I hope you enjoy it.


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.

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.


Since Christmas and News Year's Eve fall on Sundays this year, all our libraries will be closed on December 24 and 25, and December 31 and January 1, 2001.

Happy Holidays from all of us at the library.

Wednesday, December 13, 2000

December 13, 2000 - The Next Planning Cycle

The Douglas Public Library District was formed in 1990. Since then, the Board of Trustees has worked through two five year plans -- we added hours, built and renovated buildings, grew our collection, and grew our staff hours and expertise. In the process we have become one of the busiest libraries in the state of Colorado.

As we enter the first true year of the new millennium, it's time for another plan.

There are several ways to go about planning. One way is to look at the numbers.

Thanks to a consultant study, we've determined that the populations of all three of our main service areas, roughly corresponding to Castle Rock, Parker, and Highlands Ranch/Lone Tree, will double over the next ten years.

Applying various standards of library space and library materials per capita, it's clear that we will need more library space. We even know where. We can also make some educated guesses about how much it will cost, which feeds into the Capital Construction piece of planning.

But there are several other planning issues that don't lend themselves to easy quantification.

One of them is technology. We know we'll need to upgrade our communications system to provide for the highest affordable speed. But it's difficult to predict what other new services or formats will come along with technological advances. (Not that we've given up!)

Another hard-to-measure planning issue is that a new public planning theme is emerging, not only in the Douglas Public Library District, but in many libraries. And that theme is: how can the library build community?

It's easiest to see this need in newer communities. People are looking for a place to hold meetings of local civic groups, home owner associations, various charitable projects, historical societies and cultural groups.

But consider all the cross-influences in our society, things that in fact destroy community. Long commutes leave many people too tired to do anything but eat a meal, and flop down in front of the TV. And there's television itself. Simultaneously bland and crass, television not only isolates families from their neighbors, but even family members from one another.

Then there's city planning that makes it impossible to walk anywhere, housing construction that emphasizes the single most important facet of American society: the automobile. Libraries -- particularly libraries that pull people together to talk about shared issues -- can help make the difference between housing developments and genuine communities.

Over the next five years, start looking for library staff to show up at all kinds of community gatherings. We'll be looking for ways to we help solve some of our community's problems. We see ourselves as a community asset, that at present, finds users only among those already aware enough to know of us. It is time to take the message to the streets, to forge a new place for ourselves in the hearts of our communities.

Yet another planning issue for me is who DOESN'T use the library. Thanks to the growth of Geographic Information Systems, the library is now able to tell precisely which houses in the county do not have a library card -- about 25 percent of them. In the next five years, I'd like to whittle that number down to less than 5 percent.

And THAT means not only directly communicating with the folks who don't currently use our services, but it also means putting together a palette of services that is irresistible.

If you have any thoughts along these lines, I'd like to hear them. Call me at 303-688-8752, or e-mail jaslarue@earthlink.net.

Wednesday, December 6, 2000

December 6, 2000 - Self-Service Librarianship

Library customers -- by long tradition called "patrons" -- fall into one of several camps.

Self-helpers. At the library, whether they stop by for their own pleasure, or for research, they are happiest when they can find what they want themselves.

Here's what they appreciate: intelligent organization of space, good resources (where good means both "current" and "of some depth"), easy access (not too far a drive or walk, plenty of parking), policies that aren't too arcane to remember or abide by, and the opportunity, wherever possible, to customize operations to their own needs.

Self-helpers find their own materials (either by browsing or by searching the catalog without assistance), research their own questions, and read to their own kids. The only staff they talk to are the people at the checkout desk.

Self-helpers are also the first folks to take advantage of some of our new services. They rejoice at the chance to place their own holds from our public catalog terminals. They clamor to get into the Internet to connect to our catalog from home or from work. They sruge to renew their items the same way, or see what's on hold for them, or quickly find out about any problems that may have popped up with their accounts.

They are also the folks who will be the first to take advantage of our online reference service -- the opportunity to leave a question for our reference staff by filling out an online form. (From our home page, click on "E-reference.")

The second sort of patron has neither the time nor interest to unravel the mysteries of library organization. Such patrons ask library staff to recommend titles to read, or place holds for them. They like our reference staff to track down pertinent information on topics of interest. They deeply appreciate our children's programming people. These are the patrons who look to the library for one thing only: service.

There is, of course, the third sort of patron, which is some blending of the two. Either that patron is mostly self-service, but sometimes needs help, or mostly service oriented, but takes pleasure, on occasion, in panning some nugget of knowledge all by his or her lonesome.

Now let's look at the ways the library has to communicate with these two kinds of patrons.

We can talk to them directly. That might happen when we see them at the library (at a service desk, in the stacks, at a program). It might happen over the telephone. It might happen via e-mail.

We can talk to them indirectly. They may pick up a program calendar, or a program flier. They might see something we placed in the newspaper, or on Douglas County Television's Channel 8.

But I think the future of library-patron communication needs to allow for some kind of customization.

For instance, we are one of the few public libraries in the county now offering an electronic newsletter, which you can subscribe to (or unsubscribe from) at http://www.dpld.org/mailman/listinfo/dpldnews.

Our circulation system has the ability (which you can check out from your "patron profile" information on our catalog) to keep track of things you've placed on hold and read. This provides a handy way for you to track your own reading habits. No one else has access to this information, by the way.

What's missing from all this, what the next step in library-patron communications might look like, is something more personal. Library patrons ought to be able to request the following services:

- self-checkout (we'll be offering this in 2001);
- online interactive book groups (also coming next year);
- automatic reserves for books that fit a certain profile of subject interest, author, or format (for instance, any new Star Trek audiotapes);
- a customizable library home page, with bookmarks to your favorite sites, updates on library doings that matter to you, and a quick search form that grabs stuff from our catalog; and
- automatic e-mail or voice-mail notification of programs of interest, whether sponsored by the library, or scheduled in community meeting rooms.

Right now, unfortunately, I don't know of a way to accomplish these last three. But I'll be looking for them.

If you have any other ideas along these line, feel free to contact me by phone (303-688-8752) or e-mail (jaslarue@earthlink.net). I'd love to talk to you.

Wednesday, November 29, 2000

November 29, 2000 - The Individual Versus Society

When I was in high school, I got deep into the works of Ayn Rand. Then I took a class from a guy who infuriated me. His subject was sociology. When he asked the question, "Who came first: the individual or society?" I knew the answer. The individual. Of course.

But the teacher said I was wrong. The right answer, he said, was "society." Without society, he said, you would have no self, would not have opinions about culture because there would be no culture. You would be an animal.

I would retort: what is society but the sum of individual accomplishments?

And he would reply: what is the individual but the sum of social accomplishments?

We spent through the rest of the school year snarling at each other, each of us refusing to back down. In short, as I have seen too often in my life since, things devolved to the point where both of us simply stopped listening to each other. Both of us were convinced that it was pointless, that the opposition was just too stupid to get it.

Well, I'm a little older now, and while I still believe in the importance of the individual -- I believe, in fact, that a society should be judged primarily on how well it protects individual liberties -- I also see some of what my teacher was getting at. My interpretation is a little softer, however.

Part of my life experience is centered around libraries. The value of the library can be measured in two ways.

First is the incalculable joy of finally finding a kindred spirit. If you have never loved a book, I mean loved it so fiercely that you bitterly resented every instant you had to spend eating, sleeping, or anything else that kept you away from that book, then ... I pity you. I've had maybe seven books like that, books that made worlds so powerful, so convincing, so right that I knew that was where I truly belonged. Those were times of exaltation and joy.

So ask the reader who has found those seven books, and he or she will tell you: the quality of the library is directly proportional to how many of those specific books the reader stumbled across. It's an individual experience. The place where you find a holy book is forever a temple to you.

But then I look at things from the administrative angle. The value of the library is the fact that it represents a cumulative experience. Whole civilizations have risen and fallen without grasping a tenth of the key knowledge captured in the World Book Encyclopedia. And there it is, just sitting there on our index tables. Free.

I review our statistics and see the number of kids who attended story times; the number of adults who attended meetings; the number of questions answered by our crack reference librarians; the number of titles recommended to young adults looking for some diversion. And the aggregate of all those activities, the fact that all of those resources are housed in a series of buildings right here in Douglas County, is remarkable. The library is the sum of lives stretching back 5,000 years.

And, therefore, every library patron who walks through our doors is just a little sharper, a little more ahead of the game, than those folks who don't come to see us.

It's like the child who grows up in a big family where lots of people tell him stories. He just knows more, understands how things fit.

A child who doesn't grow up in a family like that is still an individual, is still smart. But he doesn't have as much to work with.

So which came first? The individual or society?

Doesn't matter. The fact is, we are individuals within a society, both of it, and capable of changing it. A library is a good place to start.

Wednesday, November 22, 2000

November 22, 2000 - Tattered Cover and Customer Privacy

I have long been an admirer of Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover bookstore. I've even had the pleasure of working with her on several efforts to resist censorship.

Joyce doesn't just sell books, she really believes in the whole idea of an untrammeled world of ideas. She has lost customers by bringing in certain authors for book signings. This isn't an issue of left versus right, liberal versus conservative. Through her author invitations, she has offended both ends of the spectrum. Joyce believes that people have the right to think, speak, write, and read what they will. She literally puts her money where her mouth is.

Joyce is in the news again. She's seeking to block a subpoena forcing her to provide customer records to the police. Her notion -- almost quaint in an age of ever more invasive electronic attacks on privacy -- is that what you buy from a bookstore is a confidential transaction.

I'm not sure I can accurately summarize the police position. I believe they found a book at the scene of a crime, and that both involved the making of methamphetamine. A Tattered Cover invoice was also present at the scene. The police are seeking customer records from Tattered Cover to link the book to one of several persons under suspicion of the crime.

Joyce states that if her customers believe that business records about what books people purchase can be opened to governmental review, and that buying a book on a subject bespeaks an intent to commit a crime, this will have a "chilling effect" on her business. I think she's right.

I once faced a similar situation. I used to work in an Illinois library as the head of a large circulation department. The local police came to me with a library book, found at the place where arson was suspected. It was their only real lead. As in Colorado, I was forbidden to reveal this information UNLESS a subpoena were presented. First, though, I tried to verify that we had the information. I discovered that the book hadn't been checked out at all.

It should surprise no one to learn that somebody who steals a library book is capable of other crimes.

But Joyce has raised some troubling questions. Most people would grant that police work is important and difficult. Most of the time, cooperation with duly constituted authority is reasonable.

But for civil libertarians and others, alarm bells begin to sound when the government seeks to expand its ability to monitor not just what citizens DO, but what they are thinking about.

Have you ever read a book about something that was a crime? Or something that might one day be considered a crime?

Have you ever done a student report on drugs, or famous robberies? Have you, as a citizen, investigated charges of official corruption?

Just how eager should we be to start locking up people, or seeking to lock them up, on the basis of what strikes their curiosity? At what point does the attempt to catch crooks begin to make crooks of us all?

Wednesday, November 15, 2000

November 15, 2000 - Acting is Reading With Your Whole Body

It all started with a script -- "Greater Tuna."

Award winning director, Katie Damp (Best Director, "Raisin in the Sun," down in Colorado Springs last year), gave me the Tuna script some months ago and asked if I'd be interested in one of the leads in the two man show. She offered the other part to David Truhler, an enormously talented and experienced actor -- most recently seen as "Ali Hakim" in "Oklahoma."

I thought Tuna was hilarious. And there was one part I really, really wanted to play: Bertha Bumiller. Bertha was a Texan gal who headed up the Subcommittee to Snatch Books off the Shelves of the Local High School Library.

I've sat on the other side of the table of people like Bertha, and I've often thought they get to have more fun than I do. I am a professional librarian, and the odds of my getting to say the things she said ("There are four books we're going to try to have removed nationwide"), were pretty slim. So I told Katie to sign me up.

I suppose it should have occurred to me at the time that I'd also have to undergo some physical changes. Of my 8 characters, two of them are women.

The last time I had been clean-shaven was 1977, for exactly one week. My children, even my wife, had never seen my face. David's kids had never seen his face, either.

I don't know about David's family, but here's how my family took it. Six year old son: "You look better with a beard." Thirteen year old daughter: "You look weird." Wife of 17 years: "Ugh." As for me, my face was still my face, although another chin had somehow crept in. Shaving my upper lip for the first time in over a decade, I nearly sliced off my nose.

Another change: I am near-sighted, with mild astigmatism. My characters couldn't wear glasses. Without glasses, I couldn't see.

So I went to my eye doctor, who prescribed a novel solution: off the shelf, disposable contact lenses -- for a single eye. I walked out with one eye adjusted for distance, and one eye naked to the world (but capable of reading). I had never worn contact lenses before. Learning to touch my eye was ... interesting.

Then we mixed in the costuming. Gwen Nappo, who has an uncanny ability to find cheap, character-appropriate clothing in metropolitan thrift shops, outfitted David and me in some wacky outfits. Dresses. Wigs. Bolo ties. Slippers.

Individually, all of these changes made sense, sort of. But one day I realized that in the space of just a few weeks I had gone from a bearded, bespectacled, soft-spoken library director, to a clean-shaven man standing on a stage in a dress, tights, and heels, peering out of one good eye, and hollering at people.


My kids thought this was swell. Perry (the six year old) caught every rehearsal he could. Both he and Maddy helped me with the 49 pages of lines to be learned. Maddy became one of our fleet-fingered back stage dressers. And my wife picked up the slack in life as I became ever more monomaniacal.

Throughout the process, I've been aided tremendously not only by the sharp-eyed directorial corrections of Katie, but also by David's all-out comic genius. This boy has brought me to the point of near-incontinence, just by walking across the room in character. I'm also grateful for the stage management of Diane Sortore, and the sound and lighting skills of Ryan Williams and Seth Alison.

I am told that many people don't like change. And although I'll admit that all of these shifts in appearance and behavior do have their moments of stress, I haven't had this much fun since I was a kid.

I think "change" is why most people read -- we all have a longing for adventure and transformation. That's what keeps libraries in business. But the acting piece takes that one step further. Theater, finally, is just reading with your whole body.
"Greater Tuna," while itself a play more suitable for adults than young kids, is primarily designed to raise some money for Castle Rock Players, which has a focus on youth. Hence this column: please consider attending one of the shows this weekend.

The shows will be held at Kirk Hall, November 17-19. Friday and Saturday, there are performances at 8 p.m. Saturday, there will be a special matinee at 2 p.m. -- which allows people to get out in time to attend Castle Rock's Starlighting Ceremony. Sunday, we'll have a final performance at 4 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults, and $10 for seniors. To reserve tickets, call 303-814-7740.

Wednesday, November 8, 2000

November 8, 2000 - Information as Entertainment

Recently I had the opportunity to visit with some librarians on the Western Slope. Our main topic was Amendment 21. They were very concerned that rural library funding was going to be decided by the majority of voters who lived on the Front Range.

As one of the librarians pointed out to me, folks in the Denver metropolitan area have a rich array of cultural offerings: museums, art galleries, universities, theaters, ballet companies, and more.

On the Western Slope, for many communities, the library is it. That is, the public library is often the sole cultural amenity for many miles. To have metro people decide library funding in rural areas is a little like asking the rich if they think the poor have enough.

Clearly, culture is important to people in rural areas -- they put their own money into it. There just aren't as many choices.

But here's something that gets little attention -- libraries aren't just "information" centers. They reflect the trend toward treating information as entertainment.

I've been saving a piece of data for several years, a "Fast Facts" report from the Library Research Service. It states, "The June 1997 issue of Survey of Current Business reported detailed national data on consumer spending on recreation from 1993 to 1995. By 1995, more than a third of those expenditures were for "information" -- that is, books and periodicals as well as audio and video cassettes, CD-ROMs, computer software packages, and the hardware they each require."

The report highlights several other findings, namely that Americans spend:

- four times as much on books as on tickets to movies OR sporting events;
- more on books and periodicals combined than on children's toys OR adult "toy's" such as cameras, boats, and exercise equipment;
- twice as much on electronic information and the equipment it requires as on amusement parks, bowling alleys, bus tours, dance halls, golf courses, skating rinks, and swimming pools combined.

Librarians and others often emphasize the business, civic, and research roles of the library. Information has uses.
But we overlook two key roles the library plays in today's life.

First, libraries provide a powerful cooperative purchasing agreement. We are the entity that joins all the book, CD, and magazine clubs, scouting out the best deals so you don't have to.

Second, the presence of a well-funded library is an important component of a community's quality of life. With "information" such a growing part of consumer spending, Chambers of Commerce should latch onto and boost libraries much as they have schools. Access to a library is an economic value to a town. And based on the data concerning where people actually put their money, books are of greater importance than, for instance, the presence of sport fields or movie theaters.

This isn't to say that the presence of the library completely replaces the need for all those other cultural amenities. I always think of this as the convenience store phenomenon. Ever wonder why right next to a big new grocery store, you can find at least one convenience store?

Because it does well there. A strong library fuels the consumer demand for a book store, for a video store, for theaters of both filmed and live performance -- whetting the appetite for culture even as it feeds it.

I would sum it up like this. Libraries -- now that's entertainment!

Wednesday, November 1, 2000

November 1, 2000 - Patron Comment Cards

You see them everywhere. Sometimes they're called "complaint cards." Sometimes they're "suggestions," or "comments." Sometimes they're "quality check cards."

My favorite was one that we had right in the Philip S. Miller Library some 10 years ago. The forms were stacked below a box with a big sign over it that said: "How are you feeling?"

That sign so bemused me, I filled out a card myself. "Fine," I wrote. "How are you?" Then we tried to make the form a little more specific to libraries.

The purpose of such cards and forms is plain: the establishment is seeking feedback from its customers. Why? Several reasons come to mind.

1. Because it's trying to catch its employees doing something right. Assuming that management takes the time to do employee evaluations, it's always pleasant and useful to be able to rattle off a list of compliments -- especially when they have been earned.

2. Because its trying to catch its employees -- or the business itself -- doing something wrong. All too often, problems are only revealed after they've gotten big. Comment cards can help catch those problems when they're still small, and more easily addressed.

3. Because sometimes customers have great ideas for the improvement of services. Free consulting!

4. Because the manager longs to hear that the customer is thrilled with the service.

OK, maybe that's just me. As Assistant Director, I once had the responsibility (at another library) for setting up a big bulletin board of patron suggestions and complaints. My job was to write and post the responses. I braced myself for a flood of "what an impressive library!" comments. And maybe, just maybe, a "What a great assistant director!"

That's not what I got, of course. I got, "You're out of toilet paper." Or "How come nobody ever picks up the cigarette butts outside the front door?"

The sad truth is, people are more motivated to offer criticism than praise. Another sad truth is that sometimes criticism is necessary.

These days, most of our libraries offer some kind of comment sheet. (We will soon offer one on our Internet site, as well.) These go to the managers, and sometimes the managers refer them to me, usually when a pattern becomes clear.

For instance, we got a whole lot of complaints about our Internet workstations at Highlands Ranch. We had implemented a pretty interesting new technology called "disk on a chip," that looked like it might save us a lot of money. It didn't work, as our patrons made most pointedly clear. Result: a complete overhaul of the system, which involved moving from the "skinny client" to the "thin client" network model we have used successfully at our other locations for the past couple of years. (It even SOUNDS healthier, doesn't it?) By the time this column hits print, the problem should be resolved.

The general pattern at our other libraries is fairly predictable. People want more sit down Internet stations, more Harry Potter, quieter kids, etc.

But, according to Claudine Perrault, Manager of our Lone Tree Library, "every once in a while, something original or adorable comes along. For instance, tonight I received this request from a child:

'I want a pool and a dog.' He signed his name and left his phone number. Perhaps he thinks librarians have Santa's ear?"

Wednesday, October 25, 2000

October 25, 2000 - Virtual Library and DPLD Newsletter

About a year ago, library staff were spending a lot of time looking at our statistics on the use of our web site. Someone made the comment that in some respects, our web site was a sort of virtual branch. It had its own door count (the number of hits). It had its own statistics on referrals (the clicks on pages linking to other pages). It even allowed for a place to renew materials.

Well, we overhauled the look of our pages. The new look debuted on July 15 -- coinciding with the opening of the new Highlands Ranch Library. And now we're about to roll out a couple of new services that take us even further along the path of the Virtual Library.

The idea for the first one came from the fact that we can e-mail patrons (instead of mailing or calling them) to let them know that books have come in for them, or are overdue. This service has been around for about a year, too. In that time, 11,766 people gave us their e-mail addresses.

It took us some time, and required some expert assistance, but we've installed and tested a program called "mailman." In essence, this allows us to send out an electronic newsletter.

The test message -- based on that list of 11,000 names -- went out last week from Katie Klossner, head of our Public Relations. In brief, she asked people if they wanted to stay on the newsletter list.

Here's the good news: most of the folks we contacted were both intrigued and delighted by the idea. Here's more good news: it's a lot cheaper to e-mail patrons than it is to print up and mail a newsletter. Our patrons immediately latched onto some of the other ideas we'd thought about: notification of reading clubs, possible onlinereading clubs, new database information, programming schedules, and even online reference services.

Here's the bad news: not all of those 11,000 e-mails were correct. Sometimes, we entered them wrong, sometimes the patrons have moved on, sometimes the patrons have another e-mail they'd prefer to use for this service.

And there's more bad news: our software made it a little tricky for the folks who didn't want the service to get out of it. Ordinarily, when people subscribe to the list themselves, they get a password that allows them to manage various options about the mail. But since we put everybody in all at once, getting your password is, frankly, a bit of a hassle (you have to log on, request a password reminder, log back on, and unsubscribe).

For those people who didn't want to mess with all that, we came up with a somewhat easier alternative: e-mail unsubscribe@mail.douglas.lib.co.us, and include your e-mail in the message. And weíre sorry for cluttering up your e-mail that one time.

For those of you who haven't given us your e-mail address, but would be interested in the service, go to http://douglas.lib.co.us/mailman/listinfo/dpldnews and sign up!

One caveat: right now, we have turned off the ability of patrons to mail to the whole newsletter list. Only library staff can do this. But we're still intrigued by the idea of setting up some online communities of book lovers. We hope to do that soon.

A second new service is the online reference question. This interactive form can be found at: http://douglas.lib.co.us/e_reference/ref_form2.html. You can also find it by just choosing E-reference from our home page.

There is something about computers that seems to lead people to use them in the wee hours -- often when the library is closed. This way, we hope people can ask questions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While we won't have somebody answering questions all those hours, it does allow staff to look at them early the next morning and get a good jump on them. Bottom line: faster, more convenient service for you.

I don't believe that the Virtual Library will ever quite replace the physical building. People do, after all, need to get out of the house or office every now and then, whether it's in order to attend a meeting, a cultural event, or just to browse the new books.

But it's clear that the electronic resources of today do make it easier to "go to the library" without ever getting out of your pajamas.

Wednesday, October 18, 2000

October 18, 2000 - Making Democracy Work Voter Information

WHO is on the ballot?

WHAT is on the ballot?

WHERE are you supposed to vote?

WHEN are you supposed to vote?

WHY should you support, or oppose, a particular candidate or issue?

The political season is upon us. In fact, with early voting and absentee voting, the season is lengthening. The question: assuming that you intend to be diligent enough to exercise your right to vote, have you been diligent enough to do the research first?

This year, there are many choices to be made. There are candidates: federal, state, county, town, and even judicial. Then there are statewide issues, school district issues, municipal issues, and special district issues.

Many voters are aware of the "Blue Book" -- technically, "An Analysis of the 2000 Statewide Ballot Issues," produced by the Legislative Council of the Colorado General Assembly. This provides an excellent, balanced approach to the ISSUES faced by the state.

Eventually, most homes will also receive the local county TABOR summary of the issues. Local newspapers will do a good job of interviewing local candidates about their positions.

But the problem is pulling it all together. Few of us, alas, have librarians at home, who receive, organize, and set it all out for us. (And even those of us who do have librarians at home tend to let the folks at work take care of it.)

That's the idea behind our Making Democracy Work project. Originally a joint effort between the Douglas County League of Women Voters and the Douglas Public Library District, the library has in recent years offered two versions of voter information. The first consists of notebooks, kept at the reference desks of our Highlands Ranch, Lone Tree, Parker, and Philip S. Miller libraries. The second version is electronic. Right now, we're highlighting it from our main web page at www.dpld.org. Usually, you get to it by clicking on the "Your Community" link.

From this page, you'll find well-organized links to a host of other folks who provide up-to-the-minute information about election issues.

To return to some of the questions above, WHEN you vote is simple: November 7, 2000.

WHERE: consult our link to the Douglas County elections web pages.

WHAT is on the ballot? Again, the Douglas County page will offer the complete sample ballot, although some issues may not appear on your own, local ballot.

WHY should you support, or oppose a particular candidate or issue? Our Making Democracy Work site is particularly helpful here. We link to the electronic version of the State Blue Book. We link to various other newspapers and voter sites that will let you track the performance, public statements, and histories of a host of people and ideas.

We get the government we deserve, of course. But we also have a choice as voters: carelessness and apathy, or thoughtful consideration matched with a passion for civic engagement. The library aims to support the latter approach.

Incidentally, for a live review of the issues, consider attending a non-partisan review of Amendments and issues hosted by the Parker chapter of the American Association of University Women. I understand that all the Amendments will have representatives, excepting Doug Bruce, who declined to attend. The meeting will be held on Thursday, October 19, 6:30 p.m., at the Parker Library.

Wednesday, October 11, 2000

October 11, 200 - Parent University

Something happens to you when you become a parent. Before you have kids, when you watch a movie about a boy who runs away to join the circus, you think, "What a brave young man!"

After you have kids, you think, "What, you're not going to phone your mother?"

Let's face it. We don't do much to prepare ourselves to be parents. You have to take driver's ed before you get a license. Heck, you need a license. But with parenthood, it happens when it happens. The qualifications are entirely physical.

So it is that sometimes, often about the time that kids go off to school, parents begin to wish they'd been more prepared mentally and emotionally. They wish they could go off to school themselves in order to become better parents.

But there's no such thing as a Parent University. Or is there?

Yes! Since 1997, the Douglas County School District -- with funds from the Douglas County Education Foundation and Terrabrook Communities -- has offered a variety of classes and workshops to teach parents. Some topics include how children learn differently, how to help students in the classroom as well as in home, successful parenting strategies, and much more.

These classes are all taught by qualified instructors. The current round of classes runs from October 5 through December 11. Most classes consist of just one session, usually on week nights. The cost: $5.00 each.

Since 1997, about 3500 parents have signed up for classes. Based on their evaluations, the program works. Parents found the materials useful. An average of 91% said that classes exceeded what they hoped they'd find.

This semester, the Douglas Public Library District is pleased to team up with this successful and important program to extend local offerings. The School District has always offered workshops at their own facilities. Now, we'll be offering them at our libraries, too.

Here's just a sample of some upcoming classes:

- Natural Remedies for Winter Wellness (Highlands Ranch Library, October 25) - for ages 2 through adolescence.
- Colorado's Best: Recommended Places and Activities with Kids (Parker Library, November 28) - for kids K-12.
Early Childhood Language Development Birth to 5 Years (Highlands Ranch Library, November 2 and 9) - kids ages birth to 5.
- From Frustration to Celebration: Schoolwork Made Easy! (Lone Tree Library, October 24) - kids K-12.
- Pop Quiz! Everything You Need to Know about the CSAP Test (Philip S. Miller Library, October 25) - grades 3-10.

Registration for these and many other offerings is due one week before the class begins. To pick up the special Fall 2000 Course Book, stop by your local library, or call Debby Novotny, School-Community Partnerships, at 303-814-5283. The Course Book is also available from Debby's office at school district headquarters, 620 Wilcox Street, Castle Rock.

Another one of our community partners in this undertaking is the News Press, which assists in the printing and distribution of the course catalog.

So consider going back to school today. The child you help may be your own.

Wednesday, October 4, 2000

October 4, 2000 - Philip S. Miller and New Local History Website

Last week, the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock hosted a series of events, culminating in a Saturday family picnic. This was our first "Celebrate Your Library Week," and it was a big hit.

The events were varied. Our staff sponsored children's story times and puppet shows, a teen coffeehouse, live Internet demonstrations, and more. But the week owed its luster not only to staff.

I want to publicly thank the Town of Castle Rock for their proclamation concerning the week. I also appreciated the visit by the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce (and their ambassadors) to cut the ribbon on the recently renovated building.

Crowfoot Valley Coffee provided the drinks for our teen coffeehouse, for which we are grateful. Kathy Moss, a driver for the Clean Air Shuttle, proved to be a most effective publicist for the teen night, persuading, and indeed delivering to our door, some 30 young adults. One attendee asked if we would consider holding this event every week. (Answer: No, not every week, but we are talking about holding it once a month.)

Other contributors include Walmart, which helped us stock up on party supplies. Mindy David and the Douglas County High School Orchestra students were very popular, as were David and Bethany Truhler. I should also mention Donna Marek and Castle Rock Printing.

Last Saturday, we served up over 300 hot dogs, and had the chance to listen to the sprightly tunes of the Castle Rock Band.

All in all, the event was very much in keeping with the library theme of the year: we build community, and are very much a part of it.

Yet another example of this effort is our unveiling of a digital exhibit: Historic Schools of Douglas County. This site-within-a-site (accessible from our home page at douglas.lib.co.us) represents hundreds of hours of work by the staff in our Local History Collection. The final web design, which intelligently organizes all the data, is the product of our own Shaun Boyd.

As noted on one of Shaun's pages, "When Douglas County's first school district was organized in Sedalia, Colorado in 1865, Colorado was not even a state."

Our staff has assembled a host of pictures and historic descriptions of the more than 40 school districts that once existed in the county, including the districts of Acequia, Columbine, Dewey, Flintwood, Fonder, Rattlesnake, and Sugar Creek. (Aren't those great names?)

Also available from this exhibit are links to several other highlights, among them: the 8th grade graduation program from 1900; a list of Douglas County High School Graduates, 1899-1964 (also listed by last name); and a list of Douglas County 8th grades, from 1900-1959 (again listed by last name).

I'm constantly surprised and pleased to see new technology put to work to preserve the past. Please, if you have photographs, clippings, or other historical information about the place you live, stop by our Local History Collection and talk with our staff. Putting together all these puzzle pieces is one of the ways historians tell the story of who we are, and how we got to be that way. In that task, you might just be the key contributor.

Wednesday, September 27, 2000

September 27, 2000 - Quotations

I have a weakness. I love quotations. Along with dictionaries, collections of quotes are the most seductive books I know.

Start, for instance, with the magnificent "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations" (16th edition, edited by Justin Kaplan). I consider this an absolutely essential contribution to any home library.

As Winston Churchill put it, "It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations. Bartlett's 'Familiar Quotations' is an admirable work, and I studied it intently. The quotations when engraved upon the memory give you good thoughts. They also make you anxious to read the authors and look for more."

But there are many quotations, even those of famous people, that don't wind up in authorized collections. They abound on the Internet. Take another Churchill quote: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." Here's another: "He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."

Quotations are one of the dangers of the public life. People remember what you said. This leads to such awkward moments as as that of Clinton aide George Stephanopolous, speaking on Larry King Live, "The President has kept all of the promises he intended to keep." One imagines our President to believe, as Tom Stoppard said, that "It is better to be quotable than to be honest."

As another, extremely quotable politician from another era observed, "Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them" (Adlai Stevenson). Or (to get in an inning for the other team) one J. Danforth Quayle has been justly immortalized for his pithy remark in an address to the United Negro College Fund, "What a waste it is to lose one's mind or not to have a mind is very wasteful."

As a librarian, I am, naturally enough, interested in quotes about books. Moses Hadas, a reviewer, wryly noted about one title that, "This book fills a much-needed gap."

The always subversive Ambrose Bierce once said, "The covers of this book are too far apart."

But not only writers have opinions about other writers. I like the comment of heavyweight boxer Tony Galento, when asked what he thought of William Shakespeare: "I'll moider da bum."

The great philosopher, Marx (I mean, of course, Groucho Marx), has two of my favorite quotes: "From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it." The second: "I've had a wonderful time, but this wasn't it."

I admit to a fondness for the unexpected response. There's this one, attributed to a Quaker who had been slapped on one cheek, turned the other one, and got slapped again: "Now that the scriptures have been fulfilled, I shall proceed to beat the hell out of thee."

And there's the irrepressible Voltaire. On his death bed, a priest implored him to renounce Satan. Voltaire responded, "Now, now my good man, this is no time for making enemies."

Quotations can offer sage advice. Consider Jimmy Durante's, "Be nice to people on your way up because you meet them on your way down." They can be provocative, as in Martin Luther King Jr.'s "In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

But finally, my favorite quotations are the ones that make you laugh. I leave you with Will Rogers: "If Stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out?"

Wednesday, September 20, 2000

September 20, 2000 - Building Community

I've just returned from the annual conference of the Colorado Library Association. The association has over 1000 members now, and its annual conference is an opportunity for people to share what theyíve learned, listen to (and challenge) some national leaders and thinkers, and socialize.

My first day of the conference was spent in a session about building community. Our keynote speaker, Dr. Kathleen McCook, happens to have been one of my teachers back in library school. She told a disturbing story: over the past thirty years or so, library science faculty have disengaged.

This could be demonstrated in two ways. First is the virtual disappearance of the word "library" from library schools. They're all schools of information studies, now.

Why the change? Because faculty, like most other people, seek status. And on campus thereís more respect for sexy technology-related studies than anything so mundane as working in a library.

There ís a direct negative consequence to all this: it ís getting hard to find classes on some fairly fundamental public library skills. There are fewer classes on how to develop services for children. There are fewer classes on the management of the public library. All this is happening just as an older generation of librarians (that did have these classes), is nearing retirement.

There is more to libraries than computers. Or to put it another way, computers are tools for libraries, not the other way around.

A second community related issue also involves library faculty. Library faculty, even 20 years ago, tended to be very visible in professional associations. They served on committees that formed policies, devised planning documents, and otherwise engaged with the practical issues of librarianship. But these days, according to Dr. McCook, it's a little harder to get these folks out of their ivory towers, not only to attend professional library meetings, but to truly connect to the world outside academia.

Their current distance hurts them because it isolates them from the vitality of library practice. What they don't know, they can't teach.

Finally then, McCook issued a call to arms. Library faculty need to immerse themselves not only in their professional associations, but also in their immediate communities.

In trying to test this theory, Dr. McCook did two things. First, she threw herself into her own community, showing up at meetings that had never seen librarians before.

Second, she started digging through the literature by and about libraries looking for people who practiced this new approach. Her idea was this: instead of pleading with people to use libraries (or waiting for the community to find us), we need to go to the community to see if we can help them solve THEIR problems.

She then introduced some panelists. One of them, Annette Choszczyk (CHOE-zik) works in Glendale, Colorado, where a tiny, tiny branch of the Arapahoe Library District suddenly found itself overwhelmed by a flood of Russian immigrants.

The library rose to the challenge. They launched volunteer-based English instruction classes. They formed book discussion groups. They bought computers and software to allow their new patrons to write letters back home in Russian.

Today, the library has a whole floor of classroom space, an astonishing collection of foreign language materials, and employs a good many Russians. The library is the unofficial welcoming station for perhaps as many as 40,000 new American residents in the Denver metropolitan area.

In the process, the library earned extraordinary respect from all the people around them. Librarians began to be the ones everybody naturally thought of when it came to the need for help or advice. Librarians now attend city council meetings and sit on advisory boards. The ultimate compliment might be something the mayor of Glendale said. To him, the library was the best symbol of what Glendale could be: a responsive institution that valued and celebrated its people.

In short, by challenging herself and her peers, my professor discovered something that applies to all librarians, not just library school faculty. Librarians belong to their communities. Our choice is engagement or retreat, success or failure, meaning or meaninglessness.

It's a powerful lesson.

Thank you, Dr. McCook. I,m still learning from you, and it still takes a lot of work to get a good grade.

Wednesday, September 13, 2000

September 13, 2000 - Dr. Laura Comes to Denver TV

Dr. Laura is coming to town. Rumored to have over 18 million listeners of her radio program, she is launching a new television show. Locally, she'll be on Channel 9.

What does that have to do with libraries? Well, new TV shows of a certain kind have to make a local splash, stir up a little controversy, to get people to watch them. And Dr. Laura has decided that the great issue of our times is pornography in libraries.

Most recently, the 15 year old daughter of a member of Dr. Laura's staff was sent to the Denver Public Library with some hi tech equipment and a dubious task. The equipment: a secret camera attached to a pair of glasses. The task: to find evidence of people looking at pornography on public Internet terminals, to look at pornography herself, and to check out an R-rated video.

She succeeded. Her video is the centerpiece for Dr. Laura's first program in the Denver area.

While I don't claim to speak for all librarians, I do have some observations about all this.

First, let's look at the job of the public library. Our mission is pretty simple: to provide public access to information (where "information" is used in its most general sense). The Internet, the World Wide Web, is but the latest tool to fulfill that mission.

Based on careful analysis of Internet traffic (what library web page selections our patrons click on, what URLs people enter, what search terms our patrons use) I have a pretty solid notion of how this tool is employed at our libraries.

Ready for the shocking truth? The World Wide Web is used ... for research -- homework assignments, company profiles, consumer purchases, and popular news topics. It is used, in fact, pretty much the same way our books are used.

Librarians have spent a great deal of time and talent selecting, and in some cases creating, high quality web-based resources. Not only that, we offer a host of classes that help parents and children learn to use the World Wide Web effectively.

In short, we make a positive contribution to the ever-growing volume of Internet resources, focusing on authoritative and useful data. In this, we fulfill our mission, and can demonstrate that the public makes altogether appropriate use of it.

Does that mean that "anything goes?" No. Libraries are still public space. Our Internet terminals, at every one of our libraries, are placed within easy line-of-sight supervision by our staff. On occasion, typically when a couple of people start giggling in front of a screen, one of our staff wanders over to see if they need assistance. A gentle and civil intervention has always been sufficient for us to restore decorum.

Is there pornography on the World Wide Web? Of course. It has a way of following every publishing media. Librarians aren't responsible for that, and we have neither the authority nor the means to stamp it out.

Can children and adults get to sexy pictures through library terminals? Sure, if they go looking for them. No library web page will direct them there.

Couldn't libraries use so-called "filtering software" to prevent children from stumbling across things their parents don't want them to see?

Well, some libraries do use such software. At present, the Douglas Public Library District uses it at the Internet terminals located in the children's room. We do not, however, use it on terminals elsewhere. This is the same principle we use for the rest of our collection: the books in the children's room are different from the ones in the rest of the building.

Why not use filtering software on all terminals? Because filtering software has two persistent problems: it fails to block much of what it purports to (sexy pictures, "hate speech," etc.), but succeeds in blocking many things that are perfectly innocuous, and often quite useful.

Vendors of filtering products consider what they block (which keywords, which specific sites) to be trade secrets. In other words, they don't tell you exactly what they block or why. Frankly, I'd rather trust the librarian I know than the software provider I don't, to decide what the public may be permitted to view. Even if one of Dr. Laura's sponsors happens to be such a vendor.

Is there an "epidemic" of pornography at the library? No more so than in the rest of our culture.

If you don't want your children to seek pornography, or watch R-rated videos, then I have a suggestion. Tell them not to, and tell them why. If they do it anyhow, hold them accountable for that decision.

But trust me, no matter what you see on TV, America's biggest problem is not that children are spending too much time at the library.

Wednesday, September 6, 2000

September 6, 2000 - Maddy Turns 13

Today my daughter becomes a teenager.

This is, of course, impossible. Maddy, my sweet daughter, was just born the other ... Oh my God.

I'm reminded of my Aunt Edith, who told me on the eve of my 13th birthday that something horrible was going to happen to me the next day. She asked me not to take it personally, but she said she really didn't want to talk to me for the next seven years. She was perfectly serious.

But I'm not Aunt Edith. I WANT Maddy to keep talking to me. She is one of my favorite conversationalists. From her first word ("dad"), I have found her absolutely fascinating.

She was a dreamy yet serious child. When she was about three, we were driving through a snowstorm one night. She mused quietly, "Some people call them snowflakes. But I call them starflakes."

But it isn't just Maddy's conversation that interests me. We once threw a party and entertained some 20 guests. At the end of the party, Maddy, then four or five, went into the bedroom and brought out everybody's coat, matching each one to its owner without hesitation, even for the folks she hadn't seen when they arrived.

As a student, Maddy was almost frighteningly well-organized. Once we asked her about an upcoming test. She informed us that she'd been studying up for it, 15 minutes every night for the past two weeks. Her idea.

I remember her acting debut, when she played a middle aged farm wife so convincingly, so engagingly, that I was utterly bewildered. Where did my daughter go?

I could go on. I have thousands of mental snapshots and audiorecordings of her.

In brief, Maddy is the best evidence I have seen for evolution. Or as my wife puts it, "It's hard to raise a child who is more mature than you are."

Maddy was our firstborn. That means that she changed us. She made us aware, as no one really is until they have children.

She made us aware of the future. We took out insurance policies, established savings accounts. We thought about a house not in terms of its costs or shopping convenience, but its nearness to schools, parks, libraries, other children to play with.

Before Maddy, my own awareness of the political and cultural environment was probably best summed up as: "live and let live." I got by fine, whatever the set-up.

But after Maddy, I was passionately concerned about the state of our schools, the efficacy and integrity of public officials. I became radicalized, an activist for causes I ignored before. What kind of world was this for Maddy to grow up in?

As is the case with so many other new parents, we rediscovered the public library: an almost inexhaustible source of books on health (to vaccinate or not to vaccinate, when to potty train, brain development), free story times, a place to meet other parents and children, children's videos, and children's literature in all its glory.

We saw the world anew through the eyes of our shining daughter. What we saw connected us to the society around us, invested us in it both emotionally and financially, made us a part of our culture in ways we had not been before, made us better people, better citizens, more aware of the responsibility one generation has to another.

And now she is a teenager. Incredible.

Happy Birthday, Maddy. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 30, 2000

August 30, 2000 - Community Partnerships

On a daily basis, Perry, my six year old son, cruises the neighborhood looking for somebody to play with. He'll talk to anybody. When he connects, which is more times than not, he's suddenly full of new enthusiasms.

So he'll walk in the door abruptly agog over Japanese action figures. Or he begins leaping around the house doing spin kicks.

Some of these enthusiasms vanish as quickly as they arrive. Most often, this coincides with a story about somebody who decides that he's too old to play with little kids. Or somebody is "mean."

But Perry doesn't mope around about it. He just finds somebody else to play with.

The same thing happens with organizations. Libraries have a good record for forming partnerships -- and what are partnerships except organizations playing with each other?

One of our longest standing partnerships is with publishers. Long before a book is published -- sometimes years before -- we've gotten the advance catalog and placed our orders. These days, add in the catalogs and previews for books on tape, videos, CDs, and more. As with all partnerships, we've worked out some procedures that make it easier for us to play together: discounts, automated order systems, favorable shipping costs, and so on.

Another long standing partner is the educational community. Yes, our local schools have their own libraries. But they usually aren't open at night, or over the weekend. So people come to us to help them do their homework.

More recently, we've expanded this support in two directions. We provide library resources for charter school students, who often don't have a school library at all. We are also a lifeline for Douglas County's many homeschoolers, who are some of our most dedicated and savviest library consumers.

Yet another partner is the local newspaper. What could be more natural? Both of us depend upon a key constituency: people who both read and are curious about the world around them. In Douglas County, that partnership includes such things as running library columns, the joint development of web-based local resources (the online version of the Douglas County Guide, for instance), and a host of services that publicize library events, promote literacy generally, and encourage the exercise of informed citizenship.

We've teamed up with Chambers of Commerce. One example is our keen interest and participation in Leadership Douglas County. Another is the series of workshops we've provided on searching the Internet. Yet another is our purchase of various electronic databases to support local small office/home office businesses.

We've formed alliances with governmental agencies, providing space for elections, meeting rooms for hot issues and subcommittees, and occasionally helping to launch a joint project, as in the Building a Generation initiative. Library staff have even moderated public debates, trading on our reputation for neutrality and balanced information.

We've partnered with developers, obtaining choice property in exchange for the guarantee of a steady flow of traffic. Public libraries make ideal anchor tenants.

We've teamed up with senior centers and daycares -- providing direct service to some of our most insightful constituents in exchange for a connection that enriches all of us.

We've partnered with hundreds of community volunteers, sometimes allowing them to do projects that fulfill their own aims (Boy Scouts earning badges), to helping our patrons discharge their debts to society (community service workers who help us keep the library surroundings tidy).

Community partnerships: just another way of getting to know your neighborhood.

Wednesday, August 23, 2000

August 23, 2000 - Presidential Portraits at Highlands Ranch

Our new Highlands Ranch Library is intended to be the first public building in the new downtown of a city. But what does it mean to be a "public building?"

The most obvious definition is that it was funded by, and opens it doors to, everybody. In the case of a library, that means it also provides access to a collection of materials, purchased cooperatively, and accessible to all.

But there's more than that. A public building serves a public purpose -- a goal that to a previous generation fell under the heading of "civic."

One of the overt signs of this civic connection is the flagpole, proudly flying the American flag.

Another way that the public library celebrates its civic roots is to host programs and exhibits that explore our local, historic, political, or artistic heritage.

So I am pleased to announce that from August 24 to September 3, the Highlands Ranch Library will be housing an exhibit called "American Presidents: Life Portraits." This exhibit, sponsored by C-SPAN and ATT&T Broadband (which is handling all local arrangements), features 41 oil paintings of our Presidents. The artist, Chas Fagan, will be on hand during our kickoff of the exhibit (August 24, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.) to answer questions. A media reception is planned -- as well as some corresponding activities for our younger citizens, fresh out of story time (9:30 a.m.).

These paintings were commissioned by C-SPAN to complement their recent television series (concluding in December of last year) of the same name. The exhibit has since showed up at both the Republican and the Democratic National Conventions. During the Presidential campaign, the exhibit will continue to travel around the country, although Colorado and California are the only two western states that will be visited this year.

The Douglas Public Library District is pleased to be one of the hosts for this fascinating and highly accomplished retrospective on American leadership, and is grateful to AT&T Broadband for bringing this exhibit to our patrons.

More information about American presidents can be found at C-SPAN's website at www.americanpresidents.org -- and, of course, your local library.


A second district event occurs the day after the Presidential Portraits kickoff. On August 25, all Douglas Public Library District branches will be closed while we have our annual Staff Day. On this day, we gather in our 200 employees for a day of continuing education workshops.

The format of these days varies some from year to year. What doesn't change is the need to touch base with one another, to put faces to the voices we talk to on the phone each day.

This year we will be talking to some of the "competition" -- leaders from other Colorado libraries. We'll ask what we can learn from their experiences.

We'll also do something I think is crucial: asking our own staff what issues most need to be addressed in the coming year. I have my own ideas, but I know that sometimes the folks at the front line of library services have knowledge and insights that I don't. This is one of my best opportunities to gather those insights.

The other side of being a public institution is what happens behind the scenes. In libraries, that means a continuous commitment to service. In turn, that sometimes calls for a series of adjustments to better reflect the times we live in.

As it is with the American electorate, so it is for library staff: this is the beginning of the season for decisions about our future.

Wednesday, August 16, 2000

August 16, 2000 - Videos and Fines

Videos came into library collections about 15 years ago. Right off the bat, they were very popular. They were so popular, in fact, that we applied some internal controls to ensure that people would get them back quickly so other people could check them out.

Most library materials go out these days for two weeks. But when we first offered videos, they went out for just 3 days.

Most library materials have a fine of a nickel a day -- more of a gentle reminder than a threat. But with videos, we charged fifty cents a day. We REALLY wanted them back.

But our collection of videos has grown over the years. We have over 15,000 of them -- about 4% of all of our holdings. Videos continue to be popular -- accounting for over 13% of our total checkouts in 1999. The most popular videos, incidentally, are children's.

Over the past year, we've been trying to simplify library procedures. Consistent rules are not only easier for the public to remember, but for staff to interpret.

At a recent staff meeting, we realized that we spend a lot of time explaining videos fines. It isn't always a happy discourse. Too, we've noticed that the people who get stuck with the biggest fines tend to be parents of small children.

So we asked two questions, "Has our fine structure outlived its usefulness?" and "Are we punishing some of our best customers?" After some discussion, our managers concluded that the answer to both of these questions was, "Yes."

So effective immediately, I'm lowering our fines for videos from fifty cents a day to a nickel a day, the same as (almost) everything else.

We also talked about bumping up the loan period for videos. But we had already moved the loan period from 3 days to a 1 week checkout some time ago. Most of our staff felt that that was still about right. People tend to keep out our materials almost exactly as long as we check them out.

If my experience is any guide, videos tend to stick around until the day before I have to take them back. Then I watch them. A week is generous -- two weeks means we'll just have a lot of videos sitting unused in people's houses. So the one week loan period for videos will remain.

At this point, we have just two other exceptions now to our general rule of a 2 week loan period and a nickel a day fine. Interlibrary Loan materials -- that is, items that we borrow from other libraries -- may be checked out for something other than 2 weeks if that's the restriction placed on us as a condition of borrowing. These materials will continue to have fines of fifty cents a day because the items do not belong to us, and we need to encourage people to bring them back promptly.

The other exception is Educational Materials. This category doesn't have a great many members, but includes such things as the Hooked on Phonics tapes. Items in this category have three characteristics:

(1) They tend to be designed for a longer period of use -- typically, a month. Hence, the loan period for these materials is one month, without renewal.

(2) They tend to have long waiting lists. This means, again, that we want them to keep moving. Hence, we have a higher fine: $1 a day past the due date.

(3) They are expensive, running hundreds of dollars instead of $15 or $20 (closer to our average cost for library materials. This too speaks to the higher fine rate.

Nonetheless, by changing the video fines, we have taken a step toward regularizing procedures for the vast majority of all library materials. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 9, 2000

August 9, 2000 - Sturgeon's Law

I've been picking up a lot of old science fiction lately from library book sales. One of the greats is Theodore Sturgeon, who wrote many haunting stories. "More than Human" is probably the best known, about the emergence of a gestalt human being with mutant abilities. But Sturgeon is also the father of something called "Sturgeon's Law," which reads as follows: "Ninety percent of everything is crap."

That may sound cynical. But Sturgeon was not a cynical man. He was stating a statistical observation about the endurance of quality. Pick up a TV Guide sometime and apply your standards to the listings for any particular night, and you'll see what I mean.

I quoted Sturgeon's law the other day to a retired librarian, and said I thought it clearly applied to the World Wide Web. In the early days of the Internet, most of the content was supplied by research institutions. That meant that the quality tended to be very high.

But now anybody can put up a web page, and a good many anybodies have. Ninety percent of what's out there now, well, is crap. By that I mean it is ill-focused, rambling, often unattributed, erroneous, or content-free.

So this former librarian said, "What about our collections?" (meaning the books, movies, magazines, and other materials we buy for the public). He wanted to know whether I thought today's public library were a source of high, or low culture.

"Yes," I said.

You can find great books in the library. But they aren't the best used. You can find powerful and technically superior movies in the library. But the Barney videos are just as popular.

You can find thought-provoking and impeccably researched articles in our magazines. But they are overwhelmingly outnumbered by articles on how to get and hold a man, or the latest fashion in hair do-dads.

I gather all this used to make some librarians indignant. They felt that their job was to raise the moral tone of a community, and they could get a little huffy when the community didn't cooperate.

But today's librarians are, I think, both more honest, and less arrogant. As a consequence, our libraries are also far, far better used. Put baldly, we are not so powerful that anything we buy will be enthusiastically embraced by our patrons.

We don't direct the reading tastes of the public. We reflect them. We don't write the books on our shelves. We purchase them.

And the books that get published are the end result of a host of factors. Sometimes it's the topic itself that's interesting (the Titanic). Sometimes it's the approach that ensures popularity (kiss and tell). Sometimes it's the campaign to promote the book (the latest Harry Potter).

At any rate, many, many agents, authors, editors, book designers and distributors have a crack at a book long before they make it to the library. We're the last stop, not the first.

But I also wonder sometimes about the whole idea of "high" versus "low" culture. While I think I grasp the distinction between professional wrestling and the symphony, I can't help but remember that Shakespeare, in his day, was the treat of the peasants.

Ninety percent of what gets produced may well be crap. But that 10% that endures can be created in any age. And the surest test of its quality isn't necessarily who wrote it or approved of it at the time. There is only one test of cultural quality: endurance. And that 10% makes all the rest of it worthwhile.

Wednesday, August 2, 2000

August 2, 2000 - What is Wise?

Lately I've been thinking about a question I first ran across when I was in fifth grade. For three syllables, it packs a lot of punch.

What is wise?

My first encounter with this was through Plato. A librarian sent me home one day with a copy of the Dialogs, and I got hooked. The format was clever and engaging. That Socrates was a slippery rascal. He'd ask a few innocent questions, get perfectly reasonable answers, then prove that the answers were utterly foolish. I can't say I always followed just what was going on, but I could tell who was winning. It was sort of like wrestlemania with words.

But that one question really got to me. What does it mean to be wise?

Even today I find myself looking at the people around me and wondering. I know plenty of smart people, by which I mean quick. But some very quick people often seem to lack a basic understanding of the world around them.

I know plenty of learned people -- folks who went to prestigious schools and came back with fancy degrees. Sometimes their knowledge is very broad. They keep up with current events, and can talk about anything. Sometimes their learning is deep, but narrow. I'm thinking of people who spend their whole careers working with just one kind of technology, or specializing in the fifth year of the Tudor reign. Is that wise?

I've even known a few very successful people, by which I mean rich. They own a lot of stuff. But then, I've known some people I would call successful who owned very little. Rich might equal smart, sometimes, but it doesn't necessarily equal wise. On the other hand, wisdom might be a kind of success.

Famous? Puh-lease. O.J. Simpson is famous.

Effective? That seems to get a little closer to the mark. A wise leader, for instance, would be very effective. But it seems to me that he or she would be thinking long term, playing for gains that might not be immediately apparent.

How about loved? Well, I'm not sure that our culture, the American culture, places that much value on wisdom. I'm not sure we recognize it. I'm not sure we reward it. On occasion -- when a business leader focuses on long term rather than immediate return, I think we even punish wisdom. I think Socrates was wise, and he got the death sentence. That suggests that wisdom has NEVER had a lot of admirers.

Then is it desirable? Somehow, for me, it still seems that it is, more desirable than almost anything. It seems to me that wisdom has some element of peace to it, a reckoning of worth -- whether of word or deed -- that brings or finds meaning in the world.

Where do you find wisdom? I'm not sure. I wish I could tell you that all the answers can be found at the library. Many of them can be. But sometimes, you just have to settle for a few good questions.

Wednesday, July 26, 2000

July 26, 2000 - Taxcut 2000

On the ballot this fall is something called Taxcut 2000. This constitutional amendment, drafted by Doug Bruce, would (among other things) reduce each item appearing on a property tax bill, throughout the state of Colorado, by $25 the first year.

Even if Douglas County residents vote against the measure, the rest of the state could pass it. If so, Douglas Public Library District would lose $2 million from its budget the first year. That's 25% of our total income.

But the proposal doesn't stop there. The following year, the tax cut rises to $50. The next year, the cut climbs again to $75. It continues from there until, at least in the case of property tax, the bill drops to zero.

Taxcut 2000 affects many entities. Among these are water and sanitation districts, fire districts, cemeteries, and metropolitan districts. Some of these districts don't assess as much as $25 on a house.

Apparently, the state is expected to pick up the difference, but there are three catches. First, the state's income will also drop (progressive cuts also apply to income and sales tax, although this might be offset by economic growth for a time). Second, the state is still subject to TABOR, and pre-existing tax limitations. The state currently has a surplus, but it can't spend it, even to bail out other services.

Third, the state can limit how much it chooses to replace from lost local revenue. With water service and fire protection on the chopping block, how much can libraries expect from dwindling state resources?

This initiative will be on the ballot this fall, just in time for the Presidential election. That means a high turn-out. Historically, that group includes some of the least informed voters. That means many people will see the measure for the first time at the ballot box.

To date, I've seen very little information about Taxcut 2000 in the media, although I've read a few of Doug Bruce's statements. That may be because Bruce's ballot language, as with TABOR, is so convoluted that nobody is sure what all the implications are.

For instance, some government entities may be able to become "enterprises" -- for instance, water districts may simply raise their fees for service, offsetting revenue losses. If so, it's hard to see how the taxpayer benefits.

In any case, that road probably isn't open to libraries. By the second year of the cut, I believe it will be impossible to maintain the current level of services. (The first year, we would probably use savings previously dedicated to capital projects. Under the threat of further cuts, of course, any further capital construction would seem irresponsible. Why build a library you can't afford to open?)

It appears that even if Douglas County residents wanted to exempt library funding from the tax cut, that is not permitted. In other words, the whole state is voting on whether to prohibit LOCAL tax efforts, the burden of which is solely supported by local residents.

Before I came to Colorado, I worked for a library that had to cut its budget by 10% for three years in a row. While that was useful training for a library administrator -- it teaches you what matters in the attempt to provide core services -- it was also excruciating.

It took ten years to build this district. It wouldn't take that long to destroy it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2000

July 19, 2000 - Highlands Ranch is Open

Last Saturday, July 15, marked the opening of the new Highlands Ranch Library.

I don't know if it's just that this building marks a big jump in the level of our services, or if it's that I always get intensely introspective around my birthday, but I find myself truly awed.

One of the big lessons of life is that some accomplishments take the talents of many people. As I wandered through the new building Saturday, I saw plenty of evidence of that.

One of our key players has been Pam Nissler, manager of the Highlands Ranch Lbrary. She wrote the original "program" for the building. But that program, in turn, included the dreams of the many people who attended our focus groups.

Pam's hand is everywhere obvious in the building, from her selections -- with our interior designer Pegi Culbreth Dougherty -- for fabrics and chairs ("I sat in every one of those chairs," Pam says), to the placement of tables and the angling of terminal workstations.

Then there were our architects, Humphries Poli, of Denver. Joe Poli crafted a vision of a truly civic building, a place of substance and style. Jon Koenigburg, project architect, oversaw the countless details that went into fleshing out that vision.

Our Owner's Representative, Kevin Gibbs, brought an eagle-eye to the financial matters of the project. Ed Diefendorf, Construction Superintendent, held his subcontractors to the highest possible standards of craftsmanship.

The staff of the library -- from the many people at Highlands Ranch who worked timetables for shelving installation or planned our opening events, to our Technical Services staff who filled the new space with new materials -- all brought (as usual) great enthusiasm and intelligence to all their tasks.

I'm impressed by the generosity of our public, too. The amenities of the building -- two fireplaces, reading deck furniture, various art pieces -- didn't cost taxpayers a penny. They were private donations, and they show just how valuable this building truly is to its users.

I was moved by all the volunteer support we found, too. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints provided countless free hours of helpful assistance, to name just one of the many groups that came to our aid.

I can now report with some pride that we've got a $6.7 million building that was constructed utterly without debt, paid for with cash; this money was carefully set aside over the course of four years. And barring any drastic change in public finance (more about Doug Bruce's latest proposal for a constitutional amendment next week), we have sufficient funds to operate the greatly expanded library district as well.

The project came in $300,000 under budget and on time. Even US West, at the end, did right by us, jumping in to get our connections wired before we opened. (A thanks to Kevin Watkins and Kim McCann, our technical staff, for the many miles of wiring INSIDE the building, too.)

Of course, most of the above is what we SAID we would do. We knew we had the ability to pull it off.

Nonetheless, one of the things that awed me was the sheer breadth and depth of all that human talent, culminating in a new public library. Competence is alive in the world.

The other thing that got to me was that the combined civic benevolence of Douglas County citizens has now offered to Highlands Ranch, as it did to Castle Rock, Parker, and Lone Tree, a place where its citizens, of all ages, can gather to dream, to seek solace, to build both community and individual character.

For a moment, walking through the library last Saturday and its estimated crowd of 5,000 souls, I could see the human face of the future. It looked good.

Wednesday, July 12, 2000

July 12, 2000 - Leadership Douglas County

[This week's library column is from Claudine Perrault, manager of our Lone Tree Library. - Jamie LaRue]

On my report cards from grade school, teachers used letter codes as a simple way to share observations they had about each student, such as, "P" for "Plays well with others" or, "O" for "Outstanding Achievement in this subject." Every semester I received an "L" at the bottom of my report card, which was the code for "Demonstrates Leadership Potential."

Of course, this pleased my parents tremendously. They figured, with my grades and those comments, I would surely grow up to be a leader who made a difference. At the time, it didn't occur to either of them that my 'potential' might find its expression as a community leader.

Last Fall, my employer sent me a flyer about a new program being offered to Douglas county residents with an interest in learning more about county issues, and finding ways to make a positive difference. Although I am not a resident, it made a lot of sense for me to apply to the program, since I am employed as a public library manager in the county, working with the residents of Lone Tree and Acres Green. I could certainly do a better job at managing my branch, if I understood the issues and concerns my customers faced every day.

With the time and tuition dollar support of my organization, I applied and was accepted into the intensive 10-month leadership development program, called Leadership Douglas County. One day each month, I joined 20 other trainees to hear lectures on a single issue, then participate in panel discussions.

Our group set out to learn the give-and-take between county issues and agencies: city and county governments, transportation management, open space, education, water rights, art & culture opportunities, healthcare and public safety, and offices of economic development.

It's difficult to disassemble all the mechanisms that make a county tick, but we worked hard to identify and understand them. Sound easy? In many ways, it was. We put a lot of our program training to work in order to see the big picture and recognize the subtleties within each part.

In the end, I learned that there are so many interesting ways to make a difference. Throughout Douglas County, there are community groups quietly deciding how your resources are being managed. Some of them have leaders with vision and managers who keep everyone on task - others may need the attention of a few good volunteers.

Well, here we come! There's a graduating leadership class mobilized to get involved. Thoughtfully. In fact, at the date of this paper's publication, I will be formally graduating along with my fellow Leadership Douglas County trainees near beautiful Cherokee Ranch.

If I may take the liberty of giving letter codes to my fellow trainees, I would say that besides your clear earning of the letter "O", you guys all deserve a big, fat "P". And everyone gets an "L" for Leadership.

However, mine will be on double duty, as I'll be using my "L" for both Community and Library Leadership.

Claudine Perrault is a member of Leadership Douglas County, an innovative 1-year program that develops leaders for effective community service. If you would like to make a difference in Douglas County, submit an application to LDC at the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce.

Wednesday, July 5, 2000

July 5, 2000 - The Future of the Book Revisited

I keep coming back to this subject: the future of the book. Why?

For one thing, it's because books are so important to me. I care about what might happen to and with them.

For another, books are a big part of our business -- still somewhere around 85% of everything that people check out.

For yet another, in at least one area, I'm seeing a decline in the use of books. Just 5 years ago, a good 7 out of 10 reference questions got answered from print sources. Now at least that many get answered through electronic resources, either commercial, or free on the web. That's a trend, and I'm supposed to keep track of things like that.

But the factor I'd like to explore this week is the changing marketplace, particularly in the area of e-books and handheld devices.

Most people who have instinctive resistance to the idea of electronic books start in the same place. They like the smell of books, the high definition of typography, the feel of paper and buckram bindings. None of these things survives the translation to LCD screen.

As I've written before, the beauty of the book is that it employs "surface technology" -- you don't need anything but one working hand and eye to use it. (In a pinch, you might also need a candle and matches.) The batteries never go dead. You don't need plugs.

Books, particularly paperbacks, are light, portable, and relatively cheap.

I'll admit that something like a handheld computer -- even my own Palm Pilot -- is dependent on batteries. It's also handy to have a stylus around -- the "pen" used to navigate and write things down.

Yet it is also very portable -- more portable than a paperback, because I can strap the Palm Pilot right onto my belt. And given sufficient storage space or memory, I can cram more books into such a device than I can fit in a backpack, briefcase, or suitcase.

Recently I sent Holly Deni, my Associate Director for Support Services, off to a conference with a Rocket eBook -- an electronic book reader slightly smaller than a hardback book.

She returned a convert. Despite the fact that the resolution on the screen is not as good as ink on paper, there were many advantages. She could set the book down and just touch it to turn the page; she didn't have to hold it open. Because the screen is backlit, she could read it in the dark. With four or five books in one small package, she found it easier to carry books around with her. Bottom line: she read more, with less hassle.

Some libraries have played with offering Rocket eBook services: check out a device with the Romance or Mystery package preinstalled, and have a lovely vacation!

Lately, I've been experimenting with my little organizer. I've got the older version, so can't squeeze much into it. But at www.memoware.com I found all kinds of free texts to download, many of the them from the Gutenberg Project. I've got the whole Tao te Ching on my Palm Pilot now. I also found a couple of free programs that let me do most of what I can do with a Rocketbook -- CSpotRun (from www.palmgear.com) and Peanut Reader (from www.peanutpress.com).

I also discovered a terrific utility on the web that lets you type in a URL (web location) and in just a few moments, get the Palm version of the page sitting on your desktop (pilot.screwdriver.net). This is a great way to grab, for instance, what's up at the library this week (douglas.lib.co.us/calendar.html).

To my surprise, yes, I can read quite comfortably, even on my tiny little screen. The device disappears. I focus on the content.

The library is a subscriber to netLibrary, which puts many current books online (although we've so far stuck to non-fiction). You have to be on the web to use it, but you get the full text of a book, with pictures, tables of contents, and indexes. To date, few of our patrons have used it. They will, though, maybe when we find a better way to move the text from the web to some more portable device.

I still don't think that ebooks will run print out of business. Each has its uses, its niche.

It's clear that ebooks, both the content and the devices, are finally finding their markets. Ultimately, it all goes back to this: if the ebook makes it easier for people to read, more convenient or more likely, then I'm all for it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2000

June 28, 2000 - US West Troubles

It's easy to get hooked.

Ask anybody who used to be on a party line. At first, a phone was just a sort of insurance policy, a hedge against disaster -- a fire, a medical emergency. Then it became a convenience. Then, people learned they could listen in on community gossip. Before long, it got easier and easier to stay on the line.

Eventually, the infrastructure got big enough, got sophisticated enough, to let everyone have a private phone line, to the general impoverishment of the rumor mill.

These days, not only do most people have private phones, they have multiple personal phones: cell phones, faxes, pagers, wireless Internet connections, and on and on.

You've seen them, parading their dependencies on the highway. I've sat next to people in restaurants who shouted at their phones all through lunch. I read in Dear Abby about a guy who carried his cell phone conversation into the men's room and back.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat in front of a woman whose cell phone went off during the middle of a play. The same night, another guy had the semi-conscious decency to make his call from the back of the theater.

US West is clearly doing a booming business. At least once or twice a week, I get a come-on for some service -- a new line at home, a new service at work.

That's one of the things that frustrates me. The Douglas Public Library District, fairly frequently, orders some of these services. They're not cheap, either. We spend roughly $50,000 a year with US West.

But that's not what frustrates me. What frustrates me is the apparent inability of US West to reliably deliver on the day they told us we could have it the same service they so aggressively marketed.

To be fair, on two occasions they have in fact showed up on the day they said they would, and done the job we paid them for: the installation of a new T-1 line. I'm grateful. Really.

I wish it happened more often. At our Parker Library, some years ago now, we let US West know, weekly, that we were closing our old branch and moving to a new location. We needed a new digital line to replace the old one, a line running to our Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. And every week, for the six months we did this, we were assured that everything was in order, confirmed and scheduled.

Until, of course, the day that the installation was to happen. Then, we were informed that no such order record existed in the system. Did we wish to place an order?

After some six hours of calls routed to Minnesota (for my convenience, I was told), somebody finally showed up -- with orders to connect the new library to the library we had just moved out of. It took another couple of hours to straighten that out, and a much harried but intelligent installer finally got the job done. Actual work time: 20 minutes.

The kicker to the story is that I got a very polite call, some three weeks later, asking me if I could please tell him just what, exactly, US West had done for us. My response was a model of self-restraint.

My frustration now concerns Highlands Ranch. We let US West know, once again well in advance of our need, that we wanted a T-1 line. We took the date they gave us, then tried to work, quietly, to move the date up, in order to check in the tens of thousands of books that have to be processed before we can open our new library. I didn't have much hope for that, but we tried. We failed.

Then the original day for installation came and ... surprise! Their system now shows at least two installation dates, one of them a month after the library opens. The one thing I do not want, although I've heard several entertaining if convoluted attempts to give one, is an explanation.

In brief, we are dependent on certain services -- checkout stations, Internet terminals, etc. These services, in turn, are all dependent upon US West. There is no alternative provider. The library district is paying people who cannot do essential library tasks because the phone company can't or won't install the service it sold us. Again.

It's easy to get hooked. It sure is hard to get hooked up.