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, 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.