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 25, 2002

December 25, 2002 - 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.

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.

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.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

December 18, 2002 - Shop Locally

One of the surprises of the Internet was the discovery by thousands of libraries across the country that the hottest information commodity was ... what was going on in our own back yards.

Think about it. You won't use your local library as a portal to Google. You just go to Google.

Certainly, many of the people who use library terminals do go on to search a host of World Wide Web search engines and big databases.

But a close analysis of our logs shows us that the biggest demand on library websites is for local information. That is, people are trying to find local statistics, local contacts, local history.

And, after years of poohpoohing our own catalogs as kind of boring, the truth is, they actually generate brisk traffic. Why? Because it's a local asset, pointing to something people can stop by and pick up on the spot.

There's another reason this local focus is logical. It happens that we employ a host of highly competent librarians. Good as they are, though, there's no way they can be experts on the literally millions of websites out there.

They CAN be experts on Douglas County.

In other words, the idea that libraries are your "doorway to the world," while technically true, pretty much misses the point. Your local library is your doorway to your own neighborhood -- and that's a real service, because it takes a lot of work to get all that information in order.

What goes on in just one town is almost inconceivably rich. Just try, as newspapers do, to track all the club meetings in a single week, or the business of just one governmental entity.

Local libraries have the ability to mine the real depth of some of that data, to reveal its "granularity" -- the fine grit of real stuff, as opposed to the big picture, seen from a distance.

It happens that this insight has a seasonal connection. I got to thinking about all this because of Christmas shopping. Here's what I've concluded. Just as it makes more sense for libraries to try to be local experts than global experts, it makes more sense to shop locally than to shop on the Internet. There are three reasons.

First, shopping locally employs my neighbors. A lot of good people work very hard to make their businesses successful. If I buy their goods and services, I'm helping to ensure the economic well-being of them and their families. That makes for a more stable community.

Second, when I buy goods and services locally, I'm also paying local sales taxes. Those taxes support a variety of services that are important to my well-being and quality of life. I recognize that "no taxes!" is supposed to be one of the great values of online shopping. But often, shipping charges cancel out the economic advantage. More importantly, those purchases do nothing to make MY town better.

Finally, online shopping is a little solitary. I like to see the faces of the people who sell me my groceries, my books, and my meals. It turns the business of living into an actual life.

So that's my tip from the world of library information technology, eminently applicable to the practical politics and economics of living in a real community: think globally, but shop locally.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

December 11, 2002 - Libraries & Economics

The longer I'm in the library business, the more I realize how deeply the public and private sectors are interconnected.

It's clear that in 2002, Colorado libraries have taken a hit financially. In some ways, this reflects what's happening in the business world. Many commercial operations are suffering a drop in sales, thus in revenue. Those libraries that are dependent on city sales taxes (as in Denver), are also seeing a sharp decline in revenue.

But here's the contrary part: even those libraries that are losing money are at the same time experiencing a steep increase in use. Less money; more demand for service. In business, that just doesn't happen. More use means more money.

Is library use rising in Douglas County? You bet. Two years ago, we broke all our previous circulation records when we checked out 2 million items. This year, we'll check out over 3 million.

But that rise in use is happening all over Colorado. How come? There are lots of reasons.

Let's take the more negative situation first. If you've lost your job, you go to the library to retool: to learn how to write a resume, to borrow a word processor to produce it, to scour newspapers for job ads. Or possibly you use the library as a sort of temporary office, a place to meet people and investigate prospects. Or maybe you use the library as a place to look into alternate careers, to find out which careers are recession-proof.

Libraries provide resources -- already paid for by the general public -- that you can least afford when you most need them. Here we see the great investment value of cooperative purchasing agreements!

Of course, there are lots of more positive reasons to use the library. Libraries help you spend the money you do have more wisely, whether you're planning to make a significant consumer purchase, or are trying to explore investment opportunities.

In addition to all our more traditional offerings -- informational and recreational materials of all sorts, reference assistance, and children's services -- libraries also offer a rich tapestry of free family programming. You can explore everything from history to crafts, right here in your backyard.

What is the fiscal picture for the Douglas Public Library District? Well, we are not dependent on sales tax. Almost all of our revenue comes from property taxes. Property values are less volatile than sales. So when the economy slows down, library districts get enough notice to prepare themselves.

Here's how I size up our changing fiscal climate: revenues, while still growing, are flattening. Next year, we'll see a real increase of about 8.9% in tax receipts -- but balance that against over a 30% increase in use.

What does that mean? We have just about wrapped up all the capital projects we promised voters back in 1996 -- and have in fact done better than our promises. But once we open our storefront in Roxborough, and once we complete our new Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, our capital reserves will be gone.

At this point in the library's development, our focus has begun to shift from outward expansion (capital) to internal infrastructure and productivity (operations). Incidentally, that's exactly what we said would happen when we last went back to the voters: we'd build some libraries, then have enough money to run them.

The challenge of the next several years will be how to stay focused on growing community needs, with an eye toward wringing maximum use from existing resources.

But, you know, libraries are pretty good at that.

Wednesday, December 4, 2002

December 4, 2002 - A Child's Christmas in Wales

The library has a tape of Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet, reading his "A Child's Christmas in Wales." I've been listening to it as I drive.

Thomas, the preternaturally gifted wordsmith, is mesmerizing. On the one hand, he's definitely telling a story, the story of many Christmases in Wales, from the standpoint of a young boy. It's funny and charming.

On the other hand, the sheer, compelling beauty and strangeness of the language sometimes overwhelms the listener with phrases like these:

"All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea" "We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows -" "I mean that the bells the children could hear were inside them." "...sometimes two hale young men, with big pipes blazing, no overcoats and wind blown scarfs, would trudge, unspeaking, down to the forlorn sea, to work up an appetite, to blow away the fumes, who knows, to walk into the waves until nothing of them was left but the two furling smoke clouds of their inextinguishable briars."

We Americans often lose track of the real meaning of poetry. It's too easy, particularly in the holiday season, to relegate it to greeting card sentiments. Real poetry -- and anything by Thomas certainly qualifies -- is about something else. It's about a heightened sense of reality, of language so pure and powerful that it changes us as we listen to it.

To celebrate this fine work, published in 1955, the Douglas Public Library District's own theatre troupe, Page to Stage Productions, will present several performances of "A Child's Christmas in Wales" around the district. The show will be presented by library staff in a reader's theater setting. All of the performances are free.

Here are the places and times:

December 3: The Lone Tree Library at 6:30 pm

December 4: The Highlands Ranch Library at 7 pm

December 5: The Parker Library at 7 pm

December 11: The Philip S. Miller Library at 7 pm

Page to Stage Productions presents theatre performances based on treasured literature throughout the year. The performances are recommended for anyone from the age of 8 and up.

It's my hope that such programs will encourage families to dig out more treasures from our collection. In fact, I hope they take it one step farther, and actually read them aloud to each other at home. While there's something to be said for gathering around the television in your pjs to watch yet another, "It's a Wonderful Life," there's something even more engaging about reading to each other by the fireplace, or the Christmas tree.

The season is a time to build memories, and what better memory than the sound of beloved voices, probing the rhythms and insights of great literature?

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

October 16, 2002 - Wanted: Non-Library Users

This is like the old joke: would all those people not here, please raise their hands?

The library is looking to do a special kind of focus group. In our jargon, it is a "non-user" study. In brief, we want to pull together at least two groups of ten people (one group of adults, one of teens) that do not use the library. That is, they don't have cards, they don't use our website, they don't stop by for meetings.

Then we want to ask these people, in their separate groups, to talk about how come.

There are several reasons for our curiosity.

First, like any other business, we want to improve our marketing. Library staff have a deeply held belief that we have something for everybody. But we are also aware that people are busy, too busy, sometimes, to find out about all the wonderful things going on in their own back yards. How can we get the word out better than we do now?

Second, also like other businesses, we need to know if there's some barrier to our services that we should be doing something about. For instance, is there a tremendous, pent-up demand for library service on Friday or Saturday nights? Do we need early morning commuter hours?

Third, we are deeply interested in trends. Public institutions, if they are to be worthy of the dollars invested of them, have to stay focused on their communities.

For example, we know that the rise of the Internet has had an effect on library use and services. But it's not the effect that some people predicted. We have found, and studies have shown both here and elsewhere, that when we added Internet terminals, all kinds of library use went UP.

That is, people came in to use the terminals, but found that this increased their interest in the world of print and video. They discovered the comfort and hominess of the environment. They met friends there.

But it's also the case that use of the Internet replaced some kinds of library use -- the quick answer kind.

But back to my request. If you, or someone you know, lives in a household where there are no active library cards, please call, or have them call either me, or my assistant, Patti Owen-DeLay, at 720-733-8624.

We're trying to set up the two focus groups on November 6. They will be held at the Highlands Ranch Library, although we're seeking representation from around the county.

The focus group for teens will run from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. The adult focus group will run from 6:30 to 8:30. Participants will be paid, and will also get some snacks.

This is limited to residents of Douglas County, by the way.

So help us get out the word. When was the last time an organization offered you money to tell them why you weren't paying any attention to them?

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

November 20, 2002 - The DVD Gang

Let me tell you the story of the DVD gang.

A family -- a man, a woman, a child, and another man -showed up at one of our branch libraries. They presented Denver identification. Under our Colorado Library Card program, that was enough to get them all library cards with us.

They then proceeded to check out about 20 DVD's apiece.

A couple of days later, they showed up at another of our branches. Using their new cards, they repeated the performance.

A few days later, the same thing, at another branch.

Bottom line: over the course of a month, this roving band of film fans snapped up some 700 DVD's from Denver metro libraries.

Then, they tried to sell the DVD's to area pawn shops.

Just in case you're thinking: "how bold! Why didn't I think of that?" there are a few things you should consider.

First, it didn't take area libraries very long to figure out what was going on. Just about the time the DVD gang had finished its sweep of the area, all of us noticed that we'd been hit. Libraries quickly contacted each other. We then quickly organized the data: addresses, dates we'd been visited, what had been checked out on those dates, and what it was all worth. It was all sorted (as you might expect), alphabetically, too.

Second, patron confidentiality is no protection against theft. We contacted the police, who coordinated a multi-jurisdictional response.

Third, pawnshops are under some fairly strict police review. When the CD's got dumped, it didn't take long for the police to round up actual photographs of the culprits. It looks like we'll recover most of the items, too.

Fourth, although the DVD Gang then fled ahead of all the overdue notices, they have also now got credit records and police bulletins waiting for them. They're looking at a host of unhappy consequences, probably including restitution, fines, and perhaps jail time. All for what will turn out to be just a little bit of money.

Fifth, because of all this, we've reviewed our policies. We also did a database analysis. The average patron rarely checks out more than a handful of DVD's at a time. (This also reflects the fact that this is a new collection for us, so is often picked over.) So we've installed a new limit: each patron may only check out 7 DVD's on his or her card per session. That's one a day.

But here's something else worth remembering. All of the libraries agreed that by far, in overwhelming numbers, our patrons are actually very good. We get back a huge percentage of what we check out. We always have.

Our policies should, and do, reflect the usual honesty of the public, rather than the suspicion and paranoia that might be engendered by such reprobates as the DVD Gang. Just because a few of us are dim and desperate, doesn't mean that all of us should be treated that way.

So remember, folks, you read it here. Crime doesn't pay. Thoughtfulness and civic virtue, do.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

November 13, 2002 - Board Vacancy

Wanted: a library Trustee. Could that be you?

Maren Francis, founder and former owner of the Hooked on Books bookstore, longtime library Trustee, and past President of the Library Board, will be stepping down at the end of this year.

Maren has seen a lot of change in her time with us (11 years, I believe!). Over the past decade, the library district has built or renovated a library every year, all paid for without debt, out of our carefully husbanded savings. Our staff has grown from about 35 people when she came on board, to over 265 today. The Internet arrived at the library. We've launched reference services and children's services and community programming.

When Maren arrived, the Douglas Public Library District was near the bottom, statistically, of library performance. No more. We are now the fourth or fifth busiest library in the state, and first in many categories.

Here's how the library board is set up.

The Douglas Public Library District has 7 Trustees. They are appointed by the County Commissioners: two from each of the three Commissioner districts, and one at large. We already have two more representatives from the southern Douglas County district, so this vacancy is an at large position, which means it can be filled from anyone in the county.

Trustee terms are 3 years, and Board members are limited to three terms.

What do Board members do? They are responsible for the policy governance of the institution, for oversight of the budget, for contracts, for deciding what library issues need to be taken to the public through a vote, and for the hiring, evaluation, and (God forbid) termination of the Library Director. Three of our Trustees also serve as the governing body of the Douglas Public Library Foundation.

In recent years, the Library Board has moved to something very like a corporate decision-making body. That is, their focus has been on long term planning, on financial modeling, and strategic decision-making. They keep their focus on the future, not on day-to-day operations.

The Library Board is non-partisan. The only agenda it has staked out for itself has revolved around two issues: quality service, and good stewardship of public funds. In my opinion, it has been highly successful in both these areas.

Last year, the Board adopted a new mission statement, and 7 key strategic directions. The focus of their vision has been “building community.” To fulfill those, we are looking for some key skills in new Board members. In particular, we are seeking Board members with strong and deep connections to their communities.

The Douglas Public Library District serves the entire population of the county. But it does so most successfully when it is deeply engaged with all of its neighborhoods. We need people who can represent emerging trends and interests of their communities to the library, and represent the extraordinary asset of the library back to those communities.

Here are some particular areas of expertise that might be useful, tied to our strategic directions.

The library website is everyone's favorite bookmark. We have long been a technological leader in Douglas County -- the first website to come up, and one of the most heavily used. What can we do to enhance our electronic offerings to the business community, to average citizens, to young people?

“We are an Arts and Cultural Showcase.” It might be useful to have people with connections to the visual, performing, dance, or other cultural and artistic world.

“The library supports lifelong learning.” The library serves a strong support role for preschool, elementary, secondary, college, and post-college education. Moreover, we serve as the “People's University.” This is role that could, and should, be enhanced.

What's in it for you? Based on a recent exercise we conducted with the Board, members feel a real sense that they give something back to the community. Others appreciated the educational aspect of the experience: Trustees get involved in everything from construction projects to community planning meetings. Some Trustees appreciate the chance to work for the library ideals of free and equal access to information, to work with other people committed to the same causes, to help shape the direction of an institution. And of course, there's the fact that library Trustees, although they are not paid, are exempt from fines!

If you are interested in applying for a position, please send a letter to: Nominating Committee, c/o Trustees of the Douglas Public Library District, with a letter of interest and a resume. The Board will schedule interviews for top candidates by the end of the year, and seek to make the recommendation for appointment by January, 2004.

If you need more information, give me a call at 720-733-8624, or email me at jlarue@jlarue.com.

Thursday, November 7, 2002

November 7, 2001 - Breakthroughs Benefits Leadership & Libraries

As a people, Americans have a peculiar fascination with work. Ask folks in other cultures what they "do," and they may tell you, "I paint." Or, "I carve." Or, "I spend time with my kids." Or, "I whistle."

Americans ask, "You do this for a living?"

And the answer baffles us: "No. I do this for a life."

Clearly, we all have animal needs: for air, for food, for shelter. We all have human needs: for human contact, for growth of mind and spirit, for productivity. For joy.

But in our culture, many of these things get subsumed in our jobs. Our work becomes a dominant metaphor for our lives. It's not sufficient to get enough money to pay the mortgage and grocery bills. It's not enough to be glad to work beside people we like.

Before long, the simple affirmation of living, of delighting in drawing a breath, becomes a series of calculations and comparisons. "I want to be creative," is translated into, "I need to increase my sales performance." "I want to get better at seeing, thinking, making," becomes, "I need that promotion."

Often, our place within the business becomes a statement of self, the objective confirmation of our inner worth.

In much the same way, Americans have a fascination with leadership. Leadership is that quality of people who really succeed in business, right? So leadership becomes the buzzword, the 21st century equivalent of "enlightened." It is our culture's metaphor for significant achievement. The Buddha becomes Bill Gates.

So more and more of our time moves from the private realm to the world of work.

In my profession, too, we have the workshops, the conferences, the coaching, the motivational books and audiotapes. The purpose: to move to the front of the field, to be leaders.

(And of course, there's the other purpose: to make a lot of money for the people who run the workshops, host the conferences, market the books and audiotapes.)

But what keeps me coming to work isn't just the fun of trying to steer the institutional ship through occasionally weird waters. I believe that what libraries do gets at some of those deep issues. We equip people not just to make a living, but to make a life.

Now, in a unique partnership among several sectors of our society, I'm pleased to announce an interesting workshop put on by a local business coaching and development group. They're called Breakthroughs. The name of the workshop is "Breakthroughs in Attitudes: Building a No Limit 'Can Do' Attitude." Participants will learn how to remove barriers that block personal performance. They will learn how to stay focused, and concentrate on what's important. They will learn how to "transform possibilities into realities."

The workshop will be held on November 9, at the Douglas County Events Centers at the Fairgrounds in Castle Rock. The cost is $50 per participant. The program lasts from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Checks should go to either of the Rotary Clubs of Castle Rock, or to the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce. They need to be in by Thursday, November 8 at the latest.

I've heard a Breakthroughs presentation before, and have to say that it's well worth the money. A comparable workshop would ordinarily run ten times this amount.

But Breakthroughs is donating their time and materials. So the proceeds will go to two local causes: the Leadership Douglas County program, and a contribution toward a sculpture for the new Philip S. Miller Library.

So there you have it, an opportunity to learn more about the most personal side of your job, improve the leadership in your community, and contribute to something that nourishes the soul.

I haven't heard of such a good deal since, well, since the last time I went to the library.

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

November 6, 2002 - Faces

Some people have open faces. Others have closed.

It's the sort of thing you don't even notice until you have kids. You feel it for the first time right there in the birthing room, when all of a sudden you smile the way you probably haven't smiled in decades.

When they're infants, you see all the untrained grimaces and toothless grins. When babies are unhappy, their faces screw up and they wail. When they're happy, it's ear to ear and top of the head to the toes.

I remember noticing with surprise the glittering awe in my sister's eyes when she looked at her daughter. A few years later, I wasn't wondering anymore. I was living it, on the inside.

All this stuff loosens up your face. You realize how tight it used to be, how you put on a public face that was supposed to show that you were cool, or professional, or somehow in control.

But when you're trying to beam encouragement to a toddler, send it with every pore of your body, you have to move some of those facial muscles around. After that, it's harder to get them to settle down again. (Facial muscles, I mean, not the toddlers. Well, toddlers, too.)

Along about now, you begin to notice changes in your own children's faces. It gets worse when they go to school, when they have to mask, to some extent, their fears or insecurity, lest someone else take advantage.

This is a little like living alongside a summer stream, quick and changeable. Before you are quite aware of it, winter comes, and the water stiffens and slows. It becomes a face like too many of the faces in the world, cold and hard.

Then come the phony faces. The faces put on for show, for attitude, for sheer resentment. This can last, in whole populations, from adolescence through retirement.

It's enough to make you look at really old people's faces, for comfort, for the faces of people who don't play status games anymore, and start to have real faces again.

It's enough to make you read, because I've noticed that people forget about their faces when they're reading. They're living again, and feeling and dreaming without feeling like THEY are being watched. This time, they're doing the watching.

Face it, sometimes the only way to keep yourself limbered up is to step outside of your own skin, and imagine yourself inside someone else's. Sometimes you just have to allow yourself to respond to someone else's situation -- their loves, their passions, their horrors, their sorrow -- just to feel again the marvelous mobility of skin.

Face it, in order to have a face that's open, you may have to open a book.

Thursday, October 31, 2002

October 31, 2001 - Fantasy Fest!

Many people think fantasy and science fiction are the same. They're not.

"Fantasy" takes place in a world where certain, often basic, things are just impossible. Take the Harry Potter series. The author doesn't spend a lot of time trying to work out sort-of-sensible explanations for why magic works. It's a given, part of the background. Spells work, ghosts inhabit Hogwart's halls, and brooms fly. On with the story!

Sometimes an author starts out as a fantasy writer, then changes. Take Anne McCaffrey's popular Dragonrider of Pern series. It began as fantasy: a young woman rode a dragon. The tale fit right in with the stereotypical swords-and-sorcery, faintly medievalist universe.

But over time, McCaffrey started exploring the physics of dragon flight. At some point, when a phenomena or worldview can be plausibly extrapolated from today's scientific knowledge, you're not talking fantasy anymore. You're talking science fiction.

And that's good. I admit it. I'm a science fiction fan. In that realm, I've read some pretty wacky stuff, but no matter where it leads me, it always begins with the same thing: the real world. Some dogged part of my imagination has to know that you can get there from here.

I have to say that on occasion, that makes science fiction far more frightening than fantasy could ever be. Check out the "Handmaid's Tale," by Margaret Atwood, for instance.

This bias toward reality is precisely the reason my wife, Suzanne, refuses to watch horror movies of the mad slasher type. Why? Because there really are insane people who will try to kill you. After the last horror movie she saw (about 15 years ago), Suzanne went out and bought nightlights for all our bedrooms. For months afterward, she also checked under the bed each night before committing herself to sleep.

By contrast, the most terrifying movie I ever saw was the first "Alien" movie, when the alien wrapped herself around John Hurt's throat and laid an egg in his chest.

That didn't bother Suzanne. Aliens? Fantasy.

But in my view, the alien adhered to certain strict, predictable, all too possible rules. I've never met one, but I COULD. Sure, a mad slasher might poke a long knife up through my mattress some night, but he's not going to lay an egg in my chest.

My point, though, is that you'll soon have the opportunity to learn about the differences between fantasy and science fiction from people far more qualified than I am. On Friday, November 2, from 6 to 10 p.m., the library will sponsor Fantasy Fest! The location: the old Safeway at 100 South Wilcox Street, Castle Rock, future site of our new Philip S. Miller Library.

The event begins with a keynote speech by Colorado author Connie Willis. Willis bears the distinction of having won more literary awards -- both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards, science fiction's highest accolades -- than anyone in history. In addition to being an accomplished, moving, and often very humorous writer, she is one of the most erudite, witty, and engaging speakers I've ever heard. I recommend her highly.

But that's not all. We'll have other authors, including Hilari Bell and Wick Downing. You can see Harry Potter collectibles, and demonstrations of fantasy role playing games. You can thrill to exciting stories by nationally renowned local storyteller, John Stansfield. We'll have live owls!

All attendees are encouraged to wear costumes, and to stop by the Costume Judge. At 9:30 p.m. precisely, a winner will be announced.

Did I mention the free food?

In short, this event, however fantastic, is not a fantasy. It is real. I hope you can join us.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

October 30, 2002 - Board Accountability

Public employees, as I described last week, are accountable through annual evaluations, and the general oversight of their supervisors.

Elected officials are accountable to the voters. If they prove to be unresponsive, or incompetent, they get voted out of office.

But what about appointed officials? For many members of public boards, there are few performance guidelines, and virtually no way to hold members -- or the body as a whole -- up to those guidelines even if they did exist.

The Trustees of the Douglas Public Library District decided to tackle this issue head on. On Sept. 21, 2002, they got together with the Trustees of the Arapahoe Library District for a joint retreat. Here was the agenda:

* Review and agree upon trustee job descriptions for officers (President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer) and general trustee responsibilities.

* Assess self and board performance over the past year.

* Discuss jointly what we do well (and should be maintained), and what needs improvement.

* Select 3-5 goals for the coming year.

The job descriptions came from various Library Trustee training workbooks around the country. We augmented them with a host of data from not-for-profit board websites. It turns out (surprise!) that most board position requirements are remarkably similar.

For instance, consider this responsibility of the board president: "Plans and presides over board meetings. The president is responsible for advance, written agenda; plans and conducts meetings to assure productive sessions which steadily move the board toward its internal goals and objectives as well as the library goals and objectives. The president's knowledge of, and commitment to, parliamentary procedures, plus an understanding of group dynamics, can make the difference between a meeting which keeps the discussion focused on the major action issues to be considered, or a rambling, semi-social session."

I submit that this applies to any board president.

The self-assessment was private. Trustees were given time to fill out a one page form, then were permitted to hang onto it. We did the form ourselves, and I intend to post it on our website for others to use.

Next, they filled out another form we designed, this time to assess the performance of their Board. This made some statements that, again, apply to all Boards, for instance: The board pays more attention to ends than to means, i.e. To what will be done not to how it will be done. Trustees then rated those statements as to yes, no, NA or don't need, or Need to do.

The joint discussion that followed was fascinating. There were some things that the Arapahoe Board did that my Board wanted to adopt. Some of the things we did, they found interesting. Each of us got to see the ways that our library governance was similar, and the ways it differed.

Then we broke into two small groups and worked up our list of goals for the year. Here are two of ours: to conduct a Board evaluation annually, and to require at least one continuing education event per Board member per year.

I've learned through this process what I suspected all along. Accountability can be imposed from the outside, or from the inside. It works best if it starts within the organization, by people who have thought about what their jobs are, and trust each other to give honest feedback.

I'm very impressed with the Trustees of both libraries. And I wouldn't be surprised to find out that what we have begun here spreads to other library boards. That would be a good thing.

Wednesday, October 9, 2002

October 9, 2002 - Irony in DPL #1 Rating

October 2, 2002, was a day rich in irony.

On the one hand, according to the Denver Post, the Denver Public Library was, once again, awarded first place in the Hennen's American Public Library Ratings. Hennen, a Wisconsin librarian, used 2000 data to rate public libraries in 15 categories, including circulation, staffing, materials and funding levels.

The index has a theoretical minimum of 1 and a maximum of 1,000. Denver's score was 893. Hurray for DPL, which has now won the "top rating" twice in a row.

Each library is compared to its own "class" -- which is determined by the number of people it serves. Comparing the STATES, Colorado comes in number 7 for the quality of its public libraries.

I'm not surprised. There are many excellent libraries in the state. As noted in the Rocky Mountain News, "The tiny Silverton Public Library, 250 miles west of Pueblo, is 10th among 1,003 libraries nationwide serving 1,000 or fewer people. Its score was 807." Also scoring very well were East Routt, Arapahoe Library District, La Junta, Lafayette, Louisville, Hinsdale, and even, I'm pleased to report, the Douglas Public Library District (with a score of 752).

But that was 2000. This year, library news is a little different. Elsewhere in the Post, also on Oct. 2, was the news that the Denver Public Library, which had already laid off 14 people when Gov. Bill Owens cut state support for libraries (including over $2.5 million for DPL) may have to slash yet another $410,000 from next year's budget.

What does that mean to the Douglas Public Library District patron?

Well, some of our patrons have already seen one result. With fewer people to support the requests of other libraries, the wait for our Interlibrary Loan requests is lengthening. DPL, the state's largest collection, simply can't handle the volume it used to. We used to get between 100-130 items a month. Now we average about 11 a month.

Nor can DPL answer as many reference questions when local librarians don't have the resources.

Nor will DPL be able to buy as many books as it used to. A major statewide resource is being whittled away.

Nor will DPL be able to be open as many hours as it now is.

Finally, DPL will have to think long and hard about whether or not it wishes to continue to serve, for free, an estimated 100,000 library patrons from the metro area who use their services on a walk-in basis. Consider: over 20 percent of the people who check out DPL materials do not reside in Denver.

It happens that I have a Denver library card, as well, and I use it. I recognize the extraordinary resource that is a well-staffed, well-stocked library.

But that brings me to another irony. Denver Councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie said she prefers the library not reduce hours. Why?

"People need access to the Internet and the libraries are one place they can find that," she said.

I use the Internet, too. But the Internet at it's best is a small subset of what any library does. DPL's greatness to date has more to do with its people, and its materials, than it does its number of Internet terminals.

In my judgment, the Denver Public Library deserved its rating as one of America's best libraries. With fewer people, older books, and fewer patrons, it's going to find it tough to win next year.

Wednesday, October 2, 2002

October 2, 2002 - More About Linux

Last week I made what some might have found a surprising statement: "By and by, Windows users still might want to move to Linux." This was even though Windows users might then be using Open Office as a free alternative to Microsoft Office.
Why did I say that?

Because Windows software is inherently less secure than Linux (a free Unix clone).

All computer operating systems have security holes. "Vulnerabilities" are constantly being found and exploited by malicious hackers. That's true for Linux as well as Windows.

But Windows has two problems: the first is its intrinsic design. Consider this statement (from ComputerWeekly) by Brian Valentine, senior vice-president in charge of Microsoft's Windows development. Speaking at a Microsoft Windows Server.net developer conference in Seattle, Sept. 6, he said, "Our products aren't engineered for security." Linux, designed as a multi-user system from the beginning, is.

The second problem with Windows is the usual response of Microsoft to reports of security issues. Consider this excerpt from eweek, September 13, 2002: "Officials at Microsoft are busy investigating the extent of a problem that was reported by several media outlets Friday about multiple versions of Microsoft Word containing a vulnerability that could allow hackers to steal files. An Associated Press version of the story ended up on at least two major Web sites Friday, saying that Microsoft does intend to deliver a fix for the problem, but that the problem is the worst for users of Word 97, and that Microsoft will not deliver a fix for users of Word 97." Roughly 32% of America's business users still use Word 97.

Microsoft's answer to the problem: upgrade. Then wait.

Microsoft does, of course, have to tackle the same issues any business does. It isn't commercially feasible to maintain every product you create. Microsoft is out to make money, after all, and there's nothing wrong with that.

But the issues speaks to another advantage of Open Source software.

There are now hundreds of thousands of Linux programmers, very smart people, who typically solve security problems within hours after they are reported. Why? Because they want the glory of the job well done. They want, and they receive, the respect of their peers.

Microsoft, which employs some very smart people also, just doesn't have as many of them, and they're occupied with other things, for pay. Security breaches, when they're fixed at all, can and have taken months.

I'm also impressed by another Linux performance issue: uptime. Linux keeps track internally of how long it's been running. There are many, many Linux boxes that haven't so much as hiccuped in years of operation. That's remarkable.

Cost, security, stability. Three good reasons to think about a change.

On the other hand, it probably doesn't make sense for you or anyone else to toss out your current hardware and software set-up if you've already paid for it, it does what you want it to do, and you're satisfied that you're at little risk. At least, it doesn't make sense until there are other reasons to think about an upgrade.

And that's exactly the library's interest: financial planning. Based on my research and testing, here's what I've decided: our future purchases will, to the greatest extent possible, be based on open source, rather than proprietary operating systems and software.

Other businesses and not-for-profit agencies might want to consider that course, too.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

September 25, 2002 - Linux

Three weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to trying to move from my Macintosh operating system (9.2) to something called Linux, a clone of the Unix operating system. I mentioned two reasons for this attempt: first, Linux is free (if you download it from the Internet) or cheap (a typical CD-ROM installation costs about $30).

Second, Linux now runs a variety of office applications -- spreadsheets, word processors, browsers, email, and the like. They, too, are free.

But I won't lie. The past 21 days have been tough. Very tough. Linux is NOT easy to set up. If you're not computer literate, or more stubborn than is good for you, take my advice: get somebody experienced to do it for you.

On the other hand, once you do get it set up, it isn't any harder to use than anything else. That is, the stuff you do on the computer (answer email, compose various documents, etc.) is the same. The way you do that is pretty much the same, too. One graphical word processor is much like another.

Three things were actually better. The first was Internet browsing. Web pages, on the same speed connection I was using before, displayed at least three times faster.

The second was the ease of sharing documents. One of my personality quirks is that I ran a Microsoft-free zone on my Macintosh -- no Microsoft products at all. But I was alone; the rest of the library ran both Windows and Microsoft Office. Why not? Thanks to Microsoft marketing muscle, Office document formats are now international standards.

For me, that meant that every time somebody sent me a document (which happens fairly often), I had to go through a translation process. Sometimes, that translation process didn't work very well.

Under Linux and Open Office, that's changed. Now when I get email with an attachment, I click on it and it opens. I'm still a Microsoft-free zone, but now I work with other people's files, no matter how heavily formatted or marked up -- and they work with mine -- seamlessly.

The third thing was that the computer just won't crash. I've done some incredibly stupid things to it. Sometimes I can kill an application (not often, but I've done it). But then all I have to do is start it up again. Not the computer, just the program.

What does all this mean?

The reason I'm doing all this experimentation is not just to explore new technologies (although it's worked pretty well for that). I'm looking to save the library some money. I've found a way to do that. Take my advice, and you'll save money, too.

Here it is: download the program (from www.openoffice.org) or buy the Open Office CD (information at the same site).

Before you object that you don't use Linux, ponder this: Open Office also runs on Windows. If you're willing to fiddle with the Mac's new Darwin system, you can run it under OS X, too.

Bottom line: even if you're a Windows user, you can save the cost of Microsoft Office on every computer in your shop (or at your home). The programs look the same, act the same, and work the same. You can copy it onto as many computers as you like, and it's perfectly legal.

This one step can buy you a whole year or more of working with very powerful software on your computer, making your own files, and confidently exchanging them with others.

Nonetheless, bye and bye, Windows users still might want to move to Linux. Next week, I'll tell you why. You won't like it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

September 18, 2002 - Poison Oak

On Labor Day weekend, I took my 8 year old son to Salida. It's a lovely town.

We went to the enormous covered pool (fed by local hot springs). We played catch in the park. We drove up a dirt spiral drive to the top of Salida's famous "S" Mountain. We strolled through the historic downtown and declaimed from the stage of a riverside park.

And we took a walk along the Arkansas River.

The river was lovely. Alternately swift and lazy, it winded beneath an azure sky. We had a wonderful time hurling enormous boulders into the current, and skipping stones in the calm spots.

Dressed in shorts and sandals, we jumped along the rocks and the sand until we found ourselves facing nothing but water.

So we backtracked a little. Then we bushwhacked through a swatch of willowy bushes back up to the bank.

That's when I saw it.

At first, it was just a flash at the corner of my eye ... something shaped a little different. It swished against my waistline and left thigh.

From a distance, I took a closer look. It was like an oak tree, but very small. Not a scrub oak. A sort of three-leafed oakish bush, trimmed in yellow.

God, I thought, I hope that's not a poison oak. But then I thought, heck, I've never had an allergic reaction to a plant.

So Perry and I went on. We met some local celebrities for lunch and had a swell time.

All afternoon, we plunged back into the big hot springs.

But that night, I had little red dots all over my belly. By next morning, I had a sort of gash to the right of my navel.

That day, we drove back to Castle Rock. I had vague little itches, which I scratched absentmindedly. My thigh. My forehead. My knee. My ankle. But we enjoyed listening to our library tapes (recommended: Daniel Pinkwater's hilarious "Borgel").

When I woke up the next day, oh my.

When I say "oh my," I mean that for the next 10 days I have had five angry red wounds that "wept" and "suppurated." I'm not sure which of those words is the grosser. But neither is gross enough.

These wounds oozed a clear but (when mopped up with a paper towel) yellowish liquid. A scant 24 hours after I got home, I looked like a burn victim.

I tried to struggle along with my life, but it involved not only my dutiful and daily washings (of pants, pillow cases, pj's and socks), but the discovery that no matter what I did, I could guarantee myself no more than 4 hours of relief.

The best: hot baths. Really hot. I mean hot so hot you actually scream when you get into them. I sprinkled some kind of oatmeal concoction into it, which helped.

I also enjoyed the pinetar poison ivy soap, which is exquisitely and maddeningly close to sandpaper.

Then a variety of creams. I tried several: calamine (good!), benadryl (good), and (at the advice of a local pharmacist) a cortisone cream (very, very bad).

Here's why, as a doctor I later ran across took pains to tell me: cortisone stops inflammation. But inflammation is how the poison works itself out. Since it can't go out, it goes ... sideways. In other words, it spreads. Up along your thighs. Both of them. Higher and higher ...

I got that straightened out (JUST in time). But for the past week or so, I look like I'm doing a bad Gorbachev imitation (the huge red splotch on my ever-higher forehead). Every night, I wake up five or six times with my fingernails lurching toward my abused skin.

I admit it. There were times when my iron discipline has faltered. And I have SCRATCHED.

Why am I telling you this? Well, mainly because I've been remarkably goodnatured about the ordeal so far, and I'VE HAD IT. Sleeping in socks in claustrophobic. I'm cranky. I can't sleep.

And I've reached an important conclusion that I feel a strong need to share. Here it is.

Nature is dangerous. Really. So is exercise. From now on, I plan to just lay around in air-conditioned buildings and not do anything riskier to my skin than read.

I recommend you do the same.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

September 11, 2002 - Spellbinders Storytelling

Today is a day of remembrance. Today is a day when we tell stories, and try to understand the meaning of events both large and small.

The story of 9/11 is well known now, a defining memory for all who witnessed it, like the assassination of JFK, or the moon walk.

The meaning of the events of Sept. 11 is still clouded, however, in part because the story isn't finished.

According to the provocative writings of William Strauss and Neil Howe ("Generations," and "The Fourth Turning: an American Prophecy (What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with History)," there are moments of secular crisis when the whole national character changes, realigning almost overnight to a new configuration of focus and effort. Pearl Harbor was one example of that.

I thought 9/11 would be another one. For various reasons, it wasn't. There is, I think, a deeper sense of national identity. I know that in the past year I have thought long and hard about what it means to be an American, and discovered in myself a surprising depth of patriotism.

But according to Strauss and Howe, the generational line-up isn't quite right yet for truly unified action. We're still caught in the culture wars, the partisanship, the squabbling among ourselves.

That may be a good thing. Once before in American history a configuration of generational types very much like what we have today went to war. But we fought each other. And the Civil War, while it preserved the Union, was also a period of great tragedy, with an aftermath quite different from that of World War II.

But back to storytelling. I'm pleased to announce a collaborative effort of the Douglas County School District and the Douglas Public Library District. We're forming a chapter of Spellbinders.

What's that? Spellbinders are volunteer storytellers. The idea of the program is to identify seniors (ages 55 or older) who want to learn how to tell stories to children.

To teach some of the skills of storytelling, humankind's oldest art form, volunteers will attend an eight-hour workshop this fall, right here in Douglas County. The teacher is the library's own Priscilla Queen, a storyteller of some renown, and a certified Spellbinder trainer.

The training will focus on techniques, practice exercises, and resources for folk tales and fairy tales. Priscilla will also help participants learn how to turn their own life stories into "tellable" tales.

After the training, we'll send out our Spellbinders to school rooms, libraries, and other settings where we can bring together two generations who have a lot to give each other.

For more information, or to request a Spellbinders volunteer application, call Debby Novotny, coordinator for School/Community Partnerships for Douglas County School District, at 303-814-5272.

Why? Storytelling is not only a way to build community, it's a way to make a difference in young people's lives by discovering how many great stories are inside you to tell.

Wednesday, September 4, 2002

September 4, 2002 - Labor Day

I was saddened to read that Denver canceled its Labor Day parade this year. According to various spokesmen, there just wasn't enough interest.

The Post ran a picture of the heyday of Labor Day parades. Not so long ago, those parades filled the streets, side to side, and as far back as the camera could reach.

The first Labor Day parade took place in New York City, in 1882. In 1887, Oregon become the first state to make Labor Day a legal holiday. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill to make it nation-wide.

Today, Labor Day reaches far beyond the United States; Puerto Rico and Canada celebrate it on the same day we do. In Australia, it's known as "Eight Hour Day," for the achievement (after great struggle) of shorter working hours. In Europe, Labor Day is observed on May 1.

In my mind, the day and the parade are linked with the post-war economic boom I grew up in.

Most of the men in my neighborhood were blue collar union workers. Here's what I remember: they had good if modest homes they could afford, a new car every five years or so, and employment that lasted for a solid twenty years with a single company. In their later, retired years, they had what now seem astonishing health benefits.

"It" -- meaning the system of collective bargaining -- worked, and worked well.

Over the past decade, however, union membership, particularly as a percentage of the work force, has fallen. There are several reasons. One is the historical connection between the labor movement and socialism. Following World War II, socialism and communism were the targets of paranoid McCarthyites. Later came the Cold War.

And the United States changed. The conditions of office workers simply weren't as fraught with obvious peril as those of workers in coal, iron, and steel.

In today's world, the followers of Marx suffer a different stigma: that of irrelevance, of demonstrable national failure (excepting, of course, the intriguing history of the Scandinavian countries).

But despite the politics of labor and the evolution of economies, a few things remain.

First, human labor, when performed with persistence and intelligence, has fundamental dignity. That labor may involve backbreaking agricultural work. It may involve the repetitive motions of industrial work. It may consist of office or library work.

It might even involve management. You don't think looking after the well-being and productivity of other people ISN'T work? Sure, there is also the occasional joy of seeing people grow and proper. Let's put it this way: have you ever been a parent?

Second, work deserves to be recognized, rewarded and valued. Most Americans still have jobs; too many people have lost them. Work is good, often essential to self-respect. It is certainly essential to the plain necessities of living. People still deserve livable wages.

Third, we all need a day off. It may seem contrary to reward labor with leisure. But this is my belief: productive labor is one of the key meanings of life. One of its chief rewards is ... idleness.

Sometimes, there is great satisfaction to be found simply in contemplating the works of humanity: our monuments, our institutions of learning, our factories, our recreational sites, our homes.

Sometimes, there is even greater satisfaction just to sit back and watch the mountains and trees, to listen to the wind and the waters, to truly appreciate all the beauty that our labor has purchased us the time and the insight to enjoy.

To all the workers of Douglas County, the library offers its thanks, its respect, and its sincere best wishes. There should be a parade.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

August 28, 2002 - New Tools for the Desktop

It's a kind of illness. I know that.

Nonetheless, every 18 months or so, I'm compelled to do an inventory of all the tools on my computer desktop. Here are the things I look at:

First, where do I spend most of my time? That is, what kinds of work do I need to do?

Second, which applications do I use to accomplish that work?

Third, what else is out there that might help me be more productive, to accomplish more work in fewer steps?

Fourth, how can I save both my own and the public's money, or at least, invest it more wisely?

All across the country, libraries are spending millions of dollars annually on staff computer desktops. Most of it goes to the software. That covers a lot of ground: operating systems, commercial applications, and an increasingly steep upgrade cycle.

These upgrades, proprietary by definition, are both expensive and disruptive. That is, they require regular and significant infusions of public dollars, and each upgrade is just different enough from the previous version to require both more staff training, and more upgrades.

Is there a net gain? Sometimes, I wonder. But it's time for the library to replace a lot of our older computers, and it makes sense to ask, "Upgrade to what?"

There is a significant alternative to Windows or the Macintosh OS. It's called Linux. A comprehensive resource is available at www.linux.org, or through the library's many Linux books.

In brief, Linux is a "free" operating system. You can download it at no cost beyond whatever you pay to connect to the Internet; or you can buy remarkably inexpensive CD's, and load it that way. Linux can co-exist with your Windows or Mac systems.

Why Linux? Well, in addition to the fact that it's free (no license fees of any kind, and you can install it on as many machines as you like), Linux runs the world's most popular Internet server, Apache. It also provides a variety of industrial strength email, printer, and other workstation management services. In contrast to Microsoft operating systems, Linux, like Unix, is remarkably stable, remarkably resistant to viruses, and a workhorse.

More recently, Linux also comes with a complement of free, or "Open Source" desktop software. One of them, Open Office, provides a word processor, a spreadsheet, and presentation applications, all compatible with Microsoft Office. Linux also runs applications that let you share data with a PDA, run database applications, browse the Internet, manage email, and much more.

We already use Linux for various behind-the-scene servers. But over the next few weeks, I'm going to try to make the move to the Linux desktop.

Along the way, I'm going to look at other software tools. Thoreau once said, "Men have become the tools of their tools." You've probably seen it another way: when you get a new hammer, suddenly everything looks like a nail.

But everything isn't a nail. And traditional word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and personal information managers, for all the time they save, also impose limits on the way we think.

Is the Linux desktop ready for prime time? If so, it has the potential not only to preserve work created on other platforms, but also to liberate many dollars that might be put to other, better, uses.

More importantly, are there are software applications out there that will make us even more productive than the current crop?

I think the answer to both questions, is "Yes." So it's time to test it out and see if I'm right. Either way, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

August 21, 2002 - The No Collar Worker

First we had blue collar workers. Then we had white collar. And now we have ... no collar.

The no collar or "creative class," according to author Richard Florida, "includes scientists and engineers, university professors, poets and novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, and designers and architects, as well as the thought leadership of modern society: nonfiction writers, editors, cultural figures, think-tank researchers, analysts, and other opinion-makers. The creative class also includes 'creative professionals' who work in a wide range of knowledge-intensive industries such as high-tech sectors, financial services, the legal and health care professions, and business management. The distinguishing characteristic of the creative class is that its members engage in work whose function is to create meaningful new forms."

There are a lot of them -- an estimated 38.3 million Americans, roughly 30 percent of the US work force. They also tend to make better than average incomes.

These people aren't just fun to be around. Recent studies have shown that their presence in a community is a key factor in economic vitality.

The creative class isn't bound by place. When conditions don't suit them, they move. This is turning traditional ideas of economic development on its ear: where once it was thought that creative people moved to the company, now the company is moving to the people it needs.

Professor Florida cites the case of Lycos (an Internet search engine company), which one day picked up its roots from Pittsburgh and moved to Boston.

Interestingly, the creative class has focused around a relatively small number of regions, leaving, as Florida says, "many older industrial regions - and many Sun Belt cities (once lauded as models of economic growth) - behind."

Florida writes that there are three T's of this "new economic geography:" technology, talent, and tolerance. Technology speaks to infrastructure, talent (at least in part) to the presence of universities, but the tolerance one, in Florida's words, is a "real stunner."

He says, "One of the best indicators of regional innovation, high-tech industry and growth, is a measure I call the 'gay index.'" In brief, Florida found that his research on the movement of the creative class closely correlated with someone else's study on the location patterns of gay people. This also closely matched the "bohemian" index -- a count of artists, writers and performers in a region.

The point isn't that all creative people are gay, or even that all gay people are creative. The point is that the extent to which gay people are tolerated in a community speaks to how open a place might be to non-ordinary thinking and behavior.

Members of the creative class use the word "diversity" a lot -- but not in the sense of a political agenda. They just like lots of choices: music, performance, art scenes, restaurants, "authentic" neighborhoods with some flavor.

Which cities come out on top in this new ranking?

Here are the top five: the San Francisco Bay area, Greater Boston, Washington, Austin, and Seattle.

The title of the book is "The Rise of the Creative Class: How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life." The author, again, is Richard Florida. The book is available from our libraries. It's creating a buzz in the community planning community.

And it may contain a tip or two about how a growing community can position itself to attract and hang onto interesting people.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

August 14, 2002 - Librarianship: Does it Get Any Better?

If my best friend had told me, back when I was in high school, that I would grow up to be a librarian, I would have laughed in his face.

But then, I was an idiot in high school. These days, I think I have the most fascinating job in the world. Consider just a couple of weeks in the life of your local librarian.

Shakespeare at the Rock. Some 750 people lined up to snag their free tickets to this library-sponsored cultural event. We put it on in the parking lot of an old Safeway store (soon to be a new Philip S. Miller Library). At just one performance I saw young and old, people in wheel chairs, people of color, white collar and blue collar workers. Every one of them left the performance stunned by both the sheer power of the imagination of a man who has been dead for centuries, as well as the living actors who gave this particular story such power.

Geekfest. I invited some of the key library technology staff in the state to come to our Highlands Ranch Library for a day. These six computing gurus, affectionately dubbed "geeks" (we gave them pocket protectors, geek T-shirts, and propeller hats as souvenirs) sat in front of a statewide audience of some 50 library workers, some from as far away as Montrose.

I got to ask our speakers some deceptively simple questions. What are you working on? What's on the technology horizon? How can we use technology to save money? What do you read to stay up to date?

To my utter delight, each of the six (including our own Kevin Watkins) was articulate, insightful, knowledgeable and, I swear, funny. The audience got a look at some key trends in the world of computing, not to mention some shrewd insights into the practices of important operating system developers, software vendors, and the library technology marketplace in general.

I learned all over again what an asset library staff can be, when we just take the time to ask them what they're thinking about. We also got some very specific guidance toward the development of a technology plan for the library.

Cultural Facilities planning. The great joy of aging is discovering how much there is yet to learn -- and how much fun it can be. The Douglas County Cultural Commission, in concert with several other local entities, brought in some high-powered cultural facilities consultants to talk about what people should think about before they build. Representatives of many governmental and cultural entities attended. Not only did we get treated to a history of theater architecture (about which I knew nothing), we heard some very straight talk from people who understood both the politics and the economics of the local community cultural center.

Community development. In just two weeks, I sat in on discussions with town councils, metro district planners, school district staff, chambers of commerce, county offices, developers, and appraisers in Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Roxborough, and Castle Pines North. Lone Tree and Parker are on the agenda for next week.

Communities all over the country -- but most particularly right here in Douglas County -- are starting to realize that the public library is a commercial anchor, an educational asset, an economic development fulcrum, a cultural catalyst, a quality of life indicator, a lure for the creation of a truly creative community.

Along the way, I've relearned something I first realized years ago: everything connects.

Your local public library touches the deeply private lives of each individual who uses it. It also adds extraordinary value to both the business and the civic life of our community.

In the process, it harvests from all these fields the most exciting, interesting, and challenging ideas you can imagine. It repackages them for the widest possible distribution.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you. Can any of you possibly have a job as awesome as librarianship?

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

August 7, 2002 - Writing in the Margins

I was shocked and appalled to find out that John Adams, architect of the Constitution, 2nd President of these United States, actually (and I still can't believe this) wrote in the margins of almost every book he owned.

In one book, his marginal comments were actually longer than the book itself. Clearly, he took more pleasure in his disagreements than in the writing.

What are we to make of such a travesty?

It's possible, of course, that I'm a little demented on this subject. I have never struck either of my children, but, once, I did yell at one of them, at some length, with deep and genuine anger. She had written in one of our books, scribbled right over a title page.

OK, she was 2 years old. But a title page!

My reaction was utter horror. And that response -- out of all previous bounds of predictable behavior -- did the trick. She never wrote in one again. (Do I feel bad about that? Yes ... and no.)

Years ago, I had a library board member who came in and casually tossed a history book on the circulation desk. I walked up just as the circulation clerk opened the book, and stared uncomfortably at the inked margins.

"There were several errors," said my board member, haughtily. She glanced at me. "I have corrected them."

"You've done more than that," I said savagely. "You've BOUGHT this book. We will, of course, replace the copy you defaced." I might have lost my job. But it never crossed my mind. It was all I could do not to call the police.

I admit that my own grandfather also had this incomprehensible illness. I further confess that I found it interesting to see what he underlined and quarreled with. It gave me unexpected insights into his values.

But mainly, I kept thinking. "Granddad, you RUINED these books!" I was ashamed for him.

I suppose it's tempting, in this electronic age, to think that a book is no more than a kind of bound Post-It note. But I have books in my private collection that are more a century old. They have survived (thank God) the vandalism of generations. They retain the integrity of their typography. They make the statement their designers intended, their enduring look exempt from incidental graffiti.

And those comments! I've seen them. On an artfully crafted page, next to some precisely turned phrase, some imbecile scrawls "True!" Thank you!

Or to some thoughtful argument, rejoins the anonymous, "Oh?" Or "I disagree!"

People. Please. Unless you are John Adams (and I'm guessing here that you are NOT) keep your idle side commentaries to yourself.

Books, you see, have a life of their own. They pass from our too often indifferent care through book sales and bequests and personal loans to the hands of others. The people who tender their hard-earned cash for the privilege of considering the organized thoughts of writers really aren't interested in your random lapses of synapses.

To quote Granddad again, "Everyone is entitled to his opinion. But some opinions are better than others." Have a little respect for those few who actually got edited, got typeset, got distributed. If you must write in other people's books, at least have the decency to use a pencil.

Grumble. A President of the United States!

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

July 31, 2002 - The Lessons of History

Some years ago (1975, I believe) Will and Ariel Durant finished their astonishing Story of Civilization: one hundred centuries of human history in eleven massive volumes.

I'll be blunt. I own it. But I haven't read it. At least, not yet.

I have read, however, their much briefer "Lessons of History," in which they try to boil their long lifetimes of research down to a few, pointed essays. I recommend it. You'll find it at our library.

Many people have expertise. Few have wisdom. The Durants were wise.

One of their lessons seems very timely. On occasion, inequities -- meaning, in particular, disparities in wealth -- arise within a society. The Durants wrote, "Despotism may for a time retard the concentration; democracy, allowing the most liberty, accelerates it."

The original disparity often results from a difference in ability -- some people, for a variety of reasons, make more money than others. While most Americans believe in "equal opportunity" -- few would argue that we all have equal abilities.

The problem is that this same wealth tends to pass, through inheritance, to the children of the people who earned it. Who can blame the wealthy? The desire to secure the future of one's young is universal. But the children may or may not have comparable ability.

Within a single generation, suddenly a society no longer has "equal opportunity." Some children begin with a significant jump on their peers, an advantage they did nothing to earn.

In the space of a few generations, money concentrates itself in fewer and fewer hands. Recent high profile business scandals provide eloquent testimony to the dangers of this concentration.

The Durants noted that history is most consistent about what happens next. At some point, this inequity becomes both obvious and intolerable to the general populace. At that point, governments have a choice.

On the one hand, they can redistribute the wealth, usually through some sort of taxation, often a combination of "progressive" taxation (the more you have, the more you pay) or inheritance taxes (in which you're capped as to how much you can leave to the next generation). According to the Durants, this strategy, painful though it may be, has saved more than one society.

Saved them from what? The second choice: violent revolution. Think "French Revolution." Think "guillotine." Think ahead.

Now think about recent efforts, spearheaded by the Bush administration, to repeal in perpetuity the "death tax." At present, a very rich parent may leave a limit of $500,000 to his children without penalty. Beyond that, the taxes are steep -- as high as fifty percent. So, after the first $500,000, if you're leaving $40 million to your kids, they only get $20 million. After that, you just have to hope they can eke by somehow.

I'm not a socialist, although the Durants were. I'm more inclined to agree with Winston Churchill: "Capitalism says that everyone is created equal. Socialism wants to keep them that way."

On the other hand, just slapping a label on someone doesn't disprove their research. Awash in the current news of corporate misbehavior, it might behoove us all to take a page from the lessons of history.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

July 24, 2002 - New Internet Public Access Catalog

This week's column is by Rochelle Logan, my Associate Director for Support Services. She announces an important new enhancement to our services. - Jamie LaRue

Twenty years ago or so, I had the opportunity to see behind the scenes at Disneyland. A family member worked there and took me back to where the employees prepared for their day. I wish I could say that I saw Minnie Mouse walking around without her head on or something equally as interesting, but I didn’t. Nevertheless, it was a memorable experience.

Whether the back rooms of our libraries would be equally as interesting to you, I would say, “not quite.” The average library user probably can guess at some of the tasks being performed in our back rooms: checking in books, cataloging, editing the Web page, training staff, mending books, fixing computers. Of course, there is much, much more to the running of a library district. However, the one thing we always keep in mind as we strive to improve our services is what our patrons would like and need.

When our systems vendor, Epixtech, came out with a new Web catalog, we were very excited about what it had to offer. We knew this product was something our patrons had been asking for. The new streamlined Web interface is called iPac (Internet Public Access Catalog) and can be accessed via our Web site at http://www.dpld.org/. Before I get into some of iPac’s features, let me say that the information behind the new Web catalog has not changed. The only difference is how the information is sorted and viewed. Therefore, if you are accustomed to limiting your searches to find only videos, you can still do that. You can look for materials that are just at your local branch library and more.

The first thing you will notice when logging onto iPac from the library’s Web site is that you have several different ways to search for a book. A quick search using a drop down menu is your first option. For a more refined search, use the advanced or power search options. Also on the first iPac screen you can access your own library record to check on when your items are due, renew materials or view what you have on hold. Our lists of bestsellers and the libraries’ excellent subscription databases are just a click away.

Some of the new, cool stuff on iPac also includes:

* Cover art – we aren’t saying you should judge a book by its cover, but we think it’s nice to see the cover while perusing the catalog to decide what to read, view or listen to.
* Book reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal are available for those items that have been reviewed.
* You can email a book citation to yourself. This is especially attractive if you are writing a paper for school and need the Chicago Manual of Style or MLA cite for your bibliography.
* Not sure if this book is for you? For many items you can read the table of contents, a summary or an excerpt from the book.
* For more information about the subject or author of the book you found, one-click searches are available to our catalog and out to the World Wide Web for other materials on the same topic.

Rolling out a new product always takes hard work by a team. iPac did not just come out of a box ready for public use. It required a lot of customization by Julie Halverstadt, Moira Ash, Kevin Watkins and Missy Shock from our Support Services Department. The team is still working to make iPac better even now. So try it out, get comfortable with it, and if you have any compliments or complaints about the new catalog, please email our Webmaster at web@mail.dpld.org.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

July 17, 2002 - Shakespeare Cometh

Shakespeare is hot.

Consider several high profile films:
* Kenneth Branaugh's "Henry V," "Much Ado About Nothing," and "Hamlet;"
* Lawrence Fishburne's critically acclaimed "Othello;"
* Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Callista Flockhart in "Midsummer Night's Dream;"
* Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, in "Romeo and Juliet;" and even
* Gwyneth Paltrow in "Shakespeare in Love."

What's the appeal? Yes, Shakespeare has stood the test of time. But how come?

Much of it is the pure power of his language.

It's amazing (and a little sad) that most of us get by with fewer than 1,500 words in our speaking vocabularies. Shakespeare INVENTED at least 2,000 words. The opus of his work racks up over a quarter of a million unique words. That's the scope of a good college dictionary.

There's an old joke about why one precocious youngster didn't like reading Shakespeare: "He writes nothing but cliches!"

Here's a sampler of phrases that didn't exist until Shakespeare created them: one fell swoop, in my mind's eye, to be in a pickle, vanish into thin air, budge an inch, play fast and loose, the milk of human kindness, remembrance of things past, the sound and the fury, to thine own self be true, cold comfort, salad days, flesh and blood, foul play, tower of strength, and (as Bill Bryson, in "Mother Tongue," put it) "on and on and on and on."

These days, some people find it hard to decode Shakespearean language. This is particularly true for Baby Boomers whelped on the inane linguistic paucity of Dick and Jane. ("Oh! Oh, look! See Jane! See Jane run! Run, Jane, run!")

There's one group that doesn't have any trouble at all, though: the folks that relish the magnificent King James Bible. The creators of this most moving, rich, and poetic version of Scripture were contemporaries of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare happens to have lived at a time of profound change in the English language. "Thee" and "thou" were in decline. The "-eth" ending (as in "he goeth") was then giving way to the more simple "-s" ("he goes"). The "-ed" suffix could be either a full extra syllable ("help-ud") or not ("helpt"). Many contemporaries of Shakespeare grew up speaking one language (Middle English), and died speaking another (modern English, or near enough).

There is, too, the mystery of his identity.

Who WAS Shakespeare? He could have been himself, of course. The facts are scarce. A country boy, born in 1564 in Stratford, England, he may have had a grammar school education. He had a wife and three children. Seven strangely blank years after he turned 21, he burst upon London as a published poet and playwright. He also acted. At his death in 1616, he left his wife his second best bed. In 1623, his First Folio was published. This constitutes almost all that is known of his life.

This same man, the son of a simple country glover (one who makes gloves), displays some incongruous knowledge. He had intimate knowledge of court ritual. His plays drew upon Italian texts not yet translated into English at that time. He referred to law, music, classical mythology -- not generally, but specifically.

This prolific author of sonnet, comedy and drama, left no letters, no diaries. The few documents that do bear his name (and handwriting) are laughably inconsistent: Shakspere, Shaxpere, Shagspere, and so on.

Was he a sheer, native country genius who inexplicably blossomed while simultaneously performing nightly on the stage?

Or was he a front for one Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, classically educated, a diplomat to Denmark's Elsinore (the setting of Hamlet), a lawyer, a man who had a lifelong fascination with actors, whose life was riddled with scandal, and who might well have sought a nom de plume? Edward de Vere died of the plague in 1604, the same year Shakespeare retired from London. Coincidence?

There are other explanations for Shakespeare's enduring appeal. There's the power of his plots. There's "Romeo and Juliet" -- for all those who once were young and defied their families. There's "King Lear" -- for those who are no longer young and now must deal with their families.

There's the power of Shakespeare's characters, and the wrenching, riveting nature of their monologues. What could be more fundamental and profound than ,"To be or not to be?"

Thanks to the generosity of many players -- the Douglas Public Library District (and in particular, the energy and vision of Katie Klossner, our Community Relations Manager), TheatreWorks (the roving company from Colorado Springs), the Gay and Lesbian Fund (for their extraordinary donation of $10,000 to make this event possible), and our many other donors -- we are pleased to announce the absolutely FREE performance of Shakespeare's tragedy, "King Lear."

Where? Under the big top, in the parking lot of the old Safeway (the new Philip S. Miller Library), S. 100 Wilcox Street, Castle Rock.

When? July 24-28, at 7:30 p.m. That's five separate performances.

Cost: that's right, absolutely free. HOWEVER, tickets will be distributed on a first come, first served, basis, and the number of tickets is limited for each performance. We start handing them out at 6 p.m. -- and early visitors will be rewarded by strolling performers.

And after that?

In the words of the Bard, "Our play is done, and we'll strive to please you every day."

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

July 10, 2002 - Successors

In 1987, I became for the first time the director of a public library. It was "medium-sized" (serving between 50,000 and and 100,000 people), in a well-established city.
The library had problems. The staff felt stymied. The collection was old and musty. The library had been partially automated, but the computer system (cooked up one weekend by the city's Information Services department) was almost unusable.

This library did have one dedicated group of patrons: seniors, who loved the library’s extensive collection of large print books. But as one of the Board members who had interviewed me put it, "One of them dies every week."

Circulation -- library jargon for "the number of library materials checked out" -- was dropping. It had been for over a decade. Few people seemed to know that the city even had a library.

But there were lots of wonderful things, too. I loved the staff. I liked the community. I had ideas, and I was sure they would be well-received.

Bit by bit, I started making changes. Some of them were small. Some weren't. Some of them I thought of. The best (and often the biggest) ideas came from other library employees. I said, "Go for it!"

It wasn't long before the public started noticing the difference. When we got rid of some 10,000 books (most of them over 50 years old), people did NOT come in saying, "What happened to our classics!" They said, "When did you get all the new stuff?"

When we rolled out the new computer system, the public was intrigued and delighted.

When we rearranged the children's room, requiring small folks to duck through the jaws of a Tyrannosaurus just to get in, more moms and dads starting going out of their way to stop by.

When we labeled the stacks like grocery aisles, our many newcomers were surprisingly comfortable.

It was all pretty heady. Then, some months after I'd been at the helm, one of my senior staff members introduced a small, white-haired lady to me. She was the previous library director.

By this time, of course, I'd heard quite a bit about her. I did notice that she'd apparently gone out of her way not to interfere in any way with my changes.

But on occasion, I realized that it must have been hard for her. She'd spent some 30 years making her mark on the place. In just a handful of months, I'd thrown it all over. What's worse, those changes had worked. For the first time in some 12 years or so, library use was CLIMBING.

I'll admit: I wasn't looking forward to the introduction. I'll also admit my lack of charity. I fully expected her to be angry and bitter.

She wasn't. In fact, she was utterly charming. She exhibited extraordinary graciousness and tact. I found her insightful and articulate. But most of all, I found her polite.

It gave me pause. All of a sudden, I imagined myself from the beginning of my career to the end. Here's what I learned:

* No matter what you build or establish, your successor can change it. Quickly.

* If you stay in the community, you will eventually encounter your successor.

* At that point, you have a choice. It's the choice we're offered so often. You can tear something down. You can build it up.

My predecessor chose the higher path. She encouraged me. She offered kindness and approval. She very carefully withheld specific criticism, and instead spoke to my intent: to further, to the best of my ability, the development of a cherished institution. She taught me a great deal.

One day I, too, must hand over the destiny of the library I love to some inexperienced pup. That young idiot (I feel sure) will do things so blind, so stupid, that it will be all I can do to hold my tongue.

My successor will almost certainly fail to fully grasp the contributions I have made.

And yet. My successor may also possess the ability to solve the problem or problems of the day that I could not.

At that moment I, too, must strive to balance my pride, my sorrow, my hope, and my anguish.

To my teacher, Miss Fromm, that fine woman, I offer my deepest appreciation and thanks. I only hope that I will one day do as well as she did.

Wednesday, July 3, 2002

July 3, 2002 - Independence

Almost 30 years ago now, I sat in on a lecture at a church. It stayed with me.

The topic was "rites of passage." The point was that in the United States our young people have no significant rituals through which they can become recognized as adult members of our society.

The biggest ritual is getting a driver's license. But 16-year-olds still have another two years of high school after that. At 18 they often leave home, and they can vote. At 21, they can drink.

But even 21 doesn't mark full political maturity. According to the Constitution, you must be 25 to run for the House of Representatives, 30 to run for the Senate, and 35 to run for President.

Marriage is another ritual marking adulthood. With parental permission, you can marry in some places (Kansas!) as young as 12. Several states permit people of 14 to marry with parental permission or a judge's consent. In Utah, a 14 year old can marry WITHOUT parental permission -- providing he or she has been married before.

Contrast these social sanctions with the biological facts. According to some researchers, menarche - the onset of menstruation - usually started at age 18 in the 1600s. Today in the United State, the average age of menarche is 12, and it seems to be falling.

Biologically, you are mature when you can reproduce. Yet there is a delay between biological maturity, and social maturity. In America, that lag is what we call "adolescence" -- a kind of social limbo. Not child, not adult.

Since the end of the agrarian economy, adolescence has grown longer and longer. As a result, we also stretch out the period in which children exhibit the natural tendencies to test limits, to define themselves through acts of rebellion.

The speaker suggested that we need significant ritual, significant challenge, and significant responsibility for our young people: a true coming of age trial.

I very much agree. The same thing is true of countries.

Like young people, nations, too, declare their independence. To be successful, they, too, must brave their rites of passage.

In the case of our own country, there was indeed "significant ritual" -- mostly around the deliberations of the so-called "Founding Fathers" in Philadelphia. There were months of debate, of the formation of endless streams of committees, of documents prepared, and fought over, and revised, and defended.

There was significant challenge. England was older, stronger, wealthier. It had a navy, trade relations, and political alliances. Many political theorists believe that the American Revolution succeeded only because England was otherwise occupied. (This also describes how some children gain their independence.)

There was significant responsibility. When you declare independence, you make an awkward discovery. When things go wrong, you can't keep blaming the person or nation who used to look after you. The clearest example of this was the life of George Washington, general of a rabble, tasked not only with war, but with the almost impossible task of feeding and clothing his soldiers.

The interesting thing about rites of passage is that they don't happen just once. The fledgling United States found itself facing many new rituals (internal elections on the one hand, and the establishment of diplomatic relations on the other), new challenges (defining and field testing models of republicanism and federalism), and endless new responsibilities (the mechanics of trade, adjudication, and public health, to name just a few).

That cycle continues to this day. Maturity is not secured once; it marks the beginning of effort, not the end.

By the way, here's an interesting historical note about this week's holiday.

"The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. . . . It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more." -John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776

According to historian David McCullough, on the fourth of July all the revolutionaries took the day off.

Accordingly, the library is taking the day off, too. We'll see you again on the 5th.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

June 26, 2002 - The Four Tiers of Library Service

I talk with a lot of librarians around the country, and I've concluded that there are four levels or tiers of library connections to the community.

The first, and most basic, happens when someone opens the library doors. There is a building. People work there. The library has a collection of books, magazines, videos, CD's, and, these days, Internet terminals. There are meeting rooms and study areas.

Throughout America, most libraries at this level provide not just these tangible community assets, but that extra something that makes it truly valuable: a dedication to quality service.

This strategy is almost guaranteed a 50% population base. All the usual suspects for library use will show up: young parents with small children, young adults who need to work on their homework, the folks who need a steady diet of new fiction and nonfiction, people trying to track down consumer and investment information, and so on.

However, a library that depends solely on this tier of service is liable to stagnate. It may even begin to decline. Why? Maybe the community ages. Maybe an aggressive push of video stores and movie theater changes recreational patterns. Maybe Internet use displaces a certain percentage and type of reference demand.

A second tier of libraries adopts the practices of promotion. These librarians send out press releases. They produce and actively distribute attractive and readable brochures and calendars advertising reading programs, new materials, reference services, local history, and more.

Publicity is a good thing. It lets people know what you've got. It can boost library use by 5-15 percent, if only by encouraging the people already inclined to be interested in libraries to take another look. On the other hand, PR probably won't persuade people who are NOT interested in the library to change their minds.

The third tier of libraries takes the step from advertising to marketing. That is, their librarians actively track social indicators. They survey both the people who use the library, and the people who don’t. They test new services, and evaluate them according to several dimensions. They try to understand their markets and build new markets. They not only gather library statistics, but work hard to understand what those statistics are saying.

This strategy -- if translated into actual library offerings -- can push that community use up by another 10-20 percent. Why wouldn't it? Marketing keeps the library in closer step with its potential pool of users.

The fourth, and rarest, tier of library service happens when librarians step outside the comfort and limitation of the library building. In line with some of the ideas I mentioned in an earlier column ("answering the community reference question") they more actively engage in their communities. They're not just librarians talking about the library to other people. They are active committee members of other groups. They serve as moderators, and volunteer coordinators, and the extra pair of hands that every community group needs. And, on occasion, they bring library resources to bear on these local partnerships. In the process, they build new relationships with non-librarians.

As a result, the library finds that only now is it in a position to reach ALL of its community, and thereby to demonstrate the sweeping value of its institutional resources.

Obviously, I believe our library, the Douglas Public Library District, belongs in that top tier of library services. It's a lot more work. But it's a lot more interesting, too.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

June 19, 2002 - Government & Doug

The older I get, the more I realize how shaped I was by early influences.

One of those influences was the late, great science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein. I discovered him at our school library when was I was about 12 .

Some might say, "Yes, of course. What young people read molds the pattern of their thinking."

But nobody made me read Heinlein. Even if someone had, that's no guarantee it would have stuck with me. Books are like menus -- they merely offer. Only what we choose from the menu becomes part of our mental meal, is taken within to be digested.

I loved Heinlein because his consistent presentation of the human race resonated with my own intuitive biases. I was inclined to listen. That gave him, of course, a good chance to pass along other opinions.

In the main, Heinlein was a libertarian. That is, he argued for a "maximum looseness" in society. Yet he was also a fierce patriot, firmly committed to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." A veteran, he proudly offered his life to defend our peculiar national code of individual liberty.

While re-reading "Tunnel in the Sky," one of his young adult novels, I found a surprising statement that helped explain his position.

The situation: several groups of high school students have been sent to another world as a survival exam. The "gate" through which the students were sent doesn't re-open at the end of the test period. Finally, the remaining students band together to improve the odds of their survival.

One young man, at the first council of the group, asks, "What is the prime knowledge acquired by our race?" The students advance various ideas. Fire. Writing. The wheel.

Heinlein writes, "No, none of these. They are all important, but they are not the keystone. The greatest invention of mankind is government. More individualistic than cats, nevertheless we have learned to cooperate more efficiently than ants or bees or termites. Wilder, bloodier, and more deadly than sharks, we have learned to live together as peacefully as lambs."

So the students form a government. They begin the long climb from savagery to civilization.

Until the events of Sept. 11, it had become fashionable to bash our various levels of government. It was commonly accepted knowledge that all government was inherently parasitical, all bureaucracy inescapably inefficient.

Since Sept. 11, however, during our mini-recession, and in the midst of Colorado's drought and fire season, another side of government has revealed itself. Today's heroes are firefighters and policeman -- government workers whose mission is now fully revealed to the people: To serve and protect, even at the cost of their lives. When we looked for a response to the terrorist attack, we looked to government.

Around the world, various upheavals of the sort that lead to the tyranny and anarchy of the Taliban are common. Absent the rule of law, the separation of church and state, a stable and literate bureaucracy -- in short, all the trappings of our government -- the lives of real people quickly devolve into squalor, ignorance, and sudden death.

That isn't to say that government should be exempt from challenge. It is a wonderful tool and a fearsome master. Yet there is a difference between thoughtful oversight of our public institutions, and a destructive hostility.

Two years ago, Doug Bruce's "Taxcut 2000," which proposed an annual reduction of $30 in each property tax until the taxing entity was out of business, is a good example of this kind of pre-9/11 thinking. Defeated that year by the voters (who thought that the elimination of fire districts, water districts, and other entities might be a problem, and doubted the ability of the state to take on such tasks), Bruce is returning to the ballot this year, as issue #134.

I anticipate a vigorous debate. It just might be that Heinlein has a few important points to contribute.