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

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

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

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

May 29, 2002 - Memorial Day--The Numbers

Recently, I read David McCullough's biography of John Adams. It enthralled me. Adams was the true architect of our whole form of government. Moreover, he was genuinely wise.

Too often these days, we predicate our lives on our rights, on what we believe we are entitled to receive. Adams's life was based on something seldom even mentioned today: the concept of duty.

As we contemplate Memorial Day, I offer the following reflection on our history. First, Memorial Day itself. For many years known as "Decoration Day" (for the decoration of Civil War veterans' graves), the first observance is generally regarded to have occurred on May 5, 1866, in Waterloo, New York.

Consider these facts as well. Since its inception, the United States of America has participated in at least 10 wars.

Not everyone is a soldier. Expressed as a percentage of the population, here's who enlisted:

* Revolutionary War - 5.7%
* War of 1812 - 3.8% * Mexican War - .4%
* Civil War (combined) - 11.1%
* Spanish-American War - .4%
* World War I - 4.6%
* World War II - 12.2%
* Korean War - 3.8%
* Vietnam War - 4.3%
* Gulf War - 1.1%

Here's how many people died or were wounded in those conflicts:

* Revolutionary War - 10,623
* War of 1812 - 6,765
* Mexican War - 17,435
* Civil War - 970,227 (634,703 Union, 335,524 Confederate)
* Spanish-American War - 4,108
* World War I - 320,710
* World War II - 1,078,162
* Korean War - 136,935
* Vietnam War - 211,471
* Gulf War - 760
* The total: 2,752,243

And for the fiscally minded among you, here's what it cost per capita, in 1990 dollars:

* Revolutionary War - $342.86
* War of 1812 - $92.11
* Mexican War - $52.13
* Civil War (combined) - $1,294.46
* Spanish American War - $84.45
* WWI - $1,911.47
* WWII - $15,655.17
* Korean War - $1,739.62
* Vietnam War - $1,692.04
* Gulf War - $235

What does all this mean?

First, it means that those who lay their lives on the line to defend our country are always a surprisingly small fraction of the whole. In the history of our nation, it has never risen above 13 percent.

Second, as shown above, many of those who have put their lives on the line did in fact die as a result. They gave all their days to their nation. And their deaths had significance not only for their country, but also, enduringly, for their families.

Third, the costs of war are shared. We commit tax dollars for defense. There are personal costs. But as many have observed, liberty is not cheap, and some wars have purchased that, even if others have not.
The Douglas Public Library District closes each year on Memorial Day. We do this, as do many governmental institutions, to honor the dead. We also do this to allow our staff to attend whatever observances they may choose.

As John Adams wrote, "Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people." The library is a good place to explore not only how our soldiers fought, but for what..

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

May 22, 2002 - What Are We to Do With the "Specials" in Our Society?

I once wrote a piece called, "Big Brother in Your PC." Concerning the growing ability of computers to track your computer habits and interests, it was picked up by the Denver Post.

Shortly after that, a woman with a faint accent started calling my office. Let's call her "May." She kept missing me, and wouldn't leave a number.

Last week, I was sitting in my office getting caught up on paperwork. May called and I answered. We talked, although mostly I listened, for about 45 minutes.

May told me a sad but compelling story. Some 15 years ago, her grown son (let's call him "Tom") had a big argument with another family member, his uncle. Right after that, May said, Tom's ability to think, or to hold a job, began to deteriorate.

For many years, May struggled to understand what was happening to him. Finally, she said, she began to understand. Her son had been subjected to some form of electromagnetic mind control.

The story got complicated. There was a Nazi connection, a Taiwan connection, the CIA. She cited a few books. There were websites.

Her son's symptoms were certainly disturbing. Tom saw visions of the uncle, who now could hear Tom's thoughts, could speak directly into his mind. Sometimes, Tom would talk out loud, angrily responding to his uncle's outrageous statements. That's one of the reasons Tom had trouble holding onto a job.

May told me she had tried to seek help for her son, but it hadn't worked out too well. Doctors, she told me, just said that Tom was crazy. Schizophrenic.

I asked her, "But why? Why would somebody buy all of this expensive equipment to torture someone this way?"

"It's a test," she said. "If they can do this to my son, they can do it to anyone. Even world leaders."

"But why take 15 years?" I asked. "It doesn't seem to make sense."

"I know he's not crazy," she said. "Sometimes, I even hear the voices myself."

Finally, I said, "I deeply sympathize with your situation, but I don't really know what I can do."

She asked if I thought she should try a church, some kind of spiritual counselor. I said I thought that would be a good idea.

"Yesterday," she said, "Tom told me, 'You know, I'm still in here. Somewhere.'" She sobbed. "He's fighting so hard."

We talked for a little while longer, then she hung up.

What do I think?

It could be that both she and her son are suffering from some kind of mental illness. And I wonder if there wasn't something else going on between the son and the uncle.

There may be some intervention, treatment or medication that would help. On the other hand, I'm not sure that today's medical treatment is necessarily a good thing.

At other times, in other cultures, people who heard voices, or saw things that other people couldn't, weren't always branded as ill.
I've never had visions. I've never heard voices. But I will say that lately I've stumbled across more and more people talking in an animated fashion into the air.

Usually they have earphone extensions to their cell phones. But not always.

The persistence of this condition in the human race might be something other than illness. I remember a science fiction story about a normal man who falls in with a group of people who are blind. Finally, they put out his eyes. Then he fits in.

Other cultures have found ways to recognize certain people, and carve out a place in their societies that saved these people from lives of torment, gave them ways to make positive, and sometimes profound, contributions. Sanity is not an absolute. It is relative to one's culture. Cultures vary.

If this subject intrigues you, I have two suggestions for further reading. Both are excellent. Both are available from your local library.

The first is "Lying Awake," by Mark Salzman. It's a sparse, beautifully written fictional account of a modern day Carmelite nun whose strong sense of God's presence is diagnosed as a brain tumor. She's told that an operation will save her life. Will it also cost her the transcendence of her experience?

The second is "Edgar Cayce: an American Prophet," by Sidney Kirkpatrick. This is a non-fiction biography of a man from the first half of the 20th century. Cayce, while in hypnotic trance, seemed to have the ability to perform clairvoyant and reputedly accurate medical diagnoses of thousands of people. He also prescribed often highly unorthodox treatments. The evidence suggests that these treatments, when followed, were remarkably successful.

Yet the same "Source" of that information also claimed to offer insights into the past lives of some of his subjects.

Are these people crazy? Gifted? Or just characterized by behaviors that -- right now -- have no real explanation?

What are we to do with the "specials" in our society?

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

May 15, 2002 - ILL

I recently attended a conference on Interlibrary Loan. Interlibrary Loan, or ILL as it is known in library land, is the process through which patrons borrow library materials that their local libraries don't own.

ILL, as I noted in a column some months ago, used to be a very delicate matter. Libraries then were not in the habit of loaning out their stuff to people who didn't happen to be part of their local community.

So the first ILL librarians were like diplomats, seeking to establish friendly ties with sometimes prickly foreign nations. Like all diplomats, their chief tool was protocol, through which they soothed the feelings and honor of the "other" libraries in order to loosen lending restrictions. These protocols required certain forms, a strict order in which libraries might be approached,certain limitations on what might be asked for, and so on.

And they were successful. As anyone who runs a request through ILL has learned, ILL librarians are very good at what they do. Moreover, their skills represent a cross-section of library expertise.

They conduct mini-reference interviews to be sure that they understand what the patrons are looking for. ILL librarians are expert catalog searchers, hopping from one automated system to another to track down just the right item. In order to do this, they have to be fairly knowledgeable about sometimes obscure cataloging practices.

Then, when the items comes through, ILL librarians have to ease the materials into the native circulations system, carefully tracking the item to make sure that it gets back on time.

While it isn't unusual for me to hear words of praise for our staff, I can count on at least one outpouring of gratitude for our ILL staff every year. ILL is often the ONLY solution to a longstanding reference, genealogy, or scholarly request, and our patrons are deeply appreciative of the service.

I've only ever had three mild reservations about ILL.

First, why "ILL"? It just sounds ... sick.

The second is that the service constitutes a remarkably small percentage of our overall use. In 2001, what we loaned to other libraries accounted for just .15% of our overall checkouts. What we borrowed FROM other libraries was a little higher: .28%. Taken together, that's less than one half of one percent.

But frequency of use doesn't necessarily speak to value. You might only have one open heart surgery operation in your whole life, but that doesn't mean it wasn't important.

My third reservation concerns speed. For many years, ILL typically took some 4-6 weeks to get something for you. Given the complexity of the task before computers catalogs and e-mail, I suppose that's not surprising.

Things have changed. These days, most items we can locate, request, have delivered, and have ready for checkout in just a couple of days.

In June, Colorado will be rolling out something called SWIFT - StateWide Interlibrary loan Fast Track. (As acronyms go, "SWIFT" is certainly a step up from "ILL.") This will allow patrons to place their own holds from other catalogs and have the items delivered to one of our branches.

Other advances, some technological, some a result of the great openness that characterizes Colorado libraries (and is a direct result of ILL librarians' efforts), have made it much easier to get article requests via e-mail, or just stroll into another library and check something out on the spot.

Today's library patrons are wired to the world. They see their library cards as international passports.

And today's Interlibrary Loan librarians are no longer diplomats. They are tour guides.

Wednesday, May 8, 2002

May 8, 2002 - Job hunting resources at the library

Naioma Walberg, Parker Library Reference Librarian, contributed this week's column...

Attention all job hunters – we can help!

We know, because we have been there too, that job hunting can be totally maddening, amazingly time consuming and excruciatingly frustrating.

But help is not far away and comes in a multitude of formats to help the search. Your library has databases, the Internet, newspapers, magazines, books, directories, surveys, word processors, copy machines, fax machines and someone is always at the reference desk ready to help.

Thanks to modern technology, job hunting resources have expanded a hundred-fold. Now classified ads from newspapers all over the world can be found on the web. And with over 341 million people using English, you will have a lot to look through before having to learn a new language.

Besides classifieds there are great commercial megasites like monster.com and employment911 as well as networks like headhunter. Even our government and local communities have joined the game with great sites such as the Colorado Job Bank and Arapahoe/Douglas Works! Workforce Center.

All these great sites and more have been gathered for your convenience to use at the library or from home. Just go to www.dpld.org, click on e-reference on the left side of your screen then scroll down to and click on careers under librarian selected web sites.

At www.dpld.org we are not just talking classifieds! From our home page, click on e-reference on the left side of you screen and then databases A-Z which is just above center in the middle of the page. Now welcome to the wonderful world of databases, all listed alphabetically (because librarians can’t help themselves).

What will you find?

Trade and professional associations can be a great help in gathering leads and learning more about the industry in which you are interested. Click on Associations Unlimited International, U.S., National, Regional, State and Local and find over 158,000 detailed, up-to-date listings.

Trying to find companies that need your kind of skills and interests? Click on Reference U.S.A. and search for companies by name, industry, size and location. Each entry gives number of employees, gross sales, branch or headquarters, person in charge, types of occupation and addresses.
Have an interview and want to shine? By now, you probably have www.dpld.org bookmarked, so go into Databases and click on Business Source Elite. This very useful database sources over 1,050 journals to provide you with massive amounts of information on industry trends, companies in the news, what’s hot and who is way ahead of the game – all nice things that can help make you stand out during an interview.

RDS BizSuite, another cool database, profiles companies and industry information for job searches and information tips for interviews.

All these databases can be used at the library or from a remote access. Just remember to have your Douglas Public Library District card nearby as each of the databases asks for some part of your patron number before letting you in.

And, as always, a librarian is never far away. Cyberspace is really awesome, but it isn’t the only game at the library for the job hunter. We librarians just love to search out and purchase all the great books that can help the job search in any phase of the process.

And boy oh boy we have found some good ones on every aspect of the job search you can think of -- resumes (regular resumes, cyber resumes, first time job hunter's resumes, resumes for specific professions), cover letters, how to prepare for an interview, guides for helping you find a job, books on deciding a career or help in making career changes.

A stop at the reference desk will provide you with even more exciting resources. Tucked away in the reference collection are directories, encyclopedias, industry and company surveys that provide multiple types of information for searching for a job or preparing for the interview. The Colorado Business Directory, Rocky Mountain High Technology Directory, International Directory of Company Histories, Hoovers Handbook of American Business and U.S. Industry and Trade Outlook are just a sampling of the sources at your fingertips.

But your favorite library doesn’t stop there. We have word processors, copy machines and fax capabilities to ease the process. Here at the library we want to help make the job process as painless -- and productive -- as possible.

Naioma Walberg is a Reference Librarian at the Parker Library.