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, 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.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

June 14, 2007 - your turn

I've been writing this weekly column about libraries for 17 years. My readers know what I think about libraries. (Hint: I like them. A lot.)

Over the years, I've met thousands of library patrons. In Douglas County, they're a remarkably literate bunch. By that I mean that they're not just readers. They're writers, too, whether that's a short note, a long email, a thoughtful letter to the editor, and even their own books.

They have library stories to tell, too. Here are just a few, sent to us recently.

"We enjoy this library so much, and being on a fixed income, do not usually purchase books or subscribe to magazines ... The NEW LOOK of the Lone Tree Library is just lovely and your staff is not only helpful, but friendly too." - Judy and Paul Bodenberger.

"I am writing you today to say how important the Library and its resources are to our family. I am a Homeschooling Mom, with a daughter in 5th grade, and an Autistic son in 3rd grade. Your library is an invaluable resource for research, entertainment, and education. If I didn't have such a great facility so convenient to me, my ability to give my child a quality education would suffer." - Tammy Breeding

"We are a family of five with four library cards. We make at least two trips to the library each week to return books or pick up books ... the Highlands Ranch Library is a full package for our growing, learning, curious family." - Brent Rollings

"I take advantage of so many events and activities that the library offers that I wouldn't like to think of my life without it.  The staff are helpful and knowledgeable, and the facilities are modern, well-lit and inviting.  The literacy program is important, and I personally know of a student who benefited tremendously from it." - Jean Sherer

"I quit my professional job and I’m a student … again … working on an associate degree at the community college.  ... Whether I’m in the reference or non reference areas, the reception and assistance that I’ve received is exceptional!!" - Tomiko Takeda

"Our grandchildren ask every week if they can go to the library, I believe particularly for the excitement and familiarity of being there, getting new books, and of course visiting the fish tank. ... Our library is a big part of our lives!!" - Tom Stanley

"Mom was a reader and because of her example and love of books, my siblings and I are all readers.  We were taught if you don't know the answer, seek it out in a book. I have a deep love and respect for libraries, great or small; I find them havens of quiet knowledge and respite from a busy, crazy world." - Cris Wilson

As I've thought this over, I've decided to give more of a voice to the folks who actually use our services. To that end, I'm happy to announce a "guest columnist" program. Once a month, I'm going to give over this space to one of our patrons.

If you have a story to tell about what the library means to you and your family, drop a line to Katie Klossner, our Community Relations Manager, at kklossner@dclibraries.org. She'll send you the guidelines (basically, keep it between 500 and 700 words!). We'll keep this up for a few months and see what people think of it.

Meanwhile, thank you all for your really astonishing support of the library. It's a Douglas County value!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

June 7, 2007 - library sponsors open house on future

I wonder if this is true for anybody else: the more you know about things, the more amazed you are that anything ever works.

It reminds me of a day in high school. Our math teacher had just told us something surprising: there were an infinite number of points in a line. Divide it in half, divide it again, keep dividing, and you could keep going forever. Immediately after that, I had Physical Education, in which I was expected to run 50 yards.

"That's impossible!" I protested. "Before I could run 50 yards, I'd have to run 25. There are an infinite number of points in a line! You can't expect a high school kid to run an infinite distance!"

In exchange for this thoroughly commendable cross-disciplinary insight, I was made to run not just 50 yards, but the entire circumference of a football field. I remember it with pride -- the day I did the impossible.

But seriously, no matter what profession you're in, it's a battle of increasing expectations. You learn to do some task with competence. Let's say, to use a library example, that task is reading a story to children.

But then you start to realize that a successful story time isn't just about your own ability to read dramatically and with color. It's also about having the setting right.

And once you get the setting right -- an enclosed space with carpeted floor and seats for the parents -- you realize that there are other factors. Again, just to continue an example, you need a large enough parking lot for the parents and children to make it to the event.

To get the parking lot large enough, you need a big enough plot of land.

To get the right sized plot of land, you need enough resources to buy it and pave it.

To secure sufficient resources ...

The point is that no matter how small your task (not that telling good stories to children is a small task), it takes place within a larger context. And your understanding or competence in that larger context can have a big effect on your ability to get something done.

There's a trap here: you can get so demoralized by your inability to ensure world peace that you can't work up the energy to go grocery shopping. Creativity and dedication can get things done no matter where you find yourself. The trick is to be in the moment, to do your best with what you've got.

On the other hand, you have to at least TRY to understand and to influence the larger context. That's just being responsible, and it reflects a more mature understanding of your business.

Along those lines, I want to invite the public to come talk to us about library plans. In order to maintain current standards of library service, we're going to need more space. "To secure sufficient resources," our public, that's you, need to know about and approve of those plans.

So we'd like to share them. At the following dates, places and times, I'll be available to chat with anybody about our standards, our projections, and anything else on your mind about the library's future. At various times, I'll be joined by board members. I hope to see you there!

I can promise this: it beats running laps around a football field.

6/16 Highlands Ranch Library. Formal presentation: 1-2 p.m. But I'll also be there for half an hour before, and an hour afterward.
6/30 Parker Library. Formal presentation: 1-2 p.m. Again, I'll be there from 12:30 to 3 p.m. to catch stragglers.
7/7 Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. Formal presentation: 3-4 p.m. I'll be there from 2-5 p.m.
7/8 Neighborhood Library at Roxborough. Formal presentation: 1-2 p.m. I'll be there 12-3 p.m.
7/9 Neighborhood Library at Lone Tree. Formal presentation: 7-8 p.m. I'll be around from 6-9 p.m.