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, 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 weĆ­re 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.