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, February 28, 2001

February 28, 2001 - Trials of a House Husband

This week, my wife is in England. Suzanne and her father have relatives back there, and my father-in-law, now in his seventies, got the itch to go. When he wistfully suggested that perhaps Suzanne would like to go along, I encouraged her to go for it — an opportunity not only to get to know him better, but also for her to return, for a time, to her globe trotting youth.

So I'm spending the week looking after the kids and being a house-husband.

I have to admit that I thought, for almost a day, that this would be a kind of vacation for me. I'd have a chance to rest up. But that was before I got a close look at my wife's schedule.

For one thing, there's the home schooling of our son, Perry. He's quick, and I'm expecting to have a lot of fun with him. But it's not the same thing as lying around and watching TV.

I don't have to worry about my daughter's education. Maddy goes to the local middle school, and I'm very proud to report that she has just been accepted into the National Junior Honor Society.

On the other hand, she has an amazing number of appointments during the week: sports, music, and more. Toss Perry's extracurricular activities into the mix, and you've got a lot of tearing around the metro area.

Then we get into the other stuff. Now, I enjoy cooking. Unfortunately, the things I like to make are not the things my kids like to eat. I love soups and casseroles. I like things that simmer and stew and blend. Alas. My daughter believes that rice and peas should be set down as far from each other as possible on her plate, if not eaten in separate states entirely. My son's idea of wild commingling is a hamburger AND a bun.

So I'll be pursuing a simplicity theme this week. But that might be kind of fun, too. And I will say that my wife left me some interesting books, particularly "One Bite Won't Kill You: More than 200 Recipes to Tempt Even the Pickiest Kids on Earth," by Ann Hodgman. It's a hilarious cookbook.

I'm committed, also, to the notion that when Suzanne gets back, there won't be anything that I let pile up. She will find groceries in the fridge. The house will be straightened and vacuumed. The dishes and the clothes will be washed. The children will have practiced their instruments, attended their lessons, and fulfilled all their obligations.

And I, I suspect, will have the chance to go back to the library, seeing it for the island of calm and peace that I suspect it really is.

Wednesday, February 21, 2001

February 21, 2001 - An Evening in Bulgaria with Our Sister Library

It all started when Nancy Bolt, the State Librarian of Colorado, sent out an electronic call, back in May of last year. It went like this: "HELP! I have four Bulgarian libraries looking for Colorado library partners."

Through a series of improbable events, Nancy wound up visiting Bulgaria some years ago, after the breakup of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic. She came back not only with some interesting connections to people, but also with some samples of truly stunning Bulgarian jewelry.

She also brought back something else: a willingness to serve as a dual diplomat, both for the courageous and talented people of that country, and the librarians of Colorado.

Bulgarian libraries are grappling with the same issue our libraries face: how to acquire useful materials for the public. But that effort is complicated by various factors. With the USSR break up, the Bulgarian economy has been stressed. Librarians there are also grappling with something else: the whole idea of the library as a primary access point for information by and about the government.

The partnership, or "sister library" relationship, is one of Nancy's approaches to that end.

Well, the Douglas Public Library District, along with several other public libraries (Aurora, Boulder, Littleton's Bemis Public Library, Eagle Valley, and Jefferson County) responded. DPLD got paired with the "Dora Gabe" Library, in Dobrich, a tourist town on the Black Sea in northern Bulgaria. (Dora Gabe is the name of a renowned local poet.)

Not long afterward, I got a message, via e-mail, from the Director of the library, one Elena Koeva-Yurchenko.

She wrote, "I take the chance to beg you for help. Probably you know in Bulgaria we speak one of the Slavonic languages - Bulgarian. We write in the Cyrillic alphabet. Bulgarian people are learning 2-3 foreign languages, and particularly English, French, and Russian. Our readers need:

1. Books about USA - History, Geography, Culture and Art, Tourism.
2. American belles lettres - poetry, novels, short stories.
3. Encyclopedias, dictionaries, reference books.
4. Literature for children.
5. CD and audiotapes - traditional and modern American music.
6. Multimedia
7. Traditional and modern applied arts.

"We wish you good health and a success in the New Millennium."

Nancy Bolt then told me, "You can send the books directly to the Bulgarian library partner and be reimbursed or send them to me at the State Library and I'll mail them for you. In return, your Bulgarian Library Partner will send you books, pamphlets, and brochures about Bulgaria (in English), CD's of Bulgarian music, and other resources. "

Or, we can mail things direct to:

9300 Dobrich
7, Nezavisimost St.,
Elena Angelova Koeva-Jurchenko

But aside from the appeal for materials, libraries on both sides of the globe are interested in fostering understanding of our own and each other's cultures. To that end, on Tuesday, February 27, the Douglas Public Library District will be hosting "An Evening in Bulgaria," at our Lone Tree Library (just south of the Park Meadows Mall, on the corner of Yosemite and Lone Tree Parkway).

Our flyer says it well: "History and Culture buffs! Our speakers will take you on a cultural journey through the past and present of Bulgaria. Learn about their transitions from communism to democracy, and how they are working to preserve ancient books. Afterwards, treat yourself to a delicious sampling of traditional Bulgarian food."

We hope to see you there. Incidentally, you might want to bring any spare books you have lying around.

Wednesday, February 14, 2001

February 14, 2001 - CSAP!

My eye lighted on the diagram. I saw a ladder leaning against a house, an angle translated into degrees, a distance measured in feet. A lot of unknowns. A space to work my calculations.

And I froze.

I had, in fact, the first math panic attack I'd had since college trigonometry -- the only college class I ever failed. This is not a memory I cherish.

Where was I? Sitting in the administration building of the Douglas County School District. What was I doing? Taking the 10th grade Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, test.

I think I know why so many parents were invited to come take the test across the state. These days, such tests are called "high stakes." Test results are taken seriously not just for children, but for the institutions that teach them.

I believe we were supposed to conclude that the tests weren't easy. We were supposed to understand that being "proficient" at the CSAP means that you really are very accomplished.

We were also to learn, by direct experience, that performing at a level less than proficient might not necessarily be a disgrace. It might simply indicate two bits of good news.

1. In the year 2001, academic standards are getting tougher.

2. The public now has a new and tool to gauge the effectiveness of one of its most vital institutions -- the public school.

Well, here's my honest appraisal. Both of those are absolutely true. The CSAP is a better test than most. It is capable of giving a far more incisive insight into gaps in student performance.

For the record, I aced the reading and writing part of the test. I really did -- I made not a single mistake. Moreover, I was very aware that it was a better, clearer assessment of skills -- comprehension, grammar, spelling, organization -- than any standardized test I remember taking before. So at the age of 46, I'm pleased to report that these days I might be an A student in 10th grade. Lord knows I wasn't then.

I did pretty badly on the math test -- but only on the trigonometric functions. I got everything else right, after only a little fumbling. Maybe our high school juniors should be held to "proficient" in trig. I pity them.

Well, when I got home I told my wife about my CSAP results. And she told me she'd given our six year old son, Perry, the 4th grade test that morning. The test, or a sample, had come in the morning paper.

Perry did really, really well. Our first grader was "proficient" as a fourth grader. I should point out, I guess, that he's been taught at home these past couple years.

Well, I've thought about this hard, and here's what I think I've concluded.

First, the educational pendulum is swinging away from self-realization and general inquiry. It is swinging back toward structure and specificity. That's fine -- for those who need more structure and specificity. Not all children do, you know.

Second, I am nonetheless a believer in clear standards for achievement. And in general, I applaud the attempt to set those standards higher, and help kids master core content.

Third, my many teacher friends report a trend toward a tremendous narrowing of educational focus. Everything depends on CSAP results in just three areas: reading, writing and 'rithmetic. Those are important subjects. But they are not the ONLY important subjects.

Fourth, I believe we are partners in the education of our young. Parents should read to their children. They should TALK to their children. They should take their children to the library. I have concluded that some parents believe their sole child-rearing responsibility involves the purchase of clothing from Gap.

Teachers should teach well, and strive toward Olympic standards. Finally -- and this seems to be the party too often left out of the equation -- the student has some responsibility, too: to show up, to pay attention, to work hard, to deal with the honest assessment of his or her accomplishments without whining about it. This goes for the parents, too.

The true test of education isn't what happens when the Legislature decides to get tough. It's what happens every day.

Wednesday, February 7, 2001

February 7, 2001 - Library Meeting Rooms Another Public Resource

I've worked in and around libraries most of my life, since I founded the Library Club in 7th grade (it sounds a little geeky now, but there you have it) until the dawn of the new millennium. But I, too, am always finding out new things about what a library does.

I know how we buy books, how we select databases. I understand the careful training of our staff, and the professional qualifications of people we bring in from elsewhere. I have spent a great deal of time, along with the rest of our staff, thinking about how to structure our catalog records, or display our holdings, or to build cozy places to sit and study.

But lately, I've come to realize that there's another huge community resource in our libraries that librarians have done almost nothing to market to our patrons. What is that resource? — the people who use our meeting rooms.

I recently asked staff to compile a list of the folks who make use of our free, public spaces. This is for just the months of January and February, and just for the Castle Rock and Highlands Ranch libraries. The breadth of interests and expertise is amazing.

Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock: the Castle Rock Writers, the Douglas County Garden Club, the Plum Creek Homeowners Association, the Centennial Soccer Club, the Craft Club, the Castle Rock Players, Seniors 50+, Douglas County Dolphin Youth, Blue Spruce Button Club, American Association of Legal Nurses, Players Club Home Owners Association, AARP Tax Aides, Mountain Shadows Home Owners Association, Castle Rock Christian Homeschoolers, the Night Readers (a book discussion group), the 4-H Douglas County Stockman, the Colorado Association of Parliamentarians, the AAUW, the RLDS Chess Club, the Douglas County Surge Girl's Fastpitch, the Clover Clan 4-H Club , the Fairway Vistas II Home Owners Association, the National Safety Council, the Douglas County Republicans, the Castle Villa Condo Association, and the Leading Edge.

At Highlands Ranch: After Dark Investors, Arts Guild of Highlands Ranch, Study Group, Beta Sigma Phi-Littleton City Council, Carlyle Park Homeowners Association, Colorado State Patrol/Alive at 25, Coventry Ridge Homeowners Association, Cub Scout Pack 872, Embroiderer's Guild of America-Colorado Chapter, Highlands Ranch Historical Society, Girl Scouts Brownie Troop 1817, Highlands Ranch Book Group, Colorado Lupus Foundation, Knights of Columbus, KOC Ladies Auxiliary, Miniacs of Highlands Ranch, Parkinson's Support Group, Pi'ilani Hawaiian Civic Club, Quilt Bee of Highlands Ranch, the Rocky Mountain Snow Buddies, and the Sunflower Estate Planning Resources.

Douglas County continues its transformation from rural to suburban to urban. In the process, people will find that many things they now think can only be found in other communities, are in fact available in their own back yards.

We'll be looking for ways, over the next year, to help Douglas County residents track down such community resources more easily.

Meanwhile, if you've been looking for a group that centers around a particular interest, you might just start at your local library. You're bound to make some friends.