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, March 31, 2005

March 31, 2005 - the bookmobile

The first library I used was a bookmobile. I lived at the edge of town and the bookmobile came to our far flung shopping mall.

It stopped by once a week, which worked pretty well for me as a kid, even if it did stick around only for a couple of hours.

Years later, I lived in rural Arizona. There the bookmobile only made it out once a month, and again only for a few hours. That was a little tougher for me -- but it did persuade me to start a local volunteer library, which got me back to library school.

A bookmobile offered the first library service Douglas County had, too. It was sent up by the Plains and Peaks Library Services System in Colorado Springs. That system is now defunct, incidentally -- eliminated by state budget cuts last year.

The next bookmobile showed up when we tore down the grossly undersized Oakes Mill Library to build the larger, but still modest, Lone Tree Library. That bookmobile -- an ancient relic we bought for a song (a thousand songs, if you figure them at $1.00 apiece) -- wasn't mobile at all. We parked it just beyond the construction site.

And the children loved it. Just as I had.

By the time that library opened, we got crowded out of our free space at the Roxborough Elementary School. So we moved the bookmobile out there until we could open a long promised branch.

A couple of years ago, we thought we had it. We got rid of the now unsafe old bookmobile and started getting ready for a storefront -- whereupon the developer had to back out, leaving us sans bookmobile, and sans library.

Then we got lucky. The good people at the Englewood Public Library had a much newer bookmobile that they couldn't afford to operate. They were reluctant to sell it, but were more than happy to lease it.

So we have, these past couple of years. It spends half its time at Roxborough, and half at Castle Pines North. When the Roxborough Library opens up this fall, we'll investigate some other locations.

In fact, the bookmobile has proved to be a good tool for us. The Douglas County Libraries are well-funded for our current operations. But we do not have the money to build anything new. While the county continues to grow, it's definitely slowing.

That leaves us with pockets of growth that aren't really convenient to any of our existing locations. The bookmobile is a way for us to get to people whose daily travels don't take them anywhere near one of our branches.

Bookmobiles let us make a connection with new communities. It allows us to assess the interest in library services.

Our conversations with new patrons let us know all kinds of important information: how many people have and use an Internet connection from home? (Lots, so we can tell them about our online services and databases.)

How many have CD players in their cars instead of tape players? (Lots, so we're cranking up books on CD, as we have for awhile.)

How many have iPods or other portable handheld devices they might want to listen to books on? (Not enough to replace our books on CD, at least not yet.)

But best of all, a bookmobile lets us see that spark of delight in the eyes of the children. Our staff form strong bonds with them.

My favorite story: when we had to take the bookmobile back to Englewood for some tune-up and repairs, we heard from a lot of our younger patrons. They believed, they told us, that our library staff really lived in the bookmobile. Were they homeless?

For the record, our staff actually do have their own homes -- which have restrooms and showers, which our bookmobile does not.

But no matter how fine or cozy those homes, none have the mysterious allure of the roving bus full of books.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

March 24, 2005 - Love and Fear

People are sometimes surprised to learn that the Douglas County Libraries have received over 200 "challenges" to library materials over the past 15 years. A lot of other libraries never have any at all.

A library challenge is a formal (written) complaint about a library item or service: a book, a music CD, a video, Internet use, a program, and recently, even an educational software title.

In most libraries, there's a committee process to review the complaint. In our library, I do it myself. I find it fascinating to see what my fellow citizens object to.

But I wondered why we got so many complaints. After all, we buy what most libraries buy.

Nationally, the libraries that get a lot of challenges are in areas where most of the adult population has little post-secondary education. That does NOT describe Douglas County.

It took me awhile to figure it out. The challenges don't come despite our demographics, but BECAUSE of them.

Over 99% of our challenges come from parents of children:

* between the ages of 4 and 6; and

* between the ages of 14 and 16.

In short, it's not about the books, or the movies, or the Internet. It's really not about the library at all.

It's about parents who try to pay attention to what their children are doing. And what those children are doing is growing up.

The first shock happens when the kids are between 4 and 6. It's when they go to daycare or start school. It's when the parent's near total control of the child's environment gets its first real challenge.

The child is suddenly ripped from the protective cocoon. The world is full of messages and behavior parents abruptly realize they do not approve of.

They feel panic, anger. Grief.

Later, when the child is 14-16, the parent suffers another sharp pang of loss. Puberty marks the end of childhood, and, frequently, the beginning of the explorations, risks, failures, and foolishness of adulthood.

Is there any wonder parents rage and accuse? They are afraid -- with the intense fear that comes from loving deeply.

I hasten to add that these parents tend not to STAY angry at the library.

They soon discover -- or rediscover -- that a public place tended by smart, caring librarians and filled with well-organized information is a social asset. It is not a school bully, a sexual disease, an addictive drug, or an out-of-control automobile.

And here's something else. These parents tend to have the following characteristics:

* They use the library.

* They bring their children TO the library.

* They pay attention to what their children are reading.

* They take the time, as awkward and inconvenient as it may be, to express their concern to a public institution.

These people are not fanatics, or nuts, or would-be censors. They're parents who value both literacy and the influence of public institutions.

They're our friends.

And speaking as the father of two wonderful and extraordinary children (a 17 year old daughter and an 11 year old son) those other parents also have my utter sympathy.

As do their children.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

March 17, 2005 - cultural facilities and Parker

On March 8, our Parker Library hosted a panel discussion. Our stars were representatives from Denver-area cultural facilities. One speaker ran the Arvada center. One oversaw several mid-sized buildings in Lakewood. And two other speakers operated the adjoined library and cultural center in Broomfield.

It was eye-opening. These people have solved something that has thus far eluded Douglas County: how to open and operate a 500 seat performing arts venue.

The format was deceptively simple. After manager Patt Paul welcomed everyone, I asked our speakers, "What are you working on now?" They responded (Lots!), then we opened it up to the audience.

Some 60 Parker citizens had showed up, and I was impressed, as I often am, with the intelligence of our citizenry. They had one good question after another.

There were several significant findings.

* Most important was the advice to carefully consider which kinds of performing arts would be supported. As our speakers underscored (pun!), a musical venue isn't the same as a dance stage, and neither one of them is a theater. To accommodate all of these uses takes thoughtful input, and expert advice.

* There's more to a performing space than a stage. You also need room for set construction, costume and prop storage, and that rarest of finds, rehearsal space.

* All of the speakers thought their facilities were too small!

* All of the facilities required ongoing subsidy. That varied from 30% to about 50% of operational costs. But the fact that the cities still supported them points to the other half of the story. While no cultural facility makes money all by itself, it does generate a lot of economic activity. People come early to find the place, grab a bite to eat, shop the area, THEN go to the show. Businesses benefit from increased activity and sales; cities benefit from the sales taxes. Those benefits seem to outweigh the costs.

* All of the cities pointed to their cultural facilities with pride, a mark of their maturity as communities.

After this presentation, representatives of the Town of Parker asked for some feedback about an idea, as yet very preliminary. In brief, suppose we could find a way to combine a cultural center, a new library, a magnet school, and a combination of retail, office, and housing, right on East Mainstreet?

People expressed a few concerns. How would parking be handled? Perhaps through a parking structure.

How tall would or should the buildings be on Mainstreet? Town officials described the relevant guidelines.

How would Mainstreet traffic be affected? It was too soon to say -- a study would be necessary.

How would all this be paid for? It's clear that none of the potential partners currently has the resources to accomplish this, although teaming up will likely drive the costs down.

Should such a cultural facility be placed downtown -- or out where land is both cheaper and more plentiful?

That's a decision for the Town Council and the people of Parker. But here's my two cents.

Municipalities that reinvest in their cores build unique communities that people like to live in. I have observed that if cities DON'T invest in their core, they get strip malls and developments that could be anywhere or nowhere at all.

Parker is already the first town with its own small cultural center. Will it be the first town in Douglas County with the vision and commitment to fashion a model partnership between the arts and civic life?

One thing is clear: it won't be the first one in the Denver metropolitan area. That's already happened.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

March 10, 2005 -- the library catalog on your website

We get a lot of traffic on the library website -- about a million hits a month. And what's the number one destination of all that traffic? What do Douglas County citizens most look at?

Our library catalog. And why not? We have well over 600,000 items in our collection now. It's a huge asset, representing millions of dollars, and covering every conceivable topic.

I'm guessing that lots of the people who read this column work for organizations with their own websites. And I bet many of those companies serving Douglas County are looking for ways to add useful content to their sites. Ideally, they don't want to spend a lot.

Have I got a deal for you! Why not put our catalog -- one of the most popular destinations in the county -- on your website ... for free?

How? It's easy. In essence, you just need to insert this snippet of HTML code that lets you search the Douglas County Libraries right from your own page.

You can put it anywhere you like -- you'll get a blank text entry box, and a graphic that says "Search our Catalog!"

If you don't want to type out what you see below, just go to this web location: http://www.douglascountylibraries.org/Catalog/searchDCL_Form.php. Then use your browser's command to "view source." Then you can copy and paste the information into your own web page.

I should point out that this search isn't quite as flexible as the one on the library's own page. But it's also simpler. You don't have to worry about whether you're looking for a title, or a subject, or an author. Just type in what interests you.

Here's an example to show how powerful this can be.

Let's say you are a minister, and when you launch your browser, it defaults to your church's home page.

You're reading a newspaper article about Karen Armstrong, former Carmelite nun, and author of "A History of God," among others. You hear she's written a new book about her life.

Because you've added the library catalog search box to your church's website, you just type "karen armstrong" into it and press Enter.

In moments, you're looking at a page from the library catalog. You see that there's a title called "The spiral staircase : my climb out of darkness," with a publication date of 2004. So you click on it.

Now, on the left side, you can click again on reviews of the book, or a plot summary. If the summary intrigues you, you can even go ahead and reserve the book, directing it to the library branch closest to you.

I tested this myself on my personal web site, and have found that it's come in handy many times. Anybody who combines writing and research -- teachers and journalists, for instance -- will find it especially useful.

Again, this code is freely available, and anyone may use it. Use of the library catalog, or this search box, does not, of course, mean that the library endorses the views expressed by the websites in which the search box appears. But the library connection is bound to help anybody offer a richer Internet browsing experience.

Meanwhile, if you do decide to make use of this new tool, I'd appreciate knowing about it. Feel free to drop me a line at jlarue @ jlarue.com.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

March 3, 2005 - Ward Churchill

I realize my stance on this isn't especially popular, but I find myself very disturbed by the continuing circus around Ward Churchill. I've talked to some usually very bright people who go on at length about Churchill's ethnicity, his tenure process, and so on.

That is, of course, smokescreen and ad hominem attacks masquerading as argument. The problem is not Churchill's past. it is his unswerving contention that the United States is not a "good guy." Let's talk about the core issue, shall we?

It took the cake for me when Douglas County State Senators Ted Harvey and Tom Wiens sponsored House joint Resolution 05-1011 to "shame" Ward Churchill, and thereby "comfort" 9/11 victims.

Why? Because shaming the devil and comforting the emotionally aggrieved isn't actually part of the Legislative job description. Nor are legislators charged to "repudiate" the words of anybody.

Upholding the Constitution, however, IS their job, and in fact their primary responsibility. That would include the First Amendment.

The widely quoted offending passage in Churchill's essay (now a part of his book, "On the Justice of Roosting Chickens") stated that many of the people who died in the 9/11 terrorist attack were "little Eichmanns."

What did Churchill mean by that? In his book, Churchill describes Eichmann as "a mere mid-level officer in the SS, by all accounts a good husband and devoted father, apparently quite mild-mannered, and never accused of having personally murdered anyone at all. His crime was to have sat at several steps remove from the holocaustal blood and gore, behind a desk, in the sterility of an office building, organizing the logistics -- train and "cargo" schedules, mainly -- without which the 'industrial killing' aspect of the nazi Judeocide could not have occurred. His most striking characteristic, if it may be called that, was his sheer 'unexceptionality' (that is, the extent to which he had to be seen as 'everyman': an 'ordinary,' 'average' or 'normal' member of his society."

To Churchill, this describes many of the people -- not all of them, as he has repeatedly stated -- who worked in the Twin Towers. Churchill's view of the American business/military complex is not a happy one. His book contains two comprehensive chronologies of U.S. military actions at home and abroad from 1776 to 2003 and of U.S. "obstructions, subversions, violations and refusals of international legality since World War II."

Fundamentally, Churchill believes that just as many Germans professed ignorance or lack of responsibility for the great evil being committed by their government, so too do American citizens seek to dodge responsibility for what Churchill documents as one appalling international crime after another.

Such crimes, in his view, continue. As Faith Attaguile for LiP magazine wrote, "During the Fall 2001 controversy over Churchill's first [essay, "The Ghosts of 9-1-1]," the US undertook a bombing campaign in Afghanistan that killed some 3,500 innocent civilians. These people were not Al Quaeda. They were not the Taliban or its soldiers. These people were, by all estimates, innocent Afghan men, women and children, torn to shreds when US bombs destroyed their homes and villages in the nightmare called the 'war on terror.'"

It was heinous when the Nazis did it. It was heinous when Al Qaeda did it.

Is it heinous when we do it? Is it treason to ask?

Churchill's point is that there is a context to international terrorism. He believes that many Americans are complicit in the deeds of our government, whether through willful ignorance, or through cynical protestations of innocence. And our actions have consequences.

That's not much comfort to anybody. But it isn't intended to be. It's an argument, presented with a lot of backup evidence. The appropriate response to it is contrary argument, with better evidence.

I don't find Churchill's arguments threatening. Nor do I agree with all of them. But I think he raises some mighty important issues.

I do find deeply threatening the hypocrisy and misuse of public position to smear, seek to strip from employment, and otherwise punish the man who merely dared to suggest that our nation has earned some of our enemies.