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, June 25, 2003

June 25, 2003 - Your Memories Are Safe With Us

I guess it was about two score years ago now. A fellow named Walter LaRue, from Springfield, IL, was visiting Mountainburg, Arkansas. He was in quest of genealogical information.

He came strolling up the hill to one Margret Trentham LaRue (wife of Christopher Columbus LaRue, mother of Jesse James LaRue). She looked at him and said, "I've never seen you before in my life, but I can tell by your ears you're a LaRue." (Many LaRues do indeed have outsize ears. The better to hear you with, my dear.)

Well, Margaret invited Walter in to sit. Before long, she realized that many of the things he was interested in were right there in her family Bible. There were births and deaths and names and notes. "Just the other day," she said, "I started wrapping up that Bible to send it off to the library. Nobody else in the family seemed to care about it. But I tell you what, I'd rather give it to kin."

So it was that Walter, a sort of fourth cousin, made off with the family Bible.

I found out about all this when I got interested in genealogy myself. I happened to be living, of all the places I might have been living, in Springfield, Illinois. Walter was still around, still had the Bible, and after we chatted awhile, even offered to give it back.

But he had been a good custodian. He was also a far more active genealogist than I was ever going to be. So I settled for making some photocopies.

Not long after that, I moved, and I hear that Walter has since died. Now I'm sorry I turned him down.

The truth is, my great-grandmother was right the first time. That Bible should have gone to the library. When Walter offered to give it back, I should have taken it, and passed it along to the library where I worked.

A keen interest in family history sometimes skips a generation or two. The current custodians break the chain of key belongings, especially the ones like family histories and photographs.

Then, when the next genealogist comes along, everything has been scattered to the four winds. The chain is broken. The stories are lost. The key connections between people of one time to another are dissolved.

When a library gets hold of such bounty, things are different. We are the welcome mat of many a community for visiting genealogists. People who start with the library often find manifold riches.

Take, for instance, our own Douglas County History Research Center. We have thousands of old books, documents and photographs, tenderly preserved in acid-free boxes. Soon, in our new Philip S. Miller Library, they will be moved to a climate controlled environment, with its own special sprinkler system that won't destroy materials even while it douses a fire.

Moreover, we work diligently to describe, to index. We organize the past to better serve the present -- and the future.

Some libraries have helped reunite whole branches of families, just because we happened to have the right wedding announcement, the right photograph, the right microfilm of an obituary.

So when that great-nephew of yours strolls in fifty years from now, we'll still have it, it will still be in good shape, and we'll be able to lay our hands on just what that young man will want to know.

The next time you're thinking about getting rid of something that you don't care about, but some other kinfolk, some day, just might -- think of the library.

Your memories are safe with us.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

June 18, 2003 - The King and I

Last weekend I attended the Castle Rock Players' production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I," held at the Douglas County High School.

It's an impressive show on many levels. The sumptuous costumes, the elegant sets, the stunning voices, the charming and subtle choreography all speak to the expertise ushered in by Director Carol Petitmaire, Musical Director Ken Street, Technical Director Tom Pelo, Dance Captain Jessica Vogan, and many others.

The acting is wonderful. The core of the show is the relationship between the King of Siam (magnificently portrayed by Randy Braun) and Anna Leonowen (played to perfection by Anna Dammerman).

For those of you who have somehow missed it, the basic story is this: a widowed English woman, along with her young son, is hired to teach English to the 60-odd children of the king. Set in the 1860's (the king several times mentions Abraham Lincoln, whom he clearly admires), the play is based on a true story from Siam's, now Thailand's, history.

The book upon which the play was based was in fact written by Anna Leonowen. Published in 1870, it was called "The English Governess at the Siamese Court: Being Recollections of Six Years in the Royal Palace at Bangkok."

The king -- Mongkut -- was by any standard a remarkable man. As the play rightly points out, Mongkut was responsible for a wave of Western reform. He assumed the throne at age 47, after having spent some 27 years as a Buddhist monk. He set up printing presses, built roads and canals, issued modern currency, and set forth an ambitious and enlightened program for international trade and diplomacy. His country was a model of religious tolerance. His son -- the young prince in the play -- continued these traditions for another 42 years.

Anna Leonowen did unquestionably go to Siam, and did indeed teach the king's children. Beyond that, however, it appears that she had the tendency to stretch the truth. For one thing, she wasn't a governess, just an English teacher. She lied repeatedly about her age, her birthplace, her education, and her ne'er-do-well husband.

In "The English Governess at the Siamese Court," she made many mistakes about Siamese history and the Buddhist religion.

In her second book, "The Romance of the Harem," she claimed that Mongkut threw into underground dungeons the wives who displeased him. Here's the problem: at that time, there were no underground structures of any kind in the area -- too soggy.

Then there's the story of Tuptim -- the young wife who loved another man. Leonowen said she personally witnessed Tuptim being publicly tortured, then burned with her lover, a monk. There were, however, many other foreigners in Siam at the time. Nobody else seems to have heard anything about it.

Worse, she claimed a great deal of credit for Mongkut's and his son's reforms. This didn't go over very well with the Thai people -- a controversy that exploded when "The King and I" first opened. The movie was banned in Thailand.

But that's the difference between history and entertainment.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in seeing a topnotch production, and don't mind some romantic embellishments along with what Rodgers and Hammerstein themselves considered a divinely inspired score, call 303-814-7740. There are three more shows: June 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m., and the 22nd at 3 p.m. You'll enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

June 11, 2003 - I Pledge

When I was young and foolish and hitchhiking my way around the southwest, I found an easy way to pick up some cash. I would go to a university, and sign up as an art model.

Yes, dear reader, your local librarian once took off his clothes for money. Back then, I did an hour or so of yoga every day and walked everywhere. I was in very good shape. Times, alas, have changed.

The combination of few inhibitions, coupled with remarkable flexibility and muscle definition, made me a popular model. The work was easy -- an hour or so of not-too-strenuous poses in a comfortable "life drawing" classroom. It also paid surprising well, about a dollar over minimum wage.

When I got to Tuscon, I went to the University of Arizona's personnel department to sign up for work. And there, for the first time ever, I was asked to raise my right hand and swear that I was not a communist. Well, I'm NOT a communist, so that wasn't hard. But I was utterly bemused. What was the message? The state of Arizona could pay somebody to take off his clothes in public, UNLESS he was a communist?

Suppose I had been a liar? Why, they could have had a lying, buck naked communist right there on campus! And what good would their pledge have done them then?

Now Colorado has its own new public requirement of loyalty. Recently signed into law is House Bill 03-1368. In brief, it requires all Colorado public students (elementary through high school) to recite, on every school day, the Pledge of Allegiance.

There are some exemptions. The bill says that if teachers or students object on religious grounds they will not be compelled to recite. Parents and guardians who object on behalf of their children on any grounds and submit a written statement to that effect, can also exempt a child from recitation. Finally, students and teachers who are not US citizens are not required to recite the pledge.

Let me make my own position clear. Not only am I not a communist, I consider myself a patriot. I really believe what our federal Constitution stands for. The great achievement of the United States of America is an unparalleled standard of living for the average citizen,
and extraordinary freedom from tyranny.

Back when my wife and I were homeschooling our children, we taught them the Pledge of Allegiance ourselves.

But I have a real problem with this new law. How do we square a pledge to a nation guaranteeing "liberty and justice for all" when we require our children to stand and make public statements of faith, or risk ostracization and ridicule? (Yes, parents may request that their children be excused. And how, do you suppose, those children will feel
every day in class?)

One could argue that such statements are meaningless -- but clearly the people who passed this law think the pledge means a great deal.

I wonder what they would make of this statement, in 1950, by United States President Harry Truman, "Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear."

I'm not opposed to the Pledge of Allegiance, so long as it is truly voluntary. Free people make proud declarations of their faith and their allegiance. Slaves say what they must.

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

June 4, 2003 - Douglas County Libraries

I give up.

The name of our library system, encompassing all the public libraries in the county, was christened in 1990. Its name is the Douglas Public Library District.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we've plastered that name on almost 100,000 library cards. It appears several times a week in all the newspapers. We've sent newsletters to every single household.

The result? Nobody knows our name. They think we are the Douglas County Library.

I may be slow, sometimes, but I'm not altogether stupid.

Generally, I think it's a mistake to change an institution's name. Once you achieve name recognition, it makes sense to build on it. But in this case, there is no name recognition.

Here's an interesting thing: people DO know the names of the individual libraries. They know the Lone Tree Library. They know the Parker Library, the Highlands Ranch Library. In Castle Rock, some people call it the Castle Rock Library, and others by its true name, the Philip S. Miller Library.

In general, knowing the name of your library by its geographic location is a good thing. It's clear, and it becomes a matter of local pride.

The name "Douglas Public Library District" is clear enough in my mind, because the name captures both the audience (public, as opposed to school or university or corporate) and the governing and funding type (district, as opposed to municipal). But that's like chemists calling salt "sodium chloride;" it's correct, but it's also a little pedantic.

We've already gone through the process of establishing our name legally. But soon, we will begin doing business as "Douglas County Libraries." Note the plural on the end. Yes, we are a unified system, but we offer multiple buildings. It's not only correct, it's a promise.

In the past week or so, we've been trying out the new name. I'll say this: It's certainly easier to use when I answer then phone.

Please note that the names of the individual libraries will NOT be changing. The Highlands Ranch Library will remain so, as will the Louviers Library, the Lone Tree Library, the Parker Library, and (in about 4 months), our new Roxborough Library.

We will also retain the name of the Philip S. Miller Library. Mr. Miller's contribution to the library system is worthy of a lasting memorial, and if we have to educate people about what that means, then it is our honor to do so.

This change, and others yet to be, are a result of a marketing study we commissioned from a Douglas County firm called Cahoots. Our intent is to position ourselves to be clearer communicators of our mission and services.

Along the same lines, we will shortly be rolling out some new website addresses. The old one -- www.dpld.org -- will continue to work. But you'll also be able to find us through www.douglascountylibraries.org. Similarly, www.parkerlibrary.org will take you to our same website, as will the names of our other libraries. The Philip S. Miller Library will be available under two names: www.philipsmillerlibrary.org AND www.castlerocklibrary.org.

These new websites obviously won't be as short as "dpld," but it's our hope that they WILL be more memorable, and therefore easier for people to find.

Remember us!