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, January 26, 2006

January 26, 2006 - talking books save lives

For those of us who do a lot of reading, it's hard to imagine a life without books. But sometimes, life surprises us. We sustain a sickness or an injury, and suddenly, we have trouble with our vision.

That trouble may be temporary or permanent: a cataract, or macular degeneration. A detached retina. Blurred vision. Congenital blindness. Or simply the advance of age.

Some of my friends have faced these issues, bravely, right up to the moment when they realize they won't be able to read anymore. Panic!

Sound of the cavalry, with trumpets: in rides the Talking Book Library.

A federal program, with a presence in every state, Colorado's Talking Book Library is an absolutely free program to Coloradans of all ages "who are unable to read standard print material due to visual, physical or learning disabilities whether permanent or temporary."

It works like this: first, you determine if you are eligible. It's not hard. You have to satisfy one of the following requirements:

* you are legally blind;
* your vision in the better eye is 20/200 or less with corrective lenses or your widest diameter of visual field is no greater than 20 degrees;
* you cannot see well enough or focus long enough to read standard print, though you wear glasses to correct your vision;
* you are unable to handle print books or turn pages because of a physical disability. (Maybe you've broken both arms, or have severe arthritis, or burns, or Parkinson's Disease, for instance.)
* you are certified by a medical doctor as having a reading disability, due to an organic dysfunction, that is severe enough to prevent you from reading in the usual manner.

Again, the disability may be permanent or temporary.

Even institutions may qualify, providing that at least one individual using your facility must be eligible for Talking Book Library service and registered at this time.

Second, you fill out an application. You, or a friend, can find one online at http://www.cde.state.co.us/ctbl/tbservices.htm. Alternatively, you can email them at ctbl.info@cde.state.co.us.

Or you can call the good people at the Talking Book Library at 303-727-9277. They are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Third, you will now be eligible for the Talking Book Library's services. In brief, that means you can get recorded, Braille, and large-print books and magazines as well as a small collection of descriptive videos. The program pays postage both ways for these items.

You also get free players for the recorded books. Talking Book Library books and magazines are recorded at a special speed, slower than commercial recording, and require special playback equipment. If the equipment you are using needs service or repair, return it to the library and replacement equipment will be sent to you free of charge.

How do you find out about what's available? You get a bimonthly magazine that tells you about newly-released titles, as well as other, related, library services. Or, again, if you have a friend with Internet access, or you have software that allows you to read what's on a computer screen, see http://ctbl.cde.state.co.us/klasweb/. The whole collection of the library is searchable.

Some special collections are available, including locally recorded books (from the Colorado Collection), and Descriptive Videos, which are popular movies in which the action is described.

The program is simple to use: set up a profile, order materials, receive them by mail, and stick them back out in the mailbox when you're done. Again, all of this is free.

Of course, your local library also has lots of large print materials, as well as books on tape, CD, or even downloadable mp3s. You may already have the equipment you need for those. Technology marches on.

But the Talking Book Library serves many people, and serves them well, with an emphasis on convenience. It removes the barrier between you and a book. And that's a good thing.

Friday, January 20, 2006

January 20, 2006 - the First Amendment is about personal liberty

For the past couple of weeks, I've been trying to wrap up a book I've been writing.

Most of it was done, but I wanted to do some in-depth research on a topic near and dear to me: the First Amendment. I've learned a lot.

There are two ideas about the United States Constitution. One of them is that the Founders were unanimously wise, prescient, and intended to give us precisely the rights we take for granted today.

That's wrong. They were plenty smart, all right. If I could travel back in time, these are definitely the folks I'd want to hang out with.

But seers they were not. They never imagined talk radio, the Internet, or the bazooka. It never occurred to them that labor unions might picket public schools, or loudspeakers blast away outside hospitals.

Another idea was that the Founders were early born-again Christians, determined, in the words of James Dobson of Focus on the Family, "to perpetuate a Christian order."

Wrong again.

"...the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion." (Article 11, Treaty of Peace and Friendship between The United States and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary, 1796-1797.)

In addition to the plain language of the Constitution (the first national Constitution in the western world that used neither the words "God" nor "Jesus Christ"), there was a provision that no religious test should be required for the holding of any public office.

During the ratification of the Constitution, a Christian preamble was proposed -- and firmly rejected.

I've learned three key lessons through my studies about the First Amendment.

1. The Constitution in general, and the First Amendment in particular, was not intended to describe a fully-imagined state. It mostly detailed some of the key things the United States should NOT do -- based on the most egregious of England's laws.

2. The "wall of separation" was real. The intent was more than just to prevent the state from interfering with religion. It was also to prevent religion from interfering with the state. Or as James Madison said, "Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."

3. The real story of the Constitution, and of the First Amendment, is one of evolution toward individual liberty.

Originally, the Constitution withheld the vote from women, from slaves, and from people who did not own property.

Over the centuries, our government has tried to extend the right of equal protection under the law to everyone. Or at least, that is the clearest modern intent of the Supreme Court.

The central idea of our government -- that it exists to serve the people, not the other way around -- is almost as radical today as it was when it was formed.

I've learned something else: the greatest challenges to our freedoms come during a time of war.

There was the Alien and Sedition Act, enacted in 1798 (amid the threat of war with France). There were many limitations on free speech before and during the Civil War.

In 1914, at the height of the patriotic fervor of the First World War, a Pennsylvania town enacted a law requiring every student in its schools to salute the flag in the manner of a Fascist salute (right arm raised stiffly, palm forward) while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

In World War II, even weather reports were suppressed.

But none of this was new, not really. There have always been people eager to seize the power of government, either to compel acts of obedience, or to mandate silence.

The essential idea of the First Amendment, however, was utterly new: the JOB of the state was to assure the freedom of individuals to say, or not say, pretty darn close to anything they pleased.

And so it is.

Friday, January 13, 2006

January 13, 2006 - Mark Weston

Thirty years ago, I began writing a library column for the “Southglenn News,” the official monthly publication of the Southglenn Civic Association. At the time, I was a wet behind the ears library assistant at the Christensen Library in the Arapahoe Regional Library District. I went on to obtain a graduate degree in librarianship from the University of Denver, worked in a variety of libraries and related private business for another ten years or so, then left that field for another career. I will never forget (nor will those who were there) the experience of piloting our 40-foot long Gerstenslager Bookmobile from westbound I-225 across all lanes of southbound I-25, careening off onto the Belleview exit in the nick of time.

Life is full of turning wheels, and here I am again with a library column byline, written this time from the perspective of the President of the Douglas County Libraries Board of Trustees. The regular inhabitant of this space, Jamie LaRue, is taking a couple of weeks leave, but regular readers need not despair; he’ll be back quite soon.

Douglas County Libraries is excited finally to be able to announce the Grand Opening of the new Neighborhood Library at Roxborough. Located next to Safeway in the Roxborough Marketplace, this facility is, among other things, final proof that we keep our campaign promises. Ten years ago, the last time we asked Douglas County voters to increase property taxes for libraries, we promised to expand the quantity and quality of our services, as well as to build new facilities. Not only have we accomplished what we promised (Parker, Highlands Ranch, Lone Tree and Roxborough), the county seat got a new P.S. Miller Library as a result of some good luck and fast response.

We keep our campaign promises, and we are good stewards of your money. We operate on an annual budget (2006) of about $17.7 million. Most of this comes from property taxes, and most of it is spent to compensate well over 325 full- and part-time employees. Also, this year we’ll spend just under $3 million to purchase software licenses, periodicals, recorded materials (audio and audio-visual) and, oh yes, books.

Some of our libraries are bulging at their seams, notably Parker and Lone Tree. We are working closely with the Town of Parker and the Douglas County School District to examine the efficacy of constructing a shared facility. Similar discussions with partners in Lone Tree, including the City government, its developer, and the Arapahoe Community College are underway. There will come a time when some of the busiest libraries in the County’s fastest-growing communities will need to be replaced with bigger facilities.

Meanwhile, we continually examine what we do, with an eye toward improving service, increasing efficiency, and responding to your wants and needs. Library users (did you know that 72.3% of all Douglas County households have at least one library cardholder?) will notice some big changes this year, as we replace 20th Century barcodes with 21st Century radio frequency identification (RFID). This will enable our superb staff to spend less time on tasks better suited to machines and, consequently, more time helping library customers discover.

These actions, along with implementation of new service models at the busiest libraries, will allow us for now to continue to give you the best service within our existing mill levy constraints.

Finally, while everyone’s memory of the holidays is still fresh, let me remind you that the next big event is Ground Hog Day, February 2. It holds little meaning here, as winter does not really begin until March, irrespective of cloudy weather or rodent shadow. Nonetheless, it comes just days after the Roxborough Grand Opening and less than two weeks before St. Valentine’s Day. The wheel turns.

Mark Weston
Douglas County Libraries Board of Trustees

Friday, January 6, 2006

January 6, 2006 - Favorite 2005 reads

By Rochelle Logan, Associate Director of Support Services

Libraries are not just about books. We consider the public library a meeting place, a center of the community, somewhere you can check out music, DVDs, audio books and work on a computer. With that said, it is still true that when you say the word “library” to most people, they think of books. It is also true that many librarians love to read and talk about books and I'm no exception. Through the holidays, I attended parties and my ears perked up whenever I heard friends talking about their latest favorite books. I'm here to give you my list of favorites. They were not all new in 2005 and they were not bestsellers. My favorites are, of course, available at your local library.

/Lost in the Forest/ by Sue Miller
Sue Miller is best known for her novel /The Good Mother/ published to critical acclaim and made into a motion picture. Miller often writes about family dynamics, especially broken families. /Lost in the Forest/ takes place in the wine country of Napa Valley. The story centers on a divorced woman and her children after her new husband dies in a traffic accident. The middle child, Daisy has a hard time dealing with the loss. Her journey is especially poignant. Miller presents a cast of characters who are full of life and a story that kept me pondering even when I put the book down.

/This is Not Civilization/ by Robert Rosenberg
A seemingly unconnected cast of characters and places come together in this story by first novelist Rosenberg. Jeff Hartig, an American Peace Corp volunteer travels to Kyrgyzstan after what he considers a failed mission at an Apache reservation. His relationships with an Apache teenager, the people of a small Kyrgyzstan village and eventually a circle of friends in Istanbul may sound unlikely. However, Rosenberg's style makes it work. I'm going to recommend this one to my reading group. It would be a good discussion book.

/The Birth of Venus/ by Sarah Dunant
Set in the 1400’s in Florence, Italy, British author, Dunant writes a full-bodied novel about a young girl’s infatuation with the disturbed artist her parents hire to paint the walls of the family chapel. Her life is complicated by an arranged marriage and the political upheaval of the times. This excellent period piece transports the reader to a luxurious, passionate, and violent time.

/Baker Towers/ by Jennifer Haigh
In her sophomore offering after the award-winning /Mrs. Kimble/, Jennifer Haigh writes a story about a family's struggles in a Pennsylvania coal town after World War II. The hardship of the women's lives and their relationships with each other as well as the colorful members of the community makes for an enjoyable read. A /Library Journal/ reviewer said, "Haigh uses evocative prose to create a picture of a company town—and of the human condition—that is both accurate and moving."

/Broken for You/ by Stephanie Kallos
This debut novel by Seattle teacher, Kallos has some unexpected twists in a well-crafted plot. Her main character, Margaret lives alone in a mansion, rarely going out after the death of her young son. She talks to the priceless antiques in the house as one might talk to a pet. After a cancer scare, she decides to open her home to a renter, then two renters, then three. This is a compelling story of how an invented family comes together, finding unconventional ways to help each other heal.

/The Known World/ by Edward P. Jones
In pre-Civil War Virginia, former slave, Henry Townsend makes enough money to buy land and (paradoxically) slaves. I listened to this on CD while driving in my car. It kept me going on long stretches of road. Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2004 for /The Known World./

The rest of my 2005 favorites:

/The Lake, the River and the Other Lake/ by Steve Amick
/The Inner Circle/ by T. C. Boyle
/The Confessions of Max Tivoli/ by Andrew Sean Greer
/Blackbird House/ by Alice Hoffman
/Twilight/ by Katherine Mosby
/Shadow of the Wind/ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon