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 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.

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