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, May 28, 2003

May 28, 2003 - The Patron Purge of 2003

Years after I moved out and started my own family, I went back home to visit my dad. Somewhere in a day's knocking around town, he realized that he needed something, a tool, I think. Then we saw the old Sears tore.

We roamed around till he found what he wanted, then stepped up to a cash register. Dad poked through his wallet and at last pulled out his battered Sears charge card.

"Haven't used this in a while," he told me, with a hint of nostalgia.

A few moments later, the clerk announced that the machine had rejected my father's card. "There's no credit problem with it," said the clerk. "It looks like it's been purged from the system. Sometimes we do that for cards that haven't been used in a long time. Sorry!"

For some reason, this really GOT to my dad. He began to bluster. "I raised my children on this card!" he said. "All their school clothes, all their shoes..." (There were five kids in my family. That's a lot of shoes.) "All of our furniture! We have used this card for -" he paused,
"35 years! What kind of organization just PURGES a person after all of that money and time?"

The clerk did what he could do. "I can quickly add you again, sir," he said. But dad, still in a huff, paid with his Visa.

I remembered all of this recently because the library just purged ITS files. If a patron hadn't used his or her card to check out materials in years, we thought it likely that that person was no longer an active library user.

Like any other business, we try to track current use. If we leave a lot of inactive records in our system, we start to fool ourselves about our real market. People in Douglas County come and go so quickly.

But we also face two real problems.

The first is that many people, like my dad with Sears, are deeply offended by the discovery that, in their judgment, we have repudiated them as people.

My response? We haven't! We greatly value our patrons. It's not personal! Some libraries NEVER purge their data files – but they also have no idea how they're doing in their communities, either.

The second problem is that libraries are finding it harder and harder to track new kinds of library use.

If you call to ask us a reference question, if you browse our magazines, if you attend a meeting, if you use our Internet terminals for email, NONE of that activity is currently captured as an "activity" that updates your library card.

Then, too, lots of people have come to rely on our many commercial databases. They connect to them from home, and type in their library card numbers to unlock them. But that activity, too, doesn't update the library card.

Or at least, it DIDN'T. Over the past several days, we took this problem to one of our automated vendors. We believe we have a solution. They've figured out a way to use something called a "Remote Patron Authentication module" to treat unlocking a database like checking out a book. It will tell us that you're still around, and still using the library.

And we're working on solutions for other library uses, in an effort to spare you the bother of the minute or so it takes to sign up again just because we think you have drifted away from us.

So for all of you that have been inconvenienced, my sincere apologies.

Meanwhile, to whom should you direct your anger? To me. This purging of files is solely my idea – and I still think it's good business. (Sorry, dad!)

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

May 21, 2003 - Tile Project

Several weeks ago, my wife, Suzanne, did something wonderful. She bought a couple of plane tickets to Portland, Oregon for my daughter, Maddy, and me. Suzanne thought father and daughter hadn't had a chance to do anything special together in awhile. Maddy and I had a great time. Mainly, we walked and talked. We walked through China Town. We walked to the Powell's bookstore, which occupies a whole city block. We walked to the Art Museum. We walked to the magnificent downtown Multnomah County Library. We walked to restaurants. We walked to the Saturday market -- artists and artisans selling their wares under an overpass, by a park.

Everywhere, any time of day or night, there were people.

Part of the reason, of course, is that there was a coffee shop on literally every intersection. This not only provided conveniently spaced social gathering places, it kept people awake and alert. Strong and pungent, the aroma of coffee wafted through the rain.

Portland, I know from my reading, is often held up as an example of how to do cities right. I admit that I was skeptical when I first got there. By the end of our stay, I was hooked. Portland works. I fell in love with it.

But I'm in love with my home town, too, which happens to be Castle Rock. For the past two and half years, my office has been smack in the middle of Wilcox, Castle Rock's Main Street. I like being downtown, enjoy watching the rhythm of it, the faces.

But Castle Rock, like most smaller towns, only partly works. We have so many wonderful elements -- the history museum, the School District administration building, the railroad tracks, the main square with its restaurants, the Masonic Lodge (whose downstairs windows don't line up with the upstairs), the Perry Street development, the paved walkway along Sellar's and Plum Creeks, our own independent bookstore, county and town offices, and soon, a new library.

But the rhythm of a pedestrian-friendly place is often disrupted by things that almost work, that don't quite connect.

One of the things I so much enjoyed in Portland -- and also served to connect the streetscape -- was the clear presence of public art. There were statues. There were murals. There were parks that tried to be more than a patch of grass and a picnic table.

Well, under the leadership of the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Castle Rock, and the Douglas Public Library District, we're going to do something about this.

Our first public project will be a vividly colored mural depicting scenes from the town. The artist is Malcolm Farley, best known for his sports paintings -- and, most recently, his work on millions of Pepsi cans.

The mural will be composed of individual, 12" by 12" tiles, together making up a piece spanning 8' by 24'. The mural will display on the Perry Street side of the new library.

We hope to pay for this project by selling individual commemorative tiles. They show a section of the larger mural, but are sized for display in your own home. You can buy an 8" by 8" tile for $100; or a 12" by 12" tile for $500, which is also signed by the artist.

But here's the best part. After we pay for the piece on the library, we'll keep selling tiles. The money we raise will go to new art projects elsewhere in the town.

Oh yes, donor's names will appear on a wall of fame in the new library's lobby -- a roll call of people who think downtown art makes a difference in the life of a community.

To purchase a tile, stop by the Philip S. Miller Library, or the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce, located at 480 Jerry Street, Castle Rock CO 80104. Or call the Chamber at 303-688-4597.

Meanwhile, why not take your own daughter for a stroll downtown? There's a lot to talk about.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

May 14, 2003 - Generations at Work

Over a decade ago, I ran across a book that was like a revelation to me. "Generations," by Neil Howe and William Strauss, worked through the whole history of America -- and made some definite predictions about the future. Those predictions, it turns out, have been right on the money.

The basic premise of the book was that there are four key generational types. They follow each other in regular sequence, about every 20 years or so. The mood of the nation depends on the relationships of these generations to each other, and their own phases of life.

Generations, it turns out, are a powerful tool for the analysis of politics.

Now I'm starting to realize that generations are an important concern in running a business, too.

I've been reading a new book, "When Generations Collide," by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman. As it says on the blurb, "If your workplace sometimes feels like a battlefield and your colleagues sometimes seem like aliens, you are not alone."

What's the problem? Differing generational styles. Those styles govern everything from employee recruitment, to orientation and training, to evaluation and feedback, and to communication generally.

When it comes to careers, different generations have different goals. For instance, "Traditionalists" (actually, two generations, born between 1900-1945) want to build a legacy -- something that endures.

The Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) want a stellar career. They thrive on achievement and status.

Generation Xers (born 1965-1980) want a portable career -- something that allows them to respond quickly to opportunity or sudden reversals.

Millennials (1981-1999) -- who are just now hitting the workforce want parallel careers. They're born multi-taskers.

Each generation has its own communication style. And that's where things go wrong.

Most common seems to be this situation: process sensitive Traditionalists or Boomers try to give thoughtful, constructive feedback to a Generation Xer who is thinking, "Will you PLEASE get to the point!" or "Just what are you trying to tell me?"

Or run it the other way: the Gen Xer is trying to move as directly and efficiently as possible to complete a project, offending the Boomers and Traditionalists with what seems to be an utter disrespect for process or expertise.

I've got my own analysis of the typical generational line-up in libraries. We still have a good many librarians in the "Silent" generation -- Post WWII. In general, these people are skilled in process, in the nuances of HOW things are done. They pride themselves on their expertise.

The Boomers tend to be very values-driven. Their focus is WHY things are done. Such people are good at coming back to the mission and vision of an organization.

Generation Xers tend to be results-driven. Their efforts are targeted on WHAT needs doing. They are flexible, adaptable, and fiercely creative.

Which is better? Which is right?

Answer: libraries need ALL of them. We need to know why we do things; we need to have equitable and appropriate procedures to follow; and finally, "at the end of the day," we actually have to get something done.

And woe to the library that hires people from just one generational perspective, because it will find that it no longer connects to its community, which is, of course, a blend.

So here's a follow-up exercise. At your next staff meeting, toss this question into the mix: "how would you describe the 'typical' member of Generation X?" And then sit back and listen to the destructive power of the stereotype.

Then ask yourself, how would someone not of your generation describe you?

And finally, put the issue of generational communication on your company's agenda. Your success will depend on it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

May 7, 2003 - New Website

I'm pleased to announce the third incarnation of the library's website.

The first one went up, I believe, in early 1997. We were at that time the first website in the county, and one of the first library websites in Colorado.

Some years later -- around the year 2000 -- we rolled out a new version, more graphically sophisticated.

Since then, our website has grown larger and more complex by the hour. Moreover, each web page was created -- and thus needed to be maintained - separately. At first, that was do-able. Eventually, all the thousands of pages, with all their references to the World Wide Web, and to each other, grew too unwieldy to manage easily.

The latest version, premiering for the public last week, involved a radical change. We now have a database-driven website. Instead of creating each page as if it were a separate document, with constantly changing links, we now just enter the links and the characteristics of the data. Each page is built on the fly, by the computer.

This should allow us to better distribute the tasks of web management. If one of our reference committees finds a new link, or needs to make a change in an existing one, we can make a single change to a data record. All the pages that refer to that link will be automatically updated. This makes us far more efficient.

What does that all this mean to the public? Two things.

The first is a new look. Instead of the old format -- with a navigation bar along the left vertical edge of the screen -- we've adopted a more horizontal, tabbed approach. This is very much in keeping with the way the library catalog displays on the screen, making all of our pages feel more consistent.

Second, it means we have the time to explore some new services. For example:

The Reader's Forum. Here, you'll be able to respond to columns like this one, and talk about new books, movies, or music. We're also thinking about a Teen Area. These spaces have the potential to be true online communities.

Speaking of teens, there's Shout DC. This is a project of Leadership Douglas County, class of 2002. It was a joint effort, led by Lone Tree librarian Deb Margeson, and involving assistance from the library, the Douglas County School District, and Ponderosa High School (especially high school students Ben Clark and Nick Swanson, who formatted the data).

The purpose of Shout DC is this: it lists county (and some metro-based) organizations that welcome teen volunteers. Teens can fulfill their high school graduation community service hours through these organizations. We're hoping that high school counselors and parents will use our website to help students find good matches for their interests.

Douglas County Community Resources databases. Using our same database driven model, this resource will eventually allow each organization to keep its own information current. Here again, our intent is to provide a comprehensive and definitive directory of all kinds of local organizations.

We're also teaming up with Douglas County and the Arts to Zoo web pages to provide a link to all the arts, culture, and heritage organizations in the county, and beyond. This will also let the public track a calendar of activities by those groups.

Finally, you'll still have access to all the topnotch commercial databases bought by the library on your behalf. Thanks to a new package we've purchased, most of these databases will now be available to you from home: just type in your library card one time, and all of the subscriptions will open up for you.

I'd particularly like to thank Moira Ash, Nancy Gassen, and Linda Sturgeon -- library staff members whose intelligence and diligence have brought you these improvements. They've worked hard, for many months, maintaining two websites while the new one was being polished.

Expect more announcements about our automated services soon.