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, May 30, 2001

May 30, 2001 - Naming the New Library in Castle Rock

I’d like some advice from the community. As readers of this paper know, the Douglas Public Library District recently purchased the old Safeway building at 100 Wilcox in Castle Rock. We are now in the process of soliciting proposals from a few choice architects. By the end of next year, we intend to move all library operations currently run out of the Philip S. Miller Library and its annex into the new location.

My question has to do with the name of the new facility. There is no question that Philip S. Miller is one of the towering figures in the history of Douglas County's libraries. It was he who gave the library its first capital contribution (of $25,000, when the county gave $5,000 to operations). He contributed again over the years, most particularly when we opened the current building in 1987. On his first visit to that building, he wrote a check for $500,000, which canceled the debt.

At his death, the estate of Mr. Miller was valued at over $32 million. This became the Miller Trust. Each year, the earnings on that Trust are distributed to several recipients. This generates approximately $150,000 a year for the library.

Some of that money has gone to underwrite the new capital expansion, for which the library paid cash. I think Mr. Miller would have liked that. Our first notion was that of course we would call the new building "the Philip S. Miller Library." I certainly have no intention of trying to sell the name to somebody else. If anyone deserves that signal honor, it is Mr. Miller.

But several people have pointed out to me that the county's new building, which will be located just a couple of blocks away, is called the Philip S. Miller Administration Building. Putting two buildings downtown with very nearly the same name would promote confusion. Given that both the new library and the county building are frequent meeting places, it might make sense to do something to better distinguish the names.

So I'm asking folks to call, write, or e-mail me directly to indicate a preference for one of the following:

1. The Philip S. Miller Library. We could simply continue to call it what we call it: "the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock." I suspect that many people call it "the Miller Library." While this might be confusing for newcomers and visitors, the buildings really won't be that far apart now, and the word "library" is certainly clear enough. That maintains our traditions, and honors one of our founders.

2. The Castle Rock Library. This parallels what is now the case for all our other libraries: the Highlands Ranch Library, the Louviers Library, the Lone Tree Library, the Parker Library. If we went this route, we would then do something else: create a Philip S. Miller Room, which would contain many of the artifacts we've collected about him over the years. At this point, it is our plan to create several other large meeting rooms as well. We will try to sell the naming rights to those. Then a patron might say, "meet me at the Miller Room at the Castle Rock Library" to distinguish from the "Miller Administration Building."

3. Another option might be to give the Miller name to the new center. Call it, for instance, the Philip S. Miller Square, the Philip S. Miller Center, or the Philip S. Miller Civic Center. This would contain the Castle Rock Library, just as the Plum Creek Centre contains the new Safeway.

I also toyed with the idea of combining the name with that of another founder of the library: Nicky Mead. Mr. Miller gave money. Nicky (also known as Genevieve) gave time. It took both of them to get the library going. "Phil and Nicky's" has a nice, hometown feel to it. But I know we'll wind up dedicating some artwork to her at the new building, too, created by longtime friend Joyce Newman.

At any rate, please feel free to e-mail me at jlarue@jlarue.com, or leave a voice mail message at 720-733-8624, or write me in care of this paper, regarding your thoughts on this matter. Thank you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2001

May 23, 2001 - Backyard Growth Overwhelming

Well, I've gotten a flood of mail about my previous column concerning my utterly incompetent lawn care. I'm gratified to report that I am not alone.

A sample: "If it weren't for neighbors, I wouldn't cut my grass at all." This is the observation of an honest man.

Another: "We bulldoze the land, already teeming with native life. We impose the landscape of Back East. Then we dump toxic chemicals onto the transposed, mismatched flora to kill all the things that grow here naturally. For God's sake, why?"

I especially enjoyed the tale of a lawyer in Urbana, Illinois who let his grass grow so long that he secured Wildlife Preserve Status for his front yard. Brilliant. Why didn't I think of that?

To be fair, I also heard from people who violently disagreed with me. One patron e-mailed, "Just because I love the library doesn't mean I'm clueless about looking after my yard. The whole reason I came to the library was to learn to be a better gardener. You might try that yourself."

Fair enough. I have (I sincerely hope) my modest talents. And then, I have my manifold defects. I certainly don't mean to suggest that because otherwise innocent Douglas County patrons share my passions, they must also share my dysfunctions.

If you are able to both admire the library, and maintain a trophy lawn, then I applaud you. I mean it.

You have uncovered the great truth of libraries: we help you do the things you want to do, as expertly as your character allows. If your character extends to creating exquisite islands of suburban beauty, you have earned my deepest gratitude, and, surely, that of many others.

But that doesn't change the awful truth. Any plant that comes into the zone of my personal care is on death row. Unless, that is, it's a weed, in which case I shower it, all unwillingly, with everything it needs to thrive. If, one day, an irresistible rogue of the vegetative world lurches forth to smother the globe, you can bet that it was born in my back yard.

I'm sorry.

But not too sorry. The hours of my life are precious. I could invest them in idle pleasure, or I could invest them in the preservation of the planet. That's a hard choice, but I've come down firmly on the side of personal ease.

At this point, I'd like to offer a representative sample of books, magazines, videos, audiotapes, websites, and community contacts, that would illuminate the issues far more precisely than I have indicated here.

I'd like to, but I'm not going to. I've just looked out my back window, and everything back there has SURGED in a fashion that I can only describe as alarming.

You can find wonderful information about the topic of lawn care and gardening at the library, both in our catalog, and on our website. Of course, I've never verified that, not on this particular subject.

Right now, I'm inching my way to the telephone. I'm going to call the reference desk. What do you do, exactly, when a wall of leafy strangeness lifts itself up, hurls itself at your window, and

Wednesday, May 16, 2001

May 16, 2001 - Lawncare? The Cool Confines of the Library Much Preferred

I recognize that there are people who love to be outside, love to dig their eager hands into the fertile ground, love to clip and prune and pull, love to plant and tend and fret over the earth's bounty.

I mean them no disrespect when I say that I am not one of them.

I'd like to say that it all goes back to having grown up doing yard work in the Midwest. It is certainly true that when I mowed the lawn back there, I faced harrowing enemies. For years I battled mutant weeds, weeds that sprang up some 4 feet in the span of an evening. I'm not kidding.

And there were ... chiggers.

Chiggers are all but invisible critters that, as you innocently mow the lawn, burrow into your skin. You find them along the line of your socks, along the edge of your waistband, at the very boundary of your clothes and decency. They eat into your flesh, dig deeper and deeper. They lay eggs inside you. The only cure I ever found was to dab a little nail polish at the entry point. Then they die, suffocated by your skin. Along the way, they cause you to itch. Oh, they itch.

Mowing the lawn in the Midwest was like offering yourself as a sacrifice to a particularly brutal race of tiny priests. You could spot the reluctant members of this religion by the angry red welts on their skin, the relentless scratching, the mumbled curses.

Here in Colorado, of course, yard work is not nearly so bad. I despise it nonetheless.

My avoidance of even modest lawn care is almost comical. In the summer, on the weekends, I wake in the cool morning and put off the mowing, the trimming, the raking and bagging and setting right. But it nags at me. I can't stand having it before me all day.

I put it off as long as possible. I have a leisurely breakfast. I read the paper. I play the piano.

Finally, usually at noon — the hottest hour of the day — I can stand it no more. I stumble into the heat and the glare. I toil for endless hours. At last, I collapse.

And for what? I haven't solved anything. It all still grows away, demanding even more toil and time.

Despite my efforts (or, more properly, because of my sullen and inept efforts), things never look quite right. I know that.

And, of course, there's the embarrassment. My neighbors. I'm so ashamed, I'm sure that when planes fly over from DIA, I'd be willing to bet that astonished captains call, "Ladies and gentlemen, if you'll just look over to your left, you'll see a yard that even from 1,000 feet, is a disgrace. On behalf of (insert airline name), we apologize."

I would, in fact, do almost anything rather than work on my yard. I would even sit and write a column, on a sunny, almost balmy, nearly perfect Sunday morning, than join the rest of you out there in your itchy, awful summer.

There are times — and the three months of summer do seem to be the perfect example of such a time — when the only sensible thing to do is to go to a nice, cool library.

There, any physical exertion — typing on a keyboard, raising an indolent arm to the shelves, turning the page, ever so delicately — is just somehow more sophisticated than the grunting and groaning that inevitably attend lawn care.

I say again, I have the deepest respect, gratitude, and something bordering on superstitious awe, for all those people who LIKE to look after their lawns.

My notion of an intelligent economy is one in which I can earn money doing the things I like to do, in order to pay people to do the things I abhor.

Alas, the tiny size of my lawn, and various other financial commitments, prevent me from hiring people to do the work for me. At the library, however, please note that all our lawns are tended by professionals.

Meanwhile, you'll find me, sitting inside, reading. I extend the offer to all of you with similar feelings, to please join me.

Wednesday, May 9, 2001

May 9, 2001 - Wizard of Oz! The Tale Never Tires

I have always loved the movie, "The Wizard of Oz."

When I was a kid, it was run, on one of our five network TV stations, exactly once a year.

We watched for this big event in the TV Guide. But it was important enough that it was even featured (e.g., run as a story) in local newspapers.

When the show came on, we were always assembled, my three sisters, my brother, and I, on the floor in front of the TV, a good 10 minutes ahead of time. With luck, we'd even gotten our mom to let us shake up a little Jiffy Pop popcorn.

I remember one day, when Frazier Thomas (the emcee of "Family Classics" in the Chicago area) solemnly announced that we should not try to adjust the color on our TV sets during the first part of the program. Dorothy, in Kansas, all the way through the tornado, lived in a black and white world.

Color, or so Thomas told us, was introduced at the exact moment when Dorothy opened the door, after landing somewhere over the rainbow.

Well, I was pretty excited. I KNEW that splashes of gorgeous color would materialize on our screen. The fact that we had a black and white TV (like most of the folks I knew then) didn't enter into it. This was OZ. It was magic!

To no one's surprise but mine, color did NOT materialize on our cheesy little screen. I do remember a pang of disappointment.

It didn't last. So what if it was in black and white? All the drama was there. My imagination was Technicolor.

I loved almost all of the characters. Dorothy was perfect. Toto, too. The witch. The Scarecrow. Oz. Auntie Em, and even Uncle Henry. The Lion.

The one key character that always frustrated and eluded me, though, was the Tin Man. That bothered me, because my favorite moment of the film was when he lifted his ax and slammed it against the door to free Dorothy from the witch.

In that moment, I saw what Tin Man MIGHT have been. A hero. THAT was what friends were all about — folks who loved you, who risked it all.

Instead, somehow, the Tin Man got glossed over, somehow edited into blandness.

Years later, I read the Oz books (they are a series, not a single title) to my daughter. Frank Baum, the author, got a bad rap from critics and librarians alike, who found the books poorly written and juvenile.

Guess what? Critics and librarians were wrong. The books are even better than the movie.

And the tale of Tin Man was fleshed out (so to speak). It's a weird but powerful story.

The Castle Rock Players will be presenting the Wizard of Oz — and its cast of 90 — on May 31 through June 3. You can buy tickets (have your credit card handy) by calling 303-814-7740.

And I've decided that the Tin Man (who just happens to be the role I landed) will finally get his due. Here's the guy who lost his human body, all for the love of a maid. Here's the chance to tell his whole, passionate life.

Come see the story — I'm just one of the performers, and the rest of them have their own compelling tales. The talent lurking around Douglas County will surprise and delight you.

Oh, and do stop by the library to check out the original. Your kids will love it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2001

May 2, 2001 - A Change of Address

Last week, for the first time in some 20 years, I went to my place of work, and it was NOT a library. It was a very odd feeling. It all started back when we were doing the library's 2001 budget. It had become very obvious that our business operations, ably led by Karen Hudson, were too small. We now have an annual budget of some $10.2 million — more than two people crammed into one office were really able to stay on top of.

But the district has a tradition of concentrating its efforts on public space, not the "back room" of library operations, a tradition that sometimes pinches us. We simply didn't have enough office space to go around.

So we considered the functions of our very small administrative staff. Our two person business operations (accounts receivable, etc.) closely follow the activity of our technical services department (which orders and receives some 100,000 library materials every year). They need to be close together.

Our one person Personnel department needs to be where staff can get to him easily. It also helps when applicants are drifting in, to have a physical presence in a working library.

At the Philip S. Miller Library, there's only one other district administrative position: me. And I have found that just lately, I spend more time out of my office than in it. I swing by other branches. I meet with Board members. I participate in various statewide library development projects. I attend community functions.

Suddenly, it was pretty obvious. The director was going to have to go — give up office space to more pressing district needs. I was fortunate in that a departing Library Board member scouted out an amazingly inexpensive rental space, right downtown Castle Rock. It's a walk-up office on Wilcox, over the Columbine Print Shop, and with a strangely charming view of the alley. There was enough room for me to ease some office pressures elsewhere in the district.

So as of last Friday, I've got a new address (312 Wilcox, Suite 204) and phone number (720-733-8624). This week, I'll be joined by Katie Klossner, our Community Relations Manager, and Priscilla Queen, our Programming Specialist. Some time after that, I'll be able to hire someone I've never had: a secretary, both for me and the Board.

The move is temporary. When the old Safeway is converted to the new Castle Rock library, I'll rejoin my colleagues. But for the year or so that takes, I'll be one of the many downtown workers.

I'll miss the library. I got into this business because a library is the best place I know, the place where I am happiest, surrounded by books. There are advantages to being around the staff, too. I have a better sense of the levels of activity in the library, and what staff are facing.

I also tremendously enjoy the chance encounters with the public, the folks who just drop by with a complaint or a word of praise for our services. Of course, I can still be reached by e-mail at jlarue@jlarue.com.

On the other hand, our new Castle Rock library will also be in the heart of the downtown. I'm looking forward to the chance to talk to folks there, to find out what they are looking for in the new building.

I'm also looking forward to ducking across the alley to see what's up at the News Press, or crossing the street to grab some coffee from Crowfoot. Maybe I'll even get to be a B & B regular.

If one of my purposes is to weave the library ever more tightly into the life of a community — and it is — than maybe it's not a bad idea to check out more intimately the life on Wilcox Street.