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, October 26, 2006

October 26, 2006 - fines support new veterans memorial

In years past, the library has offered several fine amnesty programs. For instance, we have, at various times, encouraged people to drop off cans of food. In exchange, we wipe out old debts, and pass the food along to some worthy charity.

I'd like to introduce a different program: for one week, make a point to pay your fines with real money. Why? Because there's an important civic project underway, and it deserves your financial support.

That project is the Highlands Ranch Veterans Monument. As noted on their website, (http://veteransmonument.highlandsranch.org), "Tuesday, August 8, 2006 marked the first anniversary of the death of Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Falkel, a 2001 ThunderRidge High School graduate who served as a Green Beret. Falkel was the first Highlands Ranch resident to be killed in action."

Many older communities have monuments to fallen soldiers. Highlands Ranch does not. Again as noted on the website, a group of "community volunteers, led by Jeff Alvis, and supported by the Highlands Ranch Park & Recreation Foundation and the Metro District of Highlands Ranch, has launched a fundraising campaign for the Highlands Ranch Veterans Monument, to be built near the Highlands Ranch Library entrance in Civic Green Park."

The Civic Green Park has often been described as "the heart of Highlands Ranch," a truly civic place. The design -- both tasteful and very much in the spirit of the Colorado landscape, was created by Brian Muller. The idea is to place this monument at the north end of the park, not far from the front door of our library.

In addition to the features of the monument -- an arch, five large native rocks featuring the emblems of the five branches of the armed services, a small cascading water feature and pond -- there will also be a dedication wall.

On this wall will be tiles, available for purchase from the website. They come in two sizes; 4 by 8 inches for $200, or 8 by 8 inches for $500 (available in limited quantity). The tiles don't have to be for soldiers who lost their lives; you may simply acknowledge the service of any veteran, or member of the armed forces.

I should also stress that the tiles are not limited to residents of Highlands Ranch, or even of Douglas County. Of course, there will probably be some kind of connection to Douglas County residents.

War, of course, is a terrible thing. This monument isn't about a glorification of conflict. But it is about something we need to remember: there is a dimension to all of our lives that isn't just recreational or economic. It involves our connection to larger moments of shared social history, to issues of state, and even of global significance. It is appropriate to pause to reflect, to consider the real, individual cost of military service, and the purposes to which we ask people to give their time, or their lives.

To that end, the Board of Trustees has voted to dedicate all fine money collected during the week from Sunday, November 5, through Saturday, November 11, Veterans Day, as a donation to this project, and its contribution to our shared community.

The target for the project is $200,000. At present, it has collected a little over $17,000.

So please, consider making a small sacrifice to honor the much larger ones of our service people.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

October 12, 2006 - Library Hauntings

This is just a little early, but I thought people would like to know, as they approach Halloween, that some 100 United States libraries are reported to be haunted.

I read it in an article by George M. Eberhart, in a book called "The Whole Library Handbook." He is also the author of "Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology," "The Roswell Report: An Historical Perspective," "A Geo-Bibliography of Anomalies: Primary Access to Observations of UFOs, Ghosts, and Other Mysterious Phenomena," and more.

Most of the hauntings are a little mundane: cold spots in the building, elevators or computers that run erratically in the older wings, strange noises late at night. Of course, if you've ever worked in an old building after the sun goes down, you know that hearing odd things -- bangs, screams, moans, manual typewriters, people rifling through papers -- can be most unsettling, even if it only turns out to be frantic grad students cramming for a final.

Other phenomena are stranger. Here's one that would definitely have gotten my attention. The library director at the Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee said that on March 5, 2001, he saw "a cat come floating across my office floor and disappear among the boxes stored under the table behind my desk. I did not see any legs or paws and no motion like a normal cat walking on a floor. The apparition was near the floor, about the right height for a cat, but it appeared to be gliding smoothly through the air instead of touching the floor."

In Tarrytown, New York, several years after his death, Washington Irving's ghost was reported to have been seen walking through the parlor and into the library -- where he was wont to pinch young ladies.

At the U.S. Capitol Building, Rotunda, in Washington, D.C., a male librarian has been seen paging through obscure volumes near where he once hid $6,000 -- a sum found in 1897 when the collection was moved to the Jefferson Building.

In Evansville, Indiana's Willard Library, a "lady in grey" has been seen many times. In fact, there are three ghostcams if you'd like to join the watch. See www.willardghost.com/index.php.

At the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers, Massachusetts, an old apparition has hushed noisy passersby.

Out here in the west, the dead are unquiet, too.

At the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library System, San Pedro Branch, in New Mexico, a disembodied voice calls out of an evening, "please come check out a book."

At the Long Beach Public Library in California, the "appropriate" books sometimes falls from the shelves, presumably while people are looking for them.

In Portland, Oregon, library staff saw a man sitting in a room that was supposedly locked and empty. As a supervisor went upstairs to check, the library assistant watching the camera saw the mysterious figure vanish.

Sadly, the only library in Colorado with a haunting is Denver Public, where people report having been pushed in the basement -- by nobody.

But I'll add another one. I could have sworn I saw a tall Indian, in buckskin and feathered head dress, stroll noiselessly through the foyer of the old Philip S. Miller Library on Plum Creek late one Sunday after hours. I couldn't find him, though.

I like Eberhart's take on all this: "...libraries offer such dynamic mental and sensual stimulation that if haunts are truly evidence for postmortem survival, I can't imagine anywhere else I'd rather spend my earthly afterlife than in a library..."

Watch for me.

[LaRue's Views, unless stated otherwise, are his alone.]

Thursday, October 5, 2006

October 5, 2006 - so you want to be a cataloger

You'll think I'm kidding. But I've got an experience for you that will change your life. And you'll love it: Yes, YOU can be a cataloger.

No, really.

I'm guessing that if you read this column, you love books. If you love books, the odds are very good that you've got books all over your house or apartment. They might even have started out in order. But they're probably not in order now. In fact, you're probably not quite sure which books you do have these days.

But that's about to change. Just follow these steps:

1. Go to Library Thing. You'll find it at www.librarything.com.

2. Create an account. It's free (up to 200 books), or $10 a year, or $25 for life.

3. Start looking for books you own. A database that combines some 45 libraries world-wide, including the massive Library of Congress, not to mention the files of Amazon.com, lets you quickly find what you want. Click on a match, and you've got a catalog record of your book. You've just started building your online collection.

4. In "list" or "cover" view, you can review your new library. You can search, sort, edit, and "tag" your titles. You can rate and review them.

5. You can find out what other people think of those books -- and what books they might have recommended.

6. Library Thing doesn't sell books; it just shares information about them. But once you know what you're looking for, there are libraries and bookstores!

At this writing, there are some 79,000 profoundly addicted users, and over 5.6 million books in the system. You can share information about yourself, too, and find -- who knows? -- your literary soulmate. Or at least you'll find people interested in the same things you are.

Library Thing will even pass along information to your blog, if you've got one. You can access Library Thing by cell phone when you're standing in a bookstore.

No less a newspaper than the Christian Science Monitor proclaimed, "LibraryThing appears poised to turn the cataloging of books into a form of communal recreation."

But you know what? That's what cataloging has always been -- the attempt to describe, as a group (of librarians, in this case), the fascinating world of literature. Just scanning through the tags or headings people give books tells you just how many ways we can describe something.

Like Amazon.com, Library Thing includes brief user reviews. Frankly, I like our own Douglas County Libraries catalog better than that; it includes links to the major reviews, and plot summaries.

But as is true with so many things, this isn't about competition; it's about collaboration. Library Thing adds a social dimension to the longstanding tradition of booklists. That's something public libraries have done in person for a long time. Now, it can be done online.

In a way, it's ironic. The trend in librarianship is away from so-called "original cataloging" -- where everyone is expected to create the cataloging record. In part, Library Thing fits into that; you grab what other people have done. Some in the library profession have thought this signals the end of a noble occupation.

But now you also get to add something personal, something that frames that record according to your own unique worldview. And that opens the door to all kinds of interesting new discussions and referrals.

Suddenly, to be a cataloger is be ... cool. Popular, even.

So, dear Readers, let's get cracking. A book uncataloged is like a friend not spoken to. There's work to do. Why shouldn't it be fun?

[Disclaimer: LaRue's Views, unless otherwise stated, are his alone.]