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, 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.