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.