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 26, 2001

December 26, 2001 - thank you

Thank-you For Your Patronage & Best Wishes for 2002

After over 25 years of working in libraries, I've made an important discovery. Our key asset isn't buildings or books. Those things are important -- even very important.

But even more important is staff. Even if a library's buildings and books are nothing to shout about, good people can make you glad you stopped by.

We have many beautiful library buildings in Douglas County. And we're getting to the point where our collections are impressive. But our core strength is, and remains, the people who work here.

Every week, I have I have the remarkable opportunity to tell our citizens whatever I'm thinking about. This week, I asked my staff what THEY would like to tell the public. Here’s a sample of what I got, and it goes a long way to explain the high regard I have for library staff.

"Thank you for letting us be a part of your communities, and for letting us share in a bit of your life ... I would also like to thank you for your support of our staff, and wish you peace, health and happiness in the coming year." -Peg Hooper, Louviers and Roxborough

"I want to thank the people of Castle Rock for welcoming me into their community this year. I moved here in July, and already I feel like this place is home. Working at the library has given me the chance to meet so many people, and I'm looking forward to meeting even more in 2002!" -Spring Lea Boehler, Philip S. Miller

"We now have a considerable DVD collection, cataloged and ready for checkout (with more titles being added daily)!"- Kathy North, Technical Services

"If I could say just one thing to patrons it would be how much fun it is to serve them and how fun it is to be with their children. There are so many ways that they enrich all of us that work hard to do story times/puppet shows, programs, and of course, help them with those homework assignments. I just hope that they’ll come in OFTEN!!!!" -
Carol Wagstaff, Highlands Ranch

"I would like to thank all the Parker area parents for bringing their wonderful children to Parker storytime. I thank the parents for their gift of time and sharing the love of books with their children."- Lisa Tatangelo, Parker

"Please extend a thanks to the patrons who unselfishly share a smile or their enthusiasm for a novel they are returning with a recommendation. Also thanks to the parents of small children who share their excitement over their child learning to read their very first book! It is a wonderful part of the job. Also let them know we appreciate their patience when we are trying to provide that special service to the person ahead of them in line!" - Joanie Mack, Parker

"This is a brief greeting to the people of Douglas County. Thanks for all your questions. Keep them coming in 2002. You make my job very interesting!" - Deb Margeson, Lone Tree

This last one sums up my views as well: "Thank you for your patronage and friendship! Best wishes for a wonderful 2002!" Connie Smith, Highlands Ranch

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

December 19, 2001 - Library Card, A Gift Suitable for all Ages

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.

Note: all Douglas Public Library District libraries will be closed on
December 25. We will also be closing at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

December 12, 2001 - I Dreamt Last Night That I Flew

I dreamt last night that I flew.

Not in a plane. I just leapt into the air and soared. I lifted over forests of oak. I sniffed in the smell of old leaves. I could tell that I was in river country, in that last crook of the land before it opened its arms to the Lake.

The season was that heartrending transition just after the fall ends, and just before the first hard snow. The time was early evening; the light steady and grey.

A moment later, I topped a crest, and was viewing the snow-capped Colorado Rockies.

As suddenly, I was moving through the depths of the ocean. The giveaway: a 20 foot fish, tranquil and exotic.

As is often the case in dreams, I never questioned any of this. I felt only a mild astonishment, first, that I was once again able to fly, and, second, that the planet to which I was born was so achingly lovely.

I love flying dreams. It's been far too many years since I last had one.

This one may trace its cause to a recent discussion my wife and I had about such dreams. She advanced the altogether charming idea that humans are not descended from apes, but from birds. How else to explain, she wondered, the deep knowledge of precisely what it feels like to rise and swoop?

If this is so, I WANT MY WINGS BACK.

I used to collect stories about flying dreams. I'm fascinated by how people do it.

I myself fly in several ways. The first time I dreamt of flying, it was the simple consequence of gravity cutting out. I just ... fell up. Most frequently, I swim through the air, pushing back with my hands, kicking with my legs.

One time, I had a flying stick. I either had to hang from it by my arms, try to sit astride it, or balance precariously, as if on a too thin swing. In another one-timer, I remember lining up my knuckles to a night sky constellation, and being yanked right outside the atmosphere, many miles above the spinning globe.

The past several times, I seem to fly by sheer force of personality. I have some kind of psychic wings, and simply by a tilt of the will, I hover, dive, or sail.

Another potential cause of the dream is the fact that I've given myself permission, just lately, to do something that has been ludicrously rare in my life these past months. It amazes me how hard I have to work to find the time, but I've made the time. Yes, this librarian has been doing the unthinkable. I have been reading.

How wonderful, on these cold weekends, to snuggle deep into my plaid flannel pj's, to mound up the pillows, to open the slats of the blinds over my bed, and to feel myself hurled up into the strong winds of an author's imagination.

I ignore the clock. I let the phone ring. Frankly, I just can't work up any of the enthusiasm I know I'm supposed to feel for the usual concerns of life.

I'm READING, dammit. It can wait. Don't bother me. I'm busy.

I'm flying.

Wednesday, December 5, 2001

December 5, 2001 - Learning & Leisure

Last week I talked about two of the concepts behind the library's new mission statement: building communities, and improving lives.

The rest of the mission statement focuses on three other things: "providing resources" and "supporting learning and leisure."

Public library "resources" means two things. The first is library materials. That consists of books, magazines and newspapers, audiovisual media, Internet access and commercial databases. Most of these materials are produced by mainstream publishers. We also make an effort to sample some of the offerings on the fringe. Why? Because that's where many of the big new ideas come from.

Mostly, "people" means library staff. Clearly, that includes the folks who work the circulation desk, the reference desk, and the children's desk. It also includes the many staff members behind the scenes. The public may never talk to them, but no library can get by without them. We need staff trainers, we need people to build and maintain our website, to order and catalog library materials, to pay the bills, to
look after our buildings, and so on.

But there's another dimension to "people as resources." Our patrons come to the library to find answers. Sometimes, the fastest way to provide that answer is to refer our patrons to somebody else. That might mean a phone call to somebody we just happen to know who has the necessary expertise. It might mean a referral to another agency, either local, or beyond.

So that says WHAT we do. Now we get to the WHY. The Library Board has identified two purposes: learning and leisure. The order is important.

Learning is both formal (part of some structured program, whether public or private education) or independent (serving a unique, individual purpose). While we don't have the direct connection to, for example, local school curricula, guess where Douglas County students go to do their homework? We also serve many homeschoolers, either as their whole curriculum, or as a supplment.

Similarly, we don't currently coordinate our collections with the coursework offered by Arapahoe Community College, or any of the Denver universities. But again, our library is often the first stop of those students. They place a demand on us, and we do try to meet it.

One of the buzzwords in formal education these days is distance education. People may live in Douglas County, but attend correspondence school either through the mail, or via the Internet. The library supports these functions, too, either through our collection, Interlibrary Loan, or through the provision of free Internet access.

The independent support goes back to something that used to be talked about a lot in the early days of librarianship. The public library is "the People's University." It just might be that the best, most comprehensive and incisive education is entirely self-paced. It depends upon just two things -- the willingness to make the time, and a source of sufficient supply. We can't help you with the first. We can and do
provide the second.

How does one become truly educated? Here's my answer: through sustained reading. (Incidentally, that kind of reading probably WON'T happen at a computer terminal. Computer screens are just too hard on the eyes.)

I have several college degrees, but I consider my true alma mater to be the library. I haven't graduated, though. God willing, I never shall. (As Groucho Marx once said, "I intend to live forever, or die trying." I would append this fervent prayer: "May I read as long as I live, and live as long as I read.")

Now for "leisure." Today, many of our patrons see us as a mental recreation center. They come to us for entertainment, meaning that they read, or listen, or view, library materials for diversion. That isn't to belittle either that need, or our role fulfilling it. Much of our culture started out or remains as popular entertainment. Sometimes it
grows deeper, sometimes not.

But in either case, the library as a resource for one's leisure time speaks to an important issue: quality of life. Never underestimate the power of pleasure.

At any rate, this completes my explication of our new mission statement.
In weeks to come, I'll talk about something else: our 7 Key Directions for the library.

And here's that mission statement again, just as a reference: "The Douglas Public Library District provides resources to support learning and leisure to build communities and improve lives in Douglas County."

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

November 28, 2001 - New Mission Statement Reflects Connection to Community

There's something called the Fog Index. It's a simple calculation, applied to text, that tells you how complicated your writing is. In brief, when a sentence runs longer than 20 words, you start to lose people.

Back in October, the library's Board of Trustees held a long range planning retreat. One of their outcomes was a new library mission statement.

Mission statements have a faintly Dilbertish air these days. You have to brace yourself for pseudo-statements packed with whatever management buzzwords are making the rounds these days. But we tried to use several tests on our statement.

1. We wanted it to be clear. It should tell people not just WHAT the library does (provide library staff, materials and facilities), but WHY.

2. We wanted it to be brief enough for our staff to remember. (That's the Fog Index idea again.)

3. We wanted to capture the real thrust of our services at this time in our history.

All this followed some previous exercises. We listed some ideas for where we wanted to be in five years. We talked frankly about what we saw as our strengths and weaknesses. We talked about likely opportunities and threats facing the library. We gathered the perspectives not only of the Board, but of staff, of local media, and of other governmental entities in the county.

Two ideas emerged from this discussion. The first was the importance, especially post Sept. 11, of "building community." But in fact, we've been doing that for some time.

Douglas County's rapid growth over the past ten years has two sides to it. The first side is that growth brings many good things: new amenities, higher property values, more choices closer to home.

But it also means that there's an influx of people with no connection to each other. They still drive up to Denver, or down to Colorado Springs, for work. Often, they barely have time to drive home at the end of the day, eat, spend a little time with the family, and go to bed. They didn't grow up here, have family here, have friends here from before.

Yet the thirst for community remains, an essential human need.

Some people form community connections through their children. They discover 4H. They get involved in the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Or they volunteer at their neighborhood schools. Or they become sport gypsies, joining the minivan and SUV caravans around the metro area.

Some turn to such community staples as churches, finding their strongest connections through rituals reflecting common beliefs.

Some build community around their business life. They delve into the Chamber of Commerce, join leads groups, and so get pulled into the community volunteerism upon which so many groups depend.

Others join recreation centers, finding allies in the struggle against cellulite. Most rare are the people drawn to directly participate in formal government: town meetings, boards and commissions.

Library people have seen for some time how a new library building energizes an area. It pulls people out of their homes and into a place that offers them so many opportunities to connect. There are are hundreds of programs for both children and adults. There are book discussion groups. There are the many, many community meetings every night, most of them open to the public. And there are the people, often eager to strike up a conversation, who hang around the same favorite sections of the library.

A second thrust of our planning was the fact that many people use the library to reinvent themselves. New parents come in to find information to make them better parents. Some people are going back to school as adults -- or retooling after a layoff. Others are negotiating such life changes as dealing with a serious illness, or retirement.

All of these people have something in common: they are working to improve their own lives. They see the library not just as an end in itself, some kind of abstract "good thing," but as a means to the betterment of the quality of their lives.

At any rate, here's our new mission statement. I offer it for your review and comment:

The Douglas Public Library District provides resources for learning and leisure to build communities and improve lives in Douglas County.

Next week I'll have a little more to say about "learning and leisure."

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

November 21, 2001 - Survey a Treasure for Library Planning

A couple of weeks ago, we asked everybody coming in to the library to fill out a brief survey.

We tested all library hours - morning, afternoon, evening, and weekend. To our great pleasure, we got over 700 responses in just a few days. In the jargon of data gathering, this is enough to be statistically significant, truly representative of the people we serve.

We learned some interesting things. First, some demographics. The most striking figure here relates to gender. Roughly 70% of our patrons are female; 30% are male. That matches our library cards registration. The mean age of our patrons is 39, and that person has lived in Douglas County for 7.72 years.

We asked how many of our patrons had various pieces of technology. A whopping 87% of our patrons have Internet access at home. 82% of them have a cassette player in their car, and 66.2% have a CD player in their car. Douglas County, incidentally, can hardly be said to be typical of the rest of the state.

Less pervasive are other emerging technologies: just 43.5% have DVD players, and a paltry 15.2% have MP3 players. Here too, though, we are no doubt ahead of the curve.

Then we asked how satisfied people were with our collection, our inventory of library holdings. By combining responses to Very satisfied, Satisfied, and Somewhat Satisfied, we get the following satisfaction ranking:

* Online databases - 96.9%
* Reference - 96.2%
* New materials -94.8%
* Books on tape - 93.8%
* Video tapes - 89.6%
* Older materials - 73.3%
* Children's materials - 66.9%
* Magazines and newspapers - 62.1%
* Music (whether on cassette or CD) - 37.8%

Then we asked people how satisfied they were with the quality of our various services. Here’s the ranking of those, again by combined total of “satisfieds.”

* Staff - 98%
* Reference staff - 98%
* Computer catalog - 97.3%
* Adult programs - 96%
* Hours - 95.3%
* Facilities (study,meeting) - 95.1%
* Children's staff - 94.7%
* DPLD website - 94.5%
* PR info about the library - 94.4%
* Children's programs - 51.1%
* Teen programs - 27.5%

It’s worth noting here that in the case of children’s programming, only 52 of our population responded to the question at all. For teen programs, only 29.5% marked it. In other words, those who used it, were satisfied. (This applies to several of the collection areas, too.)

Finally, we asked, "How important are these services to you personally?" These are the top 19 services, ranked in order of “votes,” that people put in the top five of their most important.

* Staff assistance/reference
* New materials/best sellers
* Children's materials
* Older materials
* Reference materials
* Video tapes
* Staff assistance/youth
* Books on tape
* Magazines and newspapers
* Website
* Family programs
* Catalog
* Facilities
* Databases
* Community/government info
* Music
* Adult education programs
* PR info
* Library staff active outside the library

So in broad terms, we have close to a 90% approval rating for most of our collection, especially when matched to the folks who are interested in those collections. The key exception is music, the ONLY category of our collection in which dissatisfaction rises above 10% (all the way to 70%, in fact).

Regarding our services generally, the clear winner is staff, at a 98% satisfaction level. (Thank you, staff!) The only areas where we fall below 50% satisfaction (teen and children’s programming), satisfaction ratings almost exactly match the number of people who were interested in the service to begin with.

It’s worth highlighting that despite today’s buzz about technology, the greatest single value of the library to our patrons is people, the extraordinary folks who staff our facilities. AFTER staff, people ask for materials, most of which, incidentally, are books. But it’s also clear that there is a distinct and growing interest in other formats. Finally, a few caveats. There's a difference between "very satisfied,"and "somewhat satisfied." So even in those areas where the library "scored" very well, we still have some work to do. Also, this survey only measures the opinions of those who use the library. We're working on another survey to find out more about those who don't.

The library has been working on a new long range plan. This information provides valuable insights into where we are, what our patrons think of our offerings, and where we need to go next.

I want to thank all the patrons who took five minutes to give us such a treasure trove of planning information. Now ... back to work!

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

November 14, 2001 - Character Revisited

I was born and raised in the north. So I talk, and mostly think, northern. Both my parents, though, come from the south. So my family has both types.

Of particular fascination to me is the Southern Woman. By turns brilliant and bitter, demure and demonic, she bewitches and bewilders. I've seen southern women transform from a ruthless roomful of incisive social critics to a bevy of giggling belles, and in just the instant it takes for a man to walk through the door.

And God help the man. Make no mistake, the South is a matriarchy. But men do have their small sorties and rebellions. I'm thinking about all this because I have been afforded a rare opportunity. A year ago, I had the pleasure of appearing in the play, "Greater Tuna," with my friend and cohort, David Truhler. It's a farce set in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas.

Between the two of us, we portrayed some 20 characters, most of the population of Tuna. I played two women; David played three. All of them were Southern Ladies, with that Texas twist. One of my female characters, Bertha, is a would-be censor of library books.

Well, it happens that we're reprising the play again this year, as a fundraiser for the Castle Rock Players. You can get tickets by calling 303-814-7740. Our shows, in Castle Rock, are Thursday through Saturday, 7:30 p.m., a matinee on Saturday at 12:30, and a Sunday performance at 4 p.m. All of them take place at Kirk Hall, at the Douglas County fairgrounds. The cost is $15 per ticket.

Actors rarely have the chance to reprise previous parts. I'm finding that the second shot is instructive. The characters have grown in my imagination. I feel that I have more insight into their deep motives, their longings and their disappointments.

They now feel to me not like skits, or gags. They feel like whole people.

It's made me realize just how much life, and reading, is like acting.

All of us have selves: the work self, the family self. Or maybe it's the public self and the private self. That self is made manifest by the choices we make: how we dress, how we carry ourselves, the patterns of our speech and gestures.

In short, we present a character to the world. That character is intelligible—or not. If the character has clarity of choice, a consistency of presentation, it is comprehensible. If the character behaves so randomly that it cannot be predicted or grasped, then it doesn't feel like a character at all.

Likewise, character is a trap—or not. If it hems us in with an ever smaller set of responses, in the name of tradition, of consistency, of social expectation, it is a kind of jail cell.

On the other hand, if the character allows us the full range of our emotions and intelligence, if it has the ability to change, then that character is a stage, like the stage of a rocket.

It's like going back to a library book you read and liked, and this time, with a year's extra experience, getting more out of every page.

There is a value in re-reading. There is a value in revisiting a character you have played before. And there is a value in seeing a play you have seen before.

I hope to see you at Kirk Hall.

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

October 24, 2001 - Pioneering Librarians

Recently I attended a lecture by a library professor. I had the pleasure of sitting next to the delightful Virginia Boucher. "Ginnie," as she is known to her many friends and admirers, lives in Boulder, but has a more local connection. She attended library school, and was dear friends, with Genevieve ("Nicky") Mead, one of the true founders of Douglas County's libraries.

Ginnie is another pioneer. She was one of a handful of people who invented something librarians call Eye-Ell-Ell (ILL) -- InterLibrary Loan.

People today now have grown used to the extraordinary openness of libraries, especially in Colorado. These days, librarians take it for granted that if our patrons request something we don't have, we have simple options. We jump on our computers, and find out who's got it, and whether or not it's on the shelf. If the item is nearby, we can send the patrons over to pick it up from another library. If that's inconvenient, we request that the owning library send it over to us FOR our patron.

In either case, there is no cost to the patron. (Rarely, an out of state library will charge some nominal fee for shipping.) Libraries cooperate.

But this was not always so. For many years, libraries hoarded their treasures, particularly at the university level. Ginnie was one of the bright young women, just starting their careers, who tackled the task of establishing protocols to enable broader borrowing.

The world of Interlibrary Loan is fraught with jargon and technical issues the general public never hears about. For instance, there's the idea of "load leveling."

In brief, libraries with large collections can quickly find themselves "net lenders" -- sending out far more books than they borrow from other libraries. "Load leveling" tries to distribute the requests (thus the costs) more fairly among participating libraries.

The process can be cumbersome -- and was even more so before computers. The patron would request a title. The information would be typed or written onto a five part form. The form would then begin its long journey: to the first library on the list (by region, for instance). Not there? Then on to the next. They own it, but it's checked out? Wait till it gets back, or move on to the next one?

The amazing thing is not that actually getting the books typically took only 4-6 weeks. What's amazing is that the book showed up at all.

I've heard Ginnie speak several times. A former rock climber, she is still slim and energetic. She retains her forthrightness, her wry humor, and her justifiable if understated pride in her contributions to the establishment of a key library service.

Ginnie is special to me for another reason. I was a colleague of her daughter, Julie Boucher. Julie worked for the state library, and shared with me a keen interest in issues related to censorship. Several years ago, Julie and her husband died in a technical rock climbing accident. Last year, I had the honor of winning the Julie J. Boucher Award for Intellectual Freedom, now known as "the Julie."

There was much that was similar between Ginnie and Julie. Both bright, both with a sense of wiry tensile strength. I got a kick out of the fact that Ginnie pronounced her last name to rhyme with "voucher." Julie pronounced her name to rhyme with "touché." For a long time, I didn't even know they were related.

Librarianship owes its ease of use, its dedication to service, precisely to people like Ginnie and Julie. It's a history worth remembering -- and celebrating.

Wednesday, October 17, 2001

October 17, 2001 - ...If We Only Have the Freedom to Agree, We Have No Freedom at All

I need to correct a news story that came out last week on the front page of the News Press. The facts got badly scrambled.

Three Mideastern men did NOT come to Castle Rock seeking information about the Highlands Ranch water supply.

Shortly before September 11, three men who may have been Mideastern came to the Highlands Ranch Library asking about companies in the Denver area that specialized in desalinization. Desalinization is the process of preparing drinking water from salt water.

I mentioned this to the News Press reporter as evidence of how otherwise innocent behavior can be misinterpreted these days.

Start with September 11. Add to this the recent announcement by top government officials, widely disseminated in the media, that we should all be on the highest possible alert about another terrorist incident. Throw in all the articles and TV shots about biological and bacteriological weapons. It's a potent recipe for hysteria.

So it's not surprising, and may even be commendable, that library staff recalled the question about water treatment as faintly threatening. After comparing notes, we straightened out the story. But for a time, we had an internal rumor.

Clearly, terrorist attacks are all too possible. If library staff have information that might avert another one, we will pass it along to appropriate authorities.

But here's the part that bothers me. Surfing the Internet while Mideastern has somehow become a suspicious activity. In other words, we're all falling into the troublesome practice of "profiling."

Few of us have the savvy to differentiate at a glance among the many ethnic, religious and political factions of the Mideastern world. It can get ludicrous. Hawaiians have been stopped in Montana. In Denver, Sikhs have been threatened. When I lived in Illinois, I employed a gentle and even timid woman whose family had fled from Iran. Are we to lump them all into the same "other?"

Adrenaline is not a judgment enhancing drug.

There are predictable characteristics during times of war. Our country has been attacked; there is a resurgence of national pride. The library district itself, after September 11, looked around and saw that we don't have flagpoles at some of our libraries; we have ordered them.

Some would argue that until recently we have lived in too fractious times: state and federal governments neatly divided by party, "culture wars," vituperative media cockfights between liberals and conservatives, and more. Some coming together, some reunification along core American beliefs, may not be a bad thing.

What are those beliefs? It has to be something more than, "my tribe," the people who happen to live within the same geographic boundaries.

I would argue that the deep meaning of America really is freedom. One dimension of that is economic freedom. It is the story of the immigrant: the one who escapes from the devastation of the Old Country and raises a family whose lives have more security, more abundance, than could have been dreamed of before.

The second kind of freedom is the freedom to dissent. To be a Muslim when surrounded by Christians, a Republican when surrounded by Democrats, to be a member of any actual or virtual minority, and to be able to live in peace, without fear of harassment, incarceration, or physical violence.

I have great respect for President Bush's repeated insistence that we must not repeat the mistakes of earlier generations, the mistake of ethnic scapegoating. But that's one of the other things that happens in times of conflict: fear and misplaced suspicion.

Another one is increasing intolerance for dissent, forgetting that if we only have the freedom to agree, we have no freedom at all.

Wednesday, October 10, 2001

October 10, 2001 - Imam: Attack Brought out Both the Worst, and the Best, of Human Kind

At the same time that the Philip S. Miller Library hosted a talk by a Denver-based Islamic Center leader, the United States attacked Afghanistan.

Imam (or spiritual leader) Kazerooni was very articulate, very clear. He succinctly outlined the beliefs of Islam. He roundly condemned the horror of the terrorist attack, and patiently explained why none of bin Laden's actions (or those of his agents) could be considered the acts of a Muslim.

There were surprising moments of humor in the talk. "Not every Tom, Dick and Harry can declare jihad," he said. He also pointed out that in the Arabic world, "jihad" only rarely refers to military conflict. It is more often used in the context of a "struggle for the sake of God," as in a jihad to support your family, or to study.

Kazerooni also talked about his responsibilities as a spiritual leader. He has contacted the FBI and other authorities to seek guidance: what could he do to help fight potential terrorists? Sadly, he had to contact authorities again when members of his Islamic community found themselves confronted by people threatening to burn down their house to drive them out into the night.

But he also told another story, worth repeating widely. After September 11, he was telephoned by a Denver neighbor. She had lost relatives in the World Trade Center towers. Why was she calling? She had heard, correctly, that Muslims in the neighborhood had been threatened. She was calling to offer her house as shelter for a Muslim family.

Think about that. Imagine that you were a member of a black family, living in the deep South after the Civil War, offering protection to a white family after your own son had been lynched. In both cases, this is an act of profound forgiveness, of deep compassion. It is an act, finally, of the deepest moral courage.

The attack, Kazerooni observed, brought out both the worst, and the best, of human kind.

There is a second issue, however, and it is more difficult. Americans think of themselves as generous and benevolent. This is not, however, always how we are perceived around the world. In the Mideast, in particular, we have been both arms dealer, and the explicit supporter of countless actions in which many innocents have died.

The details, as always, are open to debate. They should be debated. The question, for instance, of the status of Palestinian people, and their treatment, is a legitimate focus of international attention.

But make no mistake. Whatever the supposed cause, terrorism as a strategy is a distinct and separate issue. It must be responded to, fought, eliminated. No nation, no corporation, no faith, no people can offer it succor. Why? Because nations, corporations, faiths, and people are precisely the targets of terrorism. Why sleep with a snake?

I wholly reject the idea that victims are culpable in crimes committed against them by others. On the other hand, I believe victims have a responsibility to seek to ensure that they will not be victimized again. Acts of terrorism cannot be without consequence.

Yet, throughout so much of the aftermath of September 11, two quotes keep coming back to me. The first is from "Fiddler on the Roof," where Tevye responds to the Old Testament's "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," with this: "Very good. Then the whole world will be blind and toothless."

My second quote is from Mohatma Gandhi. "We must BE the light we wish to see in the world."

In dark times, that is an even greater challenge. How should the library respond?

Here's my answer: we should respond with what we do best -- gather, organize and present information to the public. In the weeks and months to come, look for us to build our resources on these topics. Watch, too, for upcoming, county-wide programs on Islam (Imam Kazerooni has agreed to repeat the session), the conditions in Afghanistan, and the history of counter-terrorism efforts.

Wednesday, October 3, 2001

October 3, 2001 - Time for DPLD to Look Forward Again

The Douglas Public Library District was formed, by direct citizen vote, in November of 1990. Before then, we were a county department. Since then, we have been an independent taxing entity, funded largely by property taxes.

In the past ten years, we have gone through two five year plans. We've built libraries, bought books, established services. In 2001, we will check out more than 2.5 million items. In this year alone, we have offered literally thousands of storytimes for children. Tens of thousands of people have attended our programs or held meetings in our facilities.

But now it's time to look forward again. What happens next?

We have gathered a great deal of population data, extrapolated for the next ten years. According to our general standards of space needs (about 1 square foot per capita, half for library space, half for parking and landscaping) we're in good shape in Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock. If the population projections hold true, we'll need another regional library somewhere between Lone Tree and Parker, but we have several years to plan for it.

In short, it seems to me that Phase I of our library district -- the rapid expansion of facilities, the launching of key services, is over. We've done a good job of projecting and managing expenses. We're about where we thought we'd be. Now it's time to tackle Phase II.

But what will that look like? Our need now is not just things. It is people.

Mainly, I've been thinking that it's time to flesh out the staffing of some recently established services. We've run very lean for many years -- part of that aggressive savings program. Now it's time to grow DEEPER into our community.

We've used a phrase the past couple of years that captures what we've been about: "We're not just building libraries. We're building community." Recent library surveys suggested that one of the key patron activities is just that: connecting to the community. People meet friends here, attend meetings, seek referrals to local agencies. Since September 11, this has even greater significance.

But there's a new tension to our mission, as well. The job of the library is to provide public access to the intellectual capital of our culture. To accomplish this, we collect widely: many authors, many formats, many perspectives, many offerings. Historically, the public library is predicated on the individual dignity of inquiry -- the right for anyone, of any age, any background, to ask questions, to explore library offerings, sometimes with the assistance of library staff. That "dignity" also includes patron privacy.

We're entering a time, I believe, when the pressure on that mission will begin to build. Some will seek more information -- on terrorism, on the Middle East, on Islam, for instance. Others will seek to suppress that same information -- as unpatriotic, as discomfiting, as just plain unpleasant. Others will push for ever-greater assurances of protection for children.

Our traditional support for intellectual freedom could easily turn to a push for intellectual conformity, for the illusory security of being always watched.

The public library will be squarely in the middle of that debate: a part of the community, an advocate for information. And our staff will have their own views, as we too are parents, citizens.

In short, the second Phase of the Douglas Public Library District's development will have its challenges. I look forward to your continued participation in our collective story.

Wednesday, September 26, 2001

September 26, 2001 - Religious Fundamentalism or Just Plain Bullying?

The library owns a graphic novel called "My War with Brian," by Ted Rall. It wounds me every time I read it. It's about a boy who got brutally bullied by another boy, all through junior high school. Repeatedly, the victim appealed to his teachers, his principal, and his parents. Nothing worked. Instead, he was left to his own devices, day after day.

Between the end of junior high and the beginning of high school, the victim suddenly grew up, got a big surge of height and muscle. Back at school, when the bully taunted him for the first time that year, something snapped.

The bully was hauled away in an ambulance. That ended the bullying. I have heard stories from several people in the intelligence community about the former USSR's response to terrorists. Like the embassy of the United States, the Soviet embassy in Iran was captured by a violent mob. Unlike us, the Soviets ended it in days. How? By mailing to their captured embassy, in small packages, the severed body parts of terrorists' relatives.

The message was clear: your family has attacked my nation. My nation will now attack your family, and is prepared to match, and exceed, your every barbarism. Moreover, we have resources far greater than yours.

War offers terrible choices. Do you meet terrorism with terror? Will anything else suffice? Does this just breed more of the same? Or to put it another way, how many innocents must die?

Like most Americans, I am outraged by the soul-searing damage inflicted on my country. I am also very troubled by the potential for picking the wrong targets for our grief and rage.

Then, too, I've come to realize that I know very little about the people that may have been responsible for the September 11th attack. The media has declared that this is the work of "Islamic fundamentalists."

We don't know, just yet, if that's so.

But let's say it is. I find that I have a host of questions.

Just what DO Muslims believe?

How many "Islamic fundamentalists" are there? To put it another way, do the followers of Mohammed have as much diversity as the followers of Christ?

Let's be frank: both currently and historically, not only have Christians mounted wars against those of other faiths (the Crusades), they even have wars with members of, technically, the same faith (Catholics and Protestants). Some Christians have been known to commit terrorist acts. But that's not TYPICAL of Christians.

Is this parallel to the situation in the Islamic world? Surely, to be religious is not necessarily to be a fanatic, or a terrorist. By labeling our attackers, "Islamic fundamentalists," are we setting the stage for religious war, for the murder of people not because of what they do, but because of what we believe THEY believe?

Toward the goal of greater understanding, the library is offering an educational program on Sunday, October 7, from 1 to 3 p.m., at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. Our speaker is Ibrahim Kazerooni, the Amman (or spiritual leader) of Denver's Islamic Center of Ahl-Al-Beit.

He has told me that he views the events of September 11 as "an atrocity." I have asked him to come and speak about the beliefs of Islam. He has graciously agreed to do so.

I hope you can join us for this very interactive question and answer session. Our nation's response to this tragedy should begin with knowledge and insight.

Locally, this is a good place to start.

Ultimately, however, I don't believe that the terrorist attack has anything to do with religion. I believe that this is about something else: a very few people believe they have the right to be bullies.

They're wrong.

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

September 19, 2001-Disaster Relief Resources

Librarians have been assembling some resources to assist our patrons in trying to make sense of the senseless.

First, I understand that there have been some scams related to "relief" agencies that in fact do not exist. This one, from the Red Cross, is real:

The United Way of New York and the New York Community Trust have established a fund to help the victims of the attacks and their families. The September Eleventh Fund will provide immediate support to established emergency assistance agencies. Anyone wishing to contribute may send their donations in care of

United Way
2 Park Ave.
New York, New York 10016
or call (212) 251-4035.

Donations are also being accepted on United Way of New York City's website: uwnyc.org/.

Second, the American Library Association offers this series of Internet resources on the September 11, 2001 tragedy to help children and students. Remember that the library does have free Internet workstations, if you do not have access from home or work. You can find the complete list at cs.ala.org/faq/faq.cfm.

From the Federal government:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
with a link to a bibliography of books for kids on a variety of mostly natural disasters at

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
"Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters". www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/violence.cfm#viol8
This has an extensive bibliography for practitioners.

From private organizations:

The National Association of School Psychologists has prepared "Children and Responding to National Disaster: Information for Teachers" www.nasponline.org/NEAT/terror_eds.html.

Connect for Kids has gathered a few resources for adults to help children with their fears and grief: www.connectforkids.org

Parenting Press has compiled resources for media and parents:

Third, here are some other useful links:

A great round-up of general "help" sites, whether to report possible conspirators, or to post that you were near the WTC, but are OK.

Helping Children Cope with Stress and Fear
This page from PrepareRespondRecover.com site contains material on
children's needs and recognizing stress in children adapted by Dr. Karen DeBord, Child Development Specialist with North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. The material came from the Stress and Coping with Disaster manual from University Extension in Columbia, Missouri developed during the Flood of 1993.

The World Trade Center -- www.costargroup.com/wtc -- info about the building and tenants.

Good Colorado donation, volunteer and information links.

ALA has also prepared a list of books for kids and their caregivers on the topic of terrorism:

Nonfiction titles:

Political Violence and Terrorism Ed. by Mary Hull.
A worldwide perspective on the problem of terrorism

Terrorism by Anne G. Gaines
The focus is on the Middle East with some insight on how the U.S. is affected.

Silent Death by Kathlyn Gay
This focuses on chemical and biological weapons and warfare and terrorism.

Why Do They Hate Me? by Laurel Holliday
Accounts of children caught in conflict in Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine.

Caught in the Crossfire by Maria Ousseimi
Words and pictures of children around the globe whose lives have been altered by civil war, terrorism and violence.

Fiction titles:

The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall
England in WWII is the setting for this novel, in which a group of youngsters find a machine gun and decide to use it to defend their city.

Flight of the Raven by Stephanie Tolan
A serious message about two young people who come together in the face of terrorist violence in the U.S.

After the First Death by Robert Cormier
Hijackers take a busload of children; the action unravels through the perspectives of the
terrorists, the children, and others involved.

Samir and Yonatan by Daniella Carmi.
In the midst of violence in the Middle East, a young Arab boy from the West Bank becomes friends with a Jewish boy.

Finally, here is a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, "If we are to achieve real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with the children."

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

September 12, 2001 - Reference Help? Just Ask

This week's column is courtesy of Naioma Walberg, a reference librarian at our Parker Library. It captures wonderfully well just what happens at this vital service desk.

Librarian…Reference Desk… nouns that bring up shuddering images of long forgotten term papers, dusty boring books and trying to find magazine articles in the endless shelves of the fungi green volumes of Readers Guide to Periodicals.

We hear many of the same reasons over and over on why people do not want to stop at a reference desk or ask a librarian. I am here today to address those reasons and tell you something about our work, place and responsibilities within your library system.

"I don't need to stop at the Reference Desk ? I'm not doing research." Our job is to get the right information to the right person at the right time. If the information you need is what is the next book in the Hornblower series, that is just fine with us! We can find out what it is, if it is on our shelves or where to get it ? be it another branch or the Maryland State Library.

But if you are doing research that is where we shine, show off and gurgle happily. We have a world of information at our fingertips and our job is to research, locate and retrieve the information that you need. I think that people doing family history research were one of the first groups to realize the extent of the information available to them from their local library. We can provide you information from a copy of the May 23, 1841 Altoona Penn. Daily News, a copy of a family history in which only 50 copies were published in 1923, magazine and journal articles, internet sights as well as recommend other avenues for their research such as the U.S. Census, marriage records, passenger lists and a wonderful list of web sites.

"I know how to use a library so why stop at the reference desk?"

One of our jobs is to find and accumulate information in a variety of formats. So a stop at the reference desk may help save you time. If you need Title 10-4-11 of the Colorado Revised Statues, I can quickly go into the computer, pull up the proper web site and print the Title for you. However if you need to look at all of the civil penalties in regards to insurance my text version with a user friendly index is the way to go. Through a process called the reference interview librarians seek to find exactly what you are looking for and the best way the information can be presented.

"Anybody can find a book."

Well, especially in a library. But if all you are looking to find out is if the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a real dog breed or if someone is pulling your leg you could waste a lot of time in the section about dogs. A quick chat with a librarian will get you "The Complete Dog Book," a publication of the American Kennel Club which provides information on all recognized breeds. A part of our job is reviewing and updating materials. By testing materials when we receive them, with questions from patrons and evaluations from colleagues a reference librarian can create sources that can be tapped into quickly.

"There is nothing here on my subject."

Sometimes a librarian's job is a lot like a detective's. We pry into encyclopedias, snoop through magazine indexes, dig into worldwide databases and case websites. All of our training is geared toward finding the information you want - be it obscure or down right impossible. The universal war cry of librarians is " there is always something on the subject!"

"The librarian looks at me like I'm stupid."

Shame on us! Our job is to assist anyone regardless of race, gender, age, IQ or if you are from Alpha Centauri. Our job is to assist everyone no matter what their question without bias or judgment. We provide you with the basic American right to information and the privacy to pursue that information.

"The librarian looks too busy to help me."

Never, never, never. We are at the reference desk waiting to help you. While we are waiting we may be weeding the collection, researching for new titles, planning a program, doing committee work, processing book request, getting Value Line into its binder or writing this speech ? It all stops when a patron needs help. The Castle Rock reference desk has a sign that says "Please interrupt me" and every librarian means it because the patron really does come first.

Thursday, September 6, 2001

September 6, 2001 - Parker Library Legacy

In 1995, we opened our renovated Parker Library in a former bowling alley. Our architects, Humphries Poli, did a brilliant job of responding to a key public concern: how to make a building on the west side of Parker Road feel like part of Mainstreet.

How did they do it? By making the first internal corridor of the library feel like a street. We had lamp posts and storefront windows and cafe tables.

And we had paving bricks.

The bricks were sold as fundraisers for the new building, and funded a host of library amenities. On those bricks were various sayings. One, pulled I think from a Batman movie, was "Never rub another man's rhubarb." Others used the bricks as memorials. A few used them as advertisements.

My wife and I bought a brick for our kids. It has their names on it, and a statement appropriate to the children of two librarians. I was proud to make a personal contribution to a key civic structure. But there's another dimension to this. Now the library feels like home. When I walk in the building with my daughter and son, the first thing they do is run to find their names. The Parker Library has become a touchstone for them.

Well, over the past five years, we've filled up the Parker Library. Now we're going back to do something we planned from the beginning: finish some internal space we "banked" for the future. Over the next several months, we'll be shuffling things around as we add some 4,000 square feet to the library. We do ask for your patience. Internal construction can be a little messy.

By the end, we'll have an expanded and much improved children's area, as well as various other amenities.

Because our fundraising efforts were so successful last time, we'd like to give the community the opportunity to make a difference again. Ask at the library for our Parker Gift Catalog, also available online at www.dpld.org/about_us/parker/.

In brief, these are the projects we're looking to add, and how much money we need to do them.

* Children's Room - $20,000. Your gift can significantly enhance what we offer here. The children's room, incidentally, will have its own story time area, which will free up another community meeting room.

* Reading Sanctuary - $15,000. Think plush chairs.

* Life-size reading sculpture - $13,500. We've had a charming sculpture on display that shows a young girl reading on a bench. Why not make it a permanent part of our collection?

* Children's Fantasy Wall - $12,000. This one is taken! Thank you, to our stalwart Friends of the Parker Library. (An aside: I've noticed that there's a growing interest in public art. What better combination than art and reading?)

* Conference Room - $2,500. This is a quiet meeting area, suitable for small gatherings and presentations.

* Outdoor reading benches - $1,000. Our Reading Garden is a lovely place to sit. It is an excuse to linger even longer at the library.

* Bike Rack - $750. Let's make it easier, and safer, for people to bike to the library.

* Personalized brick - $150. We're offering, again, this wonderful chance to put your name, or the name of people you love, in an enduring public place. (Note: the deadline for this has been extended through September, 2001.)

So whether you're interested in creating a quiet family remembrance, or your business would like to make a statement about its continuing investment in the community, the Parker Library will welcome your attention.

Wednesday, August 29, 2001

August 29, 2001 - Audio Warning Labels

The first time I saw Alanis Morissette, she was playing the part of God in the movie, "Dogma." I liked her face. It had complexity and depth.

The first time I got around to listening to her music was when someone complained about her use of two 4-letter words in her 1995, Grammy-winning release, "Jagged Little Pill."

The patron lodging the complaint had a pretty compelling story. She had been driving along the highway, listening to a library CD with her young children, when she suddenly heard a word that made her lurch for the eject button.

I've been there.

You spin around to glance at your children. And you see one of three things.

1) They're clearly involved in something else. They didn't hear a thing. Yes!

2) They heard it. Their eyes are wide. They are looking at you with that attitude that says, "I just heard a bad word." The good news (I think): they already know that it's a bad word.

3) They are utterly absorbed in the music. They nod, quietly repeating the words to themselves. They are completely oblivious to you, your shock, and your clearly futile attempt to manage their environment.

When it comes to 3), you can't help but want to blame all of several parties: the artist singing the song, the publisher who pressed the CD, and, alas, the ever humble local library that provided it to you and your children.

I see the point. Even supposing that you believe the library has an obligation to buy the more popular offerings of our culture, couldn't we at least find a way to give a head's up to the parents? That's what our patron wanted us to do: put some kind of label on it.

On the one hand, we do "label" many of our holdings right now. It's called "Cataloging." We assign a location for all items. Most broadly, they are "adult" or "juvenile." It happens that "Jagged Little Pill" is in our adult collection. But that's not because of the two four letter words that appear in Morissette's music. Her audience just isn't children between the ages of 2 and 10 or 11.

It happens that music companies are supposed to do their own labeling. It began in the early 1980s, kicked off by a group that eventually called itself the Parents' Music Resource Center. Among the people connected with this effort was Tipper Gore, Al Gore's wife. Finally, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) agreed to enforce its own standards, much as the movie industry does.

But instead of ratings (G, PG, etc.) it adopted a warning or advisory label about "explicit lyrics" (alternatively, companies could print the lyrics on the outside of the item).

These days, the so-called Parental Advisory program has two pieces: first, stores post a sign that says, "The Parental Advisory is a notice to parents that recordings identified by this logo may contain strong language or depictions of violence, sex or substance abuse. Parental discretion is advised."

Second, recording companies have been encouraged to follow strict, but voluntary, guidelines about the use of the advisory label. I've tried to get a copy of those guidelines from the RIAA, thus far without success.

So what's the bottom line? Well, I guess I have four comments.

First, whatever the guidelines, Morissette doesn't have a warning label from the producer.

Second, I'm not sure the library can be expected to listen to the entirety of every piece of music we buy, in order to detect the use of certain words. You can see some of the problems: Which words? How many of them?

Third, after we attach all of our other labels to it, there's not a whole lot of room LEFT on a CD. Anything we add would, I fear, completely obscure what information is already present.

Fourth, I guess that means that parents have to figure that, like almost anything else in the adult area, adult language will sometimes be present. (And checking for the printed lyrics is one strategy.) Like so many other things, that means yet another talk with the kids. I realize that this is far from a perfect solution.

But I will say this: that Alanis Morissette can SING.

Wednesday, August 22, 2001

August 22, 2001 - The Tyranny of Numbers

I was bragging about my Associate Director, Rochelle Logan. Rochelle used to crunch numbers for the Colorado State Library, and speaks nationally on the topic of library statistics. I was enthused about some of the new reports she's cooked up. Having an acknowledged statistical expert on staff is handy.

But the colleague I was bragging to was full of dark forebodings. "Beware the tyranny of numbers," he said.

"Whatever are you talking about?" I said. "I use statistics for all kinds of things. They help me track trends in use. They help me find trouble spots and -"

"Exactly," said my colleague. "Trouble spots. When you get statistics, you get comparisons. When you get comparisons, inevitably, you get competition. And then you say to one manager, 'Gee, your program stats are much lower than everybody else's.' And then that manager starts manipulating the statistics to look good."

"Pish," I said, "and tosh. It may be that some libraries act that way. But then the problem isn't with the numbers, it's with how they are used."

"Are you saying you DON'T compare the statistics between your branches?" "Sure I do!" I said.

"And you don't follow-up with the managers to find out why there are differences in certain kinds of costs or library use?"

"Well, yes," I said, "but that's useful information for everybody. I encourage our managers to experiment, to try different things at different branches. It doesn't do any good to experiment, if you don't honestly report the results. Sometimes it turns out that a program, or service, catches on at one location, and bombs at another."

"My point exactly," said my colleague, "so that means the place where it worked, you had a better manager, right?"

"I don't see it that way," I said. "Different strategies yield different results. My managers get together pretty regularly to talk about this stuff. Sometimes one key factor turned the trick: advance publicity, for instance. If one manager learns something that worked well, the other managers give it a try. But more often than not, I learn something I've suspected from the beginning."

"What's that?"

"That each of our branches operates in a unique community. Library statistics do say something about the library, but they say even more about the community."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, the fact that one branch has a high use of educational software clearly has something to do with the fact it launched the service, and our other libraries don't have any yet. But let's say that both libraries offer an identical program for seniors, or for bilingual families. In that case, the number of people who show up for it reflect not the library offering, but the demographics of the community."

"How do you sort out which is the library and which is the community?" he asked.

"More numbers, for one thing. The 2000 census stuff will be very helpful. But also, more experiments," I said. "Say a young adult program doesn't catch on one year. But it might the next. The only way to find out is to model the experiments on successes elsewhere in the district — but also on things that haven't been tried yet."

"What about costs? Once you start tracking all this stuff, don't you feel pressured to find cheaper and cheaper ways to do them?"

"Well, I'm a fiscal conservative, if that's what you mean. It's certainly not my goal to find the most expensive way to run a library."

"Aha! So you do manage by spreadsheet. The tyranny of numbers!"

"But again, sometimes you have to poke the numbers to find out what's behind them. Suppose, for instance, that staff costs are way lower in one branch than another. The reason? Way more part-timers. But it might be that having too many part-timers drives up other costs -- supervisory time for evaluations, training time for new employees, more benefits administration. That's important information."

"But if all that numbers do is drive you to look for more numbers, then what's the point? I say again, you're slaving under the despotism of data."

"Catchy," I admit. "But ultimately, that's just paranoid. What's the alternative? Ignorance? The purpose of gathering and analyzing data is to understand your environment. It may not answer all your questions, but it can at least get you to ask better questions."

My colleague sighed. "So you're going to keep running your ship according to the numbers?"

"'Fraid so. But not just on the numbers."

"Oh? What else?"

"The good judgment of my staff."

"Even when it contradicts the spreadsheets? How come?"

"Simple," I said. Then I smiled. "I've learned that I can count on it."

Wednesday, August 15, 2001

August 15, 2001 - Newspaper Readership

I've been writing library columns for local newspapers for 13 years now. I believe that libraries and newspapers have strong similarities; we are natural allies.

The recent acquisition of the former Weekly News Chronicle by Colorado Community Newspapers got me curious. Ten years ago, there were as many as five separately owned newspapers in Douglas County. This marks the first column I've written that will appear, all at once, in four different newspapers (serving the communities of Highlands Ranch, Lone, Parker, and the rest of Douglas County).

The good news is, I now only have to write one column a week.

But I began to wonder: what's the business outlook for newspapers? Here's what I've learned.

In general, newspaper readership in America is slowly, but steadily, falling. In 1970, some 77% of Americans regularly read a newspaper; by 2000, that number had fallen to 58%. There are generational differences: 70% of pre-Boomers (born before 1945) subscribe to the local newspaper, compared to 58% for Boomers (born between 1946-1964), and falling to 47% of Gen-Xers (born between 1965-1976).

One study focused on the differences between two key demographic groups. Both Boomers and Gen Xers say they read newspapers to keep up-to-date on what is happening locally, nationally and internationally, and because newspapers provide them with depth and detail. About 7 out of 10 of both groups scan headlines, then focus on topics of interest.

Boomers are drawn to editorial and opinion pages and business coverage. Gen Xers are not. One reporter summed it up as follows: "Your job, Xers seem to be saying, is to give us the news in a straight-forward manner. We'll decide what we think about it."

There are also significant differences between men and women. More men read the paper; but more women read the ads. Newspapers depend on ad revenue, far more than on subscriptions.

It's not all bad news. In a typical week, according to another study, about 85 percent of the adult U.S. population uses a newspaper. Nationally, that's considerably better than the number of people who visit a library in a week. One newspaper editor noted, "We still sell more than 56 million newspapers a day, and an average of 2.23 people read each copy. No other medium reaches so many people on a regular basis." USA Today (America's largest daily), the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times have all seen modest increases in circulation since last year.

Overall, however, American newspaper readership dropped by .9% from 2000 to 2001. In the Denver metro area, things were worse. At the conclusion of the subscriber wars in Denver, Denver Rocky Mountain News circulation declined 17.9% over last year; Denver Post dropped by 11.9%. The Sunday Post, however, became the nation's fifth-largest Sunday paper, with a circulation of 970,934.

As you might expect, newspaper publishers and editors do see the writing on the wall. Since 1999, they have tried to better understand their actual and potential markets.

Most significant is the so-called Impact Study, conducted just last year. It involved several parties: the Readership Institute at the Media Management Center at Northwestern University, the Newspaper Association of America, and the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The study, based on the results of 37,000 surveys from 100 newspapers of various sizes, showed that while the readers expect a variety of content, they have distinct preferences that may build frequency of readership. According to one summary, "At the top of the list is intensely local, people-centered news, which includes stories about ordinary people, community announcements and obituaries."
The bottom line: newspapers still play a significant role in informing local citizens about matters of local consequence. And like any other business, newspapers have their challenges.

Here's wishing the good people at Colorado Community Newspapers every success.

Wednesday, August 8, 2001

August 8, 2001 - 9 principles of Boardsmanship

I think I've worked about every side of this now. I have worked FOR a Board in three capacities: as the Chief Executive Officer (a library director hired by, reporting to, and accountable solely to the Board), as the staff member working for the CEO (but presenting information to the Board), and as an independent contractor or consultant.

I have worked ON a Board as a member (sometimes with few responsibilities, sometimes as a committee member or chair), as an executive officer (Secretary, for instance), and as Board President.

In that time, I've worked out some expectations of Board members. I sure wish someone had given all this to me at the beginning. So in the hopes that this might do some good, I hereby offer Nine Principles of Boardsmanship.

1. Understand the difference between governance and management. The purpose of the Board is oversight -- the big issues. Keep your eye on mission, on planning, on broad institutional strategy. Don't mess with day to day operational decisions.

2. Respect your fellow Board members' time. Stay focused on the tasks before you. All of us have lives that matter to us. Unless you have good reasons not to (meaning "reasons that are vital to the organization and actually involve you"), stick to the agenda.

3. Bring all relevant information to the Board. The purpose of the Board is to make informed decisions, to provide intelligent organizational leadership. If you have data that matters, bring it forth. Don't sit on it in the hopes you'll get your way. That's intellectually sloppy and morally dishonest.

4. Thoughtfully consider the opinions of others. Board deliberations do not consist of waiting for the other person to finish so you can speak. They consist of open-minded evaluations of the ideas of your colleagues, and staff. This obligation extends to each issue, not just to the people you usually agree with.

5. Have your say. Argue passionately for your beliefs. Articulate your opinions as clearly, concisely, and forcefully as possible.,

6. Vote your conscience -- what you believe, not what you think others might believe. Don't assume consensus when it could be that people are waiting to see how it comes out, or waiting for someone else to voice their dissatisfied but inchoate opinion. Take a stand!

7. Represent the "Board decision" honestly. It could be that you voted your conscience -- and were roundly defeated. So be it. Be clear about when you're speaking as yourself, and when you represent the Board. You're entitled to your opinions, your doubts, and your free speech. But do your colleagues and your audience the courtesy of clearly identifying the speaker. As a member of the Board, begin with a careful representation, without slander, of the decision of that body.

8. Move forward until new evidence urges a reconsideration. Don't keep revisiting things you've already decided. On the other hand, sometimes new evidence arises that compels you to think again. It could be that new evidence supports your dissenting opinion. Or it could be that it contradicts the majority opinion that you agreed with. But if you've got new data, be prepared to consider a new decision.

9. Build the organization by example. This is a big one. It speaks to fundamental attitude. There are lots of pieces to this, but here are the main ones:

* Presume innocence and the good intention of all parties.

* Make each other look good: speak well of your fellow Board members. Build on each other's work.

* Hold to the vision -- spend your time working FOR the big organization goals (not against this or that).

And, just in case you don't hear this enough, thank you for caring enough about an organization to give it your time.

Wednesday, August 1, 2001

August 1, 2001 - Teen Dreams

Some 15 years ago I did a workshop on creative writing. It was at a private school, grades K-12.

I started all the sessions with a simple question: who remembers what they dreamt last night? In the kindergarten class, every hand went up. Of course, not every child really did remember his or her dreams. But they all remembered something ABOUT their dreams and were eager to share it.

My pedagogical point that day was that everybody dreams. Nobody has to be taught how. The source of dreams is the same as the source for writing: something absolutely basic to the human birthright. But while I was teaching, I was also learning. I learned that with every grade, fewer hands went up. By the time I got to the tenth grade I was getting only one or two, and that furtively. The seniors, it would seem, slept in total, dignified, yet slightly cynical, blankness. The Sleep of the Undead.

Of course, just as some kindergartners raised their hands but really didn't remember their dreams of the night before, many teenagers did remember, but said nothing. What I was measuring was not nocturnal creativity, but the willingness to talk about it in the daylight, surrounded by peers.

I repeated the experiment in several schools, and the results were pretty consistent. Young people -- children between the ages of 4 and 8 -- had a more permeable barrier between their inner lives and their outer behavior. They concealed less, offered more.

Older children -- up to the ages of legal adults -- had somewhere learned, or been taught, or simply grew the knowledge within themselves, not to casually discuss their inner lives in public settings. They got wary.

It would be easy to say, "Isn't that a shame?" But sometimes dreams must pass through a period of containment, of silence, before they can be forged into something enduring and tangible. The teen years are a crucible, a time and a place for stoking and directing the inner flames -- and seeing what remains at the end.

Moreover, teen dreams can have more complex, disturbing content than those of young children. In the creation of personality, all those themes have to be assigned a value and a place. It takes time to figure out what's OK to feel, and to talk about, and to make real.

Hence the whole universe of what librarians call "Young Adult Literature." Here are the coming of age stories, the tales of first, terrible decisions and human signposts: the death of a parent or a friend, the first love, the first inkling of a career, the first big life lessons.

None of this is new, of course. In earlier times, all this was symbolized by that sturdy set piece of fairy tales: the woods. One day, it's into the woods, to flee or to find danger, and with luck, to come out at the end with the prize beyond price.

Speaking of fairy tales set in the forest, it happens that both of my children are in the upcoming Castle Rock Players production of Hansel and Gretel, directed by the talented Chris McCoy. (It runs from August 2 through August 5, at the Douglas County High School. Tickets have been on sale for awhile, but will also be available on a walk-in basis.) I highly recommend it.

Many theater productions are springing up in and around Douglas County these days. All of them entertain. But most of them, too, struggle with recurrent issues of human meaning. Those issues interest people of all ages.

After all, what are books and films and theater but the dreams we have when we're awake?

Wednesday, July 25, 2001

July 25, 2001 - My Fascination with the Mother Tongue

It all started in 7th grade. I got caught in a study hall with nothing to read and no homework to do. I rooted around in my desk and found a dictionary. I started reading it ... and got hooked.

That particular dictionary also gave word roots. So I not only got to soak up different meanings, but I began to get a sense of where the word had come from, and how meanings shifted through each linguistic turn.

Thus began a lifelong fascination with the English language. My home library now includes several dictionaries (including a miniaturized version of the Oxford English Dictionary that requires a magnifying glass), and a smattering of books about the development of the English tongue.

This interest, I have learned, is shared by many. An example is the popular "Word A Day" email newsletter. It happens that I got this as a surprise gift from our Library Board President. But you can sign up yourself at wordsmith.org/awad/subscribe.html. The subscription is absolutely free.

What do you get? Well, here's one of the daily messages I saved:

paramnesia (par-am-NEE-zhuh) noun

1. A distortion of memory in which fact and fantasy are confused.
2. The inability to recall the correct meaning of a word.

[New Latin, par-, amnesia.]

"God's attention, then loss of attention, his control, then loss of control over the actions of the squirming and chanting boot jacks, is consistent with Ellis's discussion of paramnesia."

Dennis Ryan, `A Divine Gesture': Hemingway's complex parody of the modern, Hemingway Review, Fall 1996.

In other words, you get the pronunciation, definitions, and a use of the word in a sentence. The words are usually grouped in a week by some theme. The above was part of the theme of "Words for ailments and afflictions."

And this comes every day. Some, like the one above, can be most apt. Here's another favorite:

"pococurante (po-ko-koo-RAN-tee, ) adjective. Indifferent, apathetic, nonchalant. Noun - A careless or indifferent person." When you need a word like that, you need it NOW.

The same folks also send an occasional summary of subscriber comments, or "A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages." The most recent I've received is Issue 39, dated July 22, 2001. It's a mixed bag. It can have an intercontinental tilt: as in a recommendation of Victor Hugo's "The Man Who Laughs," to an explanation of the French use of the suffix "-ard" to add insult. A subscriber writes, "For instance, while chauffeur in French means driver-- not just the limo kind: Chauffeur de taxi means, simply taxi driver-- 'chauffard' is slang for someone who drives badly." Also included in the issue is a fond remembrance of the old cartoon "Underdog," and this classic comment from someone currently stationed on an aircraft carrier (USS Constellation) deployed to the Persian Gulf: "Now when we enter another foreign port, we can sound a little more educated as we make our way to the local bars and tattoo parlors."

For more reading about our wonderful language, I recommend,"The Story of English," by Robert McCrum, Robert MacNeil, and William Cran, which is an outstanding companion to the BBC series of the same name. Another favorite is Bill Bryson's, "the Mother Tongue: English and How It Got that Way."

"The difference between the right word, and the almost right word, is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." - Mark Twain.

Wednesday, July 18, 2001

July 18, 2001 - A Metaphysical Farce

Profane. Vulgar. Violent. Full of sexual innuendo. That's not unusual for a movie, I guess. But this one, I got from a minister.

The movie's name is "Dogma." I have no idea how it was described at the time of release, but I know how I'd label it: a metaphysical farce. I'm sure it's at least an "R." The language is pretty coarse.

The basic plot line is convoluted. In brief, two long-exiled angels have found a sort of doctrinal loophole that will get them back into heaven. If they succeed, there will be, well, hell to pay.

Various other characters include a a forgotten Apostle, a couple of Prophets, yet another angel, a Muse or two, and the intriguing Scion.

I failed to mention another key character: God.

George Carlin puts in a wonderful performance as a highly placed Catholic official who rolls out a new image to replace the crucifix: a statue of Jesus, one thumb up, all smiles.

I have to say that I do believe, both personally and professionally, that swearing is the last refuge of the inarticulate. But despite all the above, "Dogma" manages to be both funny -- sometimes hilarious -- and thought-provoking.

The main protagonist of the piece is a woman who is suffering a crisis of faith. She's a Catholic, or at least, she goes to a Catholic church once a week. She also works at an abortion clinic, and is divorced.

While sleeping one night, she is visited by an angel, who appears in ablaze of flames. She douses him with a fire extinguisher.

I won't reveal any more about the plot than that. The movie is populated mostly by young people, all with that strangely jaunty air of the Gen-Xer.

It happens that I like that generation. I always have. They have a clear-eyed assessment of both what sucks in the world, and what matters. And they have the willingness, as does the protagonist, to do what's necessary, even if there's not much of a percentage in it. I like that about them, too.

I mention all this because the minister, Cal Kemper of "Song of Joy" (a United Church of Christ affiliate) wants to show the film and have a discussion about it. He asked me to sit in as co-facilitator.

I'm not a member of that church, but I like the idea of a free and open discussion about religion. That does seem to me to be at least one of the points of the First Amendment.

So, on July 28, 6:30 p.m., the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock will be sponsoring a showing of the film, followed by a freewheeling discussion. On the one hand, we'll have Cal and Rebecca Kemper, the ministers. I presume that their interest is religious.

On the other hand, we'll have me. My interest is more cultural. What does this film say about religion in America? What does it say about faith as a motivating force in the life of a generation? What does it say about religion and the movies?

You may expect to find some books on display, too.

Again, please be advised that this film really isn't for children.

At any rate, if you have an interest in a decidedly offbeat evening talking about things that mostly don't get talked about, stop by the library. The show (and that includes participant discussion) is free.

Wednesday, July 11, 2001

July 11, 2001 - Public Library a Remarkable Return on Investment

Last Saturday, I attended two weddings. The first was of Kevin Watkins, the library's crackerjack Network Administrator. Kevin was most dignified; I was proud of him. It was a lovely service, and the Best Woman (Kevin's sister) did a particularly fine job. The bride, in the grand tradition of brides, was radiant.

The second service was for a couple who have lived together for the past 25 years. It took place by a tree, along a river. Participants read poems from the Bible, from the Sufi poet Rumi, from Gerard Manley Hopkins, and from various other sources.

The Episcopalian priest did something I hadn't seen before. After the couple made their vows to each other, the priest asked those gathered to make their own vow: to counsel and encourage the couple, to support them, to help them to preserve this union. We said, "We will!"

Then the couple said they had a list of people they wanted to thank. They thanked their parents, now deceased, for bringing them into the world, and for tending to their upbringing. They thanked their family and friends. Then they did something quite extraordinary. They thanked their former spouses, their "ex's" -- who were also in attendance.

This, I thought, is how a civilized society ought to work. A marriage is not just an exchange of promises between two people, it is a covenant with the community.

It is a sad fact, of course, that many marriages do end in divorce. It is an even sadder fact that many of those people remain embittered, and work hard to keep anger and mutual destructiveness alive. (Just try to think of the last time someone spoke of their "ex" with kindness and charity.)

But our very happy newlyweds showed another path: one of reconciliation and gratitude for life's lessons. They showed that it is possible to grow and to gather in all the good people whose lives had touched theirs, even if there had been mistakes and false starts.

The ceremony also sounded that note of shared responsibility. If married couples have a responsibility to each other and to the community, the community also has a responsibility to them.

The older I get, the more appealing I find the old idea of the "social contract." Unlike business contracts, our social system doesn't provide a list of all the terms up front, with a clear delineation of requirements and costs. But the contract is there: in exchange for your contributions of time, of effort, of attitude and deed, you qualify for the support of the people around you.

It isn't always a fair exchange. Sometimes you pay more than you get. Sometimes, you get more than you pay for.

I think of the public library as one of those "benefits." There are people -- about 23% of Douglas County households -- that don't seem to use the library. For them, it's an expense without a benefit.

But for the other 77% (most of which include young children), the library provides an altogether remarkable return on the investment. For the cost of one family dinner per year, they get literally hundreds of books, videos, books on tape, magazines, programs, and authoritative reference information.

The public library is a living, tangible symbol of the social contract, a covenant predicated on the notion that a representative, well-organized collection of cultural capital, is the birthright of every citizen.

Let no man put it asunder.

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

July 4, 2001 - Independence Day

Back in college, I had an American History course that took an odd twist. Our teacher wanted our final project to be a sort of historical skit. The students got to choose among various roles, but those roles were pretty vague. I, for instance, volunteered for the character of a gentleman farmer. The play was set in New England, around 1774.

The teacher gave us various scenes, but no script. For instance, he said, “Suppose you just finished dinner with your father. In walks a guy who favors Revolution. What do you say?”

In between the assignment and the performance, we didn’t have the opportunity to rehearse. But we did have the chance to do some research, spend some time at the library. We looked at the writings of Thomas Paine. We spent some time on the Federalist papers. And I read other books around the topic.

Well, when we got to the performance, I found myself thoroughly prepped. My basic take on my character was this: “Are you all crazy? What language do we speak? English! Where does our literature, our learning, our history, come from? England! From whence comes our faith, our commerce, our institutions, our very politics? England! How are we to resolve our disputes, if every time we disagree with our parents, our brothers, each declares independence from the other? How can such divisiveness possibly lead to a new, unified nation?”

I was passionate and serious. I tried most earnestly to argue them out of their utter folly and ingratitude. I rolled off the number of English ships versus the totally inadequate number of “American” vessels. I pointed out that almost all the manufactured goods we needed came from England. Would England continue to trade with us during a war? We came to the new world to better ourselves. War would leave us with nothing!

Besides, I wondered aloud, I’d been a good neighbor, hadn’t I? If I now refused to go along with this clear treason against our nation, our homeland, what would happen to me? My family? Imprisonment? Execution?

The longer I went on, the more I realized just how dramatic the real situation was, back there in Revolutionary days. History writes the story that wins. The story of America is not the story of a foolish and ill-prepared insurrection by a group of ungrateful colonists. It could have been. Instead, the tale is about the founding of a nation, a nation, today, that is the last remaining superpower, the sun having set at last on the British Empire.

My character spoke from a viewpoint that could only be described as conservative: the attempt to preserve traditional values and social patterns.

The fact is, the founding of America was in every sense an extreme and drastic act. Americans abandoned the very concept of a king. They severed what had been, until then, the unbroken European history of the unification of church and state (“no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”). They granted as “rights” things that were barely privileges in other lands (freedom of speech, the press, and religion; the right to bear arms; to peaceably assemble; to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures; and much more, as detailed on our remarkable "Bill of Rights").

Not all of those things have worked out quite the way the Founders might have hoped.

But even so, it’s hard to see it any other way. Our nation was founded by some of the most radical folks ever to thumb their noses at authority. And get away with it.

Happy Independence Day.

Wednesday, June 27, 2001

June 27, 2001 - Lessons Learned from Minneapolis Public

Several people have sent me information about a recent court case: some librarians at Minneapolis Public sued the library for sexual harassment. The reason: widespread patron viewing of pornography on Internet terminals.

Some of the folks who sent me this were gleeful: liberals want unfiltered terminals, but think when other people look at a picture that might offend a feminist, it's sexual harassment. Pick one!

Others were more libertarian: these librarians are arguing FOR censorship. Isn't that a betrayal of all they stand for?

It happens that I have a good friend who works at Minneapolis Public, so I've been tracking this for some time. And I disagree with both parties.

The issue isn't about sexual harassment, and it isn't about free speech. It's about civil behavior in public places, and it's also, to be blunt, about bad library management.

Here's what I mean. Like most libraries, Minneapolis Public did some staff training before they put out their Internet terminals for the public. They brought in one of the big guns of the American Library Association to lecture about Intellectual Freedom, and the ostensible right of patrons to view anything they please on the Internet.

When the terminals hit the floor, Minneapolis Public experienced what every other library has experienced: some library patrons tested the limits of acceptable behavior.

That's not new, by the way. When I was a kid, I thought it was the height of sophisticated humor to practice can can dances in the library stairwell. So did four of my 7th grade friends. Library staff disagreed.

We got kicked out.

These days, some people walk into the library with boom boxes blaring. Library staff ask these patrons to turn them off. Sometimes the patrons refuse. Then they get kicked out, too.

Some people pull up the raciest imaginable materials the Internet can offer. Do they get kicked out?

Well, it depends. In most libraries across the country, staff is bound to notice eventually. Then they intervene. Sometimes they discover that the "racy" material isn't racy at all. It's legitimate research: artwork, mainstream advertising, or health-related. In that case, library staff back off. As they should.

Sometimes, they discover that the material is grossly pornographic. And in such cases, most library staff ask the patrons to stop, or to move along.

At Minneapolis Public, staff were instructed that any incidents of the latter case (patrons viewing sexually explicit content) were to be studiously ignored. When other library patrons complained (and they did), staff were basically discouraged from saying anything except, "We can't do anything about it."

And after several months, this de facto policy resulted in three things:

1. the virtual abandonment of the library by regular patrons,
2. the increased incidence of ever more extreme patron behaviors, and
3. the perfectly understandable discomfort of library staff.

Finally, after repeatedly refusing to deal with this issue, library administrators learned that the local TV station had waltzed in, and captured for video to be aired that night, the pathetic truth that fully 50% of library Internet workstations were being used for the viewing of what was, arguably, obscene material.

The very next day, library administrators authorized security guards to directly confront and escort the miscreants away. The strategy -- 180 degrees from the previous policy -- did solve the problem. The grosser misbehavior stopped. Slowly, the general public started returning.

The library had found a new principle. Patrons have an absolute right to view what they please. Unless it's bad PR.

I humbly submit that that's the wrong lesson.

So let's tackle some tough questions. Is it illegal to view sexy pictures on the Internet? Nope.

Do you have the right to do anything you want at the public library? I say again, nope. You have a right to free expression, but that right is constrained by place. I can expect to sing in the shower, as loud as I want (assuming a decent distance from my neighbors), pretty much without interference. But I can't expect that same freedom every place else. I probably can't prance around naked everywhere, either. Not even in the library.

Is it always perfectly clear what is appropriate and what isn't? Nope again. But the judgment of library staff is pretty darn good. And unless you're doing something out and out threatening or illegal, we're not calling in the cops; we're just reminding you to be polite when you're out in public.

Did any of this nonsense have to happen at Minneapolis? For the last time, nope. Here's one of the grimmer rules of administration: you get what you permit.

Libraries are not now, nor have they ever been, places where "anything goes." They have a purpose that most people, almost all of the time, understand and respect. On occasion, some people forget that, and have to be reminded. Sadly, that includes library administrators.

Wednesday, June 20, 2001

June 20, 2001 - Philip S. Miller Library It Remains

Several weeks ago I asked for some public advice about the name of the new library in Castle Rock, to be located at the site of the old Safeway. I got it.

Let me say right off the bat that the overwhelming sentiment (about 4 to 1, by the end) was to retain the Philip S. Miller name. Some of the advice was firm, but respectful. "Thank you so much for asking, instead of making this decision in secret. I believe that Mr. Miller's contributions to this town were so many and so outstanding..."

Others were a little less polite. "What kind of idiot would confuse the Miller LIBRARY with the Miller BUILDING?" (Answer: all kinds. I remain befuddled by the name of the street I've lived on for 8 years. I reside at Johnson Court, which is off of Johnson Drive, which is adjacent to Johnson Place. It's the sort of thing that makes you wonder how often the fire department gets a panicked call that says, "Fire at 212 Johnson!" Click.)

One gentleman wrote me of the time he secured a loan from Mr. Miller, whom he had never met until then. He got the loan after only 15 minutes of conversation. There was no loan application form, no collateral, and no formal contract. This is what is known as a character loan, and Phil Miller seems to have made a lot of them.

My correspondent was definitely a character. Maybe, he jabbed, if I were so selfish as to ignore the remarkable generosity of this remarkable man, we should just call the new building the "Haime LaRue Memorial Library." (Good Lord, I thought, is this a death threat? Then I decided, Nah; a lot of people mistake sarcasm for wit.)

Some people did make the case for the "Castle Rock Library." Why? Because they felt it was simply less confusing. But even these people believed that the library should establish a "Miller Room."

Most, although not all, of the people supporting the Miller name have lived here a while. They remember other slights to Phil Miller's past -- for instance, what is now Plum Creek Parkway once bore the name of Miller. That still rankles.

Castle Rock, like Douglas County generally, has experienced truly phenomenal growth. Unlike some towns, it does try to balance its opposing strains. On the one hand, we have the convenience and modernity of typical suburban development: the King Soopers shopping center, the Outlet Malls, the Meadows, Founders Village.

On the other hand, we have a concerted attempt to preserve a sense of unique place: the new front of the county building, the Perry Street development. These attempts swim against the current, and are not guaranteed. I can't help but notice that despite the thriving new businesses along Perry Street, some long time Wilcox folks are slipping away to the mall.

What makes Castle Rock different from other Front Range communities? In part, it is our history. No history of Castle Rock is complete without a conscious celebration and honoring of the contributions of Philip S. Miller. His personal character was a formative influence on our civic character. It deserves to be remembered in more than the name of just one building, particularly as important as the library was to him.

So after my exploration of the issue, I'm inclined to retain the name of the Philip S. Miller Library. We have reason to be proud of it.

And speaking of history, I want to join my voice to the hearty endorsement of fellow Douglas County News-Press columnist, James O'Hern. Susie Appleby, a Highlands Ranch resident, recently published her superb history of Douglas County, "Fading Fast." Appleby not only wrote an intelligent and interesting tome, she also cleared up and corrected many mysteries and myths about our common past.

The book is available from selected area bookstores. Like Debbie Buboltz's "Philip Simon Miller: Butcher, Banker, Benefactor," it is one of the essential additions to the bookshelf of any Douglas County citizen with an interest in how we got to where we are today.