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.