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, December 25, 2002

December 25, 2002 - A Gift Suitable for All Ages

For the past several years, I've been reprinting what I've come to think of as "my Christmas column" -- a tradition. I hope you enjoy it.


What we really need is an all-purpose gift that will satisfy everybody. It should be suitable for all ages. It should require no assembly. It shouldn't need batteries. You shouldn't have to feed it. It should last forever. It should be constantly entertaining. The more the recipient uses it, the more he or she should like it.

And of course, it should be free.

No such animal, right? Wrong. I'm talking about a library card.

Note: all Douglas Public Library District libraries will be closed on December 25. We will also be closing at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

I'll never understand it. Most adults these days carry cards of every description; most of them DON'T have library cards. So for the woman or man who has everything, why not offer everything else? -- access to the total accumulated knowledge of the human race, not to mention the most wonderful stories ever told.

Of course, the real winner of a gift like this is not an adult. It's a child.

Here's all you have to do to make your holidays a success. First, come down to the library and fill out a library card application for your child. Then, check out three of four books. Wrap the card and the books and set them under the tree. Save this very special package for last.

When the child rips it open, say that this unassuming little card will let him or her get presents all year long. Then read your child to sleep that night with one of the books.

After your children have gotten bored with all their expensive toys, read them (or have them read) the other books, then trot them down to the library in that slow week after the main event. Teach your children about exchanging one present for another.

At the library, every day is Christmas. Behind every book cover there are riches. After introducing your kids to a treasure trove beyond Aladdin's wildest dreams, why not mosey over to the adult section, and browse through the latest offerings yourself? You know you deserve it.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett urged every child to obtain and use a library card. It was good advice then; it's good advice now.

Besides, at prices like these, who can argue? If you are not fully satisfied after a lifetime of learning and pleasure -- I'll cheerfully refund your money.

Trust me, this could be the best Christmas card you'll ever send.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

December 18, 2002 - Shop Locally

One of the surprises of the Internet was the discovery by thousands of libraries across the country that the hottest information commodity was ... what was going on in our own back yards.

Think about it. You won't use your local library as a portal to Google. You just go to Google.

Certainly, many of the people who use library terminals do go on to search a host of World Wide Web search engines and big databases.

But a close analysis of our logs shows us that the biggest demand on library websites is for local information. That is, people are trying to find local statistics, local contacts, local history.

And, after years of poohpoohing our own catalogs as kind of boring, the truth is, they actually generate brisk traffic. Why? Because it's a local asset, pointing to something people can stop by and pick up on the spot.

There's another reason this local focus is logical. It happens that we employ a host of highly competent librarians. Good as they are, though, there's no way they can be experts on the literally millions of websites out there.

They CAN be experts on Douglas County.

In other words, the idea that libraries are your "doorway to the world," while technically true, pretty much misses the point. Your local library is your doorway to your own neighborhood -- and that's a real service, because it takes a lot of work to get all that information in order.

What goes on in just one town is almost inconceivably rich. Just try, as newspapers do, to track all the club meetings in a single week, or the business of just one governmental entity.

Local libraries have the ability to mine the real depth of some of that data, to reveal its "granularity" -- the fine grit of real stuff, as opposed to the big picture, seen from a distance.

It happens that this insight has a seasonal connection. I got to thinking about all this because of Christmas shopping. Here's what I've concluded. Just as it makes more sense for libraries to try to be local experts than global experts, it makes more sense to shop locally than to shop on the Internet. There are three reasons.

First, shopping locally employs my neighbors. A lot of good people work very hard to make their businesses successful. If I buy their goods and services, I'm helping to ensure the economic well-being of them and their families. That makes for a more stable community.

Second, when I buy goods and services locally, I'm also paying local sales taxes. Those taxes support a variety of services that are important to my well-being and quality of life. I recognize that "no taxes!" is supposed to be one of the great values of online shopping. But often, shipping charges cancel out the economic advantage. More importantly, those purchases do nothing to make MY town better.

Finally, online shopping is a little solitary. I like to see the faces of the people who sell me my groceries, my books, and my meals. It turns the business of living into an actual life.

So that's my tip from the world of library information technology, eminently applicable to the practical politics and economics of living in a real community: think globally, but shop locally.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

December 11, 2002 - Libraries & Economics

The longer I'm in the library business, the more I realize how deeply the public and private sectors are interconnected.

It's clear that in 2002, Colorado libraries have taken a hit financially. In some ways, this reflects what's happening in the business world. Many commercial operations are suffering a drop in sales, thus in revenue. Those libraries that are dependent on city sales taxes (as in Denver), are also seeing a sharp decline in revenue.

But here's the contrary part: even those libraries that are losing money are at the same time experiencing a steep increase in use. Less money; more demand for service. In business, that just doesn't happen. More use means more money.

Is library use rising in Douglas County? You bet. Two years ago, we broke all our previous circulation records when we checked out 2 million items. This year, we'll check out over 3 million.

But that rise in use is happening all over Colorado. How come? There are lots of reasons.

Let's take the more negative situation first. If you've lost your job, you go to the library to retool: to learn how to write a resume, to borrow a word processor to produce it, to scour newspapers for job ads. Or possibly you use the library as a sort of temporary office, a place to meet people and investigate prospects. Or maybe you use the library as a place to look into alternate careers, to find out which careers are recession-proof.

Libraries provide resources -- already paid for by the general public -- that you can least afford when you most need them. Here we see the great investment value of cooperative purchasing agreements!

Of course, there are lots of more positive reasons to use the library. Libraries help you spend the money you do have more wisely, whether you're planning to make a significant consumer purchase, or are trying to explore investment opportunities.

In addition to all our more traditional offerings -- informational and recreational materials of all sorts, reference assistance, and children's services -- libraries also offer a rich tapestry of free family programming. You can explore everything from history to crafts, right here in your backyard.

What is the fiscal picture for the Douglas Public Library District? Well, we are not dependent on sales tax. Almost all of our revenue comes from property taxes. Property values are less volatile than sales. So when the economy slows down, library districts get enough notice to prepare themselves.

Here's how I size up our changing fiscal climate: revenues, while still growing, are flattening. Next year, we'll see a real increase of about 8.9% in tax receipts -- but balance that against over a 30% increase in use.

What does that mean? We have just about wrapped up all the capital projects we promised voters back in 1996 -- and have in fact done better than our promises. But once we open our storefront in Roxborough, and once we complete our new Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, our capital reserves will be gone.

At this point in the library's development, our focus has begun to shift from outward expansion (capital) to internal infrastructure and productivity (operations). Incidentally, that's exactly what we said would happen when we last went back to the voters: we'd build some libraries, then have enough money to run them.

The challenge of the next several years will be how to stay focused on growing community needs, with an eye toward wringing maximum use from existing resources.

But, you know, libraries are pretty good at that.

Wednesday, December 4, 2002

December 4, 2002 - A Child's Christmas in Wales

The library has a tape of Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet, reading his "A Child's Christmas in Wales." I've been listening to it as I drive.

Thomas, the preternaturally gifted wordsmith, is mesmerizing. On the one hand, he's definitely telling a story, the story of many Christmases in Wales, from the standpoint of a young boy. It's funny and charming.

On the other hand, the sheer, compelling beauty and strangeness of the language sometimes overwhelms the listener with phrases like these:

"All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea" "We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows -" "I mean that the bells the children could hear were inside them." "...sometimes two hale young men, with big pipes blazing, no overcoats and wind blown scarfs, would trudge, unspeaking, down to the forlorn sea, to work up an appetite, to blow away the fumes, who knows, to walk into the waves until nothing of them was left but the two furling smoke clouds of their inextinguishable briars."

We Americans often lose track of the real meaning of poetry. It's too easy, particularly in the holiday season, to relegate it to greeting card sentiments. Real poetry -- and anything by Thomas certainly qualifies -- is about something else. It's about a heightened sense of reality, of language so pure and powerful that it changes us as we listen to it.

To celebrate this fine work, published in 1955, the Douglas Public Library District's own theatre troupe, Page to Stage Productions, will present several performances of "A Child's Christmas in Wales" around the district. The show will be presented by library staff in a reader's theater setting. All of the performances are free.

Here are the places and times:

December 3: The Lone Tree Library at 6:30 pm

December 4: The Highlands Ranch Library at 7 pm

December 5: The Parker Library at 7 pm

December 11: The Philip S. Miller Library at 7 pm

Page to Stage Productions presents theatre performances based on treasured literature throughout the year. The performances are recommended for anyone from the age of 8 and up.

It's my hope that such programs will encourage families to dig out more treasures from our collection. In fact, I hope they take it one step farther, and actually read them aloud to each other at home. While there's something to be said for gathering around the television in your pjs to watch yet another, "It's a Wonderful Life," there's something even more engaging about reading to each other by the fireplace, or the Christmas tree.

The season is a time to build memories, and what better memory than the sound of beloved voices, probing the rhythms and insights of great literature?