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

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

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

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, June 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.

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