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 27, 2007

December 27, 2007 - so you want to be a Trustee

“The players have changed but the game remains the same." - Harrison Ford, "Working Girl."

As we approach 2008, the Library Board of Trustees finds itself with two vacancies. Leaving us at the end of December is Steve Roper, who was appointed back in 1996. His term expires in January of 2010; his replacement will fill that out. Candidates must currently reside in Douglas County Commissioner District III, meaning Highlands Ranch.

Also leaving us, at the end of her term, is Cathy Norris. Her replacement will be an "at-large candidate" -- meaning that he or she may reside anywhere in the county. That term will run to January 2011.

Both have contributed much to the institution, and will be hard to replace.

So this is a call for people interested in serving on the Douglas County Libraries Board of Trustees.

Who is the Board?

Trustees are volunteers who serve 3 year terms. They are interviewed by the current Trustees, who then make a recommendation for appointment to the County Commissioners.

What does the Board do? Its tasks are fourfold:

(1) To adopt policies for the governance of the library.
(2) To adopt and oversee the budget.
(3) To provide long range planning for the library.
(4) To annually evaluate the director.

Unique among the boards I've known, our trustees have another tradition: an annual evaluation of their own performance, as part of its ongoing analysis of the entire district's effectiveness.

What kinds of issues will the board be dealing with (hence, what kinds of expertise might it be seeking)?

* Facilities constraints. As of 2008, the district will for the first time fall below our standards of library space for our still growing population. Our problem is Parker is acute. It is demonstrable in Castle Pines North. It is predictable in Lone Tree. Strong connections to these communities are essential.

* Organizational transformation. Faced with tightening resources and increased demand, the library has embarked on a host of initiatives to increase productivity and efficiency. These changes ripple through our organization, affecting budgets, job descriptions, building layout, and more. Trustees must balance these changes against our essential mission.

* Community effectiveness. The library is not only a tool for individual growth, it is also a social asset. What can, or should, we do to better serve the pressing needs of our communities?

What makes for a good Trustee?

* Knowledge of and involvement with community. The Board wants people who know about, care about, and actively work to improve their social, educational, and political environment.

* Commitment to policy governance. Board members are strategists, not day to day managers. When it comes to library operations, Trustees keep their noses in, but their hands out.

* Commitment to intellectual freedom and the public library. The purpose of the public library in our society is to provide the broadest possible access to intellectual resources. That takes, I think, a measure of fearlessness -- and a commitment to present the evidence of our culture, even when it's not especially popular.

The Library Board currently has four men and one woman. In the name of gender balance, female applicants are strongly encouraged. The Board also now has no one with young children; yet that constituency is among our biggest users.

If you are interested in applying, please send a letter of interest and resume to:

Board of Trustees
Douglas County Libraries
100 S Wilcox
Castle Rock CO 80104

Or email trustees@dclibraries.org.

Please send in your information by January 18, 2007. We will then seek to schedule interviews shortly thereafter.

Thank you!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

December 20, 2007 - 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 13, 2007

December 13, 2007 - are animals intelligent?

I've been doing a lot of reading lately about the human brain -- which is finally starting to surrender its secrets to the determined inquiry of researchers.

Along the way, I got distracted: what makes humans unique? That is, how are we different from any other animal?

Animals, it turns out, exhibit most of the characteristics of intelligence.

Humans talk! you say. Well, so do many other animals. Parrots have the remarkable ability to mimic almost any sound -- from human speech to the ringing of a telephone. Bush monkeys have been observed to have a "vocabulary" that is very specific as to the type of danger: one distinct call for leopard, another for snake, another for fire.

Back in 2004, the Washington Post ran an article on a border collie named Rico, who demonstrated not only the ability to understand some 200 words, but could even do something "scientists thought only humans could do: figure out by the process of elimination that a sound he has never heard before must be the name of a toy he has never seen before."

Humans sing! Some species of birds not only can learn new songs, but have been observed to teach them to others of their kind. Coyotes sing. Whales sing.

Humans build things! And so do bees, ants, birds, and many others.

But humans use tools! Sea otters, raccoons, and others, have been observed to use tools, too: sticks to reach things, rocks to break open shells, and so on.

Humans produce art! There are elephants and gorillas who paint. But one might argue that that's just human contamination. On the other hand, we know that many other kinds of creatures do things like build nests -- with artistic flourishes, even -- the better to attract the attention of a female.

Humans have fashions! Pigs like to roll in the mud. That's not fashion, you say? How do you know?

Humans have rituals! OK, riddle me this: why do dogs circle before they lie down?

Humans have politics! In many herds, animals bray, strut, challenge, and attack -- while others bray back, court, groom, seek approval, and submit. It's behavior virtually indistinguishable from a national party convention.

Humans are foolishly destructive! But many species have been observed to breed, multiply, and consume all available resources to the point of their own extinction. And as anyone who ever let the black ant farm loose on the red ant farm knows, animals wage war, too.

Humans have WRITTEN language! As a librarian, this one had some appeal to me. But then I got to thinking. Have you ever seen a dog or cat "mark" territory? What is that if not written language? The message is much like that of many books: "I was here. Everything around here is mine." Granted, it fades, and it is "read" with your nose, but a lot of books fade away, too.

I am slowly reaching the conclusion that we may not be so special after all. Instead, our differences are more of degree than of kind. We are part of a continuum of intelligence in the great evolutionary line.

So the next time you have a conversation with your pet, show some respect. They're smarter than you thought they were. We don't know how smart they think you are.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

December 6, 2007 - can the latest ebook Kindle the market?

Now comes Amazon's "Kindle" -- an ebook reader that is also connected to the Internet. And once again, the decline of the book is predicted. Who needs books?

Who needs /libraries/, because after all, libraries are just warehouses of books, right?


In essence, libraries are cooperative purchasing agreements, offering cost-effective access to universes of knowledge. We are information navigators, helping people sift through that universe to find what's relevant and useful. We are common and public space, building community through civil discourse. And finally, we are advocates for literacy, not just for a particular format.

So how does the Kindle fit into all that?

Well, a host of trends -- the digitizing (by Google and others) of older materials, the development of higher capacity Internet pipelines (including wireless), the increasing power and decreasing size and cost of electronic storage and mobile devices -- does start to look like the realization of a dream: the text of the world's libraries in the palm of your hand.

That's a worthwhile goal. In the near term, there are some obstacles:

* the cost of the reader. The price point for these readers continues to be close to $500. How many people read in your household? How many devices can you afford?

* standards. The wonderful thing about the book is that it doesn't depend on much else to use it. You don't need a turntable. You don't need a Betamax player. You don't need a 5.25 inch floppy drive. You need one working hand and eye.

In the ebook market today, there are really only a couple of reader devices. But does either one of them equal a standard?

* the participation of publishers. Right now, the publishing industry is scared, in much the same way that the music industry is scared. Once content goes digital, it's easy to copy. How can publishers preserve the revenue stream -- some for authors, but more for the publishing conglomerates? That's the key reason that you can't find a textbook publisher willing to put our children's texts on an electronic reader.

* the monetization of information. The probable trend is toward either licensing books to an institution (schools and academic libraries, for instance), or something a little more worrisome: pay per view. You want to read a bestseller? Maybe you pay by the page (in case you don't finish it). A year later, suppose you want to read the book again. You pay, again. What is the impact of this on the access to information, particularly for the young, and the poor? To put it another way: What is the price of lifelong learning?

* preservation. When you go from owning books to renting them, who preserves, long term, the record of our society? And how are those organizations funded?

Another thing to remember is what former Librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, called "the displacive fallacy." It's the idea that any new technology replaces the old. Sometimes, it does.

But we don't live, finally, in a binary world. It's not just A or B. Television didn't kill the radio -- there are more radio stations today, with more listeners, then ever before. Ebooks won't kill print. Coexistence seems likely.

So let's say that the ebook reader comes down in price to $5, and your tax dollar, brokered by the library, buys you access, through your local wireless network (or free public wifi zone) to a host of books, newspapers, and magazines. Sound good?

Sure. We offer downloadable books now, and that trend will accelerate.

But remember a final point: social networking is not only virtual. We are wired for many kinds of learning, but deep in our genetic code is the need to see and touch people.

An ebook doesn't deliver storytimes in real space. An ebook doesn't let you learn how to have a courteous debate with a neighbor over a common concern. An ebook, purchased online, doesn't let you share physical space with real people, or find sanctuary that doesn't rent by the hour.

The Kindle is interesting, and bears watching. But remember that 2 out of 3 Coloradans have a library card. In Douglas County, it's 4 out of 5 households. Ebook readers are years away from that kind of market share.

What's my read? Welcome, Kindle! The library has room for you.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

November 22, 2007 - First Impressions: It’s All About The People…

by Barbara Dash, Library Trustee

As a Douglas County resident for eighteen years, I have a long-standing appreciation for the programs and services offered by our libraries. But it wasn’t until three months ago when I became a new trustee on the Douglas County Library (DCL) Board of Directors that I had a chance to peek behind the curtain and find out how our library system really works. What I’ve discovered is that it really is all about the people – who do some remarkable things.

It quickly became apparent to me just how important the selection of a 7th trustee to fill a Board vacancy was when all six incumbent trustees and the Library Director participated in the interview process. I’ve gotten to know these new colleagues as wonderful, highly capable and dedicated individuals who take their Library Board responsibilities, including fiduciary obligations, very seriously. They’re committed to assuring that the library serves the best interests of our communities in the most effective ways possible. The Board holds itself accountable under Colorado Library Law, its own bylaws and annual performance goals, to the taxpayers of Douglas County and to each other.

Another group of 300 or so volunteers doing remarkable things for the good of our libraries are citizens who range from students to senior citizens and help with projects or regular assignments.

At the helm of the DCL system is the library director, Jamie LaRue. It’s hard to imagine anyone better suited for this pivotal leadership position. He’s an astute business man who is keenly aware of his charter to steward taxpayer funding, delivering the highest quality services in the most efficient and cost effective way. In fact, Jamie has essentially built the library into a large successful business enterprise, establishing the same standards and best practices that I’ve seen in industry. He’s also highly respected by other Colorado library leaders, and just this month he received a prestigious intellectual freedom award for the 2nd time.

Working right along side the library director are more remarkable people – his staff. Through the years of unprecedented population growth in Douglas County, they’ve constantly assessed needs for library services, which have increased in both volume and complexity. To meet those needs, the director and his staff are leading the entire library workforce through comprehensive organizational change. They’re deploying automation to achieve process efficiency and redesigning work to better utilize staff skills. In the end, it’s a win/win – for library workers who benefit from job enrichment and for patrons and communities who benefit from the expertise of professionals who have kept up with the times.

One of my most exceptional experiences is remarkable because it hasn’t changed. I received the same welcome and high level of service as a library patron as I have since I’ve been on the Board. It’s clear that a strong commitment to service excellence along with a passion for continuous learning and pride in their work are fundamental values that we see demonstrated every day in the work of the entire library staff. They simplify access to the vast inventory of library materials, offer an amazing array of specialized professional services, and create multi-purpose learning environments. Our Douglas County libraries have truly become community gathering places where all are welcome. What comes through loud and clear is that the enormous value of all these services for taxpayer dollars is one of the greatest bargains still around – to say nothing of the promise of greater returns for the knowledge gained.

There’s one more very important group of people who make the library what it is. That’s all of you who come to the library, utilize its services and programs, support it and give us your input. You inspire us and challenge us to continually strive to be the best.

I like these first impressions and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to serve with all of my new library colleagues.

Barbara Dash

Thursday, November 15, 2007

November 15, 2007 - Perspectives on a library

This month's guest column is from the ever bubbly Vonja Hunt, of Lone Tree.

Perspectives on a Library

By Vonja Hunt, Neighborhood Library at Lone Tree patron

Li-bary (pronunciation as a child).

No matter how you cut it or say it, libraries today are definitely an inviting necessity in our lives. And inviting they are! A far cry from the dismal drear of the ‘60’s library that shaped my world.

Libraries today take your breath away. They’re oxygen to the mind, soul and spirit. If the Lone Tree Library Life Support System were cut off from my life, gag me! And drag me away! What would I do?!?

Having the capability to place holds from my home computer on the vast varieties of current magazines, books, music CDs and DVDs. Well. Does it get any better than this?

In high school I worked just so I could have money to purchase music albums. And how disappointing it was when you spent your hard earned money and didn’t like the music once you got it home and listened. Being a creative type, I experimented and purchased a variety of music.

In my book, I simply can’t fathom not having the neighborhood libraries that we have today. Who enjoys paying taxes, yet it’s money well-spent when you get an incredible bang for your buck at the library.

Douglas County Libraries is a truly great library system. Trust me. I know! Every summer when I visit relatives back in Illinois and am forced to use their library, it comes with considerable frustrations. I feel like Dorothy in Oz - the B/W portion. And they call that a library?

For one thing, there is no limit on books I can check out in Colorado. Amazing grace! How sweet the sound of self-check. Finished. Take the receipt, bag em up, and go. No more lines. Can it get any better than this? Probably. Jamie LaRue is always working on innovation. Now that’s freedom, not limited merely to 4 magazines, books or movies as they are in Illinois.

Music CDs in Illsville – not on your life! Just ain’t happenin there! And the selection in Colorado is bountiful! Someone actually spends alot of money on great materials at Douglas County Libraries. Hallelujah!! It just gets better and better. If they don’t have it, they’ll get it for you! Material acquisitions are music to your soul and patron satisfaction.

Another great thing about Douglas County Libraries are the people. Having lived in Douglas County since ’93, you really get familiar with library folks. And you’re also sad when they leave. Still miss Claudine Perrault’s smiling face and cheerful banter. Hope she’s enjoying Estes Park! And I miss Mary who came long before Claudine. And Laurel. And Michelle. But faithful Ling is still at Lone Tree.

Sharing childhood library experiences with my kids, clearly they view me as a broken CD, but it’s good for them to appreciate what great library resources we have.

As a kid, my friends and I had to purchase Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books because the library didn’t deem them as worthwhile expenditures. That was tough on a kid living in a blue collar world. My friends and I would each buy different books and we became a library to each other. Without allowances, we had to scrounge for money by hook or crook to buy them. Douglas County Libraries are patron-and-kid-friendly and these issues simply don’t exist today.

WHAT a difference! If I could time travel back to my childhood, I would share with librarians what a great library actually looks like. Instead, I’ve joined the old-timer’s club and suffice it to say, today’s libraries have progressed beyond what I could ever have hoped or imagined for my own children.

Douglas County Libraries…the Top Gun of Libraries - the ‘best of the best’. Continually striving for growth, stagnation isn’t in the library vernacular. And it shows! It just doesn’t get any better than in Douglas County! For kids today it’s their natural habitat and my dream come true.

Perspective. My 14-year old son’s off-the-cuff view of a library is “a place where I can get Harry Potter without having to buy them (books and movies) and get my music CDs.” Hmmm.

Forgive me, Frank Capra, but “Youth is wasted on the wrong people!” (It’s a Wonderful Life.) And that’s two perspectives. Frank’s and mine.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

November 8, 2007 - thanks

I'm writing this on November 1, five days (at least) before I'll know the results of our mill levy question. But the column will run after election day.

So although I don't know how it all comes out, I'd like to take the occasion to express my profound gratitude to the many people who assisted in the campaign.

It begins with two levels of volunteers: the Board of Trustees, and the many volunteers within and without our organization who give so freely of their time and attention. Their thoughtfulness, and their willingness to carry the message of library plans and programs, are deeply appreciated. The library belongs to the public.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, I have seen firsthand, and heard from many, many members of the community how very impressive our staff is. From the shelvers without whom our entire system would fall apart, to the cataloger in the back room, to our facilities people, and to the many people who work with the public every day, we have been fortunate enough to find the most service-oriented people I know. They are wonderful, and our patrons have told me so repeatedly.

Most people have never worked on a political campaign, so they don't know how much work it is. Here's just a glimpse:

* fundraising. The library can't pay for political mailings and yard signs. That has to come from private citizens. Douglas County is fortunate to have many civic minded business people, willing to invest in plans that they believe will improve their communities. Particularly in the Parker area, many small business owners stepped up to the plate, contributing both money and time to begin the arduous process of public communication and persuasion. Moreover, many of them didn't even wait to be asked -- which, judging from what I hear from my fellow library directors, is very rare indeed.

* mailings. The science of electioneering is predicated mostly on direct mail. These mailings have a very brief life, often sorted through right on top of the trash bin. The mailings have to be clear, attractive, and concise. It's not easy to boil down a complex long range plan to an oversize postcard.

* sign distributions. Many thanks to the individuals who gave their free time to hand out or hammer in signs all around the county.

* public talks. There is a network of civic clubs throughout Douglas County, all quietly doing very good work. They graciously provided a platform for their members to hear about important community issues, and always treated library advocates warmly. They make our towns and county better.

* endorsements. I am humbled by the long list of groups who carefully weighed the library's case, and gave it their blessing. Some came from the business community -- chambers of commerce, economic development councils, and local media. Others were elected officials in charge of various levels of government -- county, school district, towns and cities.

* response to questions. I have also been heartened by the many people who directly contacted me to make sure they understood precisely what they were being asked to vote on. I suspect this happens more often than people hear about: a citizen phones up an "official" to ask just what the heck they're up to -- and then actually listens to the answer, and thinks about it. (They don't always agree, of course.) That, my fellow citizens, is democracy in action. And I know that I was not the only person answering questions. This same task was assumed by off-duty staff, our Board members, those business and elected officials I mentioned, and many others who follow the library closely.

There is also so much going on in the world, so many things competing for mindshare and money, that just letting people know what your institution needs requires endless perseverance and patience.

Not every campaign wins. In any contested race among candidates, someone loses. But here's one thing I have learned over the past months: there are many good, earnest, smart and hardworking people at all levels of our community. Taking the time to have these conversations with them makes me appreciate the people of Douglas County all over again. It has also been part of my continuing lifelong learning.

Thank you, all, not only for your contribution to the library, but also for your many contributions to the community we share.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

November 1, 2007 - the wisdom of crowds

In 2004, James Surowiecki wrote a book called "The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations."

The basic idea is this: if you quickly poll a bunch of people about what they think is true, the mean of their guesses is usually close to right. Surowiecki marshaled a lot of evidence to prove the point.

I tested this recently at a gathering of high level librarians. By that, I mean the folks who run state libraries, or are deans of university library systems, or manage multi-state library networks. I asked, "Which technological trend or idea, in your judgment, will have the biggest effect on libraries over the next 5-10 years?"

I didn't give them any time to think about or discuss it -- just respond.

Both to my surprise and theirs, three clear trends emerged.

The first was "open source library systems." For the past 20 years or so, the library automation market has been doing what markets do: compete and consolidate. Now, only about four main software systems remain. And all of them frustrate librarians.

Why? Because none of them is as good as the two big search systems that most people use most frequently: Google and Amazon.

That's a shame. Librarians were among the first information scientists, the first to use automated billing, the first to build comprehensive computer inventories, the first to seize the Web as a tool for public information.

But despite our early lead, today's library systems have fallen behind. They're clunky. They don't allow our patrons to post comments on our holdings. They don't consistently pull up the most popular titles for a search term.

We trusted to the commercial market, and it let us down.

Oh, and incidentally, both Google and Amazon didn't write all this software themselves. Nor did they buy it.

Instead, they used the "free" software created by programmers, then given to the world. The Linux operating system. The Apache web server. The SQL database system. And so on.

Meanwhile, some folks down in New Zealand used longstanding library standards to build another absolutely free system that does most of what the big commercial systems do. It's called "Koha."

It turns out that a lot of librarians are just sick and tired of paying for second generation systems when the rest of the net has moved onto the fourth generation.

Not surprisingly, the second big trend was open source software generally. It's moving into the mainstream, and a lot of librarians think that its deployment in the public sector makes a lot of sense. For a long time now, the public good has been held hostage to the business plan of people for whom "the public good" doesn't mean much.

Today, there are open source office suites (see Openoffice.org), open source browsers and email clients (Firefox and Thunderbird), open source databases (SQL), open source IM clients (Pidgin), and much more. It's not only free, it's good. And it's not only good, it begins to open a whole new world of international communication and collaboration.

The last trend was "the convergence of mobile devices." In brief, librarians believe that handheld devices, and the instant availability of high quality information, are bound to affect the way people use information.

I should point out, of course, that we know without question that the growth of information appliances not only doesn't kill the desire for books, it seems to drive it up. But just possibly, getting the world's library in the palm of your hand is a worthwhile goal.

So what's my point this week?

Many people believe that there are just two kinds of markets in the world: for profit, and not-for-profit.

That's false. There's another market: an international meritocracy. That meritocracy is predicated on values that do a good job of capturing the purpose of the public library.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

October 25, 2007 - my turn to share my story

This week's column comes from a Highlands Ranch resident who discovered a surprising secret: some of the best writing we've got is in the children's room.

b/y Manijeh Badiozamani, Ph.D., a Highlands Ranch Library patron

A lot of parents take their young children to the library. I did the same when my son was young. And since we moved across the country from Iowa to Illinois, to Indiana and then to Idaho (exhausting all the “I” states), we had the privilege of visiting many different libraries. This may not sound like a big deal, but what I want to share is how I myself benefited by going to the children’s libraries.

Having a graduate degree in any particular field usually means we know a good amount about that specific field. It also means that we probably have researched and learned a great deal about one specific topic. It was only after I earned my Ph.D. that I realized how much more there was to know. Having had my early schooling in another continent, I also recognized the fact that there were times when I was at a disadvantage when it came to having certain background information. It felt like hitting potholes here and there on the education highway. That is when the children’s libraries came to my assistance.

Basic knowledge about any topic is always the starting point. For example, when I felt the desire and the need to learn about the history of the United States, I dashed to the children’s library, and gave myself a crash course in the U.S. history in simple language, because the facts don’t change. Or, when I became interested to learn about all the U.S. presidents and their wives my first stop was at the children’s library. I had no idea Abigail Adams argued the cause of women’s rights with her husband, John Adams, in 1776, and that it was Eleanor Roosevelt who transformed the role of First Lady and made it acceptable for the First Lady to have a life of her own. From Martha Washington to Laura Bush, and all the First Ladies in between, I gained the basic information about these women and their contributions, great or small, to our nation through the children’s section of the library.

To learn the simple and basic version of any topic such as history, geography, government, economics, law, art, religion, or even foreign languages, one can start at the children’s section. We can always expand on the information and augment the basic knowledge by reading more sophisticated material from the grown up section. For example, I let Gore Vidal expand my knowledge by taking me into the minds and private rooms of Presidents Washington, Adams and Jefferson, or let Cokie Roberts teach me about the /Founding Mothers/: the women who raised our nation.

When I see young mothers take their children to the library - particularly if like me they come from diverse cultural background - I think of all the basic information that is right there at their finger tips. I’m a grandmother now and my grandchildren live in Seattle but I have no qualms about walking into the children’s library all by myself. The staff is always friendly and ready to help. I pretend I’m an elementary school teacher who is getting ready to assign research work to her students – only I’m the student.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

October 18, 2007 - Shall Library Funding be Increased?

Imagine that you run a business, and that you're doing very well. By every measure that matters, the demand for your services is on the rise. In fact, over the past five years, it's up by124 percent.

Not only that, your market share is growing. Eighty percent of the households in your target area are solid customers.

But you've got a problem. In order to keep up with that growing market, you need to invest in some capital improvements. You need more service outlets, particularly in the fastest growing areas of the county. That takes more cash than you've got.

What do you do?

Well, most businesses would go to their bank for a loan. And the loan officer would ask some questions:
• what's your business plan?
• what have you done to contain your costs, and position yourself for growth?
• what's your credit rating? How have you managed your finances?

Depending on those answers, and depending on the character of the business owner, the loan officer will grant the loan, or not.

That's how it works in the private sector. In the public sector, it's a little different. In the public sector, the people are the bank.

In August of this year, the Library Board of Trustees voted to place a question on the ballot: shall library funding be increased, through a property tax measure, by 1.25 mills annually?

For every $100,000 of market value, homeowners will pay about 83 cents a month. It's a bargain.

The money would be used to build and operate several libraries: first, a new Castle Pines North storefront library of about 6,500 sf (where our bookmobile has been), then a 45,000 sf library in Parker (replacing the 20,000 sf building there), and several years from now, a 35,000 sf building in Lone Tree (replacing the 10,000 sf building). In addition, some previously unfinished space in Highlands Ranch (both interior and exterior) will be completed, thereby adding two large new spaces to the building. Together, that should handle things for about a decade.

But that's not all. We'll also beef up our new materials at all of our libraries. We'll upgrade our Internet and public computer access.

Over the past two years, the library has reinvented itself, tightening its belt, finding new ways to display materials, and make our checkout/checkin processes more efficient and cost-effective. Our Foundation has solicited private donations. We have established productive partnerships with other entities, public and private. (The land for the Parker and Lone Tree libraries will be donated.)

As a result, the library managed to sustain 23% growth in business over last year. But our staffing has been almost flat.

The last time the library approached the voters was 11 years ago. Since then, the library has managed to keep up with the phenomenal growth of the county without any debt whatsoever.

So that's the business plan, that's what we've done to hold the line on costs, and that's our financial history.

And that's as far as a public entity can take it. Now ... it's up to the bank.

That would be you.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

October 11, 2007 - who endorses the library?

I was at at a restaurant recently, where I was approached by a young father who had something he wanted to tell me.

He had three children, ages 9, 7, and 4. One Saturday, he gave them a choice. They could do anything they wanted: go to a movie, go for a mountain hike, eat out, or -- but then they stopped him.

"No, dad!" they said. "We want to go to the library!"

He shook his head, then grinned. "It's their favorite place."

That, my friends, is the moment librarians live for -- learning that we've hooked the next generation, learning that the future is populated with people who enthusiastically embrace literacy in all its manifestations. It gives me hope.

That's a powerful endorsement.

But it's not the only one.

Over the past several weeks, I have been making presentations to a variety of business and political entities.

On August 23, 2007, the Library Board of Trustees voted to place a question on the November 6 ballot. That question is a mill levy increase of 1.25 -- about $30 a year for most households.

Thirty dollars is the cost of a single hardback non-fiction book these days. For that price, Douglas County residents will get two new libraries in Parker and Lone Tree (on donated land), and a new storefront library in Castle Pines North.

Everybody else will get far more than one new book. They will get literally thousands of new materials, as well as improved Internet and computer access. It's all our attempt to keep up with the apparently insatiable thirst for library services in Douglas County, maintaining standards of space that we've tested, and know will work.

And we've gotten other endorsements: the Parker Economic Development Council, the Parker Chamber of Commerce, the City of Lone Tree, the Castle Rock Economic Development Council. We've made presentations to other municipalities and business groups as well, and hope to get their support in the coming days.

Why would both businesses and government agree about the value of a strong library system?

From an economic standpoint, libraries are good business. The fastest growing sector of our economy is the small office/home office business. They get their start at the library. Libraries provide direct assistance in helping people figure out how to live AND work in their own communities.

Bridging business and government is the great value of the library as a bustling public place. We are anchor stores, and advocates not only for reading, but for a whole panoply of cultural offerings. Those activities get people out and about, forming new connections and civic awareness.

I have believed passionately in the value of the library to the individual since that miraculous day when I saw my first bookmobile as a child. As I've gotten older, I've learned that libraries not only build new possibilities for each person, but for whole communities.

We are a social asset, a building block for a stronger, more vibrant town, city, and county. We're not the only one, of course. But we work hard to contribute to the efforts of others, too.

But quite aside from my own endorsement, or the resolutions of other bodies, I still think it doesn't get any better than this: the kids of Douglas County think we're cool.

-- LaRue's views are his own.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

October 4, 2007 - $1 Invested Yields $5 Return

It starts long before the library opens.

At some of our libraries, patrons can be found in our parking lots at 7:30 in the morning. Why? To "park" on our free public wifi.

The doors open at 9 a.m. Always, there's a line.

Some race to the Internet computers. Others head to the newspapers, hold shelves, or reference desk.

By 10 o'clock, we get the storytime surge: moms and kids.

By 11:30, the lunch crowd starts to arrive. People race in to grab their books from the hold shelves. Other people browse, or sit and read.

By 1:30, we get a trickle of seniors, back from their morning workout and lunch. The business people arrive, cracking open their laptops, maybe researching a business plan to take to their banker, or maybe meeting someone for a quick sales conference.

By 3:30, school is out, and the students sweep in to get their homework out of the way, or research some project.

After 5, people swing by on their way home from work to pick up a video for the family.

By 7, folks are arriving to participate in our many public meetings: home owner's associations, reading groups, cultural programs, martial arts, Pokemon, non-profit group meetings, and on and on.

We close at 9, but we're sometimes still shooing people out the door at 9:15.

It all adds up to something that matters to a community: a pulse. Libraries generate a steady stream of traffic, all day long. We pull in people of every age and interest. And there's barely time to clean up after one crowd before the next one settles in.

As I've written before, that makes libraries a terrific downtown anchor store.

A recent report, conducted by the Library Research Service at the Colorado State Library, put some numbers to the economic impact of the library. Eight libraries in Colorado were studied: Eagle Valley Library District, Mesa County Public Library District, Rangeview Library District (Adams County), Denver Public Library, Montrose Library District, Fort Morgan Public Library, and Cortez Public Library. And us.

Here was the main finding: for every $1 of tax dollar received by these institutions, they returned at least $4 back to the their communities. At Douglas County, the figure was $5.02.

The numbers were calculated in various ways, all based on last year's expenditures and activities.

First, what would it cost to secure the same services from other alternatives? In 2006, local taxpayers contributed $16,983,799 dollars to the library. But to have purchased or rented the books, movies, music, Internet access, meeting room space used by our public last year would have cost $66,283,529 from anybody else.

A second factor was "lost use." According to the study's surveys, some people simply wouldn't have pursued the information they needed, sacrificing it because they didn't know where to look, or because they thought they couldn't afford it. Value of lost information: an estimated $2,965,705.

A third factor is direct local expenditures, contributions made by the library to community businesses and individuals in the form of purchased goods and services: $582,830 last year.

A fourth factor is predicated on the contribution of library staff to the economy. At least some of the folks we employ wouldn't be working, for at least some part of the year. That cost is estimated at $10,042,081.

Finally, there's a factor called "halo spending." And that ties straight back to the "pulse," above. Based on our survey information about what else people do when they start out for a trip to the library, people spent an estimated $5,362,720 in neighboring businesses. A good 23% of those purchases would not have happened without that excuse.

Divide the total economic value ($85,236,865), by the cost, and you get $5.02.

People don't usually think about public services in terms of return on investment. But the return is real -- and at 5 to 1, it's significant.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

October 27, 2007 - No Holds Barred: Lifelong Learning, the Library, and Me

Here's another wonderful literate essay from one of our patrons. Enjoy!

No Holds Barred: Lifelong Learning, the Library, and Me
By Lisa Hardman, a Highlands Ranch Library patron

As a weekly patron at the Highlands Ranch Library for the past twelve years, I find myself circling back through its doors again and again like a homing pigeon returning to its loft. Searching the stacks for solutions is a hobby of mine—my approach to navigating through life’s particular challenges and changing situations.

From the days when the library was modestly housed in a small strip mall to its current location in its splendid and spacious structure, the Highlands Ranch Library has provided a home for my inquiring spirit. To me, a lifelong learner and a busy stay-at-home mother of five, the library is more than a brick-and-mortar building. Its services and materials provide a mental lifeline, an intellectual retreat, and a continual source of knowledge that nourishes my rich, inner life and keeps my mind active, engaged, and invigorated.

Over the years, I have turned to the library when I have needed advice or help in various undertakings. For example, before deciding to home school my children, I read extensively on the subject, weighing all the pros and cons. For the next six years, the resources I borrowed from the library provided me with the support group, rich curriculum, and teacher training I needed to succeed.

When I started an adult ballet class several years ago at the age of 36, borrowing “The New York City Ballet Workout” DVDs and The Joffrey Ballet School’s Ballet-Fit book helped me become a better dancer.

While studying drama in a college literature class last semester, I checked out several video productions of “Hamlet” and the audio CDs of “The Cherry Orchard” to enhance my understanding of the plays we were studying.

Months ago, while working on a Beethoven piano concerto, I found a recording that helped me figure out how a particularly difficult passage in the piece should be played.

While struggling to find a way to connect with my older daughter, I encountered the book The Mother-Daughter Book Club: How Ten Busy Mothers and Daughters Came Together to Talk, Laugh, and Learn. Together, my daughter and I formed our own mother-daughter book club and four years later, it is still going strong.

And within the past year, reading books such as Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within, Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined, and Writing Motherhood: Tapping into Your Creativity as a Mother and a Writer, have helped me see that my dream of being a writer is not only possible but even compatible with my current circumstances.

Of course, these are only a few of the ways Douglas County Libraries has improved the quality of my life over the years. With access to millions of items, my education never has to end and can always be customized to my continually fluctuating whims and ever-changing mind. Always accessible, portable, and free, the library accommodates every season of life.

Every time I leave the library hefting my oversize tote bag filled to the brim with books, CDs, and DVDs, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction, expectation, and gratitude. I am the richest woman on earth because I live in a county where I have ready access to information that enriches, empowers, encourages and shapes me, granting me the limitless freedom to grow and soar.

To quote our library director, Jamie LaRue, from past Douglas County News-Press columns, cultivating a rich, inner life is about “storing up treasures that endure.” It’s about “a series of experiments and explorations. And the public library is the laboratory. Literacy is more than a life skill. It's a life.”

What would I do without the excellent resources available through Douglas County Libraries? A better question might be, “What can’t I do without the library?” The realm of inexhaustible possibilities keeps me coming back for more, week after week. My holds await and with them, the immeasurable impetus of ideas.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

September 20, 2007 - why the demand?

This is a fact: the demand for library services is growing faster than our population. On the one hand, that's good: Douglas County likes its libraries. Nationwide, library checkouts are growing by about 2 or 3 percent annually. In Douglas County, they have grown by 124% over the past five years.

By contrast, our population growth, which is impressive by itself, has only jumped by 44 percent in the same period.

But why have our checkouts increased so much faster than our population? Incidentally, that discrepancy applies to the use of our Internet and computer resources, reference questions, programs, and meeting rooms, too.

It's a fair question, and deserves an honest answer.

I think there are three reasons.

1. Douglas County demographics. Our patrons are both highly educated, and, relatively speaking, have lots of children still at home.

People that have worked their way up to at least one college degree, and often on to Master's or Ph.D.'s, tend to value that investment.

Parents with small children go through a kind of awakening, too. They discover that "teaching" isn't something that only happens at school. It starts at home. It should continue there, too, if only because adult behavior sends such a strong signal to children about what matters.

Together, that explains both the remarkable use of picture books by our patrons, and the high use of non-fiction by adults. Our patrons value education.

2. Our collection. The library's computer catalog tallies a wealth of management data. We know exactly how many books, videos, and music CDs get checked out, and we can break those numbers down by subject, by date of publication, and more. Our librarians have learned to work way ahead of publication dates to order materials, and to predict demand with remarkable success. Our behind-the-scenes staff get those materials out on the same day they hit the book and discount stores. We've also gotten very good at displaying these materials so they catch your eye.

I wish I could say that I invented this insight, but I stole it from Denver Public's Schlessman Library: the right "mix" for a popular library's collection is roughly 1/3 kid's books, 1/3 adult print, and 1/3 movies and music. We've been testing that out for several years now, and it works.

Some folks worry about that last category. By carrying audiovisual materials, aren't we either (a) diluting the mission of the library as a purveyor of books, or (b) directly competing with movie and music stores?

My response: (a) libraries aren't just about books. They are about the active pursuit of knowledge, about the building and understanding of your community. Movies and music are a big part of our culture.

(b) I know of no library that put a bookstore out of business. If anything, libraries help stimulate the market for all of these things, keeping people interested when they can't afford the latest release, or helping them pick out the things most worth buying.

3. The need to belong, and to contribute. The third reason for our astonishing growth in use is that our library has consciously responded to a primal human need.

The county has grown so fast. So few people actually grew up here, that they're still trying to figure out where they live. People connect at programs and meetings. They notice each other at the Internet stations or in study rooms. They chat as they browse the new materials.

The library is a community hub, a way to explore the past, and help invent the future, of your neighborhood, town, or county.

All of these things add up to a library that enjoys remarkable use. People expect a lot of us.

It can be a challenge to keep up. But it sure is fun.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

September 13, 2007 - Why don't we charge?

Not long ago, we finished up our public meetings around the county, collecting responses to our long range plans. One of the questions that came up a couple of times – and then came up again from a staff member recently, was this: why don't we charge for some services as a way to raise money?

Several candidates for new fees were mentioned. We should charge those teenagers who want to use video games. We should charge people who use the Internet for longer than half an hour. We should charge businesses for the use of our meeting rooms. We should charge the people who use our study rooms. We should charge people who put items on hold, but don't pick them up.

Part of me can't help but notice that people usually want to charge other people for services, not for the services they use themselves.

But here's a better answer. We do charge.

Libraries aren't free. They are prepaid. When some one says, "let's charge businesses for meeting rooms," they're really asking to charge them twice. Residential property owners already pay annual taxes. Even renters pay – it's part of their rent. Business owners pay even higher taxes.

Internet use, holds, and study rooms are all services that we have decided are reasonable expectations of a modern public library. We factor those costs into our budgets.

Once, someone told me that he thought we should charge a nickel for checking out books. Then he multiplied our circulation by a nickel. "Look at all the money you'd make," he said. Then, we could reduce his taxes!

But of course, it wouldn't work like that. The mothers who check out 40 books a week for their kids, and thereby get them hooked on reading forever, would stop, or check out only 5. Students wouldn't check out an extra book for their homework. People would stop placing 20 holds they didn't pick up, yes – but they also wouldn't be coming to the library as often, or feel as good about it. Bottom line: fewer books in fewer homes.

Another suggestion was to charge $5 per library card. Raise the price, raise the perceived value! But I think it more likely to be a disincentive: mom would buy one card, and use it to manage the whole family's library use. That's sensible. But it would also deprive children of the joy they would feel (I know I did) in that pride of ownership. I am somebody, known to the library, a citizen with rights.

Charging for meeting rooms seems to make sense -- until you realize that almost all of those meetings are held by non-profits. They wouldn't be paying someone; they would meet at people's houses or church basements. Meeting at a public library involves them in a larger community, helps them gain visibility, helps them connect with other groups. It's a strategy that builds community.

So it seems to me that fees for library services, on top of taxes, are a sure strategy to reduce library use, decreasing the opportunity of the library to make a positive impact on people's lives.

Ultimately, the point of the public library is access. The purpose of public taxation is to spread the costs of library services among all, and thereby remove a barrier to education, entertainment, and participation in our community, especially for the folks who might otherwise not be able to afford it. That accessibility is behind the idea of "promoting the general welfare," providing a resource predicated on equal access to the benefits of our society, and the opportunity to better yourself.

So for the record, I'm opposed to trying to nickel and dime our community to the point where they stop using us. It just doesn't seem to do anyone any good.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

September 6, 2007 - thank you, ladies

Back when I was in library school, I did a research paper on the founding of Illinois libraries. It turned out that over 97% of them were formed by women's groups, mostly in the late 1800s.

Women's groups, as a whole arm of societal effort, were mostly the result of women's being locked out of the work force. There was a lot of untapped intelligence, energy, and organizational expertise in those women. But there were few approved outlets.

So, in the name of culture, in the name of education of the young, in the name of the establishment of wholesome influences on the citizenry, and in the name of the drive to be useful, many of these groups latched on to a new movement: the public library.

That impressed me again when I first got to Douglas County. Our libraries were also founded by women -- Nicky Mead and Ellen Buboltz, among others. Even in 1990, something like 78% or more of our patrons were female. (We ask a couple of demographic questions when people apply for library cards. Gender is one of them. Birth date is another. We never share that individual data. But it lets us match up patron data with census information, and try to figure out who we're leaving out.)

I just checked that information again, and guess what? The boys are catching up. As of this moment, 60% of our patrons are female, 40% male.

Is there a gender difference in library use? In general, I think not. Both men and women read a lot, watch a lot of movies, listen to a lot of music, and attend public meetings. Many men use the library as a virtual office, as a business start-up consultation partner, as a leads group. But this isn't the 19th century; today, a lot of women do the same.

Yet in one area, women still predominate: bringing preschoolers to storytime. Some dads do, too, of course, but not nearly as many of them.

More than a third of our business -- that's a third of over 5.5 MILLION checkouts per year -- is children's picture books. Long before these children get to school, the moms of Douglas County have already taken strong steps to expose their children to storytelling and literature.

I've written before about the significance of this effort in getting children ready to read. But sometimes I think there's something even more important.

Listening to lots of stories about other people's lives has a profound influence on the development of an essential human characteristic: empathy. Don't dismiss the significance of that. Empathy is at the heart of all kinds of moral character.

People who lack empathy go by another name: sociopaths.

When you listen to a story about children facing terrible circumstances, whether the grim tales of Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel, or the adventures of Harry Potter, or the wonders of Narnia, you begin to imagine yourself inside someone else's life. You begin to grasp the profound influence of one person's actions on another.

The ability to understand that you are a human being, surrounded by other human beings in a variety of life circumstances, is one of the most fundamental life lessons. It leads to kindness, to courtesy, to helpfulness, to good citizenship.

Again, there are many other things that the public library is about. But it's worth taking a moment to thank the continuing contribution of Douglas County moms to something that doesn't get talked about enough: the creation of a civil society.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

August 30, 2007 - Architectural Competition a Tough Call

Elsewhere in today's paper, you'll read about the results of our architectural competition for a performing arts center and library in Parker.

The town and the library district teamed up on this project to get some help in crafting a vision -- and nailing down the costs. By getting not just one but three architectural teams to tackle the opportunities and challenges presented by the program and the site, we hoped to wind up with several independent estimates. That, in turn, would give us an intelligent range of choices.

The winner would get the contract (providing, of course, that we could find the money their estimates would tell us we needed).

The other two firms would also get something: $10,000 apiece. That's $10,000 for about 6 weeks of work.

But guess what? These extraordinarily gifted and creative people gave us at least $100,000 of value.

We now have a whole grab bag of options to choose from and plan with. We have comprehensive estimates for everything. We have multiple views of buildings and the site.

So I want to publicly acknowledge the truly remarkable contribution that each of our contenders -- all privately held businesses -- made to the public sector.

The folks who picked the winner, drawn from Parker's Town Council and our own Board of Trustees, had the best of all dilemmas: how to choose from three great options. These businesses invested a lot of intense effort on a gamble. We are the beneficiaries of their genius.

In the words of Jeannene Bragg, Town Administrator for Parker, "The committee had to make some tough choices and we would highly recommend any of these teams without reservation."

So let's take a moment to list names and contact information for some architectural firms with strong Colorado ties, whose work we can heartily recommend for quality, for sensitivity, for creativity, for comprehensiveness. Every single one of these firms demonstrated an ability to listen, to analyze, to go the extra mile. And all of their designs had deep insight and merit.

Do business with these people, whether you're in the public or the private sector, and you'll be glad you did. They know their stuff.

My only regret is that I couldn't work with every one of them. It would have been fun. (Note, I realize there are more than 3 names here. Humphries Poli teamed up with Semple Brown. Thomas Hacker teamed up with Sink Combs Dethlefs.)

Barker Rinker Seacat
3457 Ringsby Court, Unit 200
Denver, CO 80216

Humphries Poli Architects
1215 Elati Street
Denver Colorado 80204

Semple Brown Design, P.C.
1160 Santa Fe Drive
Denver CO 80204

Sink, Combs, Dethlefs / Thomas Hacker
Sink Combs Dethlefs
475 Lincoln Street, Suite 100
Denver CO 80203

Thomas Hacker Architects
733 SW Oak Street, Suite 100
Portland OR 97205

Thursday, August 23, 2007

August 23, 2007 - Libraries are Windows to the World

This is the third of our guest columns, by Rochelle Stephens, a Neighborhood Library at Roxborough patron

Douglas County Libraries are the windows to the world, generationally.

Since I was a child of immigrant parents, growing up in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1940s, money was scarce. The public library was our source of entertainment and enlightenment. Once a week Mom walked (we had no car) some twenty city blocks to the Stone Avenue Library. I would return home with my ten book limit, curl up with my Mom or Dad, and be read to. Eventually I would read independently, venturing into the world of literature. Oh the joy of the Little House on the Prairie series, and Little Women.

Many, many years have passed since having helped my own children with homework assignments at the Thousand Oaks library in California. There, too, prior to computers, the public library was the place for recreational literature, books on tape, and research projects. The library was the place for my children's school assignments, as well as for me, a non-traditional student, completing my college degrees for career advancement.

Now, it's the 21st century. My husband John and I have relocated to Roxborough Village in Littleton, Colorado. Prior to the Roxborough Marketplace, John and I frequented the Bookmobile, eagerly awaiting those "open days" to satiate our reading hunger, books on tape for longer car rides, and even "special request" books and films, borrowed for us from other libraries. One text found its way to us from the Grand Army Plaza Library, in Brooklyn, New York. This library was a favorite stop from my teen years, when I could venture beyond the immediate neighborhood via the subway system.

The Neighborhood Library at Roxborough has become an integral part of our grandparenting. It gives me great pleasure to impart the joy of reading and learning to my grandkids. Kayla, the 5-year old, looks forward to story times. As soon as the program is over, Kayla is busy selecting books and DVDs for the special times with grandma and grandpa. Thanks to library assistance, 13-year old Danielle, got a better than perfect grade with her British Isles middle school project. Learning is accompanied with lessons of responsibility, as we respectfully care for the materials we've borrowed, to be returned in good condition and in a timely manner for the next borrower.

Alas, it is time for John and I to enjoy our latest library picks. For John it's a detective or mystery novel. For me,it's a gardening book (our landscaped yards are a testimonial to responsible water usage utilizing drought tolerant plantings).

I'm within walking distance to the Neighborhood Library at Roxborough. Many times my two dogs, Daisy and J.J. accompany me to make my return drop-offs. I've come a long way, chronologically and geographically from my first library trips as a child. Thanks to Douglas County Libraries, the windows to the world are open to me and my family, to enhance the quality of life we enjoy in Douglas County.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

August 16, 2007 - Take Advantage of the Library - Up to a Point

First, there was the DVD gang of 2002. This family cruised through seven or eight public libraries along the front range, checking out library materials left and right. Then they hocked the whole batch to local pawnshops.

This time, it was mostly one guy who checked out about $11,000 of materials from us over the space of a week or so. (He also hit various other Denver area libraries, some of them even harder than us.)

Mainly, he was after DVDs, too. Instead of a pawnshop, he hawked them on the Internet.

In both cases, there are two important points to make.

The first is something you might not know about. It's a program called the Colorado Library Card, or CLC. If you're a patron in good standing at any public library in the state, you can get a card at any other public library. It's free.

Being a patron "in good standing" usually means just that you've identified yourself (usually through a picture ID, a local address, and a phone number) at your home library, AND you haven't done anything spectacularly wrong there.

Some libraries apply limits to an out-of-area patron. Maybe there's a limit on checkouts. Maybe you can only check out certain kinds of materials. But such restrictions are the exception.

The overwhelming majority of our patrons realize what a great deal they're getting, and they don't abuse it. And they bring everything back, usually on time.

The CLC program is very unusual in the United States. Most libraries don't trust each other's patrons. But in Colorado, we've learned that almost all the time, we can.

The second important point to make is pretty blunt. This latest individual who stole from us got caught. It didn't take very long, either. The same was true of the DVD gang.

We trust people, but we're not fools.

When it turned out that somebody was racking up a couple of hundred DVDs within a few days, our staff noticed it. We compared notes with other libraries, where we saw the same pattern. We consulted our security cameras, and have quite an excellent picture of the thief, as well as all of our computer records.

Now this person has been arrested, and is looking at some serious consequences. What was his crime? Stealing from the public, then trying to rope other people into the deed over the Internet.

That didn't work too well, either. The first person who bought one of our items -- with all our markings still on it -- immediately reported it to us.

I've been asked by a few media representatives if we're now going to crack down on everybody, just because one individual took advantage of us.

No. We're not. The Colorado Library Card has been running for over a decade now, and it works very well. We place a high value on individual access to information.

Let me emphasize this: while there are many problems in the world, people using the library too much really isn't one of them.

We also value patron privacy. But when borrowers turn into thieves, libraries talk to each other. That's because we have another value: good stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

Incidentally, we got back the items swiped by the DVD gang. We'll probably track down most of the current batch, too.

So here's the bottom line for would-be masterminds: Taking advantage of the Colorado Library Card is smart. Stealing from us isn't.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

August 9, 2007 - reform needed not just for schools

I've been reading lately about the latest round of CSAP scores -- the state mandated tests that rank schools by student test performance. The consensus seems to be that scores aren't moving up fast enough.

It reminded me of a session I attended last June at the American Library Association conference, held in Washington, D.C. A former school librarian and now consultant, Dr. Michael Schmoker, is part of the school reform movement -- from inside the profession. He called his talk, "The Opportunity: From 'Brutal Facts' to the Best Schools We've Ever Had."

Schmoker's title comes from a book I admire very much, "Good to Great," by Jim Collins. Collins, a business researcher, argues that organizations only do well when they first confront the brutal facts of their environment and performance.

According to Schmoker, the brutal fact about schools is that in much of the day, in most of the schools in America, there just isn't much instruction going on.

That seems incredible. But, by way of example, he deconstructed what must surely be a common classroom occurrence: the teacher asks a question and calls on the person who raises his or her hand to answer.

But why? asks Schmoker. The student with the hand up is the one person in the room least in need of instruction. There are many other students whose hands are down, whose eyes are down, who are utterly disengaged. There are, in fact more of these students in the class than there are their handwaving counterparts.

Then Schmoker described something else: a case where, in a terribly underperforming school, suddenly one teacher makes a difference. His class math scores are zooming when everyone else's are static. So the principal walks into the classroom to see how come.

Is it because the teacher is some kind of genius, a star? No. He is doing something the other teachers are not: following some relatively straightforward instructional steps.

I'm paraphrasing, but the idea is, roughly, this: the teacher presents the information in a couple of different ways. Then he or she breaks the big group into smaller groups to try to apply the new idea, to practice. Then the students have to demonstrate the concept somehow. And we're not talking about just the folks who raise their hands, but the ones deliberately avoiding eye contact. Then the teacher repeats the process, clarifying any confusion, errors, or lack of understanding.

When these steps take place, so does learning. And every teacher already knows this.

So why doesn't it happen?

Let me be absolutely blunt: the reason is not unique to schools. It happens in every organization, every business large and small, in churches and secular institutions. Even in libraries.

Over and over, organizations train their people to follow a procedure or practice. When staff or students don't follow that practice anyhow, the answer isn't "more training." It isn't waiting till the test scores or stock prices coming out and then flagellating or firing everybody.

The best way to make sure that best practices are being followed is for supervisors to wander around and see. Then talk about what they see. Then remind everybody that we already know what works. We just have to do it.

The culture of accountability isn't about surveys or national tests. It's about the daily battle to stay focused on the task at hand. It's about not being sucked into all the other distractions, time-wasters, and artful dodges that so often fill our days. It's about being honest about the times when we don't hit the mark, and redoubling our efforts.

Guess what? That's hard. And it's why the vast majority of our private and public sector organizations are, by definition, "average."

Thursday, August 2, 2007

August 2, 2007 - Architects Vie for Parker Project

When I was in high school, I read a book that changed my life. It was Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead." Among other things, it was about an architect who designed absolutely original, and highly functional, buildings: private residences, housing projects, gas stations, skyscrapers.

You wouldn't think reading about that stuff would be thrilling. But it was.

Man, I wanted to be an architect. I even got a summer job in an architect's office.

Alas, much like another career plan that didn't pan out (theoretical astrophysics), I just didn't have the genetic predisposition to succeed in that field. Imagine: they wanted me to have artistic and mathematical ability. Who knew?

But I do have an appreciation for art and math. And in architecture, I think I've learned to figure out when something is derivative, or unique, a mishmash of conflicting and poorly articulated aims, or an elegant and incisive solution to real problems.

I've been fortunate to direct libraries in a growing county, so have had the chance to work with lots of architects over the years. But one of the projects we're investigating now is just about the most exciting I've seen.

The Town of Parker and the Douglas County Libraries have teamed up to sponsor an architectural competition. The point of the competition is to select a team that can create a compelling vision of something that just might transform the town and the library.

What is the project? A civic center consisting of a 45,000 square foot library, and a 500-750 seat performing arts center. The two would occupy a currently vacant 9.6 acre parcel of land.

But this isn't just a public project, unconcerned with its surroundings. Our intent is to build a vital public hub, connecting everything from existing pedestrian trails to the still growing commercial establishments of Mainstreet. We see this project as an essential anchor to a thriving downtown, a place of public pride, and genuine civic engagement.

Our current Parker Library, desperately undersized for the eager readers of the community, has over 1,000 visitors per day. That kind of traffic -- of all ages, all day long -- can be a tremendous economic boost to the right neighbors. In recognition of that, the Parker business community has been tremendously supportive of the project. The Town of Parker has even committed land to the library side of the development, for which we are deeply grateful.

But to make this vision a reality, we need two things: a preliminary plan, and thoughtful estimates of cost. And that's where the competition comes in.

The competitors are among the finest architects in the region -- and beyond. The finalists are:

* Barker Rinker Seacat
* Humphries Poli Architects, with Semple Brown Design
* Sink, Combs, Dethlefs and Thomas Hacker Architects

Each of them has an extraordinary body of work. And on August 8, they will be doing public presentations of their ideas for this project from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Parker Town Hall. Designs will also be on display at both the Parker Library and Town Hall, beginning on August 7.

Public comments are strongly encouraged. They will feed into a decision, by a joint committee of Town Council and Library Trustees, on Tuesday, August 21.

Maybe, like me, you don't have what it takes to design a great building. But you just might have what it takes to recognize one.

We hope you'll take the time to participate in the evolution of a community.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

July 26, 2007 - Homelessness Rising in Douglas County?

Many of us have an image of homelessness: the raggedy man who sleeps under a bridge, pushes a grocery cart, lives in a cardboard box. Maybe he panhandles during the day, probably to support an alcohol problem.

That problem doesn't really exist in Douglas County, right?

Wrong. According to various social service agencies in the county, homelessness is on the rise, right here. But homelessness isn't a single, or simple, profile.

And it never has been.

Maybe you've read about the sharp jump in foreclosures in Colorado this year. There are many families who find -- because of catastrophic illness, or a sudden and unexpected loss of a job -- that they simply can't afford their payments anymore. They were, literally, one paycheck away from homelessness all along, but never knew it.

From all accounts, that's the profile of the problem in Douglas County: families that are generally well-educated, but abruptly find themselves without the financial wherewithal to pay the rent or mortgage.

Where do such people go? Generally, they go to other family and friends, camping out in a basement or spare room. They work hard to look for new work, but it can be harder to regain what they've lost than it was to get it the first time. Now, there's a bad credit rating, for instance.

Are you homeless? If so, you are not alone. According to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development studies, as many as 3.5 million people may be homeless at least once during the year (from "The Demographics of Homelessness," Information Plus Reference Series Fall 2005, available online from the Douglas County Libraries).

Do you know someone who is? Would you like to help bring some much needed local focus to the issue?

If so, you need to know about the "Paycheck Away Tour," coming to Douglas County on Monday, July 30, 2007, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the county's Philip S. Miller Building, 100 3rd Street, Castle Rock.

Originally, the tour was put together by a statewide coalition of organizations advocating for solutions to issues of homelessness, hunger, and inadequate access to health care. It is designed as a "listening tour." The event occurred in several places around the state in 2006 -- Colorado Springs, Greeley, Alamosa, Grand Junction, and Aurora.

The Castle Rock event is designed to do several things:

* raise awareness of the homelessness issue in our community, and among elected officials. Too often, it is "invisible," despite the human cost and significance as a trend.

* highlight the agencies currently providing assistance -- and hear about their understanding of the nature and scope of local problems.

* listen to the people currently facing such issues. What has been their experience of the barriers and opportunities? What can they suggest to make things better?

The evening will involve at least three activities: a general overview of the state tour to date; short presentations and a panel discussion by several representatives drawn from local human services agencies; and finally, a community response, afforded by public microphones and a moderator.

I've volunteered to facilitate some of the discussion. Also invited will be other public officials and the press.

If you've been touched by this issue, or just want to know more about the size of the problem in our community, do come join us.

Friday, July 20, 2007

July 19, 2007 - you have to love free

This is the second of our guest columns, this one submitted by long time library patron, Sonny Poling. Enjoy!

You Have to Love Free
Written by Sonny Poling

Back in 2000, my sister laughed and called me a bookworm when she heard that my family and I attended the grand opening of the Highlands Ranch Library. Okay, I admit that I’m a bookworm. I’ve been visiting libraries since I was a little girl. I still remember the anticipation of reading about a new world or set of characters in a book I just checked out. Later on, there were the research papers in High School, which required scanning through magazine archives on clunky microfiche machines. Then, in college, studying for exams was best done in libraries on campus. Today, libraries offer even more services than they did when I was younger, and my family and I take advantage of as many of them as possible.

Not only are there numerous resources available in the library buildings, but the Douglas County Libraries (DCL) website, DouglasCountyLibraries.org, is an important source for tools and information too. Our favorite website tool is the Holds system where, after finding the items we need in the online Library Catalog, we simply put them on hold. When they become available, we make a quick trip to the library to pick them up, making our use of the library quick and efficient.

DCL’s book inventory is vast. We’ve checked out fiction and children’s books of course, but we’ve also borrowed books on various non-fiction subject matters for school, and to help us prepare for starting a business, home improvement projects, vacations, raising children and a new career. There are so many movies available that it’s rare for us to rent one anymore (unless it’s a new release that we desperately want to see). We love checking out the audio books before a road trip. Our son has saved himself money by being able to preview a CD before buying it, especially since he often learns that the only song he really likes on the CD is the hit single.

In addition to the large inventory of books, magazines, CDs, videos and recorded books, some of the other resources my family and I have used include:

Meeting Rooms / Study Rooms: My Writers’ Critique Group meets every other week at the library, and I recently checked out a conference room for a business meeting. All for free!

Wireless Internet Access: When I want to get away from the house to work in a different environment, it’s nice to still have access to the Internet while at the library.

Inter-Library Loans: When the item isn’t available in the DCL inventory, they can borrow it from libraries across the nation. It’s always interesting to see where the items originate, sometimes as far away as Hawaii.

Materials Request Form: When the library doesn’t have an item yet, we use this form to request the item. Sometimes the library purchases the item, and sometimes they borrow it through the Inter-Library Loan system.

Reference Library: We’ve used several items in the Reference Library, including Consumer Reports Magazine, Writer’s Market, decade summaries, and advertising listings.

Special Events / Speakers / Seminars: We’ve been able to attend several special events at the library including workshops, Fantasy Fest, Teen Nights, listening to guest speakers, and more. These are listed on the website, advertised in the library, or in the DCL monthly email newsletter.

Research Resources / Databases: The kids often access the encyclopedias and other research tools available from the website for their school research.

Reading Programs: We sign up for all of the reading programs; the ones throughout the school year for ages 12 and under, and the ones in summer for adults and teens.

Book Club Express: My book club has appreciated this excellent service and has checked out a couple of express bags full of books and discussion questions.

As you can see, we’ve been able to benefit from many library resources over the years, and there are probably even more that we haven’t had a chance to utilize yet. Sometimes, when I come home from the library with only movies, music and recorded books, I have to chuckle that I didn’t check out any hardcopy books, the original reason libraries were created!

Clearly, I’m a fan of DCL, and I recommend that if you’re not already doing so, check them out and take advantage of all they have to offer. You don’t have to be a bookworm to indulge; you just have to love free stuff!

Friday, July 13, 2007

July 13, 2007 - Carpe Diem, with Pastries

We don't always know the effects our actions have on others.

Some years ago, I wrote a column about trying to do things I'd always wanted to do, but hadn't gotten around to. This is probably an aging Boomer phenomena, as witnessed by the slew of books coming out with titles like "100 Places to See (or Things to Do) Before You Die."

But one of my readers, Manijeh Badiozamani, a college professor, took the challenge personally. And she did something she'd always wanted to do: volunteered to work in a kitchen.

Now that may not sound like your secret dream. But this wasn't just any kitchen. This was the kitchen of André's Confiserie Suisse, at 370 S. Garfield Street in Denver.

I haven't been there myself. But I have read Dr. Badiozamani's 16 page tribute to the 40th Anniversary of the Swiss restaurant and pastry shop, which she wrote in November of last year. And the story is utterly charming.

It begins with the biography of Bruno Gegenschatz, owner and chef of the the shop. (Why isn't his name André? Because this Swiss immigrant, who first emigrated to Australia, got hooked on America when he and his bride came to the 1964 World's Fair in New York City. He moved to Kansas City, and worked for a restaurant there called, you guessed it, André's.)

Two years later, he went back to Switzerland to "learn the art of sugar blowing." (It never ceases to amaze me, the infinite diversity of human specialities.) In 1967, he and his wife Rosa moved to Colorado, where they opened their own shop, with lots of support from his friends in Kansas City.

The experience of dining there is distinctly European. The Westword Restaurant Guide describes it like this: "Ladies' luncheon, par excellence, in a cozy setting. For $10.75, you get a rich little entree with frilly garnishes and a fresh pastry for dessert."

Badiozamani had encountered the restaurant back in 1971, and loved it. She and her husband then moved around for awhile. When they returned to Colorado in 1996, she sought out the little restaurant again. It became a favorite.

After buying some pastries one summer afternoon in 2001, Badiozamani struck up a conversation with Gegenschatz, and told him that she wanted to visit his kitchen sometime, and see how he made such wonderful confections. He invited her to do so -- the next morning, at 4 a.m.

So she did. By 9 a.m., the pastry preparation for the day was done. At about 9:30, she was preparing to go home, when a couple of unexpected staff vacancies caused a lunch crisis. So Badiozamani stuck around to help wash dishes.

By 2 p.m., the rush was done, and she was rewarded with a lunch with Bruno himself.

Her little booklet, "Bruno's Story," commemorates the event. And her sense of absolute glee shines through the pages.

So, dear readers, take this opportunity to fulfill YOUR secret dream. Sign up for that balloon ride. Pick up the tuba. Try out for a play. Take dancing lessons with your spouse. Roller skate across Nebraska. Only you know what you need to do.

Then write a book about it. Maybe it belongs in a library, where it will inspire others.

What are you waiting for? Permission?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

July 5, 2007 - The Hollywood Librarian

I don't go to a lot of conferences. But I just came back from the annual American Library Association conference in Washington, D.C.

I was not alone. There were, by last estimate, over 27,000 librarians in the city. That's a lot of librarians.

But that might be one of the points of the conference. Did you know:

* there are more library outlets than there are McDonalds in this country?

* there are more annual visits to libraries than to all sporting events combined?

The sheer popularity of American libraries is an odd contrast to the persistent cultural images of librarianship. In fact, one of the reasons I attended the conference was to be there for the world premiere of a documentary, five years in the making, by a friend of mine, Ann Seidl. It was called, "The Hollywood Librarian."

"The Hollywood Librarian" began as a truly humorous look at the portrayal of librarians in film. Ann is a film buff, and had found not only the usual snapshots of librarians (Marian the librarian, Donna Reed in the alternate world in which Jimmy Stewart had never been born, the zany Parker Posey), but lots of other surprising ones.

The audience at the premiere -- and estimates of attendance vary between two and five thousand -- showed up in gowns and tuxes, strutting down the wide red carpet to enter the hall.

In the first part of the film, librarians laughed, whooping at the many ways film got us wrong -- and right.

But then, the film took on a life of its own. Ann started to find stories. One was about a salty and growly-voiced librarian in Connecticut who turned out to be the sister of a famous film star. (I won't spoil it by saying who.)

Another was the story of a Pennsylvania librarian whose work to bring a new library building to her small town was truly heroic.

Disclaimer: I'm in the film, too, mostly reminiscing about the first time I saw a bookmobile.

But there was one story that brought tears to my eyes. It began with the Salinas Public Library in California, the home town of John Steinbeck. After several failed attempts to win voter approval, the library ran out of money, and closed.

But that wasn't what got to me. It was the efforts of inmates in nearby San Quentin prison to raise money to get it open again.

One young man, involved in a transformative literacy program in jail, put it like this "How can you bolster spending in prisons and take away a library? It was a shameful act, heightened by the fact that an inmate saw it, and those in free society didn't."

After the film, Ann made an appeal that made a lot of librarians squirm. She doesn't want to release the film to some distributor. She wants to release it to libraries, an exclusive engagement around the nation.

She's fiercely proud of our profession, and wants the theatrical experience to be shared within our own buildings.

But that's not what made librarians squirm. She wants us to charge people to see it: $8 for adults, $5 for kids. One third of whatever is raised will go to the further distribution of the film (to ship it around the country, along with a PR package), one third to Ann's production company (she has made no money on the film to date), and one third to the host library.

Ask for money? Expect our patrons to put up less cash for a quality independent film than they would for a pizza, or pay-per-view pro wrestling?

Two of the most talked about films in recent years were also documentaries. Both were on unlikely topics. Global warming. Penguins. Both were big commercial successes.

Could it be time for a deeper look at yet another unexpected subject?

And do librarians have enough (take your pick) self-esteem or entrepreneurial spirit to ask for the price of admission?

P.S. Douglas County librarians do. Look for our release of the film at various of our branches between September 29 to October 6. We are confident that our patrons will greatly enjoy this alternately funny and fiery film.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

June 28, 2007 - what is the job of today's reference librarian?

Back at the end of March, I wrote about something I was calling "community reference." The idea was as radical as it is obvious: people with questions may not think to ask a librarian, so the library needs to send the librarians to the people.

Sometimes, those questions are big -- so big that whole neighborhoods or municipalities wrestle with them. Here's an example: how do you build and sustain a vibrant "downtown?"

That question, that conversation, that intersection of private and public interests, is happening everywhere in the county: the Town of Castle Rock, the Town of Parker, the City of Lone Tree, the unincorporated area of Highlands Ranch.

I mentioned in my previous article that we were working with a group of town planners and local business people in Parker. They wanted to understand regional and historic architectural styles. They wanted to share information about planning maps. They were looking for images that allowed people to understand what other proposals might look like: trails to explore local history, locations for new signage.

So we sent some librarians to their meetings. We met separately with some of the key players to interview them. And lo and behold -- they had precisely the sorts of questions that librarians are trained to answer.

Well, we did our research, and then ran across a new twist. Librarians have always answered short questions quickly. For longer things, often, we get people started with some resources, then check back with those people to see how they're coming along.

But for this particular community project, that wouldn't work. We had to figure out a way to communicate that research back to the group.

What we came up with is, I think, a template for similar projects.

First, one of our reference librarians, Colbe Galston, delivered the library's original Power Point presentation on "turn of the century Colorado architecture." Then, we took a whole host of informative material, much of it produced by people outside the library, and put it up on a project web page we call an iGuide. (Many thanks to Contact Center Librarian Don Dickenson, who structured and formatted the content.)

That page can be found at www.douglascountylibraries.org/Research%20Tools/infoguide.php. (Or if you're just navigating your way through, start at our main page, then click on the Research Tools tab, then the iGuides choice on the left side of the page, and finally, scroll down to Parker Downtown Development.)

What you'll find there is pretty interesting -- the collective memory of a community, the collaborative effort of the public and private sector. It's also a terrific starting point for other communities interested in what kind of issues matter in the creation or redevelopment of a downtown.

You might also browse some of those other iGuides. They represent a new kind of reference service: "pre-packaging" of information to address topics of local interest. You could probably piece much of this information together yourself, but the iGuide saves you the trouble. We link to things we know are of value -- items in our physical collection, articles in the electronic journals we subscribe to, related websites, and many other things that might never have occurred to you.

So what's the job of today's reference librarian? There are several:

* to respond to your questions when you contact us at the library, as we have always done

* to be alert to key community issues and questions, and to dive into the meetings outside the library where they are being discussed

* to help figure out just what the real questions might be

* to provide solid, authoritative information in response to those questions

* to deliver answers back to our community in a variety of formats, up to and including executive summaries, presentations, and virtual resources available 24/7

* and finally, to archive those presentations and resources, and thereby provide a way for a community to acknowledge and understand its own emerging identity.

This wasn't the kind of librarianship being taught when I went to school. But Douglas County, today, is a complex place. It deserves a library that knows how to help.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

June 21, 2007 - A LIFETIME IN THE LIBARY, by Cindy Malone

Do any of you remember when you checked out a book in the "old days," i.e. the Sixties? They would take an actual photograph of your card and the removable library card pasted into the book. You would stand there at the checkout counter, and the librarian (complete with glasses and a bun) would step on a foot pedal, triggering the bright light photo and a neat 1960’s mechanical noise, taking the picture, so as to trace you if you became overdue or worse.

I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet. I know that because they moved my neighborhood library in southeast Denver down a few blocks to a wonderfully larger space. My first memories are of the old library, and of going home and playing with the stacks of books my mother checked out for the whole family. I would open the book’s cover, where the library card holder was pasted in, then step on my imaginary foot pedal. I’d make the picture sound myself, then "stamp" the library card, and put it in the book. I’d go through the entire stack, then hand the books to my imaginary mother (who was no doubt, making dinner or polishing the furniture in the house. These were the 60’s, you know.) "Thanks for coming in, Mrs. Hopko," I’d say to her. Then I would proceed with the stack to the nearest heating vent (our tri-level was cold in the wintertime!) and curl up with those books, adult and children’s.

I could read most of the words. My mother tells me I started reading at age 3, as she was helping my kindergarten-aged brother to read. I remember I caught on much more quickly than he did, and I would blurt out the correct words as he was trying to piece together G and O in "Go, Dog, Go!" by P.D. Eastman. My brother has dyslexia, but no one knew what that was then, and in a way, his drawback was my opportunity. I remember the exact moment I figured out the words, Dog, and Big Dog, Little Dog in the book, like a Helen Keller-like revelation, and at the same time my mother telling me not to read out loud because my sibling was trying so, so hard to figure it out on his own.

As an awkward, very shy teenager with no figure and glasses, the library and everything in it were my haven. Other kids, including my brother, were out riding bikes, playing kick-the-can, but I was curled up in my dad’s recliner, reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and Nancy Drew. Later on, I read Charles Dickens, then T.S. Elliot, John Steinbeck and Shakespeare, sometimes over and over again.

As a TV reporter in Great Falls, MT, the library was one of the first places I looked up in town. It was a haven then, between busy hours of constant work, and what seemed was always winter. I started reading biographies of people in the West, especially women, understanding a little bit better how isolating that kind of life was, even though I was surrounded by 50,000 other souls, the smallest place I had ever been for an extended period of time.

Now, twenty years later, the library isn’t just a haven. It’s a bonding place for myself and my children, two little girls. My youngest can’t read yet, but loves to look at all kinds of books, and now, of course, the computer. My second-grader and I have spent many of our most happy and content times at the Philip S. Miller library looking for the newest Magic Tree House books, looking for the biographies of Abe Lincoln that she found on her own for her class report. She’s shy with adults, but has no problem asking the librarian for information on anything.

My husband and I take the girls there just about every Sunday. It’s a new family tradition. The best feeling I can have is seeing my 8-year-old daughter’s eyes as she looks for books, DVDs, books on CD, Leap Frogs or CD-ROMs. Or when she proudly looks something up on the library computer and finds it herself, then settles down to read it. I know that glow.

And have since I was three years old.