This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

May 26, 2004 - Joseph

Kurt Vonnegut, the sly and pungent science fiction writer who gave us "Cat's Cradle," "The Sirens of Titan," and many others, once described something called a "karass." A "karass" is a group of people who keep showing up in your life, whose days are repeatedly entangled with yours to accomplish some purpose.

For the past several months I've been involved with the karass that is the cast and crew of the Castle Rock Players' production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." I have a couple of very small roles, and thanks to some sympathetic scheduling by the director (Bryan Bell), I've managed to keep my time commitment down to something merely ridiculous, instead of impossible.

The rest of the karass really has to work. There is a LOT of dancing in the show, lots of belting out songs, and a flurry of costume changes.

Then there's the utterly awe-inspiring set, built by master carpenter Tom Pelo, with the help of a few handpicked assistants.

I keep trying to get after other projects in my life, and keep being pulled back into community theater. Why? I think the main reason is just that it is so life-affirming.

Admit it: in many aspects of your life, there are people who whine and bicker, and destroy by small comments. Well, I suppose you'll find that in theater, too. But you also find something else: really extraordinary talent.

Our Joseph (whose father I play) has a truly sweet voice and a touching stage presence. Our Pharaoh is a show-stopping, gyrating performer who will make you laugh out loud. Our beautiful narrator has a voice colored with subtlety and power.

We have dancers whose all-out enthusiasm is matched only by their quickness and control. The many young children who provide a chorus for the show are charming. The costumes, on loan to us from Arvada, are also impressive.

"Joseph' runs at the Douglas County High School on May 28-30, and June 4-6. Call 303-814-7740 for tickets, or visit the website at www.crplayers.org. Act fast! I'm predicting sell-outs.

It happens that I saw "Joseph" not too long ago at the Highlands Ranch High School with Lisle Gates, the justly proud principal of that school.

I wish I could see all the theater in Douglas County -- a surprisingly rich and thriving culture that doesn't get as much notice as it deserves. I also find the differences between high school theater and community theater (such as our Joseph) fascinating.

Something else that deserves notice is the community partnerships that make such productions possible. The Douglas County School District has worked hard this past year to lower the barriers to the use of school facilities by others. And they are not alone in their support of community culture: I've seen some of the same kids in my Joseph karass rehearsing at local churches and town buildings.

The deep message of theater is something that it would do all of us well to remember. Those wonderful moments of laughter, of insight, of awe, are only possible if everybody does his or her part.

You need volunteers, and technical help, and vision, and board members, and Artistic Directors, and experience, and that sheer willingness to step into the light that sometimes requires so much courage, and delivers so much in the way of entertainment.

Like so many things -- running a library, for instance -- collaboration is vital. Or as my character says, "How he loved his coat of many colors."

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

May 16, 2004‚ you're on candid camera

Here's the good news. Twice now, the library has done inventories, and found in the process that our theft rate is remarkably low. That has saved us the cost of expensive security systems -- the sort with gates, magnetic strips, and the like. Overwhelmingly, the people who use our libraries are decent and law-abiding.

Here's the bad news. We're beginning to see some other kinds of misbehavior. Bicycle theft. DVD and CD-ROM theft. Vandalism. It is a consequence, no doubt, of our continued growth from rural county to suburban enclave. It may also be a consequence of the proportionate rise of teens in the county, which is not a blanket condemnation of a generation, but a recognition that there is a certain percentage of risk-taking behavior that happens at that age.

There are several ways to try to fight the trend. We can remind parents to talk to their children of our shared responsibilities within our communities. But the parents who take such things seriously have already done so.

We can hire more people to more closely supervise public space. But that's an expensive solution, and not sustainable.

We can rearrange our spaces to make them more easily supervised by existing staff. We've done that to some extent. But that one has inherent limits, too.

Then there's the solution we picked. Just recently, we installed a system of security cameras.

The good news is, this has enabled us to more safely close our buildings of an evening. Staff can scan the monitors before walking into long corridors. In one case, we were able to go back and identify the person who left behind something valuable. It yet another, we were able to identify, and thereby confront, a thief.

Our system is set up so that there's a loop. Routine images are overwritten regularly -- in some places every couple of days, in others, as infrequently as a fortnight. But if there's a problem, we have the ability to scan through the relevant cameras, and burn an image to a CD.

As long time readers of this column know, the right to privacy is a core value for librarians. Moreover, in Colorado, there is a law which prohibits the release of information about your library use -- including whether or not you are even in the building -- except for some very specific circumstances.

On the other hand, if you commit a crime in the library, we can, and will, hand over our recordings as evidence.

Several years ago now, a lone gunman actually took several library patrons hostage at the Salt Lake City Library. Fortunately, the incident ended with no loss of life. Should such a situation arise in one of our libraries, we now have the ability to allow law enforcement officials to scope out the situation remotely, greatly increasing the safety of both the public, and the officers.

But I want to make sure that our community knows that we have taken such a step. Yes, you are being electronically surveilled in the library now -- just as you are in grocery and department stores. But all requests for information thereby gathered have to be in writing, and have to come through me. I don't take that charge lightly.

Like many public institutions these days, we're trying to find the delicate balance between preservation of civil liberties, and the demands of security. Meanwhile, we will continue to be as thoughtful about this as we can.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

May 12, 2004 - books on the fringe

Books are powerful things. Or rather, the ideas in them sometimes find surprising resonance in the world.

Here are four examples;

"Common Sense," by Thomas Paine. The American Revolution was by no means a certain thing. Paine's plain-spoken case for independence, predicated on the then radical notion of individual liberties, took the nascent nation by storm. It may well have precipitated the war. It certainly persuaded people that what they might fight for was both noble and necessary.

"Das Kapital," by Karl Marx. This treatise launched two movements with profound effects on the world. The first was unionization -- a response to the often brutal exploitation of workers in the Industrial Age. The second was communism, upon which whole nations set their course.

"Mein Kampf," by Adolph Hitler. This manifesto was the play book for Nazism, leading at last to both the Holocaust and World War II.

"The Fountainhead," by Ayn Rand. Appearing just as America was entering its own socialist phase, this book served as a call to arms to what eventually became the American conservative movement.

None of these books came from the mainstream (although Rand did find a mainstream publisher, very much against the odds). By definition, the mainstream is a sort of statistical average. The big ideas that result in cultural change come, by definition, from the fringe. They are ideas that are strange, unexpected, even shocking.

Such cultural change can be surprisingly swift. Consider civil rights. As I came of age, Martin Luther King, Jr. had become a voice that terrified many white, middle class citizens. I well remember the bigotry of the time, cruel and venomous sentiments accepted as perfectly normal.

While racism is hardly defeated, we've made progress, particularly among the young.

The idea of homeschooling was considered, not too long ago, as slightly lunatic, aberrant behavior among fundamentalist zealots. It heralded a whole wave of school reform (and a homeschooling movement that continues, both within and without the religious viewpoint).

Then there are the parallel movements: evangelical Christianity on the one hand, gay rights on the other. Both of them came in from the side streams of American culture; both now have entered the mainstream.

As I hope I have made clear, it's hard to know in advance if the rise of an idea is a good thing, or bad.

But the public library, it seems to me, has a responsibility to sample some of the current fringe offerings.

While the commercial output of mainstream publishing is something over 150,000 titles a year -- there are that at least that many titles again published by so-called "small" or "independent" presses.

With the arrival of mass market computers, almost anybody can do desktop publishing from home, quite outside the typical review process of mainstream publishing.

What do these outsiders publish? Well, to some extent, the same thing you'll find in the mainstream: diet books, exercise books, personal growth guides, investment books, spiritual meditations, and more.

But you'll also find alien abduction books, books on co-housing, books on the value of polyandry (women having more than one husband), lesbian political poetry, and treatises about the evils of immigration.

Most of the library's budget, of course, goes to reflecting the mainstream. But we probably need to spend more of our money investigating the outrageous. That's not because we endorse, or seek to promote, a particular viewpoint, but because we have learned that the truly transformative ideas may not be the ones you find at Barnes and Noble.

And that's the glory of free speech -- the ability of the average citizen to listen in on the conversation about just what tomorrow will look like.

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

May 5, 2004 - self-check

By: Rochelle Logan, Associate Director of Support Services, Douglas County

The first time I walked into a supermarket after the new self-check machines were installed, I was hooked. I love to scan my own groceries.
Sometimes I manage to get out the door faster than if I’d taken the regular express check lane. Other times, I’m still trying to figure out what the code is for my papaya to price out correctly. Every time I go through the self-check at the store, I see how popular it is with other customers. We all appreciate the chance to move quickly and maybe have some privacy for what we are buying.

The Douglas County Libraries is always looking for ways to improve your experience at your local branch. We study retail concepts, futures quarterlies, what other libraries in the country are doing, and more. Two new technologies that you will be seeing soon are a direct result of our reading and research.

First, we began installing self-check machines in our branches about one year ago. Parker Library was our test site and was a great success. Our patrons love to scan their own items, whether it’s because they don’t want to wait in line, love new gadgets, or just want some privacy.

We put the second machine in at the new Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock in January. It is a wireless self-check machine which can be rolled to other parts of the library as needed. For instance, when story time is over, we can move the machine into the children’s area for the convenience of the parents or move it to a meeting room after a book discussion meeting.

In the next few months, we will add self-check machines at Highlands Ranch and Lone Tree libraries with an additional machine at the Philip S. Miller Library. So, keep an eye out at your local branch for your chance to scan your own DVD’s, books, etc. All you need is your library card and follow the instructions on the touch screen.

The second type of new technology you will be seeing in the library in the next few months are web-based patron access catalogs. We have had the same text based terminals for patrons to check the catalog since the 1980’s. This year we are making a major migration to a new integrated library system for our cataloging, circulation, acquisitions and more.

Since we selected our current company, Dynix, for our new integrated system, you should not notice a huge difference at first in what you see if you already access our catalog on the Internet. This browser-based catalog offers book cover art, book reviews, summaries, and tables of content. You will still be able to access your own account for what you’ve checked out, renew items and place items on hold. In addition, more services will be available to you after the complete migration in September including a Spanish language interface and a Kid’s catalog that features colorful icons, booklists, and pre-formulated searches.

I have to hold myself back and not tell you about ALL the cool things coming next year and further in the future with our Dynix Horizon system. The new system will not only have more impressive offerings for the public, it will also help with staff efficiencies. We are very excited to be making this move.