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, March 17, 2004

March 17, 2004 - life lessons

There are a handful of life lessons that I seem to need to learn over and over again.

One of them is that I am most fully alive when I'm learning something new. I just signed up for a small part in Castle Rock Player's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat." I'm the oldest guy in the cast, and have been struggling to learn about 100 dance moves for the show-stopping "megamix" number.

I get the individual moves (and they are very cool moves), but have been having trouble remembering how they all connect. By contrast, many of the dancers around me would run through a sequence just a couple of times, and you could almost SEE their muscles remembering.

My muscles, apparently, are amnesiac.

Another example: I've been playing the piano for about 10 years now, only to realize recently that without the music in front of me, I couldn't play anything. It didn't make that much difference how many times I practiced something. When I stopped practicing it, it faded away from me.

So along with signing up for a musical, I've also started taking piano lessons. My teacher, a retired pastor named John Gorklo, doesn't use scales or exercise books. He's teaching me, in a marvelously efficient way, all about chords.

There are twelve keys on the keyboard. Each key has 10 commonly used chords that pretty well cover the whole gamut of popular music. Moreover, there are chord patterns, predictable sequences of keys.

Suddenly, I can figure things out, live, without sheet music. And they stick with me. It's exhilarating.

A second life lesson is that the more senses a learning experience engages, the more interesting it is. Going to a new city, for instance, is more piquant and intriguing if you get to take long walks through the rain, sniff some kind of unique flower in bloom there, and discover a whole new cuisine. Similarly, I'm finding that playing several different pianos has been good for me.

A third life lesson: I learn BEST when there's also some kind of visual aid. So after my piano lessons, I come home and draw diagrams and build spreadsheets. These things give me mental tools -- establishing models that my muscles don't remember but my eyes do.

I'm going to try to do exactly the same thing with those dance moves. Once I get all the pieces down, I'm going to construct what's known as a mind map -- a method of visual outlining I've found useful for all kinds of things.

Finally, you won't be surprised to find that most of the above also applies to the library. A library is most alive when the people in it have the opportunity to explore, discover, try, and grow.

The richer and more varied we make our environment, the more we incorporate a range of bodily, emotional, social, and intellectual tasks and settings, then the more involved, and better balanced our staff will be. Inevitably, that translates to better service.

Finally, as we do our internal teaching, we need to thoughtfully develop a mix of tools and visual aids to teach our staff, and to help our patrons find their way around our facilities, collections, and services.

My goal: a library you can dance to.

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