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, 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.