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

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

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

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, July 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.