This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, October 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.