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 29, 2004

December 29, 2004 - Music

I don't know what you're thinking about at the end of the year, but here's what's on my mind. What is the evolutionary advantage of music?

You can understand that there are a host of desirable characteristics that influence your selection of a mate. Intelligence. Strength, either physical or emotional. Beauty. (Although, hmm, one might also ask, what's the evolutionary advantage of curly hair, when in the man, it's liable to fall out?) There is the equally mysterious power of the pheromone.

But back to the tune at hand. Is music like the tail of the male peacock? Designed to attract and thrill, with no other earthly purpose?

But think of all the uses of music. I have the privilege, several times a year, of announcing for the Castle Rock Band. Mostly, the band plays marches from a hundred years ago. It's stirring stuff -- but then you realize that such music, often including the aptly named "snare," serves largely to send our boys marching off to war. The bagpipes and drums have long been with us.

As my 10 year old son would say, "What's up with that?"

There are many who hold the reins of power in our world. But the names we know and remember are the names of musicians. The crowds gather only rarely for political reasons; often, for the singer or the band.

Words, language, speaks to our mind. It persuades. But music speaks to our heart. It commands.

Music holds powerful sway in religion. Even unbelievers can't help but be charmed by Christmas carols. Religious music also gives rise to feelings of exaltation -- feelings that might be otherwise hard to reach.

We fall in love to music. We have "our" songs. Music makes us tender. Mothers sing to their babies.

Music defines our times, from the syncopated rhythms of rag time to lush, big bands to soul music to punk rock.

And speaking of defining our times, there is the use of music in advertising. Studies show that certain cycles of music, piped through our malls and grocery stores, get us to spend more.

Music insinuates itself deep into our memory, driving out genuinely useful knowledge with, and here I speak from experience, the theme song of "Gilligan's Island."

Music involves tremendous human activity. Purists devote their lives to classical study and performance, the latter in enormous and expensive halls. More popular music employs and earns many millions: recording, producing, distributing, booking, selling knickknacks and photographs and mementos.

All of that activity is one of the reasons libraries collect music. It's clearly very important, personally and culturally.

I wonder how many people in the world can get through a whole day without hearing music -- on the radio, on a CD, on an MP3 player, over the Internet, in a restaurant or store -- or producing it themselves through whistling, humming, singing, or playing an instrument.

I can remember carrying my son, back when he was just 6 months old. I hummed "Mary Had a Little Lamb" to him -- and he hummed it back. We respond to music even before we respond to speech.

Some researchers believe the oldest human melody, a melody somehow rediscovered by every child, goes like this: "nyah nyah nyah NYAH nyah." The Ur-song of our species.

Music is somehow hardwired into our DNA.

But I just can't stop thinking about it. Why?

P.S. The library will close on New Year's Eve at 3 p.m. We will reopen on Sunday, at noon, January 2. May your New Year be filled with music.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

December 22, 2004 - 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.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

December 15, 2004 - holiday letter from the library

Dear Friends,

It seems like just yesterday when all our kids were small. They were so cute then! There were puppets on the carpet, and just a sprinkle of new children's books on the shelves. The little ones are so wide-eyed and eager to please.

And they're grateful for their one computer -- not like the older kids with their BANKS of PC's, network printers, and wireless connections. Time flies!

I'm so proud of our kids and their educational accomplishments. Parker, our oldest, has been showing up regularly at the Chaparral college campus. Parker has also shown a keen interest in culture -- really fitting in to the life of the town. But then, Parker always has been sensitive.

Hi, up in Highlands Ranch, says that his neighborhood is hopping! The long promised town center is finally blooming. And they've started work on a beautiful park right next door. The hot news with Hi is that one Mary Elizabeth has moved in, and is already running the show! (Pam was very committed to her company, and did take the transfer. But Hi is handling the change well.)

Tree (and some people will never forgive us for giving her this name!) is bustling around like anything. For her size, she's got some Big Ideas, and on a square foot basis, I have to say she's the busiest child we have. And so creative! But she's strong-willed. I do hope she won't wind up aLone.

Phil is still here in Castle Rock. Last year, I moved back in with him. Sometimes I think it can't be easy to have your old dad around all the time, but I'm proud of the way Phil has become an important member of the business community, just like his namesake, Mr. Miller.

Then there's Roxie. You probably know that she's been living out of a bus(!) for years now. Honestly, who is going to go see her when she doesn't even have an inside bathroom! Despite that, she seems to have lots of visitors, and they're all crazy about her. Speaking of the bus, she did have a fender bender earlier this year -- but I guess that's all part of growing up. Don't get me started about insurance! Now she's talking about getting a real place, sort of a loft apartment, next June, over the new Roxborough Safeway. It will have an elevator and bathrooms, which is a blessing.

But I hear the bus is sneaking out to Castle Pines North. I think she's seeing someone new over there!

Lou put a lot of time and money into remodeling last year, although he says the county did most of the work. Do visit the beautiful, restored Louviers Village Clubhouse. It's gorgeous.

Then, of course, there's Cherry, way out in southeastern Douglas County. She still hangs out at the little valley's school house, and does a surprisingly brisk business in getting books to the neighbors.

Well, that's the seasons' news about all the kids. Everybody is growing up, everybody is healthy, and life is good. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

December 8, 2004 - independent bookstores

When my wife and I travel, we rate the towns we pass through. There are all kinds of criteria. How walkable is it? -- a complex calculation that considers the width of streets, the width of sidewalks and their distance from the thoroughfare, the quality and frequency of parks, the height of trees, the mix of commercial and residential properties, and much more.

How good is the public library? We can just stroll through the building once and have a good sense of how much care is given to the collection, and how customer-oriented the staff is.

Also of great significance: are there any locally owned bookstores?

Everybody knows that some of the big names in bookselling -- Barnes and Noble, even Borders -- are opening stores all over the place. On the one hand, that's a good thing. Despite the reports of declining readership, bookstores are a good community "catch."

But there's another kind of bookstore, the independents. And some evidence would suggest that they're having a tough time of it. Many have closed, shut out by the big store competition. Recent closures close to home include both the Chinook Bookshop, and McKinzey-White, of Colorado Springs.

Nonetheless, the independents still have a place. While the big chains account for between 20-30% of the total booksale market (which is tracked both in terms of "units" and dollars), the independents rack up another 14-17%. That's not too shabby -- it's a big market.

Some independent bookstores have shown modest share growth for the past three years, after years of decline. One example is Portland, Oregon's Powell's Books Inc. Powell's strategy seems to be "supersize it!" (They occupy a full city block.) Others focus on niche markets.

One such niche is Christian bookselling. The Christian Bookseller's Association, a Colorado Springs-based organization of 2,400 Christian book and product retailers, says its members are mostly upbeat about the future, but results are mixed. In 2004, 50.1% of CBA members reported a sales decrease, 37.8% posted an increase, and 6.1% experienced flat sales.

What about Internet sales? I was surprised to find that it accounts for
about 8-12% of sales, not as much as the book clubs (16-20%), but more
than the sales from discount, food, and drug stores.

Douglas County has much to be grateful for. We have at least three independents. Castle Rock has Hooked on Books, right next to Crowfoot Coffee. Castle Pines North (on the far west corner of the King Sooper's mall) has the delightful new Chapters, with its own coffee shop.

And then there's one of the most famous bookstores in the world, Tattered Cover, which opened a store in Highlands Ranch, just a couple of blocks west of our library. (And it's got coffee, too!)

The owner, Joyce Meskis, is a savvy bookstore owner. Her previous gamble was the LoDo store, long before LoDo was hip.

But I suspect that Highlands Ranch won't be nearly as much of a roll of the dice. I know from our library statistics that the demographics of readership in Douglas County are just about as good as it gets. We are a community that values books, values libraries, and clearly, values bookstores.

What's the library's official stand on bookstores? Simple. Bookstores are a library's best friend.

The bookstore advantage: you get to keep the books.

The library advantage: you don't have to keep the books.

Your advantage: more books!

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

December 1, 2004 - holds and patron privacy

As anyone reading my last batch of columns knows, I'm thinking a lot about a deep redesign of some longstanding library practices. Why?

Because our own success has led us to a spot where I can see the end of our capacity to grow. Case in point: what we call "holds."

Way back in 1991, I was mucking about with our computer system and saw the option to allow patrons to place their own reserves on items. If the item was out, a "hold" would lurk quietly in the background. When the item was returned, the computer would generate both a message -- please send to Matilda Smith at Parker -- and a notice or list telling staff to phone the patron.

If the item was in (as when Matilda placed a hold for something on the shelf in Castle Rock), then staff would fetch it, check it in, to get the same message. Then we'd either send it to the person's home library, or hold it locally for pickup.

What a great idea! I thought. So I flipped the switch.

Immediately, before we even did any advertising, patrons pounced on this new option. I, of course, had done nothing to prepare my staff, as they soon let me know.

But the service was clearly popular. So we figured out a way to deliver it.

A few years later holds were SO popular that we hit a bottleneck. The process of calling people to let them know that their books were in ate up thousands of hours of staff time. So we spent some money to buy automated notification options: automated telephone calls, automated email, and automated mailing notices.

Between 1999 and 2003, holds continued to grow -- by 165 percent, well into the hundreds of thousands per year. At one of our libraries (Parker) we ran out of space to store them behind our desk. At Philip S. Miller in Castle Rock, we designed our hold pickup space in such a way that it might be accessible to the public, too.

We had noticed that some of our neighbor libraries were allowing patrons to pick up their own holds. Could we move the holds out to a more public area, giving us both more space, and allowing the patrons to incorporate their holds into some kind of self-checkout system?

That was the experiment.

From the numbers side, it's worked, too. Holds continue to grow, without the barriers of space and with slightly less need for staff handling. It has expanded our capacity.

But here's the problem. Although we shelf the holds spine down (so you can't see the title without actively pulling them out and checking), patron privacy is compromised.

Most of the time, nobody cares what you're reading or listening to. But a snoop certainly could intrude on this information. Although I am not aware of a single case where this has happened, several patrons have written me to express their concern that it might.

And they're right.

So here's a head's up. The service itself will continue. In the short run, we'll put a notice on our holds screen letting you know that picking up holds at Parker and Castle Rock uses this system.

But we're investigating some alternatives -- filing the items by patron barcode, or by some mix of last name and barcode, thereby better preserving your confidentiality. This is a high priority project, and we'll get it solved.

Meanwhile, thanks for your obvious support of the service -- and your patience as we work out the bugs.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

November 24, 2004 - New Board Member Needed!

As I've written before, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The message is so simple: let us be thankful.

For all the acrimony that surged around our election season, most of the people in Douglas County are free of so many of the ills of humanity. Few of us go hungry, are tortured or enslaved, are trapped in brutal, dangerous jobs, or suffer outrageous physical challenges. Plus, we get turkey.

Another reason to be grateful is the remarkable service given to the county by our volunteer boards and commissions. One of our Library Trustees, Cindy Hegy of Lone Tree, is stepping down at the end of this year after almost 15 years of service. She was appointed in 1990.

In 1990, our library was still a small county department. Cindy came on just after we had established the independent county-wide library district. She served as President of the Board during the reconstruction of our Lone Tree Library. She also served as Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary, chair of our Building and Grounds Committee, President of our Foundation Board, and much more. Thank you, Cindy!

However, her departure means that we will have a vacancy on our Board of Trustees. If you're interested, please follow the instructions at the end of this column.

First, some facts about the Board.

* There are seven Trustees. They are appointed by the County Board of Commissioners. In general, we have two representatives from each of the three commissioner districts, and another at-large. The current vacancy is at-large.
* Since our Bylaws revision in 2002, Trustees serve terms of 3 years. They may serve a maximum of 4 terms.
* Trustees are responsible for the governance (not the operation) of the library. This involves setting policy, long range planning, adopting and overseeing the district's finances, and conducting the annual evaluation of the library director.
* The Board has at least 10 official meetings a year; typically, one regular monthly meeting (sometimes the Board takes a summer month off).
* All Board members belong to at least one committee, which meets as needed. Among those committees are: Building and Grounds, Bylaws and Policies, Finance, Government Relations, Long Range Planning, and Personnel.

Second, here's what the Board is looking for this time around:

* A woman! Of our six remaining Trustees, five are male. Yet by the overwhelming majority of our users are female.
* Although the position is at-large, our next development area probably falls within the triangle of Lone Tree, Castle Pines North, and Parker. We'd like to find somebody from that area.
* Lots of local connections. As the district has grown, we find we deal far more often with other local entities. The Board would like to find someone who knows her way around the local (municipal, county, and regional) political and community structure.
* A financial background. Cindy had strong financial skills.

Applicants will be interviewed by the Board's nominating committee, which will then make a recommendation to the County for appointment.

If you're interested, please send a letter of interest, and a resume of your business and community experience to:

Board of Trustees
Douglas County Libraries
100 S Wilcox
Castle Rock CO 80104

I'd be thankful if you considered it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

November 17, 2004 - change management

The beautiful thing about ignorance is that everything is so simple.

You can spin out love advice to people you've just met. You can consult for somebody else's company, and whip up a detailed long range plan after just a couple of meetings.

Why? Because you don't have time to know ... all the little things.

Sometimes that means you actually do give good advice. You aren't distracted by things that may seem pressing, but really aren't important. That lets you see to the heart of an issue.

Of course, when it comes to your own life or business, things just aren't that obvious.

Why not? Well, it could be that those unimportant but pressing things have confused you, clouded your vision. You have no objectivity.

More likely, though, it's as as H. L. Mencken once said: "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." Some problems are complex.

I've been reflecting on this since giving a presentation back at my home town library, a town I haven't lived in for over 30 years. The topic was "change management."

Obviously, I'm not up to speed on everything that's gone on at that library since 3 decades ago. But I did an honest and thorough job of research about the topic before my talk.

Here's the main insight of the experts: the greatest single resistance to organizational change is the resistance of staff. I even ran across a pseudo-mathematical formula: D x V x F > R. It means that Dissatisfaction (with the way things are) times a Vision (of something different) times First steps (to get people moving) is greater than Resistance.

Why do people resist change? Most frequently, because they haven't been consulted or informed. They want to know why. They want to know when and how. They want to know who is supposed to do what.

So many people fear change. That falls into distinct categories, too: they fear a loss of status or power, they fear some other loss in the pattern of their relationships with other people, they fear that the cost of change (learning new things, having to work with new tools or co-workers) is greater than the benefit. They don't want to feel foolish or incompetent. No one does.

What can managers do to make change easier? The experts say:

* communicate. This is key. Start by asking what your staff thinks should change. Understand and be able to articulate why change is necessary, and where the organization needs to go. Don't tell people how. Let them figure it out, and thereby take ownership of change.

* encourage staff to take risks. Change happens when people try something new!

* minimize the risk of failure. But everything new doesn't work. If people are punished for taking risks, then everybody gets cautious. Don't say, "You failed!" Say, "THAT was interesting! What did you learn?"

* seek changes compatible with the past in important ways. That might mean gradual changes in procedure or techniques. But more important is to stay focused on core institutional values.

* seek buy-in not only within an organization, but around it.

* recognize success. When things work out well, celebrate.

It all seems so ... simple.

Or as I asked my colleagues in Illinois, "Remember the good old days, when nothing changed?"

Me neither.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

November 10, 2004 - scaling the organization

I do a lot of reading about technology. And philosophy. And management. They're all connected.

Take, for instance, Linux, the computer operating system. It began as the hobby of a Finnish college student. Linus Torvalds wanted to wring a little more work out of his new DOS-based computer, so tried to program a free clone of Unix. He launched this project on the Internet.

Today, Linux is a collaborative, truly international project. It runs the web servers of IBM, of Yahoo, of Google, and even of Microsoft.

But along the way, Linux ran into a couple of walls. The first was wholly human. One guy, Linus, just couldn't keep up with all the corrections (or "patches") people were submitting. Some important new features weren't being picked up or adequately tested. Linus seemed to have reach his administrative limit. He was getting cranky, too.

The second involved what was called "the scalability" of Linux. It was marvelously efficient at some tasks. But when those tasks got to a certain size or complexity suddenly there were unacceptable slow downs. To be successful in big business, Linux needed a redesign of some core functions -- and it looked like Linus wasn't up to it.

Same problem. Scalability of administration. Scalability of function.

The odds are good you've seen this in any organization you've ever belonged to. Strategies that work, well enough, in your own family, don't work in your church group. The communication style that was so efficient you didn't even have to think about it when your business was small ("hey, everybody, come here and look at this!") stopped working when you had people in four different locations, on three different shifts.

The library has had its challenges, too. I'm an intuitive manager, which worked great when our district was small. Then, some years back, in a period of rapid growth, I started dropping appointments and project details. I was becoming, in my own judgment, an organizational problem.

I had to sit down and retool. I took time and project management classes, read up on the topic, designed my own date book, and eventually moved to the Palm Pilot. I'm still an intuitive manager, but now I have a skill set, and some technologies, that help me keep up.

More recently, the library's administrative and communication structure -- the operating system of an organization -- started running into those unacceptable slowdowns and dysfunctions. Again, that's not a criticism of a previous model; it USED to work.

Over the past year, we've been working on addressing that. And I think we'll solve it -- for the period of time that such things can BE solved. (I don't believe in the perfect administrative structure. Things change.)

Linus, incidentally, did pull out of his funk. There was a slight reordering of the administrative structure -- with a little more trust and decision-making authority placed in the hands of a few subordinates. He also adopted some different software tools to manage the various versions of his kernel hacking.

And Linux is a big success.

As Linus said in a recent interview, "So start small, and think about the details. Don't think about some big picture and fancy design. If it doesn't solve some fairly immediate need, it's almost certainly over-designed." Wise words from a programmer -- and excellent management advice.

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

November 3, 2004 - AV is Popular

First: this column is not about politics. Isn't that refreshing?

Second, this week I wanted to air an internal library discussion. We're trying to figure out what percentage of our collection should be "AV" -- audiovisual formats, including DVD's and VHS films, books on tape, books on CD, CD-ROM's and music CD's.

The library tracks the use of all kinds of very specific categories. We don't just keep statistics on cassettes, for instance, we break them down into adult, children, and teen, and from there, into fiction and non-fiction. We have similar divisions for everything else.

Overall, though, AV stuff is popular. Last year, it accounted for almost a quarter of all our checkouts. Another library statistic is "turnover rate" -- how many times things get checked out, divided by how many copies we own. For books, it's about 5.5 (as if every book gets checked out five times in a year). For AV, it's 8.5.

That's impressive enough evidence of AV popularity. It's even more impressive given that, as of the end of October, 2004, AV accounts for less than 15% of our collection.

We're trying to grow it fast. For the past couple of years, we have spent a little less than a third (about 30%) of our materials budget on AV materials. We've built up a collection of over 80,000 items.

AV costs more than books. It takes a little longer to process. It tends not to last so long -- probably because it often has more parts to get misplaced or broken. DVD's have proved to be especially fragile in a library setting. So even spending a lot of money, it takes a while to build up the percentages.

Not only that, many of these formats are fairly new -- DVD's haven't been around all that long, for instance, at least compared to how long we've been buying books. The change in formats means that now our VHS tapes will start to decline statistically, as we add more DVD's. Ditto for cassettes versus CD's -- and who knows what comes next?

The point, of course, isn't just to have a certain percentage, but to have what people are looking for.

For awhile, staff have been thinking about setting a goal of 30% HOLDINGS of AV. That's an arbitrary number, of course, but not unreasonable given the demand for it. But what the above numbers suggest is that to build that collection, we might have to spend closer to 50% of our materials budget. Even then, more of it might be checked out when you walked in, so it still wouldn't SEEM as if we had enough.

AV isn't our only popular category, of course. Right now, children's print materials account for about a third of our collection, but over 40% of our checkouts, for a turnover rate of about 7.5.

And adult bestsellers are hot.

There is, I hasten to add, more to a library than its popular collection. There is its staff! There's a growing demand for meeting space. There is research -- both formal and casual, in print, and online.

But all of the above leads me to believe that a collection optimized for high volume checkouts might look something like this:

* a little over a third AV,
* about a third children's materials, and
* the remainder a combination of bestsellers, series and perennial favorites (cookbooks, pet books, travel, etc.).

Could this be a (partial) blueprint for smaller libraries?

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

October 27, 2004 - rethinking the library

Suppose everything you know about libraries is wrong.

For instance, suppose we have way more than books. The books we do have aren't hidden spine-out on metal shelving. It's OK to carry around a cup of coffee or can of pop. (Yes, for those of you paying attention, we already made those changes!)

Now, suppose libraries don't need service desks. Suppose you don't have to look for staff to ask a question. We look for you.

Suppose that instead of having library staff barricaded behind those desks, we were roaming all over the place, maybe with headsets that let us instantly summon expertise from all over the organization -- including our crackerjack online reference librarians.

You don't have to ask at all for the stuff that everybody is already asking for. Books, popular music and topical information are posted on a kind of cultural billboard. You could walk in the door and SEE what's hot.

Suppose that you didn't have to wait for books to get put back out on display. Right now, much of what people want from a library is waiting to get shelved. Suppose we put the hot stuff right back out by the checkout stations. We save steps (and costs). You save time.

Suppose that when something went NOT-so-hot -- a bestselling book, for instance -- it immediately moved to the in-house library sale. You could pick it up for a song.

When you were done, you could give it back to us. We could sell it again. And again. This is, incidentally, an excellent strategy to recycle intellectual content to a community, leveraging an original purchase through many levels of use.

Suppose that our computers let you not only do email and search databases, but also request notifications of unknown but upcoming titles, or new electronic articles, on topics of interest to you. Suppose that our catalog told you about these new options by sending a message to your Palm Pilot or cell phone, just as you stepped through our doors.

Suppose your local library was THE place where teenagers came to find high-end workstations, enabling them to engage in intense multi-player computer games. (Before some of you older folks have apoplexy, riddle me this: why is it OK for you to check out books on golf or tennis or chess, or sit and read fashion magazines, or spend hours online fora discussing various personal or recreational options, but NOT OK for young people to play games?)

Suppose that library hours started to look like your own life?

Over the next year, your local library district is going to make history. We're going to take some outrageous risks, try some truly radical experiments.

Oh yes: some of them will fail. Not all of them!

Our first roll-out of some of these ideas, incidentally, will be at Roxborough, probably around March of next year. Our next big roll-out will be at Lone Tree. But you'll be seeing pieces of all this everywhere.

I have the very strong sense that our society (local, state, national, international) is on the edge of transformation. As always, we have a choice: we can be victims of change, or we can be agents of improvement.

We choose to be leaders.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

October 20, 2004 - I am an Earthling

It was a perfect Colorado day: crisp and clear. Autumn burned on the bluffs.

I was walking down the main street of my home town. Suddenly, all I could hear was the roar of traffic.

Just as suddenly, I was angry, irritable.

I have striven my whole life to cultivate calm. So with my anger came disquiet. WHAT was wrong with me?

I have two answers. Here's the first: it was America. America the loud, America the intrusive, America the land of the big, honking automobile.

Second answer: my real problem was something called acculturation. A couple of weeks before, I was in eastern Europe. I was able to walk for hours at a time on streets that meandered under trees, ambled along river beds, and had learned the trick of dodging traffic.

My deep anger was, of course, ridiculous. Right? Yet it was real.

For the past decade or so, I've been a member of Rotary International. I've always taken a keen interest in our exchange students.

Every year, we interview a handful of very bright, surprisingly poised high school students. We send a few of them off to live with loving families in other countries.

About nine months later, they come back. And they all report a similar thing: coming back to America is at least as hard as leaving it.

Over there, they were sometimes overwhelmed by all the differences from the life they knew. At the same time, it was invigorating. The brain is wired to notice what is new. When everything is new, life is intense.

These students expected their travels to be strange. But they didn't expect HOME to seem strange. When they returned, they made a deep discovery: what so many of us believe is basic and right, a given, is only cultural. Other places, other people, have other premises.

In my own travels, I thought I'd adapted well. I was booked from dawn to dusk and beyond, but always with very kind, even gentle people. I enjoyed myself tremendously, even if I did feel, on occasion, that I needed more time alone, more time to process my experiences.

When I got back, I was plunged into the crazy season of my job: library budget preparation.

So chalk up some of my crankiness to being overscheduled, overstimulated, then suddenly caught up in the finicky business of fiscal decison-making and strategic planning.

I strongly suspect that I am not nearly as adaptable as I'd like to think I am.

But issues of personal stamina aside, I feel a lingering rebellion against ALL countries: my own for its artless arrogance and careless abundance; Bulgaria for its legacy of entitlement, the blunt humiliation of the Soviet era. The rest of the world's nations ... well, because of the whole idea of borders.

On the 2000 census, after long thought, I listed my race as "Earthling." I meant by this that as a very young man I had seen a photo of our planet from space.

It was so achingly beautiful. I wanted to clasp it to me, as an infant hugs a balloon.

I still do.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

October 13, 2004 - Bulgaria, Part 2

The costs of my recent trip to Bulgaria were underwritten by a grant from the US Department of State. Why would the State Department be interested in Americans traveling to Bulgaria?

There are two reasons. First, after some 60 years of continuous occupation in Germany, many of our military bases are being dismantled. They are relocating to Bulgaria. From a geopolitical perspective, Bulgaria is certainly closer to such hot spots as the Middle East.

Second, as a former Soviet country, Bulgaria is deeply enmeshed in the transition to democracy and capitalism. The end of Soviet socialism in Bulgaria was bloodless -- but as several people told me, not without troubles. The abrupt withdrawal of guaranteed pensions and health care has led to deaths, particularly in the rural areas. Many people feel a deep nostalgia for what they remember of the Communist era -- glossing over the persistent loss of individual freedoms one of my translators described as "a humiliation of the soul."

On the other hand, the economic growth in Bulgaria has been nothing short of amazing. In Sofia, the capital, there are endless rows of bustling shops and restaurants. There is the thriving outdoor bazaar, the Ladies Market. In Dobrich, a city of 150,000 people, enormous pedestrian plazas were lined with cafes, clothing stores, pottery shops, and more.

While unemployment is still high -- up to 14 percent in some areas -- the cities are transforming almost overnight into something quite new in Bulgaria's long and rich history. They are becoming vital economic hubs based not on agriculture or centralized planning, but on thousands of independent, entrepreneurial ventures.

Exchanges between the public sectors of Bulgaria and the United States are a stabilizing influence. The United States' own history of economic and political development rests not only on business, but on a host of institutions that provide the glue of a society, an undercurrent of meaning and purpose.

I saw the influence of three such institutions. The institutions of faith -- Orthodox Church, Islam, Judaism -- were once strongly discouraged. Now, buildings have been restored, and attract a steady stream of visitors. (The trip to Bulgaria is worthwhile just to hear the Orthodox Church choirs, their music soaring into impossibly high arches.)

Incidentally, these faiths coexist quite comfortably in Bulgaria.

I saw the influence of museums. In some respects, the standards of display and care are far less rigorous than those in the US. I was able to reach out and touch the real bones of a caveman -- something I can't imagine would be permitted here.

Bulgaria was one of the crossroads of the very earliest migrations of humankind. Then there is the whole period of Roman occupation -- many ruins from the 2nd and 3rd century are still visible (and in some cases, are in better shape than the Soviet-era apartment complexes). Then came the long history of Christianity in the area, a tale told in icons. All of these long precede the European discovery of our continent.

And, of course, there are public libraries.

But public institutions also face a challenge, just as they do in the United States. Many leaders consider history and culture worthy of respect, but also consider them too backward looking. To be deemed worthy of funding, in Bulgaria as well as the United States, public institutions must learn to capture significant use, and make an active contribution toward the forging of a local future.

My colleagues in Bulgaria are certainly up to the task. They were very smart, savvy, conscientious, and industrious. I believe in them.

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

October 6, 2004 -Bulgaria, Part I

For the past 2 weeks, I have been out of the country.

But the work of the library district goes on without the library director. In my absence, library staff managed a "migration." This is the complete replacement of one library computer system (Dynix) with another (Horizon).

The move wasn't entirely optional. Our old system was an orphan, no longer actively developed.

But the timing was our choice. And we were prepared. My thanks to the many people whose thoughtfulness brought up a fiendishly complex system -- and who continue to tweak and customize it. Well done, all!

As with most projects of such a size, we've had some unanticipated problems. Most significant was the utter collapse of a telecommunications line at Highlands Ranch -- but I hope that will be fixed, too, by the time you read this.

And now ... Bulgaria, part 1 of 2.

This is both truth and symbol: I had unhappy feet.

None of my shoes fit anymore. All of them were old. But the problem wasn't them. My FEET were old. I needed a change.

My feet were unhappy for another reason. I was restless. My wife traveled both western and eastern Europe as a young woman. My 17 year old daughter had just come back from a tour.

I had been to Indiana, once. To Europe, never.

So when the opportunity suddenly arose to take advantage of a US Department of State grant to travel to Bulgaria (lecturing on librarianship in the US), I jumped on it.

For me, the journey began at Park Meadows Mall. I found a stand where they were selling what looked like plastic gardening clogs.

In fact, they were Crocs. See www.crocs.com for more info. I tried on a pair. In that moment, my life changed.

I told my 10 year old son: "I'm wearing a pair of orthopedic marshmallows!" (This made him laugh.) It was instant, springy comfort. My feet were abruptly and astonishingly ... happy.

The color of the shoes was a little unusual. Green-blue, I guess. To the folks at Crocs, it was "emerald." My alternatives were off-white, pink, or yellow. There are no sedate crocs.

So I bought the emerald ones for a modest $40.

As Lao-tse said, "a journey of ten thousand kilometers begins with a single pair of crocs." I am, of course, taking some liberties in translation. But the need for such freedoms is one of the things I learned from my travels.

The purpose of the grant was both modest and clear: to deliver a 3 day workshop that would result in 7 Bulgarian libraries establishing a "community information center."

Which meant? Well, the Community Information Center is a collection of both materials and staff organized around a local problem. It's a good idea in any country, and a potent notion for any public library.

But my trip wound up being about much more than that. To my profound surprise, I found myself on a 2 week mission that involved meetings with many levels of local and regional government. I spoke with embassies, Supreme Court jurists, Bulgarian newspapers, radio stations, TV reporters, and Internet news agencies.

I was to be The Diplomat With Emerald Shoes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

September 15, 2004 - This Column Must Die! (?)

"Being a newspaper columnist," wrote Lewis Grizzard, "is like being married to a nymphomaniac. The first two weeks are kind of fun."

I've been writing a weekly newspaper column (sometimes more than one a week) for 17 years. For 14 years, I've been writing for the News Press. The 3 years before that, I wrote for the Greeley Tribune.

For me, it has ALWAYS been fun. This weekly essay is a meditation, a reckoning. It is a record of my concerns, my experiments, my mistakes, my lessons, my attempts to connect a public institution to a community of fascinating individuals. I have a great time.

But here's the hard question, the one that haunts every writer: does anybody ELSE find this interesting?

It is so easy to fool myself. So I thought I'd do something I've never seen any other columnist do.

In your hands, Dear Reader, rests this column's fate.

How many (or how few) readers should a columnist have before he or she says, "It's time to find another line of work!"

Here's what I think. This paper claims a distribution of 15,250. To my knowledge it has never done a reader survey.

Not all the people who get a newspaper in their driveway actually read it. And not everyone who reads the paper reads the columns. And not everyone who reads columns reads me.

But surely, a columnist can hope for a modest 1% of the claimed distribution. One percent of 15,250 is 152. If I can't get 152 responses saying "I read your column" (that being the only thing you have to say) then I think I should stop, freeing space for another writer. Don't you?

This approach, incidentally, is the cornerstone of all the library's outreach efforts these days. We're trying to track what does, and doesn't, work. That includes the bully pulpit of the director.

I promise neither to gloat nor whine about the results. I'm about to leave the country for two weeks -- my first ever trip to Europe. When I come back, I'll either continue writing, or, quietly and (I hope) gracefully relinquish my 500-600 words a week.

If you read this column, please send an email to Heidi Harden, at the News Press, at hharden@ccnewspapers.net, or call her at 303-663-7175. (You can also, if you like, send a copy to me at jlarue@jlarue.com. But only the messages sent to Heidi will count.) Multiple voting is strictly discouraged. And no voting by library employees!

Your vote must be received by September 29, 2004.

If you don't read me, or if you do, but fervently wish I would stop, don't do anything at all. YOU, of course, may vote as many times as you wish.

Either way, thank you!

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

September 8, 2004 - Volunteer Assistant Opportunity

Last week I talked about our strategies for coping with a rapidly growing workload. One of them involved a more thoughtful use of volunteers. This week, I'd like to announce our first example of that.

The district is looking to hire several volunteer administrative assistants. What does the job entail? Mainly, it will involve filing, data entry, scanning, faxing, phones, typing, and organizing. There are spreadsheets to build, databases to maintain, and community directories to update.

There are letters to write, applicants to stay in touch with. There are supplies to track, employee packets to assemble, public brochures to bundle and distribute.

And, of course, there are projects so scintillating that we haven't even thought them up yet.

The position will support the district's Community Relations, Human Resources and Volunteer Services departments. That means you'll get a look at all the public relations and marketing contacts around the county. You'll get to work with topnotch professionals in our personnel area.

What qualifications do you need to have?

Here's the big one: you must agree to work a minimum of 10 hours per week. We're also asking for a commitment of six months or more. It will take some time for the right candidates to get up to speed, and we hope to reap some of the rewards of that training before people move on and up. The position will begin in October of this year. Candidates must be 16 years old or older.

The right person should also be:

* detail-oriented;

* highly organized;

* reliable, professional and dependable.

We're also hoping to find people with at least some computer skills, who are also willing and able to learn.

The people we hire must observe strict confidentiality guidelines. We are looking for people of good judgment, who understand and respect the importance of professional confidences.

A strong interest in public libraries is a plus.

Finally, what do you get out of it? Why should you go through the trouble of a job interview, when even if you get the job, you won't get paid for it?

Well, the sort of person we're looking for might fall into several categories, among them:

* the recently retired person looking to keep his or her skills up, with a few extra hours a week and an itch to be useful.

* people who find themselves between jobs, and would welcome the opportunity to look over the operations of a successful public sector organization.

* moms who are looking to start getting back into the workforce, and are looking to brush up their skills, and make some new contacts in the community.

* students required to participate in internships or practica.

* anybody who feels underutilized, and wants to work with upbeat, interesting people doing jobs that make a difference.

If this looks like something that might appeal to you, what should you do? Mail, fax or email (PDF, StarOffice or Word equivalent attachments only) your resume and/or district volunteer application immediately (available in our libraries or on our web site at www.DouglasCountyLibraries.org) to: Patti Owen-DeLay, Douglas County Libraries, 100 S. Wilcox St., Castle Rock, CO 80104. Fax: 303-688-7655. Email: powendelay@dclibraries.org.

We look forward to working with the successful candidates!

Thursday, September 2, 2004

September 2, 2004 - Budget Time at Douglas County Libraries

It's budget time at the Douglas County Libraries.

Here's the good news. By almost any measure of our services, both demand and use are climbing sharply.

* Circulation. We've already checked out over 2 million items this year -- more than 11% over last year at the same time. In the past five years, this has risen by 120 percent.
* Number of reference questions our staff have fielded: up 44 percent over last year.
* Adult program attendance: up 39 percent.
* Number of new patrons registered: 35 percent higher than last year.

Another statistic that jumps out at me is just how many community meetings we sponsor each week. Go to our website at www.DouglasCountyLibraries.org. Click on the "Douglas County and Community" tab at the top of the page. Then click on meeting rooms by branch. We have close to a couple of HUNDRED community meetings every week.

And here's the not so good news: our resources are not growing anywhere near as fast as the demand for our services. This isn't BAD news. Many of the libraries in Colorado and the nation are looking at true reductions in revenue. Our income, deriving almost entirely from property taxes in a still-growing county, will rise by about 5.6 percent next year.

Our challenge is this: how do we manage skyrocketing use with stabilizing revenues?

We have identified 8 strategies:

1. Get more efficient. We're doing a series of internal audits of our positions and tasks, trying to find ways to accomplish more in fewer steps.

2. Adopt new technologies. Our upcoming Horizon computer system, our interlibrary loan systems, our Internet workstation management software, are all ways to have computers handle more of the workload.

3. Add self-help options. At a couple of our branches, we're allowing patrons to pick up their own holds. We've installed, and will install more, self-checkout stations. Everybody won't use them, of course. But some will, and adding that option will help us speed up the checkout lines.

4. Build partnerships. By teaming up with other organizations, we can increase our own capacity. For instance, we've been looking at closer relationships with other arts and culture groups.

5. Outsource. Are there things we can hire out more cheaply, or more quickly, than we can do them ourselves? These days, for instance, we're buying our new fiction pre-processed.

6. Recruit more volunteers. Douglas County has thousands of extraordinary people looking to get back into the workplace after a hiatus. In exchange for some assistance with our growing workload, we can provide training, contacts, and a stimulating environment.

7. Increase our revenues. We have begun to gear up the Douglas County Libraries Foundation, focusing in on some new grant opportunities.

8. Reduce the demand. And if the first seven don't work, the only alternative is to reduce the speed or quality of our response: longer lines at the circulation and reference desks; longer waits for new materials. Obviously, I think that approach, if you'll pardon the expression, sucks.

And that's a snapshot of the mind of a public administrator at budget time.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

August 25, 2004 -- Focus on the Family

I have in my hand the August, 2004 issue of Focus on the Family's "Citizen" magazine. It features an article called "Danger Zone." The subtitle reads, "Think it's safe to leave your kids alone at the library? Think again."

It begins with a scare story. Earlier this year, a homeless man came to the Philadelphia Free Library, where he allegedly made a habit of looking at pornography. There, in one of the restrooms, he beat and raped an unattended 8 year old girl.

The author then stated that "safety isn't an issue just in Philadelphia. Libraries across the nation have, as of July 1, implemented measures promoted by a new federal law designed to reduce the chances of a similar attack occurring elsewhere: The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires all libraries wishing to receive federal funds to install filters that will prevent not only children but adults, from downloading pornography."

Child abuse is indeed a serious problem in America. I once served on the board of an organization that dealt with survivors of child abuse, and it continues to haunt me. Just for the record, though, overwhelming research shows that the most dangerous place for a child is NOT a library.

It's home. Most child abuse is perpetrated by immediate relatives. By family.

Nonetheless, child molestation clearly does happen in public places, by strangers. Some research suggests that it may be among the most underreported crimes in America, often with the full support of local media. In part, this is an admirable attempt to protect the privacy of the victim.

Sometimes, the story -- about public restrooms in shopping malls, for instance -- is suppressed so as not to hurt business. In other cases, child molestation may be suppressed by higher ups -- even, as we have learned these past several years, by well-respected religious officials.

However, being a member of a family doesn't make you a rapist. Neither does running a shopping center. Neither does being a priest. Neither does being homeless, and neither does using an unfiltered Internet terminal at a public library.

The author of "Danger Zone" is twisting the tale.

For one thing, her statement about CIPA is false. CIPA does indeed require filtering of terminals for those libraries wishing to receive federal funding. But it requires them only for children. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled in June of 2003 that filters must be turned off at the request of those 17 years of age and older.

The purpose of the bill wasn't to prevent sexual attacks in libraries, either. The purpose was to prevent children from displaying "materials deemed to be harmful to minors." "Danger Zone" then goes on to quote an advocate of public library filtering, who said, "They're never going to be 100 percent accurate..."

What does all this mean? It means that legislation or no, filters or no, librarians will still have some responsibility to supervise public space. We will still, on occasion, have to remind people to behave themselves, and take action when they don't. Just as we do now.

The truth is, relative to many places in America, libraries are among the safest and healthiest choices families have, as so many families have discovered, to their pleasure and ours.

Yet it's also true that no place, public or private, is wholly safe, particularly for our youngest citizens. But the first step isn't the enthusiastic endorsement of new governmental restrictions on research, or to launch sensationalist attacks on the American Library Association, or to otherwise make the public library a pawn in a political chess game.

The first step -- who would have guessed? -- is to focus on the family.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

August 18, 2004 - leadership in the public sector

Several weeks ago I wrote a column about decision-making at the library. I'm still thinking about it.

I should have said, in my other column, that I was talking about operational or management decision-making. There's another kind that I didn't mention: leadership.

This is a different level of deciding: picking the big things that the whole organization will focus on. Not operational, but strategic.

Strategic decisions tend not to be made at the lowest level of an organization, but at the highest. Front line staff have the best insights on HOW to do things. Leadership decisions concern the positioning of the organization within a much larger environment: WHAT to do.

Through my years of library leadership I've learned two absolutely contradictory lessons. The first one is that leaders of any public sector organization never have as much power as they think they do. Yes, it's possible to mandate change, to force it down people's throats. But that kind of brute, blunt force tends not to work very well. People fight back.

The second lesson is that leadership matters nonetheless.

What does a leader do? He or she sets both an agenda for change, and a tone. The agenda for change is what most people mean by vision: two or three wonderful opportunities; another two or three things that are really important, that keep re-framing the daily stuff.

People seek meaning, and they need context to find it. When leaders articulate that context, people can more readily fit the random incidents of life into a pattern, into predictable currents. That makes it easier to navigate them.

Leaders also set a tone. I've worked in plenty of places that were out and out toxic emotionally. Everybody bickered and backbit, and withheld information, and scrambled for petty status.

I've worked in other places where the leadership communicated a sense of embattled paranoia.

I've tried, in our library, to set up an environment that avoids both of those, that takes pride in productivity and competence, that finds real pleasure, even humor, in service. I try to be courteous, and I expect other people to be, too. My motto: "he may be wrong, he may be right, but come what may, he'll be polite."

Leadership doesn't just belong to directors, of course. It also belongs to boards and commissions, the folks that oversee the directors, the budgets, and public policies generally. It belongs to legislators, the people who craft our laws. It is the solemn responsibility of all our elected officials.

We have been in the midst of several electoral contests recently, some of which have generated surprisingly strong emotions.

But the issue is important: what do we look for in our leaders? How will they shape the social, economic, and even physical world around us?

However the elections finally come out, it's worthwhile to thank the candidates -- all of them. Stepping into the political fray takes a truly incredible amount of time, money, patience, hard work, and family support. And of course, not every one is going to win. Leadership also entails taking a risk.

The difference between democracy and tyranny is choice. Having candidates who offer real differences is a very good thing. I'm grateful to them.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

August 11, 2004 - genre fiction

When I was in library school, I took a class called "Genre Fiction." We read and discussed samples from many categories of popular fiction.

I knew about most of them. Through my undergraduate years, I'd worked as a clerk at the Normal (Illinois) Public Library. For the hardbacks, we had four separate sections beyond the regular fiction collection: mystery, science fiction, romance, and western.

In the paperbacks, there were even more genres. We had Gothics -- whose covers inevitably featured a pretty young woman running through the night in a nightgown, a look of fear in her eyes, and a castle looming in the background.

We had historical fiction, also known as bodice-rippers. Those covers always displayed, locked in a passionate embrace, a bare-chested man, rippling with muscles, and a woman in an advanced state of decolletage. These books averaged about three times as long as most of our fiction.

We also had, I kid you not, a section of Nurse books. Those covers all featured a perky young nurse, cute in her nursing cap and cape, usually worrying about the goings-on at the hospital.

Well, we had to come up with a final paper for the semester in Genre Fiction, and I decided to write a short story. It was a Nurse-Romance-Gothic-Science Fiction-Western-Mystery. As far as I know, it's the only one of its kind.

The main character was Harriet Blackthorne, a nurse who had to leave her hospital back East to collect on the fortune of her uncle, who died mysteriously and left a crumbling Victorian mansion in Arizona. Her love interest was Lone, "150 pounds of fighting librarian," who was imposing a reading program on a rough-and-tumble Western town. Then, of course, there was Xixil, the horse from the stars.

I had a lot of fun playing with stereotypes and cliches. I also (he said modestly) came up with one of the best lines I've ever seen in any book. It was about my Western librarian. "He had," I wrote, "the strong, deeply tanned hands of a man who had done a lot of heavy reading outdoors."

I got an A.

I remembered all this when a patron recently asked me to consider establishing a science fiction and fantasy section at one of our libraries. While we do mark science fiction (and mysteries) with a distinctive ribbon of tape, few people will browse the whole fiction collection for their favorite genre.

Right now, our collections are set up to make it easy to find books by authors -- but people who browse by genre don't always know which authors they want.

It was certainly the case for me, back in Normal, that I mostly hung out in the science fiction area, and as a result, read a good mix of both old and new titles.

Moreover, as you think about bookstores, they too sort collections by genre. Why? Because, I'm guessing, they sell more books that way.

Changing our internal layout isn't an easy thing. We also would have to change a lot of catalog records.

What do YOU think? If you're interested in seeing distinct collections of genres, let me know which ones you'd like to see broken out. Call 303-688-7656, or email me at jlarue@jlarue.com.

But where to shelve a Nurse-Romance-Gothic-Science Fiction-Western-Mystery?

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

August 4, 2004 - my wife's reading

My wife, Suzanne, admits to her almost obsessive collecting of books. Some years back, I was going to award what I thought was a clever prize: a gold library card. (Not real gold, you understand, but a gold-colored collector item.) It would go to the person who had checked out the most books over the past five years.

But there was a problem. The winner was my wife.

It would be churlish of me to complain about the piles of books around the house. For one thing, I keep running across the most interesting things. For instance, immediately at hand is a paperback called "Useless Information," by Paul Steiner.

It lives up to its title. Even the most dedicated diet-addict would be hard pressed to do anything with this:

* One portion rattlesnake steak contains 200 calories.
* One bowl bird's nest soup ... 75 calories
* One serving of barracuda ... 135 calories
* One glass hippopatamus milk ... 80 calories
* Five fried grasshoppers contain 225 calories. (You want my advice? Boil them.)

And for those of you in the dating world, here's a gloomy tidbit: "Only one woman out of ten knows how to wink, asserts a University of Melbourne professor."

Worried about contagious diseases? Well, no wonder: "Particles expelled by a sneeze have a muzzle velocity of 152 feet a second, says the Massachusetts institute of Technology." It's a wonder we're not riddled with tiny holes. Or maybe we are.

Just under this compendium of random facts lies "The Tipping Point," by Malcolm Gladwell. The subtitle is "How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference."

Gladwell posits that there are three kind of people who together add up to social movements, fads, and sudden action. There are Connectors. These are the people who always know way more people than you do. A famous example: Paul Revere was one of two riders who sounded the alarm. But only the people Revere contacted actually did anything. Why? Because he knew the people who lived at the hub of social networks.

There are Mavens. They obsessively collect highly detailed data. They are early adopters of technology. They are comparison shoppers. They are blazers of the trail. They not only know those useless facts above -- they can help you get a deal on your next batch of raw grasshoppers.

Then there are Salesmen (and women). They make you feel at ease. They persuade. They are impossible to work up a good defense against.

Together, these people can "tip" something from notion into reality.

Then there's the book "Wicked," by Gregory Maguire. It's the story of the Wicked Witch of the West -- from her side. Unlike, for instance, the Three Little Pigs, told from the Wolf's side, "Wicked" is not a kid's book. I found it utterly moving. The Witch Elphaba (whose name comes from "F. L. Baum," author of the Oz books) will break your heart.

A week or so later, Suzanne brought home the CD from the musical of the same name. And the music is some of the catchiest, soaring, most powerful I've ever heard. Glinda makes me laugh. Elphaba still breaks my heart.

Over the past 20 years, I've worked hard to pull people into the library. It's ironic that although I go to the library every day, I hardly need to. I have a talented librarian at home whose ceaseless curiosity offers a quirky education that catches me when I least expect it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

July 28, 2004 - principles of decision-making

Every now and then people complain to me about the problems of growth. Sometimes they're talking about the county. Sometimes, they're talking about the library. Here's what I think. There are only two problems in life: the problems of growth, and the problems of decline. Pick one.

But that isn't to say that the problems of growth aren't real. I've been giving a lot of thought lately to a straightforward question asked by one of our new managers. "How," he said, "do I get something done here?" He meant, what's the process through which a decision is made?

That question ultimately caused me to rethink the library's whole organization chart. I realized that I was trying to maintain two decision-making processes -- the one that used to work when we were smaller, and the one that works now. The two processes were fighting each other. It was time to let the first one go.

I also came up with something called "the Principles of Decision-Making at Douglas County Libraries." They might even be applicable to other organizations. So just in case anybody is wondering: this is how I try to manage your library. Comments are welcome.

I. Decisions should be made at the lowest level possible. This keeps an organization responsive, and backs up the people at the front lines. We hire people for their judgment. We'd be fools not to let them use it.

II. Decisions should be efficient -- taking the fewest steps necessary to make good ones. Sometimes problems do have to be referred upwards, but then we should have a system that doesn't keep everybody twiddling their thumbs waiting for an answer.

III. Decisions should be consistent.

a. With procedures. Our procedures are set up to handle the majority of cases. Consistency makes it easier to train people, and maintain high standards of service.

b. With policy. But sometimes, the procedure doesn't fit. Then, we should make decisions in light of our policies. Those policies are based on our governing board's decisions of things that most matter to us.

c. With core values. On occasion, the policy doesn't cover things, either. In that case, our decisions should reflect the core purposes of our institution: public service, intellectual freedom, confidentiality.

d. With fiscal constraints. Decisions should be affordable!

IV. Decisions should be honored. That means two things: first, supervisors should respect and adhere to the decisions of the people they supervise; and second, that people should also respect and adhere to the decisions of their supervisors. This implies, of course, that authority is worthy of respect. That's only happens after a pattern of thoughtful action, and demonstrated openness to new ideas and criticism.

V. Decisions should be revisited when...

a. They significantly contradict procedure/policy. Not just “contradict,” but “significantly contradict.”

b. They highlight important new trends. For instance, if staff keep granting exceptions to the rules because of some repeating request, it might be time to change the rules.

c. They have severe or unexpected negative consequences. In a complex system, everything is connected. Sometimes, a good solution in one area causes trouble somewhere else.

VI. Decisions should be communicated. Again, in a healthy organization, communication should flow freely, both up and down. Our assumption is that our staff are making good decisions. To understand what those decisions are telling us about our community, we have to talk about them.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

July 21, 2004 - Taming of the Shrew

When I was growing up, my mother had two beautiful sets of books. One of them was lassics of science. I think there were pieces by Aristotle, by Newton, by somebody I've now forgotten, and by Einstein.

The other was a selection of Shakespeare plays: the comedies, the dramas, and the sonnets.

I loved the look of those books. I was 11 when I decided to try Shakespeare. So I'd take those gorgeous volumes up to my room and try to puzzle them out.

I'll be honest. I didn't have a CLUE what was going on. First, there was the matter of the thees and thous. Then there were the odd line breaks. Finally, the actions of people themselves were bewildering. Eventually, I gave up.

It wasn't until much later that I learned Shakespeare has to be performed. What is mysterious in print is plain in person. The verse form is still an astonishing accomplishment -- try writing a play in rhyming iambic pentameter and see how far YOU get.

The language of Shakespeare, the Elizabethan foment that also gave us the King James Bible, does take a little getting used to. But suddenly, it just comes clear, and you understand. Trust me.

And the people. Suffice it to say that Shakespeare understands the human heart.

Well, once again, the Douglas County Libraries are pleased to announce our annual Shakespeare festival. Once again, TheatreWorks, from Colorado Springs, will bring Shakespeare to vivid life. Our first festival, featuring "King Lear," was in Castle Rock. Last year, "Romeo and Juliet" came to Highlands Ranch. This year, Parker will be witness to "The Taming of the Shrew." Thus, "Shakespeare in the Park."

Let me put my cards on the table, here. Like most Shakespeare plays, "Taming of the Shrew" is about adult life. Please don't take a five year old, or even a young teen, to the show thinking you're getting a bit of innocuous family entertainment, only to be shocked by bawdy language and staging. This is not children's theater. If you find yourself easily offended by Shakespeare's astonishing lack of early 21st century sensibilities, rent a Disney film. (Or check them out from the library!)

On the other hand, my wife and I have exposed our children to Shakespeare every chance we get, and it hasn't harmed them one bit. It stretches their linguistic muscles. It challenges their attention span. Besides, Shakespeare is often hilarious. And the pageantry of these plays must be seen to be believed.

It's possible that you'll find this particular story offensive for another reason. Kate, a strong-willed woman, is finally forced into docile submission by a more masterful man. Maybe. So if you, too, believe that public institutions must never have anything to do with something that might be politically incorrect, then stay away!

I recognize, of course, that the surest way to get people interested in a classic that has endured for more than 400 years is to tell them that they just can't handle it. Not that I would stoop to such an obvious tactic.

At any rate, we are grateful for the many sponsors whose donations made it possible for us to offer this play at no charge to our patrons. Our title sponsors were the Town of Parker, the Parker Cultural Community, Colorado Community newspapers, and the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado. Scholar sponsors include IREA, Theatrix Inc., Wells Fargo Bank, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and Hampden Press. Poet sponsors include Roper Insurance and Financial Services, Friends of the Parker library and Whole Foods Market of Highlands Ranch. Apprentice sponsors include American Art West, Bradford Auto Body, and Cindy Rose's Edward Jones office in Franktown.

To get your free tickets, you just have to show up at 6:30 p.m. the evening of each performance, July 21-24. The shows start at 7:30 p.m. There is also a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, July 24; tickets will be distributed at 1:30 p.m. First come, first served. The performances will be at the Parker Mainstreet Center, on Mainstreet.

And now it's back to those books. Maybe if I could find a theatrical version of Einstein...

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

July 14, 2004 - the books must go through

Douglas County's first bookmobile, featuring 8 stops, was provided by the now defunct Plains and Peaks Library System, headquartered in Colorado Springs. These days, we again have a bookmobile, shuttling back and forth between Roxborough and Castle Pines North.

But bookmobiles aren't the only way to get books into people's hands. As told on the thoroughly charming website www.bookboat.com, countries around the world have found a host of innovative solutions to various topographic and social barriers.

* Bookboats. You'll find them in Florida, Alaska, Argentina, Venezuela, Norway, Sweden, Thailand -- and even in a couple of independent international floating libraries. In Florida, the Amorys of Boca Grande "endowed and built the Johann Fust Community Library" in 1959, and later brought their boat, Papyrus II, to Captiva "loaded with books to be borrowed by islanders."

In Alaska, bookboats (two skiffs traveling the rivers to fishing camps) supply books to the children. "The books are kept in plastic containers marked with the appropriate grade levels. Along with the books, the children may also choose to take a plastic Ziploc bag containing a note pad, workbook, pencil, crayons and a prize, such as a beach ball. To promote reading among the children’s parents, the organizers bring them newspapers."

In Argentina, there's the "biobliolancha," boasting 1500 books, 300 videos and CD-ROMS, a computer, a television, a video cassette player, audio equipment with outside loudspeakers, equipment to measure the depth of the water, VHF radio, an electricity-generating group of 220 Volts, cooks, and "a complementary bath."

In Norway, the private boat "Epos" is chartered during the winter months, where it braves rough seas to float its "6,000 books, the skipper, one able seaman and two or three librarians" in and out of the fjords. In the evenings, the Epos shows films, and offers lectures and other programs.

* Book trains. in Bangkok, a train (one car with books, one with a classroom, and one with computers and music) is used to divert homeless children from crime.

* Book bikes. In Chile, Horacio Ogaz rides a tricycle that functions as a traveling library. Every day, he "travels the streets of the remote and marginal districts of the city, offering door-to-door service and free loan of the books. Books about cooking, history, medicine and classic literature form just a part of the collection of 400 titles. Horacio's goal is to promote reading to the population of more than 1600 inhabitants in the sectors of Yungay and Cerro Alto who have little or no opportunity to access the urban centers of reading."

* Book packpacks. Also in Chile, in the commune of Olivar Alto, 25 children between the ages of 8-12 are provided with books of poetry and fiction. They backpack them to the homes of people who "for health reasons" cannot visit the library. The children also get to participate in public square readings, and have met many famous authors.

* Camel-drawn libraries. In Kenya, the fleet of 3 camels has grown to six since 1996. (We don't know whether that's through additional purchases, or natural reproduction -- which is something your average bookmobile can't do!) The camels serve over one million people within a 20 kilometer area. Vehicles, it seems, keep getting stuck in the sand. "The first camel carries five hundred books in wooden boxes. The second camel, which is tied to the tail of the first camel, carries a tent, steel poles and a blue tarp. The last camel does not carry anything and is generally used as a spare."

* Donkey libraries. In Zimbabwe, donkeys, equipped with electro-communication carts, which have solar units on the roof, bring more than books. The solar-generated electricity allows them to deliver radio, telephone, fax, e-mail and the Internet.

The thirst for literacy, and the dedication of librarians the world over adds up to a simple message: the books must go through.

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

July 7, 2004 - life liberty and the pursuit of happiness

I suppose it's my background in philosophy: I enjoy a good argument every now and then. But a "good" argument isn't just disagreeing with somebody. It's trying on a perspective for size, seeing how easy or difficult something is to defend or critique.

The object isn't to defeat the opponent. The object is to learn something.

This, of course, is hardly what passes for argument these days. Most of the political or religious discourse I run across is riddled with ad hominem attacks. People don't argue to understand their own, or other, positions better; they argue to belittle and cow their enemies into silence.

Yet it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

Some years ago I was involved in friendly debate about "the best country in the world." The person with whom I was arguing had made some telling, and negative points, about the United States. That got me interested.

The library has many, many books that compare international statistics -- everything from the World Almanac to the reports of various agencies and organizations. I asked myself: so which country IS the best?

I regret that I no longer have the final spreadsheet I produced. But I rated some 25 countries (mostly Western or European, but a few Asian nations, just to see how they did) according to a highly subjective list of qualifications.

You might think about this: of the measurable things that determine how good a place is to live, which things matter most to you? These are some of the things I tried to track:

* health. What was the percentage of live births? Infant mortality? Life expectancy? What was the leading cause of death?

* income. What was the average household income compared to the cost of a house, or a loaf of bread? What was the annual inflation rate? What percentage of people were unemployed? What was the discrepancy between the wealthiest and the poorest? What percentage of personal income went to taxes? What percentage of national spending went to the military?

* crime. How much, and what kind? What percentage of the populace was behind bars?

* literacy. What percentage of the population could read? How many newspapers were available, and how many newspaper subscriptions? How many public libraries?

* social factors. What was the average educational level? How many teen pregnancies? How many abortions? How many political parties actually elected candidates to federal office? What was the average population density? How many museums of art? How many universities?

Sometimes, I found that the pieces of information I was looking for couldn't be readily obtained. And some countries, you may be surprised to learn, lie about themselves in reference books.

What I was after, finally, was some objective data about where in the world a human being might expect to live a long and reasonably healthy life, and pursue a variety of cultural interests, without being gunned down in the streets, jailed and tortured, or forced into abject poverty?

I should point out that the results are now probably five years old. But I'd be willing to bet that the general rankings, for me, won't have changed much.

In rough order, the top countries that I would probably do well in include: the United States of America, Canada, Iceland, Sweden, England, and New Zealand.

No country scored well on everything. The United States has a variety of troubling statistics -- our incarceration rate is the one that bears the closest watching, I think.

But my analysis not only gave me a better handle on what was going on around the world, it also made me think more intelligently about the intent of our founders: to secure our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

A perfect government requires, alas, a perfect people. But I was comforted, around our Independence Day, to learn that on the whole, there's good reason to be a patriot.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

June 30, 2004 - adware, spyware

It's been a long time since I've used a Windows machine. At the dawn of the World Wide Web, I used a Macintosh (pre-OSX), and for the past two years, I use Linux. So I missed out on something my friends have begun to complain about: trying to fight off the onslaught of adware and spyware.

It seems to start innocently enough. You click on some kind of pop up ad, and suddenly, windows are flying open all over the place. After that, every time you use the browser, you get a flood of advertising. Sometimes it's just junk. Sometimes, it's pornography. Sometimes, everything you type -- including passwords to your bank accounts -- gets gathered up and passed along to strangers.

There are various free tools to help you scrub all this out: Spybot Search and Destroy, (available at www.spybot.info) and something called Ad-aware (www.lavasoft.de). They track down all the intrusive entries in the Windows Registry, cookies, file shares, etc., and wipe them out.

Except they don't. The ads get hooked into new computer crannies all the time, and even the most current versions of the anti-spyware can't catch them all. So you think you've got yourself all cleaned out, and the first time you browse, back it all comes. I've talked to several computer professionals who have spent hours on machines both at work and at home, trying to disinfect them.

Library machines have been afflicted, too.

The growth of this phenomenon, along with viruses and spam, is the tragedy of the commons all over again. Offer the wonderful medium of the World Wide Web, and what do we make of it? A commercial. All the wonderful efficiencies get eaten up in shoveling through the garbage.

It's like going to the movies. I'm old enough to remember when you got two cartoons before the main attraction, and the occasional double-feature. Now, I seem to have to pay for the privilege of watching advertisements. Sometimes, I have to endure watching the SAME commercial twice in a row. Note to Hershey: Your commercial succeeded in making me remember your product (Hershey's kisses). I used to LIKE your product; now it just makes me mad. Happy?

Thus far, I've been spared the problem of adware. For one thing, I use Mozilla, the Open Source browser. BY DEFAULT, pop-up browsing is turned off. Mozilla also has an email client that you can teach to identify spam -- greatly reducing the drag on your time.

But the issue here isn't just an operating system that is both ubiquitous and ridiculously vulnerable (Microsoft). I can, and I do, advise people to move to Linux -- I particularly recommend downloading either Knoppix or PCLinuxOS Preview 7 to a CD. You can run the whole operating system and applications from the CD. If you like it, overwrite the whole computer with something that the spyware and adware can't touch. Moreover, Linux applications aren't always urging you to upgrade. You can use your computer in relative peace.

But I suspect even this is only a holding action. Lately, for instance, more and more spam is slipping through my defenses. I am not a cynical person, but this isn't a technical problem, finally. It's psychological and moral.

So long as people believe their abuse of a shared resource is acceptable -- whether that resource is the World Wide Web, the telephone network, our national parks, the environment generally, or even a public library -- the quality of that resource will diminish.

But that reminds me of the words of novelist Elizabeth Gaskell: “I'll not listen to reason . . . . Reason always means what someone else has got to say.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

June 23, 2004 - computers and kids, part 2

Last week, I asked people to let me know what they thought about spending library dollars to stock up on computers in the children's rooms. This was in light of some research that suggested too much exposure to TV and computers before the age of 8 probably wasn't good for anybody.

I got an early surge of folks who strongly argued that computers should be eliminated. But by the end of the week, things had evened out. The general consensus: do what the public wants. And that probably meant, "offer lots of technology."

Once before, I took a stand against public word processing stations. "What does that have to do with our mission?" I asked. Eventually, the repeated demands of the public, and my own staff, persuaded me to change my mind.

It seems that one of the roles public libraries have come to fill is a location where consumers can try-before-they-buy both computer equipment and software. The library is also a place -- although not overwhelmingly so in Douglas County -- for people who don't have access to computers at home.

Some of my correspondents thought there was another point. The computers served as bait. Get the kids in to play some games, and hook them on books!

Research done right here in Colorado (by the state's Library Research Service) suggests that there may be some truth to that. It certainly worked for adults. When Colorado public libraries added Internet stations, every other kind of library use went up sharply: reference questions, browsing of magazines, and checkouts generally. Libraries are cool places, with a lot to offer. The trick is getting people in the door that first time.

But there's a deeper point. It will come as a surprise to no one that the best way parents can help their children grow into strong, smart, healthy grown-ups is to spend a lot of time with them. Talk to them. Listen. Do things together. Engage.

Instead, we fall prey to the American madness. We buy more stuff for them: Game Boys, PlayStations, CD players with headphones, computers, etc. All of these technologies tend to isolate people, even if they are in the same house.

In some ways, I'm hardly one to talk. I spent the last week putting together a wireless home network. I've got one old Mac and two cheap Linux machines all on the World Wide Web. Next week, I'm going to try to hook up a network printer, accessible to all of them.

I tell myself that this is a learning experience. And it is. But a lot of the time I've spent on it, I might have spent playing catch with my son, or walked the dogs with him.

In the long run, what the library does is offer choices. But parents, and their children, are still the ones that make those choices. Let us hope they are thoughtful ones.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

June 16, 2004 - the endangered mind

I spent a lot of time watching TV as a kid. I mean a LOT of time.

I was the eldest of five kids, and both my parents worked. Our black and white TV, I now understand, was a strategy that succeeded in getting all five of us corralled in the living room for hours at a stretch.

I remember getting up on a Saturday morning at about 5:30, which was when broadcasting began. The show was "The World at War," World War II newsclips. Then, chomping on sugarcoated cereal and cinnamon toast, I stayed glued to the tube till about noon.

Sundays weren't quite as bad, but I did watch Jubilee Showcase, live from Chicago's black churches. This gave me a lifelong love of gospel and soul music.

As I got older, I watched TV less and less. Today, there isn't a single program I watch. Not one.

On the other hand, I now spend many hours a day in front of a computer, whether at work or at home. The difference, I like to think, is that on the computer, I'm in charge. I'm searching, thinking, following links, writing to friends, working on columns and articles, and in general, DOING something. I am active, rather than passive.

So it makes a kind of intuitive sense to me that children should get more out of computer games, for instance, than they do from TV.

But now comes Jane Healey, author of "Endangered Minds: Why Our Children Don't Think," and "Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds -- and What We Can Do About It." She argues, mostly on the basis of brain development research, that between TV and computers, it's a wonder our children can think at all.

Her particular concern is the estimated $4 billion a year the federal government pumps into the purchase of "computer laboratories" throughout the nation. As an Amazon.com review puts it, "... there is scant evidence that computers teach basic skills any better than traditional methods, or that children who don't have computers are somehow 'left behind.' Conversely, there is abundant evidence that an uncritical infatuation with computers as an educational panacea is replacing skill building and learning with formless play while forcing art and music lessons, and in some cases math textbooks, off many school budgets."

I have to say, I've been to several school libraries, some in Douglas County, and have been impressed by their computer labs -- only to be utterly dismayed by the school libraries. One computer buys a lot of books, and many school libraries have science books with an average copyright date of 1970. That's not an exaggeration, and it applies to more than science.

Clearly, there HAS been a shift in educational funding priorities, away from text, and toward sexier technologies.

This issue has importance not only to parents (buy the Game Boy or not? put limits on TV time or not?) but to your humble library director.

We are now going through the process of defining various specifications for computers throughout the library. We were about to say, "let's make sure we have new machines, and a good mix of educational software, in the children's room."

But now I wonder: why? Some children's librarians have noted, wryly, that the future of children's librarianship may be to babysit Internet orphans. Just possibly, the things we've done more traditionally -- live story times, presenting deep collections of print, guiding children to new favorites -- is way more important, and more educationally defensible besides.

I'd like to hear from you. Should we be using your money to pay for children's computers? Or should our children's rooms have just enough technology to help us find good books?

Feel free to call me at 303-688-7656, or email me at jlarue@dclibraries.org. I'll let you know the results.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

June 9, 2004 - the public good

Recently, I attended a workshop entitled "W(h)ither the public good?" As I have noted several times in this space, many Colorado libraries (particularly municipal libraries) are in trouble, caught between the pincers of declining sales tax revenue, and a surge in public demand.

Among our speakers were Senator John Evans and Susan Thornton, 8-year mayor of Littleton. The question before them was "what IS the 'public good'?"

Thornton was clearly a library booster. She spoke of the importance of public libraries in the maintenance of an informed electorate.

Evans, who has generally been a strong library supporter in the legislature, was less positive and more blunt. He didn't believe, given the fiscal constraints of Colorado State Government, that we were ever going to see any library funding again.

He also had this message: "find your niche," he said, "and fill it." His theme was very much of a piece with the philosophy of the dominant Republican party. (That's not surprising, as he is Assistant Majority Leader.)

He underscored the importance of competition. He seemed to be saying that there is no difference between public and private entities. They both compete in the local market for support. The proper role of government was to remove burdensome regulations from the public sector to enable it to compete more effectively.

(That's a little ironic. To date, this legislature has both eliminated 79% of library funding, AND imposed an unfunded mandate on Colorado libraries in its recent filtering legislation.)

His observations were leavened with comments about the tax burden on the average family.

I do understand the perspective. But I think it's time to challenge the underlying premise. In brief, that premise is that there IS no public good; there is only the market place. Moreover, many prominent Colorado legislators seem to believe that taxation is theft, pure and simple.

I have a different view. And that's not because I work in the public sector -- rather, I work in the public sector because my views are different.

Taxation is a cooperative purchasing agreement. It is the means through which we buy things we cannot afford individually. Moreover, it is often the means by which a community pays for things no business can make money on.

I used to wonder at the fact that public mass transit systems always had to be subsidized. But then I realized that ALL public transportation systems, most obviously roads, also have to be subsidized. Yes, there are tollways, but they are built with public bonds.

I believe that there IS such a thing as the public good. I believe that some kinds of taxation buy me and my community things that we need and would otherwise do without. I believe that government, and the people in it, provide services that both add value, and are invaluable.

Consider the bombing of the Twin Towers. You didn't see stock brokers and insurance sales people running into the buildings to save lives. You saw firefighters and police. Public servants.

On a more homely level, I can assure you that if my parents had had to independently purchase a library card for me when I was a child, it wouldn't have happened. But because the cost was spread among so many, that institution, offering a broad range of services, was available not only to me, but to many other blue collar children. Many lives were changed, enriched, even saved.

Tax dollars aren't stolen goods. They are investments. It doesn't make sense to me to cut my tax burden by $25 a year, if it increases my direct costs by $150, and I have to borrow $50 to meet the bill.

That isn't to say that any tax is a good one, or that government always uses my money wisely. In that respect, the public sector is much like the private (Enron, Qwest, etc.). Human institutions are only as good as the people in them.

My point is this: there comes a point where the rhetoric of smaller government becomes a kind of social suicide.

The right question isn't, "Who needs government?" The question is, "Are we getting our money's worth?"

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

June 2, 2004 - in defense of the public sector, part one

In the past couple of weeks I attended two workshops that stay with me.

The first involved a gathering of visiting librarians from Bulgaria. Largely through the efforts of Nancy Bolt, our State Librarian, some seven libraries in Colorado have formed "sister library" partnerships with Bulgarian public libraries.

The Douglas County Libraries are partnered with the Dora Gabe Library in Dobrich. Our visitor was a very bright young man named Ertan. He is the technology manager and webmaster for his library. While English was the first language of none of our visitors, all of them spoke it well, and understood a good deal more.

Bulgaria has a troubled past. Formerly a member of the Soviet Union, today's nation is riddled with economic depression and organized crime. But there is much to be proud of as well, and I found the Bulgarians librarians delightful.

At this gathering, my presentation focused on library funding. I emphasized several points: in a library district, our money comes directly from the people we serve. In general, we get no money from the federal government, and no money from the state. Virtually all of our funding comes to us, and only after a positive vote, from the residents of Douglas County.

That's very different from the situation in Bulgaria. There, most of the money comes from the Bulgarian government -- and there isn't much money to spare.

The rest of my presentation focused on the strong incentive of the library district to reach out to all its many constituencies. There are two reasons. First, people become librarians in the first place because they have a deeply held ethic of service. Second, if you only appeal to some small elite group, then you can't win an election.

After hearing the discussion about demographic analysis, about the difference between public relations and marketing, and the importance of being a deep part of the culture and civic infrastructure of a community, Ertan made a profound observation.

"In my country," he said, "we practiced socialism, and it failed. Here, you have succeeded in what we were TRYING to do."

Some thought that it was because our outreach worked from the bottom up; Soviet-style socialism was imposed from above.

But I believe that it goes back to the heart of our incentive. Our very livelihood depends upon our ability to demonstrate that we add value to our community. Public service isn't just a mandate from above, it's the essential strategy to our survival.

The Bulgarians expressed surprise, even astonishment, at our beautiful and spacious buildings, our well-stocked collections, our rows of public computers. They were intrigued by our bustling activity as hubs of community meetings. They shook their heads over the frequent collaboration of Colorado newspapers and libraries.

Just before he returned to Bulgaria, Ertan shook my hand and said, "You have a good system here in America for libraries."

And we do. It is, however, by no means guaranteed. That's next week's topic: the attack on the whole idea of the "public good."