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, December 28, 2006

December 29, 2006 - toward a national library agenda

A couple of weeks ago, the American Library Association flew me out to Washington, D.C. to participate in "setting a national agenda for public libraries."

To some people, an "agenda" has sinister overtones. Our enemies have agendas; our friends just have plans.

But the idea of a "national agenda" does have political overtones, particularly when held in our nation's capital.

So what kinds of things are librarians wanting to push?

I think most folks would be pleased. I hope so.

After a lengthy brainstorming session, we came up with about 6 or 7 broad areas. Ideas were further refined in small groups. Here are some samples:

* "Save Our Stories." The vision here was of the public library as repository of our many, personal and collective memories. Once, history was created through a painstaking preservation and review of the written record -- letters, diaries, speeches. Who will now collect today's emails, blogs, and other forms of digital -- and surprisingly transient -- content? If libraries, HOW?

* "Libraries Mean Business." This was the topic I chose to work with. The fastest growing sector of the American economy is small business. Often, libraries serve as business incubation centers: providing the raw information needed to create business plans, to research opportunities or obstacles, providing the free space to meet with potential partners or clients. Too, many municipal planning departments are starting to grasp the value of a mix of civic and private uses to build economic diversity and vitality: the library as anchor store. How can we take both of these trends to the next level?

* "Libraries Make Citizens." At many moments in American history, the nation's libraries have served the vital role of orientation. During the huge population disruptions before and during World War II, libraries provided immigration centers in New York, for instance, helping newcomers learn English, and begin to understand what American citizenship means. Immigration continues. Is our only response to consist of bristling borders and surprise arrests? And it's not only immigrants who need help. Recent studies have shown that our native born citizens are often shockingly ignorant of many basic facts about how the United States is supposed to work. We're not just talking about grade school children. What role might libraries play in the fostering of what used to be known as "civics?"

* "Family literacy." Libraries value reading. But expecting children to learn to love reading in school, is like waiting for them to learn to love talking then, too. What can libraries do to encourage families to build habits and skills that will REALLY ensure that no child is left behind?

There was, I think, an underlying theme to all these discussions. To my mind, that theme was about the dire necessity for public libraries to engage with their communities. Libraries are an oft-overlooked community asset, one more tool to put on the table to make towns and cities better places to live. Libraries that "get" that make a difference, and are valued in return.

The biggest problem I see is that we had too MANY ideas. At some point, really effective action is about concentration on just a few clear objectives.

I admired the leadership initiative of Leslie Burger, current president of the American Library Association. Whittling things down to what matters is a daunting task.

Meanwhile, it looks like there's enough to keep a librarian busy in 2007.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

December 21, 2004 - A Gift Suitable for All Ages

For the past several years, I've been reprinting what I've come to think of as "my Christmas column" -- a tradition. I hope you enjoy it.


What we really need is an all-purpose gift that will satisfy everybody. It should be suitable for all ages. It should require no assembly. It shouldn't need batteries. You shouldn't have to feed it. It should last forever. It should be constantly entertaining. The more the recipient uses it, the more he or she should like it.

And of course, it should be free.

No such animal, right? Wrong. I'm talking about a library card.

I'll never understand it. Most adults these days carry cards of every description; most of them DON'T have library cards. So for the woman or man who has everything, why not offer everything else? -- access to the total accumulated knowledge of the human race, not to mention the most wonderful stories ever told.

Of course, the real winner of a gift like this is not an adult. It's a child.

Here's all you have to do to make your holidays a success. First, come down to the library and fill out a library card application for your child. Then, check out three of four books. Wrap the card and the books and set them under the tree. Save this very special package for last.

When the child rips it open, say that this unassuming little card will let him or her get presents all year long. Then read your child to sleep that night with one of the books.

After your children have gotten bored with all their expensive toys, read them (or have them read) the other books, then trot them down to the library in that slow week after the main event. Teach your children about exchanging one present for another.

At the library, every day is Christmas. Behind every book cover there are riches. After introducing your kids to a treasure trove beyond Aladdin's wildest dreams, why not mosey over to the adult section, and browse through the latest offerings yourself? You know you deserve it.

Many people -- librarians, teachers, Secretaries of Education, even sport celebrities and actors -- have urged every child to obtain and use a library card. It's good advice.

Besides, at prices like these, who can argue? If you are not fully satisfied after a lifetime of learning and pleasure -- I'll cheerfully refund your money.

Trust me, this could be the best Christmas card you'll ever send.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

December 14, 2006 - Continuous Partial Attention

So here's my 12 year old son, Max, talking on our cordless telephone to his sister, Maddy. She's calling from Germany.

He's also online, engaged in an Instant Message session, complete with video, with his friend, also named Max. This other Max is also a tween, only he lives in London. The two Maxes met on youtube.com, where both of them post their homemade claymation videos.

On the one hand, this is great stuff. It wasn't that many generations ago that members of the same family were forced to mail letters to each other. Now, my boy is carrying on two live international conversations -- at the same time.

I can't help but think that's a good thing, both for my son's intellectual development, and for the prospects for world peace.

On the other hand, I just ran across a great new phrase: "Continuous Partial Attention." It was coined by one Linda Stone, who has worked for two giants in the computer business: Apple and Microsoft.

Continuous Partial Attention is a state of heightened alertness, based on the constant monitoring of multiple inputs and stimuli. It started out as something that sounds very productive: multi-tasking. Or as she puts it, it is the desire to be a "live node on the network."

But sometimes, multi-tasking turns dysfunctional. Stone says, "ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is a dysfunctional variant of continuous partial attention."

Continuous Partial Attention means that you never give your full attention to anybody or anything. You never really listen, with your whole heart. Because you are now partially inhabiting cyberspace, you are only partially inhabiting real space.

You are not fully present. And there's something else: you always feel the gnawing, inescapable fear that you'll miss something.

In the business world, people are noticing that email, once a great tool for getting it done fast, has morphed into a black hole of employee time and energy. As a backlash, some companies have adopted "email free Fridays." For one day a week, people have to talk to each other, direct, face to face. Some CEO's suspect it might make people more creative.

Microsoft has established at least some meetings where everyone has to disarm at the door. No Blackberries. No iPods (or Zunes, now). No cellphones. No laptops. Just your own body and brains. For some, I have no doubt that this is utterly terrifying.

Stone also came up with another truly provocative notion: what's the ultimate aphrodisiac, the total turn-on in the new millennia?

Simple. The ultimate erotic experience is "committed, full attention focus." And when you think about that, it only makes sense. What is the experience of falling love but precisely that kind of utterly engaged rapture, when the beloved is the absolute center of the universe?

By contrast, one hears stories of people who go out on dates -- and spend the whole time talking to other people on their cell phones. Now, I understand, people even break up with each other via text messaging, which seems oddly appropriate.

Much of what drives people today is the realization that they've fallen into false community, a "network" that doesn't always translate into authentic connections.

It just might be the next bold new wave of living begins when people set down all their devices, back up slowly, turn around, and look at each other.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

December 7, 2006 - We Store it for You

I'm at a point in my life where "stuff" is starting to catch up with me.

On the one hand, there are boxes. I'm not just talking clothes, but those mysterious boxes that somehow survived three moves and ten years in the basement. Many of them are books, of course.

Some of those boxes are stuffed with my own writings. I have notebooks, I kid you not, from 6th grade. I have a couple of my incredibly naive and amateurish attempts at novels from high school. I do not, I promise you, spend my evenings reviewing this debris.

Here's the mystery: why do I think I need these things?

Not long ago, I sat through a "guided meditation" exercise. "Imagine a room," said our guide. "You can put anything you want in it. Big screen TV. Big comfy leather sofas. The rarest of paintings. High end sound systems. Price is no object."

After about 2 minutes of this, I realized that I wound up with a room that didn't have anything in it at all. My ideal space was a sort of Japanese hallway looking out at the mountains. Empty.

What do I want in life? Not more -- less. According to my family, this makes me a difficult person for whom to buy Christmas presents.

Now, let's consider another kind of storage issue. In the world of electronics is something called "Moore's Law." It concerns a formulation by one Gordon Moore, then promulgated by Carver Mead, about the amazing ability to cram ever more components into integrated circuits.

More popularly, people now understand Moore's Law to mean something like this: about every 18 months, the capacity of hard drives doubles, but the cost stays about the same.

It works. I still have, also in the basement, my very first PC. It came with two "floppy disks" that really were floppy. Each held 181K of "stuff."

Now I have 180 GIGAbytes on my current home PC. Most of that is empty. It cost about the same as the first PC.

I have also learned that everything I am likely to want to save -- letters, poetry, journals, even all of my newspaper columns -- fits just fine on a single USB flash drive. I started off with one that had 64 megs on it, about three years ago. It cost about $20. A year later, they were selling it, for the same price, but with 128 megs.

This past weekend, I ran across a deal where I could pick up 1 gigabyte of storage for $15.99. And this little flash drive was smaller than the last one.

This, of course, makes me think of Atlantis.

According to legend, Atlantis was once the most technologically sophisticated land on earth. Then, one day, after some kind of catastrophe -- volcano, earthquake, flood -- it utterly disappeared. It has never been found.

I think I know what happened. The storage technology eventually got to about the size of a tiny chip. Everything got copied there. The originals were destroyed.

Then somebody dropped the chip. They spent a while looking for it -- as at a party where someone loses a contact lens. This chip was never found. I'm guessing it cost about $20.

And there we have it: another of life's many strange contradictions. I have more boxes than ever, but all of my significant files -- if significant captures it -- now fit in a diminishingly small and cheap device. Which I will no doubt misplace, probably in the basement.

It's the kind of thing that drives a man to meditation, or, possibly to the library. Our motto: we store it FOR you.