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.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

December 29, 2005 - sleep, perchance to dream

The last couple weeks of the year are precious to me.

The library's budget has been adopted for the next year. The meetings tend to be put off till January, because lots of people have taken time off.

The frenzy of shopping is done. The parties are over. Now comes one of the true gifts of the year: time to think.

So much of our lives is conducted as if we were in some kind of speed trial. Or as I read in "The World is Flat," by Thomas Friedman,

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning a lion wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, better start running.

Friedman was writing about globalization. The above is an African proverb, translated into Mandarin, and posted by an American entrepreneur on the front door of a factory he opened in China, which is itself a little bewildering.

And a little sad. On the one hand, it is better to make widgets than to make war.

On the other, it is possible to be so caught up in the outer world that the inner is neglected. After all, even lions spend an average of 13.5 hours a day sleeping. (Just so you know, the extremes are brown bats at almost 20 hours of sleep per day, and giraffes at a paltry 1.9. In yet more information suggesting kinship among us apes, baboons sleep 10.3, chimpanzees 9.7. While human infants sleep a whopping 16 hours a day, adults grab just 8. )

The National Center on Sleep Disorders says it is a myth that people need less sleep as they get older (aside from infants, that is). They just GET less sleep.

Here's another myth: "sleep is time for the body in general and the brain specifically to shut down for rest." It turns out that the brain is even busier when it's asleep. Sleep is a dynamic process.

It is also necessary. Rats deprived of sleep will die in 2 to 3 weeks -- just about as long as it takes to die of starvation.

But my point is not that we need more sleep, although most of us do.

My point is that downtime isn't necessarily unproductive. We need cycles in our lives, a variance of rhythm. Our alertness, our health, our success, depends upon troughs of busy-ness, time to allow for the active exploration of things we haven't yet had time to consider.

So, if you can, stop running. Seize the slow times. Stroll through the library, trolling for the odd item that will dredge up an issue you were unconsciously hoping to explore.

Or sit by one of our fireplaces and dream. We need dreams -- and we need time to dream them.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

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.

Many people -- librarians, teachers, Secretaries of Education, even sport celebrities and actors -- have urged every child to obtain and use a library card. It's good advice.

Besides, at prices like these, who can argue? If you are not fully satisfied after a lifetime of learning and pleasure -- I'll cheerfully refund your money.

Trust me, this could be the best Christmas card you'll ever send.


Note: All Douglas County libraries will be closed from 3 p.m., Saturday, December 24, to 9 a.m., Monday, December 26.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

December 15, 2005 - cultivate an inner life

There are many things parents would agree they want for their children. Health. Love. Family and friends. Success, defined as "a respectable job that pays well enough to provide all of the essentials, and some of the luxuries, of life."

But you know what I most want for each of my kids? I want them to have a rich inner life.

You can lose your health, your lover, even your family and friends. You can lose your job and your home. In disasters, you can lose your ability to put food on the table.

But all of that is your OUTER life. If you have a rich inner life, you can get by. (At least, long enough to start rebuilding.)

I've been reading a luminous little library book lately called "Seeds from a Birch Tree," by Clark Strand. It's supposed topic is writing haiku (high-KOO)-- a Japanese verse form with rules so simple a child could follow them.

Haiku has 17 syllables: 5 on the first line, 7 on the second, and 5 on the third. The poem includes a seasonal reference. That's just about it.

And in fact children DO write haiku, often very good ones.

But what the book is really about is cultivating a consciousness, a plain and simple awareness that, first, marks something in the world. A raindrop. A tree branch. A window blind.

Second, the act of seeing, and capturing an image in haiku, also takes you out of yourself. Or maybe a better way to say this is that it completely removes the barrier between your deepest self and that moment of perception.

There are lots of things I'm grateful for in my life. But one of my favorites is a poem I wrote over 30 years ago.

I was hitchhiking through Safford, Arizona. I walked far from the road to get closer to a spectacular meadow, a sea of orange and yellow flowers.

When I got to the edge, I dropped to my knees to examine the petals.

And then I heard, low and pervasive, miles of ... buzzing.

Here's the poem (and I just want to point out that I shaved a few syllables off every single line, making it a kind of haiku espresso):

desert poppies:
I kneel to a field
of bees

That moment is ineradicable in my life. It is grounded in a single instant. Yet it is also timeless.

But my point isn't poetry. It's about storing up treasures that endure.

Children who grow up reading, or being read to, develop a set of internal experiences, based on symbols and dreams and language. Those stories and characters and situations work deeper and deeper into their consciousness.

Over time, this deepening understanding of life, coupled with fresh insights and new, unexpected encounters with the real world, makes up an always richer field of possibility, of insight, of connection, of beauty, of joy.

It's just one of the reasons that I no longer turn on a radio when I'm alone. It's why I don't watch TV shows anymore, at all.

It's why I can be utterly content, even very, very busy, even when I'm just walking around the block.

It's because reading, watching, listening, thinking, has now set up such a never-ending flood of images, and ideas, and webs of relationships among all that, that I now have an inner life, impervious or at least resistant to the pressures of the mob. Every child should have one.

On the outside, it's like a field of desert poppies. On the inside, like bees.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

December 8, 2005 - torture: from the dark ages to today

Sometimes you stumble across a book you didn't know you were looking for. For me, it was finding the library's copy of "The History of Torture and Execution," by Jean Kellaway.

Every time I come across the story of somebody stretched on the rack -- or wedged into the Spanish boot, or broken by thumbscrews, or victimized by any of a variety of infernal devices -- I feel an immediate sense both of horror and of recognition.

Maybe it's because so many of the people I read about as a child were scientists, and were often subjected to punishment for "heresy" -- the crime of not agreeing with powerful people.

It didn't make any difference, of course, that the scientists were doing no more than recording actual observations and making obvious inferences about the real world. It didn't make any difference that what they were saying was true.

What mattered was that somebody in a position of authority was given the right to force confessions, coerce the "recanting" of some belief, or brutally extract the names of others to be tortured.

Inevitably, such permission turned into the gruesome and ghastly abuse of power. History is littered with the maddened, mangled, or murdered remains of innocent people.

The irony is that things secured through torture are unreliable. People will say anything to get the pain to stop. They confess to things they never did. They promise to change their minds or hearts, but (assuming they manage to get away) don't.

And they carry a lifelong hatred of the people who bound and injured them.

So if torture is not a reliable instrument of securing either information or long term behavioral change, why does it persist?

Because it's not about any of those things. It's about power. It's about control. It's about corruption.

I have read stories about torture in modern day dictatorships, or oppressive regimes. But like most people, I associate torture with the ignorance and depravity of the Dark Ages.

So I was deeply alarmed, back in 2002, when the CIA floated a "trial balloon," carried by many national newspapers, to find out how the nation felt about torture, post 9/11. The reassuringly swift flurry of public astonishment led to a lot of government back-pedaling.

Except, we now find, there was an August 2002 memo from the Justice Department suggesting that President Bush had the authority to override international torture laws.

More recently, Senator John McCain introduced a bill to Congress explicitly banning torture. It carried by a vote of 90-9. McCain is both a former prisoner of war, and a torture victim.

Incredibly, according to the Denver Post, "Vice President Dick Cheney has tried to persuade Congress to exempt the CIA from the proposed ban, and Bush has threatened a veto if the ban is included in the bill."

I was shocked that the Vice-President of the United States wants the option to use torture, and would say so right out in public. President Bush, who said, "the U.S. does not torture," nonetheless wants the right to.

It makes you wonder. Are they seeking permission -- or forgiveness?

Of course, nine Army reservists were convicted of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Other "suspects" have died during "questioning" by American soldiers, as has been widely reported. There are now rumors of secret prisons in Eastern Europe, run by the CIA.

Let me put that another way: the U.S. does torture. We still don't know the full extent.

There are apologists for our Empire, who first recite the atrocities of criminals, then suggest that torture is too good for them.

But this is the fact that is always obscured: there is no way to ensure that torture will be used only against the guilty.

Shall we now we resurrect the foot press, the tongue tearer, the Spanish Spider, the revolving drum, and the Iron Maiden?

And on whom shall we use them next?

Thursday, December 1, 2005

December 1, 2005 - Wal-Mart suffers blistering criticism

After college, I sold shoes for awhile. I was good at it, too. I broke some regional sales records, and got offered a manager position.

But I was young and restless, and really didn't want a career in a shopping mall. So I hit the road with a pair of shoes I sold myself.

And those shoes gave me blisters so bad that by the time I got to my uncle's in the Arkansas Ozarks, I could barely walk.

So my aunt took me to a big new store that had just opened up in Fayetteville. I'd never heard of it, but my aunt said the prices were great.

It was called Wal-Mart.

I did indeed find a pair of good, cheap sneakers there. I wore them, very comfortably, the whole time I worked as "mud man" (cement mixer) for my uncle, a stone mason.

For most of my kinfolk, Wal-Mart was a godsend. It offered a lot of things that weren't to be found within an hour's drive. And it was affordable.

Since then, that formula (big selection, convenient and cheap) ensured that Wal-Mart spread swiftly, first throughout the rural south, and then ... everywhere.

The results have been mixed. Wal-Mart is admired by some as the leanest, meanest example around of good, old-fashioned American entrepreneurship, mixed with a savvy grasp of international economics.

And it is detested by others as the destroyer of small town infrastructure, the death knell of locally-owned and economically diversified downtowns, and worse.

Which view is correct? That's an excellent question.

A few weeks ago, a group holding the latter view booked one of our meeting rooms. They showed a movie ("Wal-Mart: the high cost of low price") and talked about it.

Shortly afterward, a local resident, holding an opposite view, complained to the town government about the event -- a complaint forwarded to me.

What I wrote him was (roughly) this:

* on the one hand, the library isn't responsible, or culpable, for the views expressed by people who book public spaces.

* on the other hand, I am delighted to have the library host discussions about controversial issues.

Good questions deserve good debate. Why not at the library?

I jumped into our catalog to see what we've got on the topic. Here are just two representative titles:

* "The Wal-Mart decade: how a generation of leaders turned Sam Walton's legacy into the world's number one company," by Robert Slater, and

* "In Sam we trust: the untold story of Sam Walton and how Wal-Mart is devouring America," by Bob Ortega.

Thinking about this reminded me of several things. First, I recently nominated Reggie Rivers for a library award for his writings against censorship. When receiving this award he commented that we need the First Amendment to protect /offensive/ speech. Why?

Because inoffensive speech doesn't need protection. You can stand on the corner and proclaim your tender affection for butterflies, and nobody cares.

Second, I can't help but notice that our media bristles with critiques of public education, and endless varieties of "bureaucratic government." We take that as a given, as a right, and even as a commonplace. Who complains about it?

But it seems criticism is not constrained only to the public sector. There are problems, and issues, in the private sector, too.

My own view is that public sector or private, any human institution will exhibit some behavior that is wholly admirable, and some that is not. It's a good topic for a library program, whether we are direct sponsors, or not.

And maybe it's not a bad thing for the private sector to take a walk in the public sector's shoes every now and then. If only for the blisters.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

November 17, 2005 - DC8 is the best

I know people have wondered for years just what happens when somebody walks into the library with a question about local history. Well, now, thanks to Douglas County's government cable TV station, DC8, all our secrets have been laid bare.

It's in their recent "Kit Carson's Last Campfire," an original musical detailing the real story of Kit Carson in Douglas County. When challenged, the staff of the Douglas County History Research Center springs into action.

There's the usual white glove inspection, of course, then, moving with the smooth precision of a synchronized swim team, battalions of reference librarians and archivists take to the stacks, their well-oiled carts bristling with fresh supplies.

There, as has happened so many times before, we burst into song. And the answers appear.

Well, OK, maybe it's not EXACTLY like that. But the folks at DC8 have indeed captured the truth: we don't just answer questions. We do it with style.

Since DC8 has revealed the secret of our success (DISCIPLINE, and a dab of irreverence), turnabout is fair play.

At the end of October, according to a recent press release, "DC8 team members brought home seven Emmy Awards in four categories from the National Academy of Arts and Sciences Heartland Region Emmy Awards Ceremony."

Yes, that's the real deal. These are the genuine (albeit regional) Emmys, established by the National Television Academy in 1947. DC8 took awards in the Chapter of the Academy that includes almost all of Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska -- and a little sliver of southeast Wyoming. This is called an "Area Emmy Award."

In addition to the piece on Kit Carson (in which our staff cavort -- after hours, I might add), the library is also featured in another production. Called Lunchbreak, this is DC8's altogether innovative new interview program. The idea is this: Steve Capstick swings by in his pickup truck and grabs a guest. Then they drive around for awhile and talk.

As anyone who has ever taken a long car drive knows, this isn't a bad setting for frank conversation. It's not your usual "talking heads in the studio" sort of thing. Steve has the "everyman" gift. He's easy to talk to. And he asks serious, thoughtful questions in a casual way.

I had the honor to be the first interview in the series, and that session (on censorship) garnered an Emmy for:

* Steve Capstick, host.
* David Schler, Producer.
* Frank Bokoksi, Editor.
* Jess Stainbrook, Executive Producer.

It beat out the nominations for Ron Zappolo and Fox 31, to the delight of DC8 staff, and the consternation of the competition.

The library has enjoyed its relationship with DC8. This award winning group (and this is not the first year they've brought home some Emmys) has dedicated itself to something worthwhile.

They are telling the story of Douglas County.

In order to do that, they dig into the alternately quirky and moving history of our area. So we see them at the library fairly often. (And look for their productions on our shelves.)

But even more than being diligent researchers, their real talent lies in the finding and "framing" of a story. The interview program in a pickup. The exploration of a UFO or Bigfoot sighting. The following of a coal train.

DC8 is NOT your typical government television, and that makes it interesting and watchable.

Douglas County has reason to be proud of this troupe of funny, yet thoroughly professional, storytellers. They just might do for Douglas County what Garrison Keillor did for Lake Wobegone.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

November 10, 2005 - library of the future matters for what doesn't change

Recently, I wrote an article for a professional magazine about "the 21st century public library."

I outlined the broad process through which most public buildings are designed and constructed. The idea was to give librarians who haven't gone through all this a template to follow and to tweak.

Since then, I've been thinking more generally about the question, "What will tomorrow's library look like?"

Most futurists run wild with this kind of question. They want to talk about all the things that will change, the things that will be different.

Here's what I think: the heart of our business will not change. The library will continue to be, at its core, a public place where books and people come together.

The shape of the book has evolved and multiplied. We have books on tape, books on CD, books as downloadable mp3 files, and ebooks. But for the foreseeable future, the common hard- and softback book is cheap, handy, and remarkably durable.

Like many other libraries around the country, we have been experimenting with various merchandising techniques. In one respect, the public library is taking a step closer to the bookstore.

Our computer system lets us track exactly what the public wants. Eighty percent of that is the really popular stuff. Tomorrow's libraries will buy in bulk, using "just in time" delivery methods.

Those same statistics have conclusively demonstrated something else: when we display our materials face out (as opposed to spine-out), they move a whole lot faster. At our Lone Tree Library, for instance, it is not uncommon for us to have to refresh our displays 14-16 times in a day.

The activity of making alluring public displays of new materials is many times more effective than our more traditional production of bibliographies and bookmarks. One big purpose of librarianship is to move those materials. Books belong in hands and hearts, not on shelves.

We carry more than books, of course -- although maybe "of course" is a little self-delusional. I referred last week to a recent international study. MOST people still don't know that libraries have online databases, which are a significant public expenditure, and provide high quality information 24 hours a day. We've got to work on that.

Many people are still amazed to find videos and CDs in libraries, too.

So if public libraries are becoming more "business like," and more sensitive to new formats, then what differentiates them from commercial book, movie, and music sellers?

There are at two answers.

First, although we may see all public libraries tilting toward livelier and more popular collections, there will still be, at least in larger buildings, a DEPTH of collections.

That is, you will be able to find the classics not available elsewhere. You'll be able to find the definitive works in a field, even if they are no longer current. You'll be able to find the series that prove perennial.

Second, and perhaps most important, public libraries will continue to be public space, staffed by conscientious public servants. While there is certainly an economic dimension to our lives, we are more than mere consumers.

The glory of the public library is that everyone walks through the door an equal: the rich man is the same as the poor, the old the same as the young. All have the same right to ask questions, to seek information, to receive the intelligent and courteous service of experts.

Many things will change in libraries. But that will never change.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

November 3, 2005 - libraries are going global

Recently, I was elected to something called the OCLC Membership Council. OCLC is a company that has been around for over 30 years, since the dawn of library automation.

Nonetheless, OCLC is a little hard to define. It is...

* A world-wide libary catalog. OCLC is used by librarians in 109 countries to describe over a billion books, music and film recordings, theses, photographs, and other documents.

* A purveyor of "e-books." These are electronic texts, readable, searchable, and even downloadable to your PC or handheld. OCLC, through something called netLibrary (and available through our website at www.douglascountylibraries.org) now boasts over 100,000 titles -- about the stock of Cherry Creek's Tattered Cover store or a medium sized public library.

* A supplier of various professional tools for librarians. For instance, librarians might pay for a service to compare local holdings to those of another library, and thereby discover "holes" in various subjects.

* The developer of various new tools for library staff and users. OCLC recently answered its 1 millionth online reference question. That's a service that puts a real librarian online, 24/7. (We use a similar service, although not from OCLC.)

* A researcher. At the OCLC meeting I just attended, I saw presentations concerning attitudes about libraries by savvy computer users around the world. (And I learned that even technically savvy users still aren't aware of all kinds of library services available locally.) I also saw an analysis of the five big libraries recently targeted for "digitization" (copying from print to electronic image) by Google.

* A "collaborative." That's library jargon for "people, sharing." There is a pooling of information, expertise, and materials among members.

* A for-profit company trying to solve a puzzle: how to grow from a national to an international company.

In Colorado, OCLC services are brokered -- along with various other services -- by yet another company, BCR. OCLC services are also sold in those 109 countries around the world.

On the one hand, national sales are flat. International sales are growing.

On the other hand, the base of sales is some 6-8 times greater in the U.S.

It's a conundrum. Is ANY company truly local these days? Look at the labels of your clothing. Consider the origin of any piece of equipment you use, from computers to car parts.

I'd read a great deal about companies moving off shore to take advantage of cheaper labor, and I've wondered about the effect of all that. But if other countries can sell to us, surely we can sell to them.

Many of our speakers were from other lands. They talked about a dual truth: many people turn their backs when they see an American passport. On the other hand, libraries are credible, neutral, even in other countries.

Most of our speakers agreed that there may be no one right way to do business globally. It takes local knowledge, cultural sensitivity, and a far greater familiarity with multiple languages than is possessed by most Americans.

OCLC has made extraordinary progress in establishing a planetary library catalog -- of materials using the Roman alphabet. But that just scratches the surface of humanity's works.

Can OCLC live up to the promise of one of its premier products, WorldCat? It will take some doing. But I like the idea of libraries being at the forefront of international bridge-building.

Friday, October 28, 2005

October 28, 2005 - Faulkner stinks

Last week, I took a few days off to give a talk at a library conference in Jackson, Wyoming.

I decided to drive. The library had gotten a complaint about a multiple-CD book, and this would give me a chance to listen to it.

The name of the book was "Light in August," by William Faulkner. Somehow, I'd never gotten around to reading Faulkner before.

I remember the night (right before the test, as it happened) when I realized I'd probably better get going on Moby Dick. Then, to my astonishment, I got hooked, and spent the whole night reading it, and in fact aced the test. A wonderful book!

That's been my experience with most of the classics. That's why they're classics.

About the only one I really disliked was "Ethan Frome," by Edith Wharton. (I once found a two sentence summary I still think nailed it: "I met a man named Ethan Frome. His life sucked.")

Now there are two. I have been listening to "Light in August" for almost 18 hours, and it makes me want to scream.

Has there ever been a more mannered, maddening, mumbling author? Has there ever been a fictional universe so inhabited by profoundly brain-damaged people? Has there ever been an omniscient narrator so clueless about his own characters?

Mannerisms: "His voice ceased." "Her voice ceased." Faulkner is the only writer I've run across whose idea of dialog is to tell you that somebody has STOPPED talking. Over and over and over.

Inhabitants: the characters chew on some perfectly ordinary phenomena for a chapter or two, then finally SAY, "Huh." Then their voices cease. They watch the dust behind a wagon for awhile. Then they commit an act of incomprehensible violence.

Omniscience: look, Faulkner created these people, right? He can make them say, or do, or want, anything he pleases. But in virtually every scene, he starts opining about POSSIBLE motives for his characters. "Perhaps Joe was thinking [something improbable].... Or perhaps not." Well, which is it? If it's stream of consciousness, fine, OK, swell, but are we talking the AUTHOR'S stream of consciousness? If so, shouldn't the author BE conscious?

Oh, and on occasion, Faulkner waxes philosophic. I studied philosophy for years. I got a degree in it. It is my expert opinion that Faulkner is absolutely unintelligible.

Then there's the story itself. There is not one single person in this book I would choose to spend 5 minutes with. And I have now been in their unrelieved company for 18 hours.

Maybe I'm being too subtle here. I hate this book.

But here's the kicker. Somewhere out there, I just KNOW one of you is thinking, "But I LOVE Faulkner! He's my favorite author! And 'Light in August' is my favorite book!"

OK. Fine. We've got it. Come and get it.

I finally had to cheat and look up the ending in Cliff's Notes because I could not stand to subject myself to another minute of the genuine article. (Cliff's Notes, incidentally, are available from our website, 24/7, and for free, if you've got a library card.)

According to Cliff's Notes, "Faulkner is considered one of the world's greatest novelists." I WEEP for mankind.

Friday, October 21, 2005

October 14, 2005 - Masons value private and public sector

My grandfather spent all this life as a business man. He dropped out of 10th grade to support his disabled mother. For awhile, Granddad worked through a correspondence course to become an attorney. Then the Depression hit.

So though he never became a lawyer, he got a taste for self-education. He remained a voracious reader.

Most of his working life, he drove a pastry truck, and considered himself lucky to have the job. Eventually, he wound up in appliance sales at a big department store, where he worked until his death at 72.

I tried to visit him every summer. Sometimes, I talked my folks into leaving me there for an extra week. I was crazy about Granddad.

For one thing, he would take me with him to meet his friends. He taught me the importance of a handshake. I got to practice it with the local police chief, the fire chief, the mayor, and even the library director. Granddad knew them all, and made a point of taking me to their offices.

Once, while walking together down the street, Granddad stopped me in front of a fire hydrant. "How do you think that got there?" he asked me. I admitted I didn't really know.

Then he talked me through all the things it took to have a working hydrant: a water supply, installation and maintenance, regular checking. It was a complex system that existed for a reason, he said: to help save lives and property in the event of an emergency.

"Whenever you walk past a hydrant, or a streetlight, or even a mailbox, just stop and think about all the thought, effort and purpose behind it."

I realize now that Granddad was giving me practical civics lesson. He put a face on politics, talking about the people that held office, and how much work it was to get it. He talked about the many people, of many skills and backgrounds, necessary to translate plans into working systems.

He was a business man who understood the value of the public sector.

Here's another thing not often noticed. On occasion, I run across building cornerstones and plaques placed by the Masonic Lodge in Castle Rock. I like seeing those plaques -- they communicate a sense of continuity and tradition, of consecration to a use.

There is a plaque at the Chamber of Commerce. There's one on the police station. There's one on the Philip S. Miller Library. There are others.

The Masons also occupy one of my favorite buildings in the county, the former First National Bank, located on the corner of 3rd and Wilcox. It was originally built in 1904, faced with rhyolite, and designed by former Denver architect George Louis Bettcher.

Along with developer Brad Brown, I was a guest there recently. We each had the unexpected privilege of being recognized as the "Man of the Year" -- Mr. Brown in the private sector, and me in the public.

There are many traditions in our culture. But I think the idea of an interdependence between private and public sector, each with its distinct, but important roles, is something that today's society doesn't "get" very well.

I'm grateful to my Granddad for being the first to clue me in, and to the Masons, both for their kindness to me, and their dignified acknowledgment of the civic significance of key buildings in our county.

Friday, October 7, 2005

October 7, 2005 -- Douglas County Libraries support C and D

During the recent recession, the Colorado State Legislature reduced state funding for libraries by almost 79%. Libraries were not, of course, the only services to take a hit.

That recession, along with various competing mandates -- federally mandated increases in Medicaid funding, State Constitutionally mandated increases in education funding, and TABOR mandated tax cuts -- meant that there simply wasn't enough money to go around.

Acting to head off what was called "the perfect fiscal storm," a coalition of State Senators and Representatives, as well as the Governor, crafted two proposals called Referenda C and D. In brief, C permits the state to keep, rather than refund, the TABOR refunds over the next five years. D is a bonding question that articulates how the money will be used for various, mostly capital, projects.

The Referenda have garnered a lot of attention. Given the importance of the question, the library district spoOctober 7, 2005 -- Douglas County Libraries support C and D

During the recent recession, the Colorado State Legislature reduced state funding for libraries by almost 79%. Libraries were not, of course, the only services to take a hit.

That recession, along with various competing mandates -- federally mandated increases in Medicaid funding, State Constitutionally mandated increases in education funding, and TABOR mandated tax cuts -- meant that there simply wasn't enough money to keep funding many other programs at historic levels.

Acting to head off what was called "the perfect fiscal storm," a coalition of State Senators and Representatives, as well as the Governor, crafted two proposals called Referenda C and D. In brief, C permits the state to keep, rather than refund, the TABOR refunds over the next five years. D is a bonding question that articulates how the money will be used for various, mostly capital, projects.

The Referenda have garnered a lot of attention. Given the importance of the question, the library district sponsored or co-sponsored four debates.

At Lone Tree, Representative Ted Harvey squared off against Brad Young, former (Republican) chair of the State's Joint Budget Committee. At Highlands Ranch, Young debated Richard Randall of the Libertarian Party. At Parker, Senator John Evans sparred with Greg McKnight of the Colorado Department of Transportation. Finally, at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, the Chamber of Commerce co-sponsored a debate between Senator Tom Weins and House Majority Leader Andrew Romanoff.

The library has been pleased to offer its space as the civic square, where citizens can find easy access to some of the key players in this issue.

Based in part on the information revealed from these debates, based in part on analysis provided by the Colorado Association of Libraries, based in part on discussions with other Douglas County entities, the Board of Trustees of the Douglas County Libraries has chosen to take a stand on this issue: it urges the endorsement of C and D.

It is not alone. While most of our Douglas County representatives (excluding only Representative Jim Sullivan) oppose the measures, many of the citizen leaders of various local governments support C and D. So do many business people -- for instance, the Boards of various Chambers of Commerce, and economic development councils.

That's a curious division between local community and state representatives.

I've given a lot of thought to this lately. I moderated a couple of the debates above, and learned that there are two distinct ideas of government out there. One of them is predicated on distrust. Allow politicians to decide nothing; mandate everything through direct citizen initiatives to change the Constitution. Of course, that's what got us mandates to both increase spending, and reduce revenue.

Another view is that representatives should be held accountable for their decisions, both to maintain a balanced budget, and to provide services essential to the well-being of the people who elected them. But that requires paying attention to the decisions those representatives make. It also means understanding the limits of their authority -- and that can be a complex thing.

A good place to start is the library website. Go to www.douglascountylibraries.org. Then click on "Douglas County and Community." At the bottom of that page, you'll see "Making Democracy Work." This link takes you to a comprehensive collection of links for voter registration, political candidate information, and issue analysis.

The library would like to thank our speakers for their time and participation in this vital civic discussion. Finally, the Douglas County Libraries strongly encourages all citizens to get informed -- and to vote! nsored or co-sponsored four debates.

At Lone Tree, Representative Ted Harvey squared off against Brad Young, former (Republican) chair of the State's Joint Budget Committee. At Highlands Ranch, Young debated Richard Randall of the Libertarian Party. At Parker, Senator John Evans sparred with Greg McKnight of the Colorado Department of Transportation. Finally, at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, the Chamber of Commerce co-sponsored a debate between Senator Tom Weins and House Majority Leader Andrew Romanoff.

The library has been pleased to offer its space as the civic square, where citizens can find easy access to some of the key players in this issue.

Based in part on the information revealed from these debates, based in part on analysis provided by the Colorado Association of Libraries, based in part on discussions with other Douglas County entities, the Board of Trustees of the Douglas County Libraries has chosen to take a stand on this issue: it urges the endorsement of C and D.

It is not alone. While most of our Douglas County representatives (excluding only Representative Jim Sullivan) oppose the measures, it seems that most of the citizen leadership of various local governments support C and D. So do many business people -- for instance, the Boards of various Chambers of Commerce, and economic development councils.

That's a curious division between community and representative.

I've given a lot of thought to this lately. I moderated a couple of the debates above, and learned that there are two distinct ideas of government out there. One of them is predicated on distrust. Allow politicians to decide nothing; mandate everything through direct citizen initiatives to change the Constitution. Of course, that's what got us mandates to both increase spending, and reduce revenue.

Another view is that representatives should be held accountable for their decisions, both to maintain a balanced budget, and to provide services essential to the well-being of the people. But that requires paying attention to the decisions those representatives make. It also means understanding the limits of their authority -- and that can be a complex thing.

A good place to start is the library website. Go to www.douglascountylibraries.org. Then click on "Douglas County and Community." At the bottom of that page, you'll see "Making Democracy Work." This link takes you to a comprehensive collection of links for voter registration, political candidate information, and issue analysis.

The library would like to thank our speakers for their time and participation in this vital civic discussion. Finally, the Douglas County Libraries strongly encourages all citizens to get informed -- and to vote!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

September 22, 2005 - Too Much Information is not enough

Back in my wanderin' days, I was hiking a federal trail outside Los Angeles. As I was walking along an arroyo -- a high ridge beside a dry stream bed -- I got a sudden urge.


I resisted. It was a hot, dry day. The stream bed was a good 8 feet down. The ground was rocky and uneven.


I felt distinctly uneasy.

I jumped.

And as I dropped, I heard a high whizzing sound, a WHING!

In moments I was on the bottom of the wash, looking up at a puff of dirt rising from where I'd stood.

I popped my head up over the ridge. This time I heard the bang, too.

Somebody was shooting at me. Somebody was trying to kill me.

For the next, tense 20 minutes or so, I worked my way around the hill the shots were coming from, dodging more shots, eventually slipping down the brush to safety.

I never liked L.A.

Where did the urge to "jump!" come from? Weird coincidence? ESP? Divine intervention?

Here's what I think. I think somewhere in the back of my mind, I'd noticed something that didn't fit.

Probably, it was the glint of light on a gun barrel, high up in the dusty land. Somewhere, I registered that a man-made object was tracking me.

My unconscious mind decided that I was in danger, and it acted to save me.

And I'm grateful.

I remembered all this because of a book I'm reading called "Blink," by Malcolm Gladwell.

It's fascinating. There are numerous examples of people making instantaneous decisions that turn out to be right. There are art experts who glance at a scientifically tested "antique" sculpture, and immediately know it's a fake.

Elsewhere in the book, the author interviews psychologists who can predict within just a few minutes of watching them whether a couple will stay married. (What's the danger sign? When one spouse shows contempt for the other, however subtle.)

In yet another, students can watch a videoclip of a teacher -- with the sound turned off -- and again within a minute or two, say whether or not that teacher is any good.

Not all snap judgments are reliable. Plenty of research shows that sometimes a quick decision is informed more by prejudice than knowledge.

Sometimes, in a moment of great danger or stress, we seem to LOSE the ability to sum up a situation. The mechanism of "blink" judgments can be very effective -- but not necessarily so.

Here's another twist. Gladwell describes another situation in which doctors are fed more and more data about a patient. Then they get to change their earlier diagnoses.

What happens? The doctors' confidence in their judgment grows steadily. The accuracy of their diagnosis does not.

As a librarian, and as something of a technophile (my family has THREE networked home Internet stations) I am very much aware of the phenomenon best captured by the expression, "TMI!" Too much information.

We are the targets of ads, radio shows, TV, newspapers, Internet news feeds, cell phones, music, and even real live people, all clamoring for attention.

To make good decisions, we don't need MORE information. We need the RIGHT information.

Because you never know when you might have to move fast.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

September 15, 2005 - R-rated movies

When I was five or six years old, my dad took me to see "Gone with the Wind," a revival at the big downtown movie theater. Years later, I realized it was packed with all kinds of steamy stuff.

But here's what I remembered from my early exposure: there was a big fire.

I believe that regarding many complex issues, children see and understand only what they are ready for. That includes movies. It even includes R-rated movies.

The library doesn't own a tremendous number of such movies (and no X-rated ones, if you were wondering). We do have some unrated foreign films.

There are lots of misconceptions about movie ratings.

First, movie ratings are labels, created by the movie industry itself, to suggest what movie producers believe is the intended audience. These ratings do NOT have the force of law. Movie theaters and video stores enforce them (sort of) also voluntarily.

Second, ratings are not authoritative. Anonymous people make superficial judgments. We don't know who they are. Ratings are determined through a count of naughty words, or kind and type of sex scenes, or variety of violent acts.

But the final rating has nothing to do with the content, with what the movie is about. Sex, violence, and language can be gratuitous. Or it can be germane to the dramatic action of the movie.

The ratings don't cover any of that. They don't say anything about the quality of the film, either.

So, in our libraries, we have not restricted the checkout of R-rated movies.

Over the past 15 years, I have gotten four phone calls from parents upset that their children (typically in or near their teens) could check out such a movie.

I always ask them the same thing: "DID your child check out the movie?" "Did your child WATCH the movie?"

In two occasions, the parents said, "Certainly not!"

On the other two occasions, one child did check it out and watch it. He knew he wasn't supposed to, and he'd seen the film before. But his mom caught him with the library copy.

Most recently, another young man checked it out, but his mom intercepted it minutes later.

Frankly, I just don't see an epidemic of children watching an hour of complex and nuanced emotional content to catch the 30 second flash of nudity. Generally speaking, people are interested in movies that are actually targeted to their age group.

Incidentally, most children don't have to go to the library to get R-rated films. My family has several of them at home, as I suspect most homes do. Others have cable or satellite.

Of course, many minors do have lots of unsupervised moments in our society. Both parents work, or there may be only one parent in the picture. Or none.

The question then becomes, whose values are being enforced, and who does the enforcing?

I believe that the discussion about which movies are OK to watch at home, alone, should stay between parent and child. Not between library staff and child.

Parents have the right to set limits for their children -- but only for their own children.

I understand that some children violate their parents' trust. But I don't think that misbehavior is always the fault, or the responsibility, of the public library.

However, public institutions must also listen to the people they serve. Our policies are reviewed and adopted by our citizen Board of Trustees.

Do you think the library should enforce Hollywood ratings for your children? Or do you believe what your children do and view is your job, not the government's?

Either way, I'd like to know. If you respond, let me know if you have children, and how old they are.

I can be emailed at jlarue@jlarue.com. Or call 303-688-7656.

And keep it clean.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

September 8, 2005 - Heard Any Good Books Lately?

By Rochelle Logan

We've carried books in print, books on tape, books on CD, and now the latest innovation for libraries is the digital audio book that can be downloaded off the Internet. This type of book can be played on your computer or a portable audio device (PAD) sometimes called an MP3 player. On September 1, Douglas County Libraries began offering downloadable audio books from Recorded Books and netLibrary. Over 900 titles are available including such bestsellers as "1776" by David G. McCullough, "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" by Alexander McCall Smith, and "Hard Truth" by Nevada Barr. More titles are added every month.

Why are we offering this service now? More and more patrons are checking out our audio books on CD. They often have to wait on hold for the most popular titles. With the new downloadable service, an unlimited number of patrons can check out each title with no waiting. You "check out" (download) the book from netLibrary for 3 weeks and can renew one time. When the checkout period is up, the eAudiobook file becomes disabled on your computer or MP3 player. You don't have to remember to return the book to the library. If you are on a vacation or business trip, you don't have to worry about a book going overdue. Up to ten books can be downloaded on your account at a time.

How do you use this new service? Go to douglascountylibraries.org and click on the red audio book icon for instructions on how to get started. Find a step-by-step guide to downloading and information about compatible portable players. You can listen to eAudiobooks on a wide assortment of portable players. At this time, the Apple iPod does not support the wma files (Windows Media Audio) required for this product. Your portable player should also have a bookmarking function so when you turn off the player in the middle of a chapter, it will go back to the same spot rather than starting at the beginning of the book.

If you don't have a netLibrary account, you can set one up for free by going to the netLibrary site from the Douglas County Libraries homepage. Once your account is established, search for an eAudiobook by author, title, or keyword. Then listen to a preview of the book if you like before deciding to download. Once you have decided which book you want, click on download. You have two choices, to download in CD quality, which is a higher quality and is required if you are transferring to a portable player. Radio quality is faster for patrons with a dial up connection. Download "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" in CD quality on a cable modem in less than 10 minutes. A Tom Clancy would take about 20 minutes.

How does the library benefit from offering this service? Downloadable audio books require no processing, shelf space or keeping track of missing and damaged parts. Plus, we know we are offering a quality product when we selected Recorded Books and netLibrary. Our patrons tell us that Recorded Books has some of the best reader performers in the audio book business.

So, have you heard any good books lately?

Thursday, September 1, 2005

September 1, 2005 - islamic science

There is a certain kind of tree that is sometimes attacked by a nasty insect. When this happens, the tree sends out a powerful scent, very similar to a pheromone, that is attractive to another bug, the natural enemy of the first.

If you didn't have the proper instruments to detect all this, you might say, "The spirit of the tree called to the spirit of the savior insects."

And you would be right. While this is not exactly detailed, it is nonetheless accurate. It tells what happens, maybe even why. But it doesn't tell how.

How is pretty darn interesting.

This nicely captures the tension between science and religion. Science is all about how.

Which leads me to mention a book I found on our library shelves, and highly recommend. It's called "What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East," by Bernard Lewis.

Back during what the Christian world now calls "the Dark Ages," the Muslim civilization was in full flower. It had captured Jerusalem. It had, in fact, expanded as far west as Spain, where the "Moors" were singularly tolerant of a large Jewish population.

But more impressive than its military accomplishments was the Muslim world's fascination with science. Muslims were the pre-eminent mathematicians, astronomers, geographers, chemists, metallurgists, physicians, physicists and engineers of the age.

Muslims were poised, perhaps as early as a century before Columbus, to "discover" what would eventually be known as the Americas.

That didn't happen. What went wrong?

In brief, or so I understand Lewis' argument, Islamic leaders, combining both political and religious authority, decided that all this pursuit of knowledge was a great distraction from the purity of Islam.

No longer was science to be an act of reverence, a discovery of Allah's methods, a thrilling examination of an endlessly creative natural universe, the rapt and active witnessing of God in action.

It was a sin.

Flash forward a century, two, half a millennium, all the way to today. And what happened to the Muslim world?

According to Lewis, it declined, collapsing politically, devolving in tolerance, becoming increasingly insular and irrelevant in the realms of both science and commerce. Where once it was a beacon of light to a dark world, it now, too often, finds itself mired in tribal feudalism and violence.

Moreover, again according to Lewis, much of the Arab Muslim community feels a profound sense of humiliation, a sense of its own decline and cultural inferiority, a sense that history betrayed it.

This sociological and historical analysis says nothing, of course, about Mohammad and his teachings. But it might say quite a lot about that tension between religion and science.

Today, in our own times, in this very country, we are witnessing another swelling concentration of religious and political power. Are we, too, seeing a turning away from science, a rejection of modernity?

Consider the pronouncements from the occupant of the highest elected office in our nation concerning public education and "intelligent design." Consider the restrictions on research involving stem cells.

Then consider what history tells us about the suppression of science.

We can believe that science -- the attempt to comprehend how things work -- is itself a celebration of spirit.

Or we can believe it is the exercise of reason alone, steadily improving our lives, eliminating both disease and inconvenience.

Or we can believe that the trees are mute, that the locusts that come, or don't come, are God's incomprehensible will, and that it is best, as a faith, as a nation, as a people ... to diminish.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

August 25, 2005 - libraries help children learn thirst for literacy

It's coming.

My daughter Maddy is 17, just entering her senior year of high school. This summer she said farewell to many of her friends. They're off to college.

Next year she will be, too.

Although my son is just starting 6th grade I'm starting to notice all those parents whose children are gone. Yet another life change looms on the horizon, and not only for the children.

But this makes me remember many wonderful things. It also makes me appreciate anew a vital aspect of the public library.

It is all too easy these days to get snagged in the culture wars, to view our public institutions as battlegrounds, places where one ideology squares off against another, places where adults yell at each other.

Here's something that just might be common ground. One of the deep purposes of the public library is to establish the thirst for literacy in our young.

I remember the first time I propped Maddy in my lap to read her a book. I don't remember her age. She wasn't old enough to sit up by herself.

But I do remember how quickly this became something that both of us enjoyed. There is a deep and abiding beauty in parents introducing their offspring to image and print.

They begin a Story. What do I mean by that? A story is that life-affirming, life-building exploration of self that is love, and character, and event, and conflict, and change, and growth.

For many people in our society, the public library never even registers on their consciousness. Until they have a child.

Suddenly, these parents realize that the world is far larger than they'd thought. Such obvious things as color, the sound of words, even the smell of the printed page, all open the door to a whole lifetime (for the children) of attitude, alertness, and the real meaning of the word "intelligence."

It also, I believe, has a distinct effect on the parents. One definition of maturity is "investing in the world AFTER you."

One hundred years ago, the notion of adding children's books to the collections of public libraries was vigorously opposed by most of the day's intellectual leadership.

Today, children's books -- fairy tales, classics, Dr. Seuss, primers, and all manner of picture books -- account for as much as 42 percent of our checkouts.

Our children's storytimes are always packed. It's a place where mothers meet and children open their eyes and ears to another kind of literacy: the story shared.

I submit that this just might be one of the enduring values of one public institution.

Through our collections and programs, we give parents an occasion, an excuse, to do something wonderful. We let them talk to and listen with their children.

We also offer the chance to participate in those all-too-brief moments, so startling in the power, of our children's dawning.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

August 18, 2005 - contrary thoughts

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

For instance, I have two very strong and absolutely contrary notions about politics. I believe in individual freedom. The preservation of that freedom, it seems to me, is the only moral justification for the state.

On the other hand, I believe in community. There are times when people must curb their behavior in order to live together.

Only a fool would believe that the two never come into conflict. Yet reasonable people may disagree about precisely where to draw the line between the two.

I believe in the strict interpretation of the Constitution.

But I also believe that no document -- whether it be Constitution or Scripture -- can possibly foresee every eventuality, and that sometimes you have to toss the wisdom of your ancestors right out the window. You have to make a personal decision -- and abide by the consequences.

I believe in religious freedom. That is, your beliefs are your own business.

Unless, of course, you impose those beliefs on me, or those beliefs lead to behavior that interferes with others' safety or freedom.

I believe in the right of people to make a living.

But I have, swimming around in my body, a substance called PCB -- globules of a virtually indestructible industrial lubricant that has been shown to cause cancer. I got it from swimming around in Lake Michigan when I was a kid, not far from theJohnson Motor plant, which dumped this substance into the lake.

So I also think people bigger and more powerful than me should slap regulations and penalties on other people who flush their poison into my body. (Why? Because Johnson Motor can afford better lawyers than I can.)

I believe in the primacy of individual choice -- whether it be books to read at the library, films to view at the theater, people to hang out with, and more.

Yet I also bemoan the pap that too often passes for literature, the movies made for morons, the social ties as pointless as they are absurd.

I believe the world is glorious, straining with splendor. I am proud to be a human being; I revel in this earth. I am also aware that for countless beings, the world is ruthless, cruel, even wanton with indifference. People are not just monsters sometimes, but often.

I believe that groups are often incredibly powerful in the making of decisions, quickly sorting through complex factors to find a solid consensus that balances and resolves all those factors.

I also believe that groups can come up with things so monumentally foolish, tyrannical, and deadly as to drive me to a hermitage.

All of these things, I believe, capture the lure of librarianship. I view every idea with gladness and suspicion. I greet the mission of each institution with warmth and disdain.

I am convinced that the real value of the public library is that it is both common and neutral ground. The brilliance and madness of our political parties, the incisiveness and dimness of our science, the exaltation and pettiness of faith, the trustworthiness and the utter corruption of our closest friends, the joy and the despair of life (and, come to that, your family, your neighborhood, your town, your state, your nation, your planet, and for all I know, your solar system), are ALL on display at your local library.

Or, to end this with another quote: "There is a time for Buddhist meditation. And there is a time for Irish whiskey." - Joseph Campbell

Thursday, August 11, 2005

August 11, 2005 - Are libraries obsolete?

I was listening to the Mike Rosen show the other day, where I heard him horsewhip Denver City Librarian Rick Ashton for buying "graphic and violent comic books" -- a Spanish-language illustrated novel in the library.

Rosen seemed to imply several things. First, the REAL mission of a public library was to be "a repository of knowledge," and even to be "uplifting."

Second, by having a book featuring drawings of a violent murder and rape, the library was "pandering" to popular taste.

Why, he wanted to know, did the library buy such a thing? Rosen said he wasn't interested in censorship, this was a selection question. Rosen said he wasn't a prude, he even believed in the legalization of prostitution, but wasn't adding such a controversial title a terrible mistake in purchasing?

Then he went on to describe the women in the book: large-breasted, narrow-waisted, muscular thighs, and "bubble butts." This graphic novel existed only to titillate, he said. (As opposed to, say, a radio show?)

Later, Rosen also mentioned that he thought a lot of people had questions: was the library becoming obsolete?

Well, it seems to me that Mr. Rosen is trying to put libraries in a double bind. First, he proposes that libraries should only offer things that are safe, innocuous, and "uplifting." In short, it should provide things that nobody is all that interested in.

Second, he suggests that libraries might be obsolete. Why? Because our job is to be boring, and ... we are boring?

Well, let me set some things straight.

First, people are not bored. They ARE using libraries. Statewide, two out of every three people have a library card. In Douglas County, three of four households have a card. The growth of our services consistently outstrips even our rapid population growth.

Why? Because, second, the library does NOT exist to lecture you about how you are supposed to improve yourself. We are not a ladies' temperance union.

Our job is to provide one stop shopping for the marketplace of ideas. Our job is to gather, organize, and present the intellectual capital of our culture.

Librarians don't invent all these ideas and products. We reflect them -- and our culture sends a lot of messages, not all of which are universally hailed as wholesome.

Should a library avoid controversy? Absolutely not! A vital library, a library that's doing its job, has lots of ferment in its holdings. It takes risks.

In the 1950's, for instance, "nice" libraries didn't have books by a new crop of African American writers -- James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Richard Wright, or that upstart, Martin Luther King, Jr. And those libraries missed the underpinnings of profound social change.

Libraries that are innocuous are also irrelevant.

Third, sex and violence were not invented by the graphic novel. You'll find it in Shakespeare. You'll find it in Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales. You'll find it on the radio and in the newspaper and in movies. You will find it in every medium known to humanity.

Fourth, surely Rosen doesn't believe that the big problem in Denver today is that there are too many children spending time at the library.

Fifth, I happen to be a passionate defender of comic books. The so-called "graphic novel" is a source of some of the most interesting storytelling and art around. See the works of Frank Miller and Neil Gaiman.

Libraries that foster a fervent discussion of ideas, where people meet to talk, to participate in an emerging online reality, to view art, to sample the output of our culture, are libraries that are deeply and directly involved in their communities and culture.

And they are libraries that will never be obsolete.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

July 28, 2005 - self-check

The Douglas County Libraries are retooling.

Why? Because the demand for our services is growing. We need to grow our ability to meet it, and there are some new tools we haven't had before.

So our retooling will begin with something called "self-check." Our first full-scale experiment will be at the Parker Library.

Right now, our very capable staff spends a lot of time doing simple tasks: scanning the barcodes on your library card and books, for instance.

Frankly, that's a ridiculous underuse of their skills. Over the years, I've learned that the people who work at our circulation desk are among the best read, most savvy library consumers you'll find.

Of course, their deep dedication to public service comes in handy when some odd circumstance comes up. Our people know the system, and can help steer you through it.

But most of the time, a lot of the process of checking out materials is purely mechanical. So here's what we want to do:

1. Put out more self-check stations. This is essential. Right now we have one public self-check stations, and three staff stations. This week, we'll have 4 public stations, and one for staff. We really CAN'T add more staff at a circulation desk -- not enough room, not enough money. A different configuration, with our staff overseeing several stations, will let us grow our capacity.

2. Get our staff out from behind that desk. This is the Big Change. The idea is that we'll not only have our people standing right there to help our patrons past the rough spots, staff will also be there to do something even more important. What's that? To help you find the materials in the first place!

3. Make checkout easier. There are all kinds of little "blocks" that might come up during checkout -- really, just notes and reminders to our staff. We're trying to whittle those down so that they don't stop people from checking things out themselves.

There are some things you can do to help us test this new system.

1. Have patience! Like every other new technology, there will be bugs and gaffs. But we'll work to get it right.

2. Please carry your library card with you. I know it can be a pain to pack one more thing in your purse or wallet. But having your library card will make things go faster and smoother.

3. Holler for help if you need it! Again, all of our staff are still around, and are eager to make this experiment go as smoothly as possible. But we're sure you'll find their help far more significant and useful out in the stacks, rather than at the circulation desk.

4. Let us know what you think. The first couple of times might be weird or awkward. But after you've tried it a few times, staff would appreciate some thoughtful feedback. Right now, we see this as one of the key ways we can handle more work with the same number of people. We're also looking, as noted above, to make more intelligent use of the skills of the very bright people who work for us.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

July 20, 2005 - passing on the torch

It was the morning after my last night in Springfield, IL. I'd stayed up late packing, along with my wife (who got stuck STARTING to pack while I wrapped up a final conference obligation). We were off to a new life in Colorado, where I'd taken my first job as a library director.

My last stop on the way out was Lincoln Library, where I had been Assistant Director for 3 years (and Circulation Department Head for 2 years before that).

I had to pick up the PC I'd bought with my own money -- back when it was really, really unusual for a public official to have a computer on his or her desk.

I boxed it up and set it on a cart. My boss, Library Director Carl Volkmann, offered to accompany me down the elevator.

As we sank from the administrative third floor to the basement parking garage, I turned to the man who had taken such a gamble on me. "Thank you," I said, "for giving me this amazing opportunity."

To my utter surprise, his eyes filled with tears. He blinked and turned away for a minute. Then he looked back at me. "I thought I'd prepared myself," he said.

I get it. Now.

You see, some six years ago, I recruited another young librarian to what is, in some peculiar sense, "my" library. (I know, it's really yours, but I mean "not Carl's.") The name of this young librarian is Claudine Perrault. She hadn't worked in a public library before, but from conversation at conferences, from our email debates on library fora, from her interview, I thought she'd be great. I hired her as manager of our Lone Tree Library.

For the past six years, she HAS been great. She has given me one of the greatest pleasures any administrator ever gets: watching people grow.

These days, most of our libraries are seeing something like a 6% increase in business for checkouts. At Lone Tree, that would be thirty percent.

Claudine has been a force for change at our library, articulating new goals, advocating for them with passion and integrity, reveling in her staff. I have striven to be a good mentor to her, as Carl was to me. But mostly, I suspect, she grew on her own.

And now, starting in September, she'll be packing up her own family for a move. She will be a director herself -- of the Estes Park Public Library. They're lucky to get her.

I well remember what that first job is like. The weird feeling of actually being in charge. The sober realization that you can't blame any big screw-ups on somebody else. Now the responsibility is (gulp) yours.

And then, the discovery that ... this is really fun. This is what you're meant to do. This is living!

In some ways, this profound feeling -- of pride and loss -- makes me feel a little, well, old. It's a passing of the torch.

But mostly, I remember my own mentor. Carl, here's another "thank you," for providing yet again a wonderful model for just what principled and heartfelt leadership really looks -- and feels -- like.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

July 14, 2005 - the Spiral Staircase

There was a time in my life -- early adolescence -- when I loved biographies. I suppose I was trying to get a feel for the rhythm of lives. I hoped that by reading the lives of exceptional people I admired, I might get a clue how to live an exceptional life myself.

Gradually, my reading tastes changed. But I just finished, almost at one sitting, a gripping biography of an altogether unique mind.

The name of the book is "The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness." The author is Karen Armstrong, probably best known for her surprise bestseller, "A History of God."

The story begins with the result of a life choice made by a 17 year old. Armstrong had decided to become a nun. Seven years later, with the full consent of her superiors, she broke her vows and left the convent, a self-described broken and damaged woman.

The reason she'd become a nun was to seek transcendence, an encounter with God. Instead, the disciplines of the Carmelite order, designed to build strong women with iron control of their bodies, minds and spirits, left her intellectually repressed and spiritually desolate.

Moreover, a series of fainting spells, accompanied by the smell of sulphur and vivid hallucinations, had left her in doubt of her own sanity.

In essence, Armstrong, whom I consider one of the wisest and most insightful writers in the English-speaking world on the divisive topic of religion, tells the story of her spiritual development. It closely follows the metaphor of one of my favorite poems: T. S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday," in which Eliot must turn, and turn again, without hope, as he climbs a spiral staircase to the light.

Armstrong describes her panic at reentering the secular world via a scholarship to Oxford. Next to come was a new disorder: a condition known as jamais vu. She would find herself somewhere without any memory of how she had arrived.

She had, along with another former nun, a bout of anorexia. She sought psychiatric assistance, without success.

Through petty injustice, she was denied the advanced academic degree she had earned. Then, she settled for a career she knew did not suit her: teaching English at a girl's boarding school. Her growing illness -- more fainting spells, deepening jamais vu -- ended that career as well.

Then she had a true seizure, and at last discovered what three years of psychiatric visits had never fathomed: she had temporal lobe epilepsy.

With this condition at last diagnosed and treated, other changes happened. A gifted intellect and writer, Armstrong was drawn to religious topics. There isn't much of a market for that in England, by the way, where only 6% of the population attends church.

No matter. Armstrong ignored her agent's and publisher's advice and explored potentially explosive topics. Among them was the true meaning of Islam. Based on her research, she believed that the West was making a profound mistake, reframing the Islamic world in terms straight out of the Crusades. She feared a devastating conflict.

Then came September 11.

Since then, Armstrong has contributed much to our understanding of fundamentalism (see "The Battle for God").

After spending so much time with religious scripts and history, she has concluded that the core truth of religion -- whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or Taoist -- is the same. Its essential message is Compassion. To meet evil with good. To live by the Golden Rule. To love thy neighbor as thyself.

Yet consider our everyday news. The sons of Abraham slaughter each other in the Middle East. Christian evangelical groups rattle their political sabers here at home.

It is impossible not to be impressed by Armstrong's journey.

And it is impossible, once reading it, not to wonder how so many so-called believers get it so wrong.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

July 7, 2005 - librarians in fiction

If you're about to take a long road trip with your family (and I just did, to attend a couple of events in Chicago), I advise two things:

1) Have a companionable family. When I was a kid, we engaged in things like whacking each other repeatedly on our sunburns. My kids work out synchronized seated dance moves. It is better to hear the sound of giggles than the sound of screams.

2) Take some audiobooks. We took "Looking for Bobowicz," written and read by Daniel Pinkwater. We took "Matilda" by Roald Dahl. We also took "War of the Worlds" -- the original Orson Welles broadcast.

In the first and second, I was delighted to meet two distinctive librarians. Pinkwater introduced Starr Lackawanna, "a woman with wild hair, wearing what looked like a gym suit with rainbow-striped leg warmers and cape." Ms. Lackawanna was one of the few people in the town of Hoboken, NJ, who was willing to talk to young people. (The others included a pirate radio station operator, a bum in the park, and a mad scientist.) Lackawanna tells the kids that she lives to "amaze and astonish."

I won't spoil the story, but suffice it to say that Ivan Itch, known (understandably) as "Nick," moves from his suburban Happy Valley into the big city because his parents want him to have "urban experiences." Within half an hour, his bicycle is stolen. The rest of the story involves Classics Illustrated comics, old music, Beaux Arts, and libraries as authoritative repositories of local history. It also features, it almost goes without saying, a giant chicken. Highly recommended.

I'd seen the "Matilda" movie, and enjoyed it. The book is set in England. Matilda is an extremely precocious child, raised by a crooked dad and a negligent mother. Matilda's life starts to turn around when she finds the local library, where Mrs. Phelps, local librarian, gently steers her to the world of classic literature. Phelps is interesting: concerned and thoughtful, but most unwilling to interfere except by acts of professional courtesy and kindness.

Later Matilda goes to school, where she meets a wonderful teacher, and a school master who can only be described as nightmarish. As with Pinkwater, all ends well.

On the whole, I found both of these portrayals of my colleagues sympathetic and positive. It happens that authors Pinkwater and Dahl had childhoods in which the charming and magical was occasionally mixed up with adult brutality. Pinkwater's father was apparently a gangster; Dahl was savagely caned by a cruel headmaster.

Fortunately, librarians can be trusted to provide sanctuary, to tell the truth, to treat children with respect.

The last audiobook was "War of the Worlds." This story of a Martian invasion was written by H.G. Wells, and reworked as part of a famous radio broadcast on the night before Halloween, in 1938. Over a million people thought it was happening for real. The audiobook also presents snippets of another version (released during the Vietnam War), and rare audio interviews with both H.G. Wells and Orson Welles.

After the first broadcast, there was a fierce national debate. Some were concerned that the young media of radio had demonstrated that it could be used to sell preposterous lies. Others found the gullibility of Americans very funny.

At any rate, don't forget to pack the audiobooks before that trip. It sure beats looking at license plates.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

June 23, 2005 - our future

The Douglas County Libraries have gone through two phases. The first ran from about 1990 through 1996. This was the period in which the district was established, and began to grow.

The second phase was from 1996 through 2005. This was the period of our adolescence, when we began to resemble our more mature neighbors. Specifically, this meant the spread of departmentalization. We launched reference departments at most of our branches. We added children's departments. At Highlands Ranch, we added a Reader's Advisor station; at Philip S. Miller, a Teen Tower.

We are, and our statistics back this up, among the best suburban library systems in the United States. By that I mean that of libraries serving communities of our size, we are not just in the top ten, but among the top two or three. We are a very good library.

It's also the case that our revenues have begun to flatten. The demand for our services has not.

We have begun to talk about what it means to become a great library. This is not, incidentally, all about money. The private sector counts its success by dollars. The public sectors reckons its Return On Investment by something quite different: the depth and breadth of its service.

I've learned some important things in my time here. When I was first starting out as a library director, I thought of communities as essential tools to build libraries. Now, I think of libraries as essential tools to build good communities. That's a big change.

Our future -- of library holdings, of library buildings, of technology, of staffing patterns -- cannot exist in isolation. We will succeed only to the extent that we assist in the success of those around us. Those around us include not just government, but also education, and business, and all those private concerns that add up to local life.

To help us plan for the next phase of our development, the Library Board of Trustees has decided to do some surveying. Over the next several weeks, we'll be conducting a series of telephone interviews.

Some of the questions will indeed be about money -- we're at the limit of what we can do with what we've got.

But most of our questions are about something more important. What really matters to you in your quest for quality of life? What do you really want from your library? It's just possible that what you want isn't something MORE, but something DIFFERENT.

Our questions aren't about what makes a library better, but what improves your community. The library is just another means to that end.

So if you get a call, it's legitimate. The people asking the questions are being paid by us to help us systematically, scientifically, get a read on what our taxpayers are really looking for in Douglas County.

Please, take the time to answer. The future you'll help us craft is not just ours. It's yours.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

June 15, 2005 - blue slips

It has become my mantra: "there are only two problems in life. There is growth, and there is decline. Pick one."

Most of the problems faced by Douglas County Libraries are the result of growth. There is growth in demand -- a really staggering jump in the books, magazines, videos, and music the public checks out from us, an explosion of questions that public asks our reference and children's librarians, big leaps in the number of people that come to programs and meetings.

As a consequence, there is also growth in service. We have had to ramp up to chase that demand. This has resulted in some surprises behind the scenes.

Here's the case study: "blue slips." A blue slip is a half sheet of paper, colored blue, that we use to gather public requests for materials. When such a request is filled out, one of three things happens:

* we buy the item. When this procedure was put into place almost 10 years ago, buying something was often the fastest and cheapest way to get it.

Of course, we didn't, and don't, buy everything. There are always people with arcane and expensive interests: detailed drawings of WWI battleships, lavishly illustrated butterfly books, and so on.

But my philosophy remains that if someone from the public asks for it, if it isn't prohibitively expensive, if it falls within the range of general interest, let's get it.

* we borrow the item. For those things we don't want to buy, or for those things that are no longer available for sale, we use various interlocking computer networks to see if another library has it. Then we borrow it, library to library, to allow our local patron to see it. This is a reciprocal arrangement: we also send materials to other libraries for their patrons.

* we can't find it. It's not for sale, no other library owns it. Then we look for alternatives.

There's a lot of change in the world of libraries these days. For one thing, eBay and Abebooks and other websites mean that it's easier to find and buy some things that are out of print. Of course, few public libraries will chase down really old materials for a one time use. Interlibrary Loan (ILL) is still the logical path in that case.

For another, those interlocking computer systems are making it much easier and cheaper to grab another libraries' items. ILL is now, in many cases, cheaper -- and faster -- than buying an item. That's a big shift.

Well, there was a time when a blue slip made sure that we knew about a hot new bestseller, and got it to the first person who gave us the slip.

But now, we generally don't need blue slips for find out what's coming. We place our orders months in advance of publication -- or have various profiles in place to catch the big things the instant they are available.

Now, blue slips actually interfere with our ordering and processing. Our volume is such that we have to batch things, group together one big order instead of 50 or 100 small ones that stagger in over a period of months.

The blue slip must die. While we will still, of course, provide mechanisms for people to request materials, the processes around those requests simply have to become more efficient.

The paradox is that an individual may see this as a reduction in service. After all, those blue slips used to bump a request to the head of the line, rush rush. But the new batching means that we'll actually be getting more new materials to the shelves quicker.

Our lessons: too many exceptions break the system. Bigger libraries can't operate like small ones.

But I try to keep perspective: there are a lot of libraries that would love the problem of getting more books faster to people who really want them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

June 9, 2005 - harmful books

Sometimes librarians joke about the jargon we, like so many professions, fall into. We say, "Reader's Advisory," to describe the process through which we recommend books. But that phrase sounds like "weather advisory" -- a warning.

Well, this week, I'd like to offer some Reader's Advisory in both senses. Listed below are the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries." I hasten to add that it wasn't me who came up with this. Rather, it was "Human Events: the National Conservative Weekly," published since 1944.

The publication asked a panel of 15 conservative scholars and public policy leaders to help compile the list. So these are expert opinions. I've also given a partial summary of their reasons.

1. "The Communist Manifesto," by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 1848. "The Manifesto envisions history as a class struggle between oppressed workers and oppressive owners, calling for a workers' revolution so property, family and nation-states can be abolished and a proletarian Utopia established."

2. "Mein Kampf," by Adolf Hitler, 1925-26. "Here Hitler explained his racist, anti-Semitic vision for Germany, laying out a Nazi program pointing directly to World War II and the Holocaust."

3. "Quotations from Chairman Mao," by Mao Zedong, 1966. "It is the task of the people of the whole world to put an end to the aggression and oppression perpetrated by imperialism, and chiefly by U.S. imperialism," wrote Mao.

4. "The Kinsey Report," by Alfred Kinsey, 1948. "The reports were designed to give a scientific gloss to the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy."

5. "Democracy and Education," by John Dewey, 1916. "...in pompous and opaque prose, he disparaged schooling that focused on traditional character development and endowing children with hard knowledge, and encouraged the teaching of thinking 'skills' instead. His views had great influence on the direction of American education--particularly in public schools--and helped nurture the Clinton generation."

6. "Das Kapital," by Karl Marx, 1867-1894. Marx described "capitalism as an ugly phase in the development of human society in which capitalists inevitably and amorally exploit labor by paying the cheapest possible wages to earn the greatest possible profits."

7. "The Feminine Mystique," by Betty Friedan, 1963. Friedan "disparaged traditional stay-at-home motherhood as life in 'a comfortable concentration camp'--a role that degraded women and denied them true fulfillment in life."

8. "The Course of Positive Philosophy," by Auguste Comte, 1830-1842. Comte advanced the idea that "...the human mind had developed beyond 'theology' (a belief that there is a God who governs the universe), through 'metaphysics' (in this case defined as the French revolutionaries' reliance on abstract assertions of 'rights' without a God), to 'positivism' in which man alone, through scientific observation, could determine the way things ought to be."

9. "Beyond Good and Evil," by Friedrich Nietzsche, 1886. "Life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of the strange and weaker, suppression, severity, imposition of one's own forms, incorporation and, at the least and mildest, exploitation."

10. "General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money," by John Maynard Keynes, 1936. "The book is a recipe for ever-expanding government. When the business cycle threatens a contraction of industry, and thus of jobs, he argued, the government should run up deficits, borrowing and spending money to spur economic activity. FDR adopted the idea as U.S. policy, and the U.S. government now has a $2.6-trillion annual budget and an $8-trillion dollar debt."

More information about Human Events can be found at www.humaneventsonline.com.

I regret to say that your library system owns only 8 of the 10 books above. We own neither "The Course of Positive Philosophy," nor "Quotations from Chairman Mao." We will, of course, seek to acquire them as quickly as possible.

I have found that it's a good idea to investigate, and draw your own conclusions, about lots of things experts tell you. That's especially so when they tell you that books are harmful.

I'd also be interested to know if there is any self-described "left wing" group with a list of its idea of dangerous books. I do strive to keep the collection balanced.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

June 1, 2005 - Gilgamesh

It is the oldest story in the world, a thousand years older than either the Iliad or the Bible. Its birthplace was the land we now call Iraq.

Its hero was the king of the Mesopotamian city of Uruk, back in 2750 B.C. The name of the king was Gilgamesh.

The discovery of this classic of world literature is almost as good as the story of Gilgamesh itself.

Let's start with the sheer passage of time. The "book" of Gilgamesh was missing for over 2000 years.

It was rediscovered in 1853 in the ruins of Nineveh, ancient capital of Assyria. There, an antique-hunting Englishman unearthed the remains of the library of the last great Assyrian king -- thousands of baked clay tablets, filled with cuneiform characters.

But it was decades before this ancient writing was deciphered and translated.

In 1872 another Englishman translated one of the fragments to world-wide excitement. The story may sound familiar.

A god informs a favored human that the world, overrun with human wickedness, is about to be destroyed. The god instructs the man to build a boat of specific dimensions, and fill it with "examples of every living creature." After six days and seven nights of rain, water overwhelms the earth.

At last the sky clears. The man sends out a dove, which returns, unable to find any land. Then he sends a swallow, which also returns. Finally, he sends a raven, which alights on a tree.

The favored human was not named Noah, but Utnapishtim, king of Suruppak, "that ancient city on the Euphrates." The mountain where the ship ran aground was not Mount Ararat, but Mount Nimush. And the god who issued the warning was not Yahweh, or Jehovah. It was Ea, one of many gods.

The story of Noah, it appears, was plagiarised.

"Gilgamesh: A New English Version," is the work of Stephen Mitchell, best known for his translations of the Book of Job, the Tao te Ching, and the German poet Rilke (who was, coincidentally, one of the first writers to hail Gilgamesh as a world classic).

Mitchell freely admits that he can read neither Akkadian (the Babylonian dialect) nor cuneiform. But the boy can write.

Using line-by-line translations of experts, Mitchell weaves together in "lithe, muscular prose" (as it says on the blurb, and I whole-heartedly agree) this ancient poetry, this marvelous epic.

In truth, the book is incomplete. Not all of the tablets survived, or have been located. But "Gilgamesh" feels whole.

At the beginning of the tale, Gilgamesh is a giant of a man, two thirds divine and one third human. He is also a king grown arrogant and cruel.

So the gods create an opposite number for him, Enkidu, two thirds animal, and one third divine. Enkidu is a wild thing, a creature who runs with the beasts.

First, he is tamed by Shamhat, the temple prostitute. Then he grapples with Gilgamesh. Finally, Enkidu and Gilgamesh become deep friends, soul-mates.

The next part of the saga involves the quest to kill a monster. But Gilgamesh goes too far, upsetting the balance of things, and Enkidu dies, cursed by the gods.

The deep story of Gilgamesh now begins: his own quest, ultimately denied, to become immortal, to find an answer to the death that has broken his heart.

"Gilgamesh" captured me, from its turns of phrase (Gilgamesh had muscles "of stone" -- a phrase that resonates oddly because it is so long before muscles "of steel") to its modern day parallels.

Kings still grow arrogant. We still lose those we love. And we still seek to resolve ourselves to the fact of our mortality.

Of course, in one sense, Gilgamesh did triumph over death. His story, almost 5,000 years later, still lives, as close as your local library.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

May 26, 2005 - flocked!

In almost every respect, my life is blessed. But that doesn't stop me from being tired out at the end of a day at the library, or a little irritated for reasons that make sense to me at the time.

But it's really, really hard to stay in a bad mood when you come home and find your front yard filled with flamingos.

Well, OK, not filled. There were just seven of them. But they were pink.

Smiling hugely, I noticed that there was a pink sheet of paper hanging from one of the bird's necks. It read:

"You've been flocked!"

Underneath that, it said, "Wanna Play? Here's how it works:"

For $5, I could call somebody and they would remove the flamingos. For $10, I could "flock" somebody else.

But for just $15 bucks, I could not only flock somebody else, but find out who flocked me.

Finally, if I just didn't want to play, I could slip out of that, too.

The rest of the sheet informed me that this was a fundraiser to benefit the C.J. Mosman Memorial Fund, established to build a pavilion at Metzler Park in Castle Rock.

Honestly, it was a pleasure to play, and a pleasure to pay. I think this is one of the most utterly charming fundraisers I've run across.

C.J. was a teenager who died in a car accident on Crowfoot Valley Road in March of 2004. The money will be used to build a pavilion in his memory near one of the baseball diamonds. C.J. played baseball for 11 years, nine of them in the county.

This sweet and lovely idea is a most gentle way to face some disturbing truths. Below are some statistics from the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.


* Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers.
* 16 year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age.
* It is estimated that 16-year-olds are 3 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than the average of all drivers.

In Colorado:

* 96 16-20 year-olds died on Colorado roadways in 2004; 91 died in 2003.
* In 2004, 44 16-17 year olds were killed in car crashes. 37 were killed in 2003.
* In 2004, 65.6% of Colorado teens killed in car crashes were not wearing seat belts.
* In 2004, nearly 80% of teen passengers who died in car crashes were riding with teen drivers.

There's some good news.

* Colorado's graduated licensing law went into effect July 1, 1999.
* Teen drivers get their licenses in "graduated stages" to allow them more experience behind the wheel before they can drive without an adult.
* The law adds restrictions during high-risk situations, such as nighttime driving and restricts the number of peers in the vehicle.
* Colorado's law requires 50 hours of driving time with a responsible adult before they can obtain their license. The new driver is required to fill out a written log that is signed by an adult driver.
* The Colorado law establishes a curfew from midnight to 5 a.m. for new drivers. Young people with a written work permit are exempt when driving to and from work during those hours.
* The Colorado law allows newly licensed drivers to have one front seat passenger and requires a seat belt for every person in the front and back seats of the vehicle.

It happens that I lost my 16 year old sister to a car accident, many years ago. I know the pain this can cause to a family, and how long that pain can endure.

That's all the more reason I admire the Freeman/Mosman families' efforts to turn tragedy into local improvement -- and to put a smile on my face just exactly when I needed it.