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, February 26, 2003

February 26, 2003 - Russell is a Republican

've always thought of myself as more of a cat person. I had two cats, brother and sister, that I adopted as kittens in the desert. Pookalure finally had an encounter with a coyote that he escaped from, but mortally wounded him. Watson, a small, black female cat, lived to the ripe old age of 20.

Some years later, we had two active kids looking for a more interactive pet. Through a series of steps that happened with amazing speed, we found ourselves with two large dogs: a Greyhound, and a border collie/Burnese mountain dog mix. We've had Cagney and Freddie for several years now.

This experience, I feel, uniquely qualifies me to weigh in on a pressing issue: the political affiliation of pets.

Recently, the Douglas County Republican Women presented the library with some copies of a children's book called "Russell is a Republican," by Franktown resident Deborah C. Gamec.

Russell is a cat. The book is beautifully summarized on the back side of the title page: "Russell demonstrates Republican attitudes and philosophy in absolutely exquisite illustrations."

The illustrations, by Roxanna Jo Alexander, ARE exquisite -- watercolors that capture the glory of an animal deserving of such tribute. In the words of Fernand Mery, "God made the cat in order that man might have the pleasure of caressing the lion."

Here's another of my favorite cat quotes: "No tame animal has lost less of its native dignity or maintained more of its ancient reserve. The domestic cat might rebel tomorrow." - William Conway, Archbishop of Armagh.

Russell, based on a real life story, is presented as a paragon of Republican values. Russell "does not question his Creator," "always looks his best," " employs all his talents and resources," and "loves his freedom." I got a kick out of this one: "Russell sees all equally, in shades of black and white."

Russell appreciates nature, but still hunts. He knows you sometimes have to fight.

All of that is well and good. One sees in the things one admires, the values one admires.

But the book does take something of a partisan turn when we meet Russell's friend, Benny, a dog. "Benny is usually looking for a handout. He has a tendency to whine and to moan and to sigh. Often he is anxious that he won't be cared for. He is a Democrat."

That made me laugh out loud.

However, in the name of interspecies fairness, I feel I should point out a few facts. There is no Kitty Corps in the Army, no stories of cats accompanying their people into combat or dragging them wounded from the battlefield.

There are no brave cats confronting and subduing gun wielding criminals. There are no cats rounding up and protecting the livestock. There are no search and rescue cats. If your house catches flame in the night, your cat makes for the cat door; your dog wakes you up and sees you to safety.

"Russell is a Republican" has a two page spread that says it all: there's Russell, with a slight paunch, stretched out on an American flag. The caption: "Some call Russell a 'fat cat.' That is because they are jealous."

I'll give the last word to John Weitz, author or another of my favorite cat quotes: "Even overweight cats instinctively know the cardinal rule: when fat, arrange yourself in slim poses."

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

February 19, 2003 - TV's

I'm not exactly sure how this happened, but suddenly I don't watch TV anymore. Not the news. No regular programs. Not talk shows.

I'm not being a snob about it. My family has a fair number of VHS videos, and a growing number of DVD's.

Many a night, we'll even plunk ourselves in front of the tube with TV trays and a pile of spaghetti. But we watch movies, not TV fare.

So why don't I watch regular TV?

There are two main reasons. The first is a matter of schedules. Even when I run across something I do enjoy, it's difficult to arrange my life around it. My life has a lot of evening meetings. We have children who need to be carted around to various activities. I have friends to see. There's usually something I'm tracking on the Internet. I have four or five books going.

The second is my absolute impatience over the idiocy and frequency of most commercials.

The last time I actually tried to watch something -- probably a Star Trek rerun -- I finally ran screaming from the room. First, the volume goes up when the commercial comes on. Then the thing they're selling you is ridiculous. Then the WAY they try to sell it to you borders on the insulting.

Who needs it? I thought. From now on, the only time I'll sit in front of a TV is when I have direct control of the content.

But there's the rub. Just a couple of weeks ago, my son and I stopped at a local restaurant for lunch. And we found to our initial amusement, then growing frustration, that it was impossible for us to talk to each other. Why?

Because everywhere you looked in this restaurant, there were enormous TV's. Some of them were loud (usually with sporting events in the background). The one just in my son's line of vision was a captioned news program.

Was he interested in the topics being discussed? No. But the ever-changing images, most of them chosen for splash and action and color, exerted a persistent tug on the eye. My son was incapable of carrying on a conversation, instead being reduced to a series of "look at that!"

So we switched seats, because I'm more mature, and have greater powers of concentration.

Except now I was the one who couldn't talk. "Lookee there!" I'd say.

Honestly, who goes to a restaurant so they can watch captioned news programs? I go to relish the act of eating, and to enjoy the company I keep. The TV flat out interfered with both of them.

Now I raise all this because I have agreed to allow a closed captioned TV in the new Philip S. Miller Library. It will be over by the new periodicals, turned away from the inside of the building. It is a direct request by some senior citizens in Castle Rock, who indicated their strong interest in finding, while they're at the library, how their various stocks are performing.

Frankly, for me it's hard to imagine that such second-to-second monitoring is necessary. Will I see seniors leaping to their feet, pulling out their cell phones and shouting "Sell! Sell!"? If so, those seniors will be asked to leave the library. (Don't get me started on cell phones.)

But we'll give it a try. When you ask for people's advice in focus groups, it seems to me that you ought to accommodate it when you can.

If it bothers you, too, though, don't hesitate to let me know. You'll probably find me in front of the TV. Wave your arms or something.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

February 12, 2003 - The Pre-Overdue Notice

A good friend of mine, the director of another Colorado public library district, celebrated her 50th birthday with a "Jubilee." She took the year off. During that time, she made herself available as a volunteer. But she refused to lead anything. "I'll stuff envelopes," she said, "but I won't write the letters."

She said she needed to recharge her life, get back in touch with the things that mattered. She had a couple of life projects she'd been putting off. My friend is a committed Christian, and happens to be straight. But like many churches today, her own church was grappling with the issue of whether or not to welcome gay members. She wanted to spend the time reading and thinking through Scripture, then writing up what she learned.

And so she did. I even posted it on my personal website.

When my friend returned to librarianship, refreshed and reinvigorated, she made some fascinating observations. Most things hadn't changed much. There were a few new players, of course, and she was happy to meet them. The people, she said, was what she had missed the most.

There were some new political wrinkles -- but not many.

There was really only one area that took some time for her to get back up to speed. That area was technology.

At base, library services have an unchanging mission: librarians gather, organize, and make publicly accessible the intellectual capital of our culture. The means by which we do so is also easily summarized. Until, that is, the technologies of the 90s and 21st century.

With a great build-up like that, I should now unveil some huge new automated service, something that tops the World Wide Web, Internet-based full-text periodical articles, and even our new virtual reference service, which gives you a real live reference librarian, right through our website, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

So here it is: if you've got e-mail, we'll let you know the day BEFORE a book is due.

That's right. No more frantic digging under the bed and bathtub when the overdue notice arrives. Instead, you'll get a polite email reminder before a single fine has accrued. The notice also has a link to our website, where you can renew the item (providing, of course, that nobody else is waiting for it).

As I have noted in previous columns, I'm sometimes surprised by just how paranoid people get about library fines. Never mind that the Douglas Public Library District has the lowest fines around: a nickel a day for most materials, with a maximum fine per item that's a fraction of the item's cost.

So now, instead of guilt-ridden and fearful transactions at the circulation desk, patrons will receive a discreet message before any wrongdoing has occurred.

It's like the light and judicious hand of your spouse, who touches you lightly on your arm as you accelerate up a hill, with the gentle news, "There's a police car just ahead." And so forewarned, you observe the strict limits of the law, and enjoy the blithe confidence of the utterly proper.

Isn't technology grand? For those of you library patrons with long records, the "pre-overdue notice" is truly a cause for Jubilee.

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

February 5, 2003 - The Columbia

One of my first, most thrilling memories was watching rocket launches. They fueled my interest both in science and science fiction.

I admired the courage it took to be crammed into a tiny metal box, just a couple of feet away from the vastness of space. Or to walk in space!

I remember being glued to the TV, awestruck, as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bounded over the lunar landscape.

I've learned that there's another dimension to exploration: the encouragement, the hope, and the fear of the families left behind. It's the human condition -- whether they are waiting for the return of the hunter, the sailor, or the pioneer, there are always those who wait.

And the sad truth is, sometimes the explorers do not return. Hunters are overmatched, sailors are lost, pioneers fall victim to unknown peril.

We mourn them.

The loss of the Columbia, and its seven shining representatives of the human race, now seems to carry a unique poignancy. It has a resonance in the post 9/11 world, another national tragedy when it seems we have
already had more than our share.

But there is really only one way to honor them. We must keep the dream alive.

There will be some, as there were after the Challenger disaster, who call for an end to space exploration. "What a waste of time, talent and dollars!" they'll say.

They are wrong. The research that has gone into rocketry, into protecting humans from the rigors of space, into remotely monitoring all kinds of devices, have had countless applications on earth. Those advances include a host of medical breakthroughs that save lives every

Space challenges us. Our response pushes back many frontiers of our understanding.

Maybe it's all the science fiction I've read, but I think there's another reason why we must continue to push for human exploration of space. I believe our survival as a species depends on it.

Comets and meteors have crashed into our planet before. That's the likeliest cause for the extinction of the dinosaurs, whose reign lasted far longer than ours has, and whose end came so suddenly. The collision of another such object with our planet might well wipe us out.

Not that we require outside help. The human race, since Hiroshima, is more than capable of wiping itself out. Or, we might be undone by some new disease, racing around the globe too fast for us to fight it.

It may be possible to head off celestial collisions. Diplomacy may triumph over self-destruction. Human beings are hardy.

But it might not be a bad idea to have a few of us somewhere else, just in case.

I've also been intrigued by something called the Gaia Hypothesis (look for the author "Lovelock" in the library catalog). Here the notion is that the planet earth itself is alive, is a consciousness, and is driven as are other living things to reproduce.

How does a planet reproduce? By sending parts of itself into space, to transform other places into look-alikes. If earthlings go to Mars, introduce more oxygen into the atmosphere, and begin cultivating Earth plants and animals (a process called "terraforming"), then Mars becomes
a sort of planetary "child."

We think of ourselves as great explorers. Maybe the real purpose of humans is to serve as nothing more than interplanetary spermatozoa.

All of that may sound fanciful. But this week seven brave and brilliant people died. Why? For the great adventure, for the triumph of the human spirit against everything that seeks to bind us, to hold us down.

They believed that this effort was for the betterment of humankind. So do I.