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 31, 2003

December 31, 2003 - service overview

Every now and then -- and the last column of the year seems like a logical time -- I like to remind everybody what the Douglas County Libraries are all about.

First and foremost, we are an independent library district, dedicated to quality service. Where does our money come from? -- mostly, from property taxes. While we are not a part of Douglas County government, we do share the same boundaries.

How do we operate? The Douglas County Libraries hire smart people, provide them with lots of training, and encourage them to use their good judgment to fulfill our key mission. That mission is "to provide resources for learning and leisure to build communities and improve lives in Douglas County."

Among those services are almost half a million items. Most of them can be checked out. We have books galore, magazines and comic books, VHS and DVD videos, music cassettes and CDs, and children's kits (with several kinds of media).

Then there are our electronic resources. Our key resource is the catalog of all our holdings, accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Assuming an Internet connection to our site (www.DouglasCountyLibraries.org), you can browse our virtual shelves, look at reviews of popular books, put things on hold, see what may have come in for you from previous holds, and more.

Our website also contains loads of local information. For all of you newcomers to the area, this is a great place to start exploring Douglas County.

Another key resource is our subscription databases. Have you ever done a Google search and found 1,247,398 matches -- none of which had what you were looking for?

The databases we subscribe to, on your behalf, will give you just that handful of hits that actually contains relevant information. These sources cover everything from car repair to medical issues to homework help to up-to-minute corporate financial statements.

If you can't find the RIGHT database, you can always ask one of our helpful librarians. During the work day, you can talk to them in person. But we also subscribe to a 24/7 ONLINE reference service; so librarians can type back and forth with you, and even push web pages to you.

We provide public space. You can attend our programs (everything from big, signature events for adults, to daily storytimes for preschoolers), book your own group's meetings, take advantage of one of our smaller study rooms, or just stake out a table or a comfy chair to sit and read.

And finally, let's go back to where I started: our staff. These cheerful, well-informed, enthusiastic souls will direct you to just the right resource. You'll find them, and us, not only all over cyberspace, but also at any of our seven services locations (Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Lone Tree, Parker, Louviers, Cherry Valley, and, in early 2004, back in the Roxborough area, but more news about that in future columns!).

This past year we spent a lot of time thinking through our mission and our message. Here's the catchphrase that captures most of it: Access: OnSite and OnLine. Translation: we help you find the thing information you're looking for, right here in one of our buildings, or in cyberspace.

We hope to see you in 2004.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

December 24, 2003 - 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.

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.


Note: all Douglas County Libraries will be closed from 3 p.m., December 24, to 9 a.m., December 26.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

December 17, 2003 - graphic novels

Some years ago, I was appalled to read that the soldiers charged with routine maintenance of various U.S. atomic weapons got their training from comic books.

I'm not being a snob. It happens that I like comic books a lot. But it seemed to me that really important training should be based on, well, really heavy textbooks.

I was wrong.

First, let me digress. Before the movies came out, I had read "The Lord of the Rings" series twice. Both times, I was enjoying myself and paying close attention. (The two often go together.)

But you know what? Later, I really couldn't remember much. I could remember parts, of course. But not all, not even MOST, of the twists and turns of the plots. I suppose that's one of the reasons I like to re-read books -- I read fast, but it takes a few times for me to get it all.

When the movies came out, I started to read the series again, and this time, when I was done, I found that I COULD remember them, scene and sequence, in great detail.

Why is that? Because now I could see it, could call up a sort of memory photograph. It didn't matter even if that scene hadn't been in the movie. I just filled it in, extrapolating from what I had seen.

This tendency to remember things that I see better than the things I just read or hear about, isn't a function of intelligence or education. It's just that I am, like most of the people in the world, a visual learner. It isn't the ONLY way I learn, but it's the quickest and the most enduring.

The same explanation is behind the runaway publishing phenomena called "graphic novels."

What is a graphic novel? Well, on the outside, usually it's a sort of high gloss paperback. Inside, it's a shiny comic book.

Most of the graphic novels, as the name suggests, are fiction. But that fiction often has a surprising twist.

Consider one of the first graphic novels to make it big. Called "Maus," it had the unlikely setting of Nazi Germany. But the characters were all animals. The Jews were mice. The Nazis were cats.

But this wasn't an allegory, like Orwell's "Animal Farm." The characters and events of "Maus" were drawn straight from history.

Recently, I saw my daughter reading a graphic novel about Ireland. I picked it up myself. To my distinct pleasure, it left in some of the juice of history -- as opposed to far too many books that squeeze it right out.

You may have noticed that many bookstores -- just like many libraries -- have growing graphic novel sections. Why? Because whether it's fiction or fact, particularly for those of us raised in the age of television, we just pick up things more easily if they are in color, if they are based on image. (Note to the excessively busy: graphic novels are also faster reads than traditional books.)

So if soldiers now find it easier to learn, and remember, how to accurately mantle and dismantle America's weapons of mass destruction, then I say, graphic novels are a Good Thing.

Even if they do look like comic books.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

December 10, 2003 – Robb

One of the last classes I took to get my library degree was an "administrative practicum." In brief, I had the chance to closely observe the local public library director, a man named Fred Schlipf. Schlipf had a Ph.D. in Library Science, and had taught a couple of our classes.

Much of the practicum consisted of me sitting in his office and taking notes. How to deal with this. How to deal with that. I also got to ask frank questions about why he had chosen a certain approach; in return, I got frank answers.

Then, he had me work in every department of the relatively small library (a single building, serving a single town) for a day. After that, he asked me to tell him where I thought there were any problems. I didn't find many – but I thought the archives department could use some firming up.

So he put me in charge of doing that. I got to call meetings, work up agenda, give some work assignments, and evaluate the changes.

It was a wonderful experience, showing me precisely the difference between theory and application in my new field. It served me in good stead for many years afterward.

Like so many things, the only way to pay back that experience is to pay it forward. At the end of last summer, I was approached by one Robb Heckel, a master's candidate at the Emporia State University extension program in the School of Library and Information Science. He was seeking an administrative practicum at our libraries. I volunteered to take him on.

In his over 200 hours with us, Robb got to see a lot. He saw policy changes, administrative changes, budget retreats and presentations. He observed Board meetings and committee caucuses. He sat in on state legislative strategy sessions. He heard some of the deliberations around key personnel issues, and what it's like to negotiate with and manage important vendors. He came to our annual staff day. He attended our "district roundtable" -- where our strategic decisions are made – and then got to follow those decisions down to the branch level.

He got, in short, a very top level view of how a large library district is run, good and bad, warts and all. I didn't hide anything, and did my best to answer his often probing and insightful questions.

But here's the surprise. While I have no doubt the experience was a valuable contribution to his education, it was also a big contribution to mine.

Bringing in a fresh pair of eyes to my job let me see some things I hadn't seen before. My job has changed. While I still have a hand in the facilitation of decisions in-house, and still have an important role in setting tone and direction, more and more of my time involves thinking about and making myself available to a much larger community.

I saw the many things I like about this place – the thoughtfulness and openness that goes into our decision-making. I also saw the places where our growth has begun to make us inefficient, or where we don't quite live up to some of our values.

In short, by working with an "intern," I not only got a new perspective on my job, but a sharp to-do list out of Robb's questions.

I bet that would hold true for other librarians. In fact, I bet almost anybody would benefit from having a curious student follow him or her around and ask apropos questions.

Teaching is a powerful way to learn. As I suspect one of my mentors, Dr. Schlipf, would agree, sometimes you do things for your profession that wind up doing YOU a lot of good.

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

December 3, 2003 - meeting rooms

In the process of planning for our new Philip S. Miller Library, we conducted many focus groups. There was a consistent message: we needed more meeting rooms.

It was true. Our "big" meeting room -- about 700 square feet -- was booked every Monday through Thursday night, as much as a year in advance.

But there were, often, just three or four few people in each meeting. So our new building in Castle Rock, like the Highlands Ranch Library before it, offered lots of smaller spaces for people to get together.

For a long time, we have tried to make sure that non-commercial groups had first call on these spaces. That's what accounts for the high demand of use in the evenings -- everybody is at work during the day. In fact, we have often denied the use of our spaces for commercial uses.

Why the preferential treatment? Mainly, because we are a public institution. Businesses are more likely to have the resources to rent space for their gatherings. Our primary clientele, particularly as regards evening use, involves people volunteering for what I would call "community building" -- forming not-for-profit networks that invest in youth, and/or allow neighbors to come together around some common causes.

Gathering space, in Douglas County, is hard to come by. It furthers the public good for public institutions to provide it.

That process is very much in keeping with our mission, and in keeping with what librarians do generally: gather, organize, and make publicly accessible all kinds of resources. In this case, the resource we're gathering is each other.

We have also had all kinds of restrictions against commercial use of library space. Meetings had to be open to all. You couldn't charge admission. The serving of alcohol was very strictly limited -- to after hours, to donated beer and wine, and requiring the advance permission of the Library Board of Trustees.

But with the expansion of available space at all of our libraries over the past several years, we've begun talking about opening things up more. For instance, during the day, why not allow businesses to book the space for their private meetings? Businesses, too, are part of our community.

So I've presented a proposal, based on some careful consideration by our staff, about some changes to our meeting room uses. We're in the discussion phase now, so your comments are eagerly solicited.

Here's the first part of the new policy proposal. In brief, we will annually open our meeting rooms for booking, much as we do now. We will invite the not-for-profit community to book the space first. This space would continue to be offered at no charge.

But the second call will be open, on a first-come, first-served basis, to any community user. Here's the big change: commercial users will be charged a nominal fee for the use of our larger rooms. Why charge anything? Because although I'm happy to invite new uses, I don't want to undercut existing businesses that do charge for meeting rooms.

I'm also proposing that we open up the library to the use of groups that might want to charge public admission: music and theater performances, for instance. The logic is that the library wants to be a center of culture, and the absence of an affordable venue is a serious problem in this county.

By far the most sensitive notion is that of allowing the use, in some very carefully described ways, of alcohol in the library. My idea of an appropriate use might be a fundraising dinner for a local non-profit, for example, or a wine and cheese reception for an art exhibit. The restrictions would be: EITHER after hours or in the evening only (not before 7 p.m. on a night that we are open until 9 p.m.). Again, beer and wine only, and only if donated; it can not be sold. Such groups would have to have insurance, and would have to add the library as a named insured. They would also have to assure us, in writing, that someone would be carefully watching to make sure that no one other than adults had access to the alcohol. The Board would still have to approve each request.

What do you think of such changes? We are also considering holding a public hearing on this topic. Until then, please direct your comments to me at jlarue@dclibraries.org or leave a message for me at 303-688-7656.