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 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.

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