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, 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.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

June 12, 2002 - Colorado Libraries Respond to State Funding Cuts

Donna Jones Morris, President of the Colorado Association of Libraries (CAL), announced that Colorado librarians met June 4 to begin planning changes in library services as a result of recent state budget cuts. CAL represents more than 1000 public, college and university, school, and other library members in Colorado.

Governor Bill Owens exercised his line item veto on several library-related expenditures in the state's new budget on Friday, May 31. In total, state expenditures for libraries were reduced by $4,679,194. The budget goes into effect July 1st of this year.

The eliminated programs are:

The Colorado Resource Center - $2,299,194. This program, in existence for almost 30 years, enables the Denver Public Library to provide walk-in service to all Colorado residents, free reference service around the state via telephone, fax and email, and, as Colorado’s largest public library, free lending of its books to other libraries.

State grants - $2,000,000. This program, established two years ago, provided a minimum grant of $3,000 per library. It was restricted to the purchase of “intellectual content” — primarily books and databases. Since its inception, the program funded the purchase of an estimated 200,000 books, all available at no charge to any Colorado resident. The greatest beneficiaries of the program have been smaller, rural libraries.

Finally, all funding for the Payment for Lending program, which had been in place since the seventies, was eliminated. This program, at $170,000, partially reimbursed libraries for the books they loaned to other libraries in the state.

“These cuts are a setback to all Colorado libraries and the people they serve. Some two thirds of Colorado residents have and use a library card, and they will certainly feel the impact,” said Morris.

In 2001, the CRC loaned 70,000 books to other Colorado libraries. CRC reference librarians also answered more than 160,000 reference questions from around the state.

The cuts will have an even greater proportionate effect on Colorado’s many small, rural libraries, many of which have book budgets of just hundreds of dollars or less. The State grant program enabled these libraries to buy many more new books. Others (such as the Douglas Public Library District) used the funds to subscribe to electronic databases for K-12 students and home-based businesses, giving them equity to educational resources no matter where they lived.

The loss of funding to Colorado libraries means that library users will see fewer new books in their libraries, and will find it harder to get hold of older ones.

The library community in Colorado remains committed to its mission: the provision of high-quality service to the residents of Colorado.

Wednesday, June 5, 2002

June 5, 2002 - Operation Enduring Friendship

For some time to come, the library will order and circulate many books about Sept. 11.

Such a staggering blow takes time to process. While some facts about the event are undeniably clear, the search for the meaning of those facts may never be over.

Our papers are full of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, political speeches in France, and potential nuclear confrontations on the border between India and Pakistan. Closer to home there are concerns about the clear need for increased security on our airlines, concomitant new restrictions on domestic liberties, and the past performance and future orientation of the FBI.

More hopefully, there are also efforts that seek to build strong new bonds between nations. Many of these are the ties of trade; others belong to cooperative humanitarian efforts, often delivered by such international service organizations as the Rotary, or Habitat for Humanity.

Over and over, all of these things focus on adults. It is the tendency in times of war to brush the children aside, to seek to shelter and protect them. Yet our children, too, are witnesses to history.

To my mind one of the most encouraging responses to Sept. 11 has been the recent effort of the Huskies Quarterback Club. On August, 24, 2002, the Huskies, the football team of Douglas County High School, are scheduled to play a game against the Lions -- the football team of the Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx, New York. The Huskies Quarterback Club is raising funds to fly the Lions all the way from the Bronx for the event.

Why? Well, in the words of a New York football commissioner, "Everything is done with adults in mind. This is done with the kids in mind." It will do the high school students in New York some good to visit the High Country. It will do our own students some good to mingle with them.

In an affecting videotape, entitled, "Operation Enduring Friendship," local football booster, Eric Wellman, asks some of the kids in New York to name one of the states that borders Colorado. After some hesitation, one of them guesses, "Arizona?"

At that, they fare better than many Douglas County athletes, asked to name any of the five Boroughs of New York. One Husky says, "A burro is a kind of mule..."

Most of the kids on the New York team have never been outside their city, much less their state. Some of the kids even wondered if they had to get passports.

But don't mistake them for innocents. Their faces are streetwise and savvy. And they certainly do look like they can play football.

Also featured on the "Operation Enduring Friendship" video are the kids' reminiscences of the attack on the Trade Towers. Some of the students had relatives in the immediate vicinity. One of their former teachers died in a rescue attempt.

The excitement the Lions feel about the trip is obvious and genuine. And as for our team, they say they're ready to play.

To contribute to this altogether worthwhile effort, please consider attending the 3rd Annual Huskie's Hoedown, on June 7, 2002, at the Wiens Ranch. Tickets are $100, and will only be sold in advance. This adult-only evening begins at 5 with cocktails, follows up with a dinner at 7, then a silent auction, then some presentations and a live auction. At 9:30 p.m., there's a Diamond Rio Concert.

More information is available online at www.eteamz.com/dchuskiesfootball and look for the Diamond Rio. Or call Jackie Padilla at 303-688-2608, Gail Wellman at 303-681-9562, or Candy Burtis at 303-688-5167.

Oh, and the answer to those questions. The states bordering Colorado are Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. The five boroughs of New York are Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.