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, 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.