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, May 31, 2007

May 31, 2007 - Authors Coming to Our County

Ah, summer, the season of lawn mowers and pollen. But there are compensations.

My daughter will be home from her first year at college overseas. My son will be able to start making claymation movies again, having blasted through his final weeks of infernal math homework.

For awhile, young people will bask in the heat and indolence of seasonal downtime. Then, of course, they'll get bored.

What to do?

Well, shortly we'll be rolling out our summer reading program, with its usual complement of programs and prizes. We will also offer our usual comfy, air-conditioned spaces, and literally hundreds of thousands of tempting library materials. (Parents: do NOT tell your children that reading in the summer will keep their skills sharp, helping them ramp back up when the summer is over. It will, of course, but it's best that they don't know.)

I also wanted to take this opportunity to talk up some coming attractions.

About a year ago, the library did a host of open meetings around the county to find out what people would most like to see from our library foundation. The message came through loud and clear: you wanted to see live authors.

We've learned that to set up big events takes time and money. But one way to get authors here faster is to team up with others in the business. So I'm very pleased to announce our partnership with Tattered Cover in Highlands Ranch. Together, we'll be hosting a visit from author Anna Quindlen.

Her latest novel is "Rise and Shine," a story about "two sisters, the true meaning of success, and the qualities in life that matter most." The event will be held at Tattered Cover Bookstore Highlands Ranch Town Center on Friday, June 8, 2007. We'll be offering a limited number of free tickets (one to a customer) beginning at 6:30 p.m. Ms. Quindlen speaks at 7:30 p.m., then signs books afterwards. I've heard her before, and she's a wonderful speaker.

A second series of events features Denver's Poet Laureate, Chris Ransick. Ransick is a fine writer, with a quiver-full of pointed questions about the role of media in our society.

He'll be appearing, for free, at the following places.

* Highlands Ranch Library: Saturday, June 9 at 10 a.m.
* Neighborhood Library at Lone Tree: Thursday, June 14 at 7 p.m.
* Parker Library: Thursday, June 21 at 7 p.m.
* Philip S. Miller Library: Thursday, June 28 at 7 p.m.

A third new feature is a spanking new TV program. This time, our Foundation is teaming up with the good folks at the Network DC -- also known as Douglas County Television. I'll be interviewing authors for about half an hour apiece -- time enough to find out what makes them tick, and to probe just how these books come to be written. Watch for "Authors! @ Douglas County Libraries" coming to you soon.

So remember. If you're a child, there is marvelous fun to be found at the library. If you're an adult, we're working to give you the opportunity not only to read compelling and interesting work, but to meet the people who create it.

Who knows? One day, it might be YOU that we're inviting to a signing.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

May 24, 2007 - My Book

Well, I did it. I wrote a book, and it got published. I unpacked my six free copies on a Friday night.

By Monday, I'd read it four times.

There's good news and bad news about being a published author. Here's the bad news.

The copyediting process caught several things I'd missed. For instance, I told the same story twice, in two widely separated sections of the book. The editor asked me which one I wanted to cut, and I picked one.

But in the final review, both of them were still there. So I sent in another correction.

Well, both stories are still there. My goof made it all the way to the final copy.

So some readers will come across this duplication and think, "Is this author so dim that he doesn't realize that he already wrote this?"

Answer (since I did indeed submit the manuscript this way): Yes.

I'm a little disappointed that my errors survived the process. But I'm also mature enough to realize that if anything can be counted on TO survive, errors are at the top of the list.

But let's move on to the good news.

I wrote a book!

It's something I remember telling my mother I would do, way back when I was in kindergarten . She clearly valued books, as witnessed by our well-dusted bookcases, crammed with her Book Of The Month Club selections.

I dedicated my book to a man who had a profound influence on my life, my maternal GrandDad. He was the one who first taught me that to question was the very essence of humanity. I think he would have liked this book.

He was an amateur historian, with a fascination for the American Revolution. I have come to share it.

The name of my work is "The New Inquisition: Understanding and Managing Intellectual Freedom Challenges." It was published by Libraries Unlimited, so it's a professional piece.

I'm grateful to the publisher, especially my editor, who taught me how to build a book. Before then, I only knew how to build poems, essays, and articles.

But I think part of me wishes it could have been put out by a popular press. For one thing, professional books are ridiculously expensive. Mine costs $40, which is absurd. It's a short book.

For another, I'd really like more than librarians to read it.

The essence of my book is this: the meaning of the public library is very like the meaning of the Declaration of Independence.

That is, the deep idea behind the founding of our nation was "inalienable rights." Another way to look at that is "equal access to the law."

It took a while for the people to catch up. "All men are created equal" means not only men, but women. It means not only property owners, but also the people who were once considered property.

But that's easy and obvious these days. There are other folks who are still denied that equal access or treatment. With a little thought, I bet you can name them.

The deep idea behind the public library is "equal access to information." That means the poor have as much right to our cultural heritage as the rich.

But not just the poor. It includes our young. It includes a host of people whose backgrounds or views may be viewed with suspicion by today's majority.

Public libraries, finally, are about the fulfillment of the American dream. It's a vision that's still a little challenging, a little ahead of, the current zeitgeist.

But that's what I've always loved about public libraries.

We are one of the best examples around of a society actively devoted to an attentive life, exuberant liberty of inquiry and expression, and the frequently bewildered pursuit of happiness.

So I wrote a book. And I'm happy.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

May 17, 2007 - Build Green!

Over 15 years ago, my wife and I wrote an article called "Green Librarianship." It was based on a lot of research, just coming out at that time, about how our buildings were making us sick.

Back then, a few vendors tried to offer alternatives to the toxic glues used to hold down carpets, the formaldehyde-soaked pressboard used for insulation, and hermetically sealed heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. And most of these vendors were seen as kooks.

Some of the more intriguing experiments were things like the "earthship," invented by Michael Reynolds, and embedded in southwestern facing slopes around Taos, New Mexico. Earthships tapped into the heat sink of the earth, and many of them got by without any heating or cooling -- completely off the electrical grid.

But along with geodesic domes -- another very cool structure -- earthships never caught on in the public sector. Neither did they capture the commercial market.

Times have changed. Based on new technologies, and a far more sophisticated understanding of energy use and needs, even Manhattan banks are going green.

Based on our own analysis of what it takes to run a library, we've learned that the big cost of a building isn't its construction. The big cost is operations, and energy use is a significant part of that.

These days, we spend a lot more time talking about the use of light and light bulbs, waterless urinals and landscaping, and the specs of our electrical systems. And we're seeing real savings.

I believe that we're at a tipping point. When banks are building green, then they're going to start approving loans for green construction, too. I think the public sector is in a position to demonstrate to the rest of the economy what long term planning for building operations should look like.

To that end, the library is sponsoring a free, open-to-the-public seminar called "Building Green: Trends and Opportunities in Douglas County." It will be at our Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, on Thursday, May 24, from 2-4 p.m.

Our keynote speaker will be Tom Hootman, Director of Sustainability and Senior Associate of the architectural firm RNL in Denver. He is also President of the US Green Building Council Colorado. Hootman is "LEED-accredited." That means that he has been certified in a variety of techniques under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. He'll provide an overview of what's going on in today's construction.

Next we'll have a panel of folks we don't often hear from: the people responsible for the maintenance of public buildings. Our panelists will be Buddy Gregory, Facilities Manager for the Town of Castle Rock. Lee Smit is the Energy Manger for the Douglas County School District. Vicky Starkey is the Facilities Manager for the county. Representing the library will be Richard McLain, our Facilities Manager. They're some very bright people working on some very smart things.

I've asked them to respond to two main questions:

1. What "green" projects are underway right now in your agency?

2. What do you think your agency SHOULD consider? That is, what exciting project might really demonstrate the value of truly long term thinking?

If you'd like to hear about something that just might change the way you think about, and pay for, the sustainability and health of your buildings, please join us.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

May 10, 2007 - Board Opening at The Library!

I've served on many boards. Most of them have much in common. They adopt policies. They scrutinize the budget. They hire, evaluate, coach, and compensate (or terminate) the executive who reports to them.

But you know what's uncommon? Boards that take a hard look at their OWN performance.

I had the privilege a couple of weekends ago to sit in on the annual retreat of our Library Board of Trustees (my bosses). Typically, the Board reviews its Long Range Plan to see if we're still on track, or if our plans no longer mesh well with public expectations. The focus is on higher level governance and direction.

They did that this time, too. But not just that.

The Board gave itself some homework first. Each Board member was expected to review the Trustee job description (also created by the Board in previous years), and ask him or herself the following questions:

* What measures would you use to rate the board's effectiveness? How has the Board done against those measures this past year?

* Name three things the Board has done well this past year.

* Name three things the collective Board needs to improve.

After this discussion, the members were asked to do something else: ask the same questions, but this time, of themselves as individuals, rather than of the Board as a whole.

The Board then took the time to talk about their responses. In most cases, both as a board and as individuals, there was validation around the table. In other cases, discussion led to revised judgments.

After that, the Board reviewed all of its resolutions for the past year. Then, the Board took a look at its own attendance: how well had the members done in showing up for important discussions?

Finally, the Board had asked me to gather some comments from senior library staff. How, from that perspective, had the Board contributed to, or detracted from, overall LIBRARY performance?

Too often, I think Library Boards forget that like library materials, buildings, and staff, the Board is either an asset or a liability to the organization it serves.

As I say, I've served on a lot of boards. This is the only one I've seen that puts its own performance up for annual review. And takes it seriously.

It just so happens that the Douglas County Libraries Board of Trustees leads the nation in this respect. In fact, google up "library board assessment." The first hit looks like it comes from Iowa. But when you read the assessment instrument, you get something put together by us -- and grabbed by many other libraries around the country.

Wouldn't you like to belong to a board like that? Well, here's your chance.

The Board has a vacancy. It can only be filled by someone residing in Commissioner District #2, the district of County Commissioner Steve Boand. The district extends, basically, from about Castle Pines North, then heading south and west to the edges of the county.

The Library Board currently has five men and one woman. In the name of gender balance, female applicants are strongly encouraged.

What else is the Board looking for?

* Someone who passionately believes in the importance of library services.

* Someone who cares about, and has a demonstrated commitment to, the vitality of his or her community.

* Someone who has a background in finance, to lend even more strength to what has been, fiscally, a very conservative entity.

* Someone willing to hold every aspect of the organization accountable to the highest standards of excellence.

The term of the current vacancy officially expires in January, 2009. After that, appointments run for 3 years.

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 May 30, 2007. Thank you!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

May 3, 2007 - Student Films Test Boundaries

When I was in sixth grade, my fabulous public school teacher, Mr. Smith, sparked my interest in haiku, the Japanese verse form.

It fascinated me. Forty years later, it still does.

My own son, at about the same age I was when I encountered Japanese poetry, was captivated by another art form: film. In particular, he's absorbed by the tiny incremental repositioning of clay figures that adds up to the illusion of motion. It's called claymation, and Max is very good at it.

He's not alone. Just take a gander at youtube.com. All kinds of young people are making movies.

But you don't have to go to the Internet to see what sort of cinematography your kids are up to. You need look no farther than your local high school, and your local Douglas County TV network.

Their joint program, called F-stop, itself part of the DC TV Academy, has been airing student films for three years now.

Some of the films -- OK, many of them -- are very funny. But not all of them. Even the funny ones tackle serious subjects.

The world of student films divides into those that air, and those that don't. (In this respect, high school is just like the outside world.)

Why wouldn't a film pass muster -- get approved by teachers, DC8 staff, or its advisory board?

Well, there are lots of reasons. Maybe what the student thought was funny, the grown-ups didn't.

Maybe the treatment of the subject was deemed unintentionally offensive.

Maybe the adults thought some of the messages would reflect poorly on the cooperative efforts of the county and the school district.

Maybe it's censorship. Or maybe it would be, except that now you can view the films and decide for yourself.

On May 5, 2007, at 6 p.m., at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, the library, the county, and the school district will sponsor the third Annual F-stop Film Festival.

The first festival was the brainchild of Ian Kellett, a student filmmaker himself. I hope it will run for many years.

At this free event, we'll show the best of F-stop's season, then screen a selection of films that were, for various reasons, deemed "not ready for prime time."

Then, we'll have a panel discussion and audience feedback. On the panel will be representatives from the county and school. We'll also have a parent, a student, and a youth advocate.

After this frank discussion about the boundaries of public education, television, and popular taste, we'll give out some awards for the films. The "rejected" films are also in the running.

Most of the films are pretty short. But the whole event -- film, panel, and awards -- should run about 3 hours. The school district is providing popcorn. Crowfoot Coffee will offer its signature beverage. We'll have soft drinks. Again, all will be free.

As an added treat, we will also offer some live music afterward. The band is Joe Fornothin.

Much of what we think about our culture today is profoundly influenced by those master manipulators of light and sound: the makers of television and movies; the producers of commercials, music videos, and even the evening news.

What kind of work will we see from a generation steeped in this technology since birth?

For a preview, join us on 5/5 @ 6, and we'll talk about it.