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, 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.

Wednesday, June 21, 2000

June 21, 2000 - Highlands Ranch Grand Opening

As you may have seen in one of our press releases, the Highlands Ranch Library that has been operating from the storefront on West Springer Drive closed on June 12, 2000. It will reopen at its new location (9292 Ridgeline, south of the Safeway shopping center at Highlands Ranch Parkway and Broadway) on July 15. Our Grand Opening begins sharply at noon.

First up will be a round of short speeches. We'll hear from Maren Francis, President of the Board of Trustees. State Senator John Evans, a long time library friend, will be there. Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover Bookstore, will also speak. (Her first bookstore, incidentally, was right here in Douglas County.) Our Master of Ceremonies is the well-known Ed Greene, of Channel 9 News.

After several public "commencement exercises," our patron will have the choice of a variety of activities and diversions, running from noon to 5 p.m.:

-outside, free hot dogs and soft drinks;
-Sneezles the Clown;
-regular guided tours of our stunning new building, using a -new package of "docent" materials;
-hourly puppet shows for the kids in our new children's room, which is, all by itself, almost the size of our old Highlands Ranch Library;
-a Highlands Ranch business expo, up in our new business library on the second floor; and
-many, many more new materials than we could squeeze into the old building.

Then we'll close down for a couple of hours. But come back! From 7 to 10 p.m. we'll have a street dance in the library's parking lot, featuring area favorites, the Nacho Men. Conditions permitting, we may also end the day with a brief show of fireworks.

On Sunday, the following day, we'll resume our normal library hours: noon to five on Sundays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

The opening of this new library, which at 42,000 square feet is over twice the size of our next largest building, is a big deal not only for Highlands Ranch residents, but for the entire Douglas Public Library District. For most of the history of the county's libraries, most of our books have been housed in Castle Rock and Parker. Thanks to our 6 day a week courier system, we've managed to move those books around pretty quickly. But the simple lack of space kept us from keeping up with the demand for new materials where the demand was often greatest.

Now that we've got the space, we will be able to build a high enough item count for each area of county so that the odds of actually finding what you want, right there on the shelf, should go up considerably. This benefits not just the residents of Highlands Ranch, but everyone else in Douglas County.

Aside from the practical benefits of more retail space for library materials, I am most proud of what many players have managed to accomplish together.

Highlands Ranch has seen residential development. In more recent years, it has also seen commercial development. As the first public building in the new Town Center, the library sets some expectations for what is to follow for all CIVIC structures.

We were fortunate in this endeavor to have access to some of the best thinking of our community. Thoughtful people from Shea Homes, the HRCA Design Review Committee, the Highlands Ranch Metropolitan District, not to mention our own library Board, and the experience of our staff, all contributed to a place that defines a new phase of development.

I'm particularly grateful for the hard work and intelligence that all of our Highlands Ranch Library staff have put into the complex job of getting the new building ready for business.

It takes about two years to build a great library: a year to think it all through, and a year to build it. I'm pleased to report that the project is coming in well under budget, due in part to many donors, whose contributions will be recognized in the building.

But I'm most pleased about something else: we're not just building a library, we're building a community. And I can think of no more tangible sign of a community's commitment to culture, its consciousness of the past, and its commitment to the future, than the opening of a library.

Wednesday, June 14, 2000

June 14, 2000 - Kids and Guns

It's one of my earliest memories. I was four years old. It was a late summer afternoon, and I was playing in my front yard. By and by, I saw the paper boy approach, and waved at him.

I had always kind of admired our paper boy. His name was Robert Lindbergh. He was about 13, and he lived just down the street from me.

Now you have to understand that in those days my most prominent feature was my ears. Since then, I've grown into them, much the way a puppy grows into its paws. But back then I was often described, not kindly, as a "taxicab with both doors open."

On this particular day, Lindbergh saw me, then reached into his pocket. He pulled out a switchblade, and flicked it open. With an evil grin, he said, "I'm gonna cut your ears off!"

I don't think I wet my pants. But I do remember going rigid with terror. He strutted right in front of the house, tossed the paper onto our porch, and ... passed on. Then he stopped and looked at me again over his shoulder. "Yep. Tomorrow. I'm gonna cut your ears off."

This scene repeated itself over the course of several weeks. It gave me nightmares. Sometimes I'd hide from him. Sometimes I'd jump up and run into the house as soon as I saw him. But every time he saw me, he'd flick his switchblade and say, "I'm gonna cut your ears off."

Then, one day, I got an idea. I remembered that my father had a shotgun in his closet. So about an hour before the paper came one day, I fetched the gun, and set it alongside the porch. Then I sat there, waiting.

Finally, Lindbergh came into view. Like playing some well-rehearsed role, he snapped open the switchblade. I watched him calmly. He came just to the end of our walk and said, "I'm gonna cut your ears off."

I picked up my father's gun. I pointed it at the paper boy. "I'm gonna shoot your head off," I said.

Lindbergh turned white. He dropped his papers. After a moment of agonizing indecision, he turned and ran.

I sat there on the porch for about half an hour, just me and the gun and the scattered pile of papers. Then I put my dad's gun back in the closet.

Not long after that, my father abruptly came home early from work and consulted my mother. He went into his room, came out with the gun, and left again.

Later that night, my mother asked me if I had pointed a gun at the Lindbergh boy. I said I had. "Why?" she asked. "Because he said he was going to cut my ears off with a knife."

Well, I never saw that gun again. I never saw Lindbergh's switchblade again, either. He was still our paper boy, but he wouldn't talk to me anymore.

Incidentally, I believe he grew up to be a nice guy. Like another Lindbergh, he took up flying. I seem to recall that he was one of the youngest people ever to get a license to fly a plane. Fifteen, I think.

I think I grew up OK, too.

There are lots of things I wonder about now. Why didn't I ever tell my parents that I was being terrorized? For that matter, how was a four year old able to sit on the porch for an hour and a half, with a shotgun, and nobody noticed?

I don't remember. Lindbergh was just one of the many incomprehensible monsters of childhood. To the grown-ups, I'm sure I was just playing in the front yard, in what they truly believed to be a perfectly safe neighborhood. My parents weren't neglectful, they were just busy with their own stuff.

Why did I think of the gun in the first place? I suspect I got the idea from Westerns. Pretty much every night, on our little black and white TV, we watched Gunsmoke, or Gunslinger, or The Rebel, or Bonanza, or Have Gun Will Travel, or the Lone Ranger, or Roy Rogers. I had a pair of cowboy boots, some toy guns, and a cowboy hat. The good guys, when times got tough, took action. Superior firepower seemed to help.

Was the gun loaded? I don't know. I don't think so. My dad used to hunt, and was pretty careful about things like that.

What does all this have to do with librarianship? Well, some 42 years later, I find that I am again noticing a connection between kids and guns and newspapers and graphic media. One of the tasks of libraries is to connect people with relevant information about topics of interest. Through professional channels, I recently came across the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse's "Kids and Guns" report, available online at http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org/pubs/violvict.html#178994, a website of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The site contains a wealth of data.

A press release about this report notes that "While other types of homicides have remained constant, the number of juveniles killed with a firearm increased greatly between 1987 and 1993."

When it comes to facts like these, I'm all ears.

Wednesday, June 7, 2000

June 7, 2000 - The Fourth Turning

One of the most interesting things about my job is the opportunity to observe the interests of a rapidly growing group of people -- the library patrons of Douglas County.

Another interesting thing is the opportunity to poke through our rapidly growing collection. Two of the books on tape I've recently listened to have given me some new ways of looking at our community's behavior.

The first book is "The Fourth Turning," by Strauss and Howe. The authors of a previous book called "Generations," Strauss and Howe have done something unusual: based on their reading of historical patterns, they make some sweeping predictions about America's near future, through about 2020.

Their theory is that there are just four basic generational types. These types follow each other in strict sequence. They can also be described archetypically: the Nomad, the Hero, the Artist, and the Prophet.

To roll this back a cycle: the Nomads were the Lost Generation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's time, the Heroes were the GI Generation, the Artists (or the Silent Generation) were the children born and raised during the second World War, and the Prophets were the Baby Boom generation. The next Nomads the press labels Generation X. Among us now is a new Hero generation, the Millennials.

Added to the mix is the fact that there are four basic phases of life: childhood, young adulthood, mid-life, and elder. Every time the generational cycle rotates through these life phases, you get a "turning."

Strauss and Howe call our current time an "unraveling." We have the process-sensitive Silent Generation moving into elderhood, the self-absorbed and moralistic Boomers in mid-life, the survivalist Gen X'ers in young adulthood, and the good scout Millennials in childhood. Despite the fact that crime is falling, the economy good, and children fairly well protected (relative to the upbringing of the Gen X'ers, for instance), there's a general sense that our public institutions are not well respected. Public debate is mean-spirited and fractious.

Most of our institutions, public and private, never really recovered from the 60's and 70's. It's all about niche marketing, now.

But come the next turning, we will find ourselves in the same generational line-up that preceded the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II. The combination of generational predilections is mobilized for Great Deeds: take-no-prisoners elders, can-do mid-life leaders, competent and highly cooperative young adults, and a new generation, yet unnamed, of children expected to stay out of harm's way. And with that turning, we'll find our nation once again seeking, and finding, common ground, common purpose.

This isn't all good news. Strauss and Howe predict the Crisis no sooner than 2005, no later than 2020. If it's war, my son may be a soldier, something no parent can contemplate without anxiety.

Yet I see some distinct changes in Douglas County. In our libraries, I see much evidence of increasing community cohesion. Our writers are finding each other. Our readers are forming book discussion groups. There is a surge of youth groups pursuing highly organized activities, with dedicated adults. We are moving away from exclusively individual, and sometimes contrary, pursuits and toward rich group interaction to accomplish shared purposes. People want to build something together.

I think Strauss and Howe are right.

The second book I listened to recently was Viktor E. Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning." Frankl was a concentration camp survivor. He survived, in fact, four concentration camps. The odds of such a thing were 1 in 28. Frankl endured through starvation, appalling sanitary conditions, rampant disease, extremes of weather and labor, and torture.

His book describes the psychological stages of the concentration camp victim. From his experiences, and those of others, Frankl put together the third school of Viennese psychiatry: logotherapy. Ultimately, Frankl's theory is that people survive and thrive if they find meaning in their lives.

Even in the worst circumstances, and it doesn't get any worse than a concentration camp, human beings can live rich and meaningful lives. And even in cushy circumstances, some human beings despair. The difference between people, then, is not outward conditions. It is meaning.

In the same growing community I mentioned above -- of people coming together to discuss things of substance, to take the first, tentative steps to rebuilding institutions to serve important social purposes -- I see what may be a profound challenge to our times.

Right now, Americans are first and foremost consumers, judged and judging others on the basis of possessions, including the stock portfolios that enable such obsession. Do we have values? Sure. Property values.

Come the fourth turning, we may need something deeper than that.