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, February 1, 2007

February 1, 2007 - Library Wins Prestigious PR Award

Once upon a time (1889 to 1898, to be precise) there was a director of the Denver Public Library named John Cotton Dana. He was, in fact, Denver's first library director.

He was a beacon of "progressive" librarianship. In his view, most libraries of the day were mere warehouses and prisons of books. Librarians were more concerned with protecting the collections from patrons, than in seeing those collections used.

The 20th century library, he believed, should be open to all, a true community cultural center. He became famous for his determined removal of what were then iconic library furnishings: gates, fences, and closed stacks (where you had to request a book, and have it fetched by staff, rather than having direct access to the materials).

In Denver and elsewhere he did such things as:

* add foreign language materials for immigrants.

* acquire works of popular fiction (much to the dismay of certain intellectuals).

* make it easier to get a library card.

* extend library hours.

* create a business section.

* champion children in the library -- at a time when this was truly radical. His was one of the first libraries in the country, if not THE first, to have a dedicated children's room. Now, of course, all of them do.

He also advanced the equally radical proposition that libraries should make their activities known to the public. He produced library newsletters, and worked to get them into people's hands.

Later, Dana went on to become the founder of the Newark, New Jersey Museum, which he directed till his death.

In 1946, the American Library Association teamed up with publishing giant H.W. Wilson to create a public relations award for libraries, honoring the thoroughly visionary man who had become known as "The First Citizen of Newark."

Today, the John Cotton Dana Award is known as "the most prestigious award of the American Library Association." It is, in fact, "highly coveted," as any honest library director will tell you.

Enough build-up. We won!

Based on our 2006 project, "Page to Stage Productions," the Douglas County Libraries just became just one of seven libraries in the country to receive the John Cotton Dana award ($3,000 in cash, but lots of recognition!).

Page to Stage was the brainchild of Katie Klossner, our Community Relations Manager. Here's the truth: she and her incredible staff deserved to win.

The idea was simple. Using a very small cast (3 people) and an extremely portable set, the library sponsored 42 performances of the play, "Miss Nelson is Missing" at 42 (or 64%) of Douglas County's elementary schools. It was seen by over 10,000 children.

All of the performances were booked solid. In addition to producing a play based on a very popular children's series, we also provided a classroom guide, tying the show to Colorado content standards.

Our actors not only stuck around to talk to the kids, they also pushed our summer reading program -- a potent strategy for keeping reading skills sharp. And we saw a 10 percent jump in our attendance that year.

We were also fortunate enough to work with Douglas County's DC8. They made a great video on the project, and their thoroughly professional presentation almost certainly helped us win.

I'm also proud to say that this was an extremely cost-effective effort. By the time we were done, we provided this outreach at less than $1 per child -- a truly frugal way to begin to build another generation of readers.

My warm congratulations to our staff (and our many teachers, principals, and other folks) for producing innovative and successful programming for our community.

As for John Cotton Dana, his vision for a modern library looks as good at the dawn of the 21st century as it did at the dawn of the 20th.

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