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."