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 4, 2008

December 4, 2008 - back up to move forward

Back in my early twenties, I had an unusually vivid dream. I was driving a car, when suddenly, a big concrete wall loomed up in front of me. Crash!

For a moment, I was stunned, stopped, horrified. Then, I gradually realized that I wasn't bleeding. Nothing was broken. I put the car in reverse, and slowly backed up. Everything seemed to be working. I pulled forward around the blockade. And woke up.

The meaning was clear enough. Back then, I had a gift for making spectacularly bad romantic choices. The dream was about another breakup ... that I survived.

I find the image apt for the 2008 library election. Crash! - 52.6% of the county voted down a mill levy increase.

Castle Pines North voted for the mill levy increase at 62%. Parker approved it at 51%. Highlands Ranch and Lone Tree came in at 48%; Castle Rock at 43%, and Roxborough at 38%. But despite regional differences, the total is what matters.

The library was on the road to keeping pace with growth and demand. And after two attempts to make that case to the voters, I think we have to assume that the community has spoken. That road is blocked.

But as in my dream, I find that the library is still whole. In the entire history of the library district (formed in 1990) we have never taken on any debt. We have an extraordinary staff, whose dedication and skills are intact. On the basis of public use, of staff productivity, of community connection and impact, we are among the most successful public libraries in the nation.

That's not a bad place to be.

Of course, there are still some significant discrepancies in library services around the county. Our Parker Library is woefully inadequate. Castle Pines has no library at all. That's a service problem.

As we sat down to finalize our 2009 budget, we made another couple of discoveries. For the first time, our expenditures are exactly equal to our anticipated revenues. There's no wiggle room, and thus no contribution to our savings. Recent projections suggest that all of Douglas County may see a drop in assessed valuation next year. That means a drop in library revenue.

So not only will we not be growing, it's time to trim our sails. The alternative is to do nothing, and have to meet a crisis the following year, when only the most drastic action is possible. That puts too many library workers at risk.

Responsible leadership means that we have to make some thoughtful reductions in service in 2009.

We are not alone. I am well aware that this exactly parallels what's going on in many households across America. When times are tight, you can't do all the things you could do before.

In January, 2009, our Library Board and staff will begin to consider some changes in our service offerings. I anticipate that some of those changes might begin to be seen in June of next year.

Meanwhile, I'm taking a month off from writing newspaper columns. I've got some thinking to do.

Sometimes, you have to back up a little before you can move forward.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

November 27, 2008 - What (and who) is next?

Many months ago now, I attended a couple of meetings with the deans of two library schools.

We library directors had some ideas about the desirable skill sets of new graduates. The deans were eager to hear from us what public libraries were looking for these days.

After a while, I started to feel a little sorry for the deans. It turns out that all we wanted them to do was give us smart, emotionally intelligent, and experienced project managers who not only had a good handle on their own high ethics and professional standards, but also inspired others to be as good as they were.

To put it another way, what we wanted couldn't be simpler. We just wanted them to guarantee that we would never make a hiring mistake again.

The problem, of course, is that such an expectation is utterly unreasonable. No matter how good any new professional may be, the hiring organization still bears a lot of responsibility.

Professional programs impart a body of theory. They provide an introduction to a career.

The library provides something else: the real career.

The first test of theory against practice. The first big thrill. The first big disappointment. The first day when you think you actually get what's going on.

That magic moment when you see something new, something not only good, but something better than anything any of your professors talked about. You see a path to making a difference.

The day when you are tested, and you choose.

It's not all good. No matter how fine the library might be, it will still allow dysfunctional and even destructive behavior. Sometimes, that's because those in charge of the library really don't know such behavior is going on. Sometimes, that's because library administrators (and staff!) lack the courage to confront it.

Sometimes, libraries are guided by a compelling vision. Sometimes, there's nothing but expediency and crass opportunism.

Yet I believe that most librarians are in it for love. We live to serve, with intelligence, tenacity, great dollops of humor, and a genuine love of learning. We want the people whose lives we touch to be a little richer, a little better for it.

We want everyone -- the infant, the toddler, the preschooler, the elementary student, the secondary student, the college student or tradesman, the business person or social sector worker, the parent, the teacher, the consumer, the senior -- to know that the library is his or her birthright, sanctuary, workshop, and playground. We offer the accumulated knowledge of the human race.

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to what's next in my life. I've decided that maybe I should be giving more attention to those just entering the profession that has given so much to me.

Oh, and for those of you over the age of 50 who do not happen to have the great joy of being librarians, maybe you want to think about how you will offer a hand up to the gifted generation behind you in your own profession.

Do you see them?

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

November 20, 2008 - Veterans Services at the Library

By Rochelle Logan, Associate Director of Research & Collections

Of all the phases in my life, the time I am most proud of was spent as an Air Force spouse. My husband was a pilot, now retired. We moved eight times all over the US and overseas until we landed in Colorado in 1992. It was a wonderful life, but also a hard one. We never knew where the military would send us next. Will it be in a part of the country or world we’d rather not live? How will the children take another move?

There were plenty of times I was anxious and lonely and those were during times of peace for our country. Now I have friends whose sons and daughters are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military and their families deserve our thanks and support from our government. The GI Bill is one way the United States helps veterans.

Douglas County Libraries is participating in a pilot project with the American Library Association to provide information to veterans about the new GI Bill. The American Legion and Congress overhauled veterans’ education benefits and created the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which is scheduled for implementation on August 1, 2009. People eligible under this new Bill served after September 10, 2001.

In addition to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, we still have the Montgomery GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve and the Reserve Education Assistance Program. Confused yet?

If you think you are eligible for any of the four GI Bills, come to one of the Douglas County Libraries to get help from a librarian and pick up information. You can also visit http://www.wo.ala.org/veteransinfo. Some of the costs you might have covered include tuition, fees, and housing allowances. With the cost of a four-year education skyrocketing, these benefits are especially valuable.

We want to get the word out to all veterans to check on their GI Bill eligibility. Thirty percent of active-duty service members never use their veterans’ education benefits after leaving the military. And only seven percent between 1997 and 2006 used up all their benefits. Let’s improve those numbers.

Another venture I want to mention is the “Speaking to the Future: Voices from the Past” project in the library’s Douglas County History Research Center (DCHRC). The DCHRC is looking for veterans and civilians with wartime service who want to be interviewed and have their oral history become a part of the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project. The importance of collecting and preserving stories of military service cannot be underestimated.

Does your grandfather or aunt tell you stories about their wartime experience that would someday be lost? My father-in-law stepped on a land mine in France during WWII. His telling of that day and being saved by a French farmer is absolutely riveting. Dad was interviewed in San Diego for the Library of Congress project. I encourage you or your family members to do the same.

If you would like more information about sharing your story, call the DCHRC at 303-688-7730.

This month we honor our veterans and their families. I encourage you take the time to thank your friends who are or were in the armed forces.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

November 13, 2008 - test your civic engagement

A year ago, after the 2007 election, I did something I hadn't done before: took a vacation, all by myself, to a place where I knew no one.

Last year, it was Milwaukee. I rented a cheap hotel room close to Lake Michigan. And I spent several days walking the shore, walking the city, walking and walking and walking.

When I got back, my wife asked me, "So who did you talk to?" Usually when I travel, I return with lots of stories. And that's when I realized that at least during the Milwaukee part of my travels, I really hadn't talked to anybody, other than to check into the hotel, or to order a meal. I had no stories.

I returned, I think, better than when I'd left. I had found my center. Sometimes you just need absolute quiet and physical release. You need solitude.

And if that's one side of the equation, here's another: civic engagement. I know that after the recent, interminable election process, no one wants to think about this.

But I ran across a fascinating chart on the Wikipedia entry for "civic engagement." (I'll take up some other time the debate about whether or not Wikipedia, open to all for revision, can be considered a reliable source of information. Briefly, yes. Not infallible -- but neither is an encyclopedia.)

The article, as of November 1, 2008 anyhow, spells out 19 objective measures. So here's a family exercise. Lay this out after dinner and give yourself a score -- how many of the following did you participate in over the past 12 months?

The 19 measures fall into three categories (with a few clarifying notions of my own in parentheses).


* community problem solving (trash pickup, recycling, latchkey kids)
* regular volunteering for a non-electoral organization
* active membership in a group or association
* participation in fund-raising run/walk/ride
* other fundraising for charity


* regular voting
* persuading others to vote
* displaying buttons, signs, stickers
* campaign contributions
* volunteering for candidate or political organizations

Political Voice

* contacting officials
* contacting the print media
* contacting the broadcast media
* protesting
* email petitions
* written petitions
* boycotting (avoiding products because of their political affiliations)
* buycotting (selecting products because of their political affiliations)
* canvassing (direct contact with people, handing out flyers, etc.)

I find this very clever and precise: they are measures of what is also called "social capital." The idea is simple. The more people that are "connected" to their communities, the healthier both the people and the communities are liable to be. "Health" isn't just vagueness. There are fewer crimes, less disruption to life and property. People are literally healthier. They have fewer doctor visits. They live longer.

Numerous studies have found that if you want to improve the quality of your life both mentally and physically, the best strategy is greater engagement with the lives of those around you.

By your choices the community is made, or undone. These are some of the measures.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

November 6, 2008 - it takes us all to make a community

Back in the day, I lived for a while as a wandering poet. The pay was terrible, but the experience was rich.

At one point, I found myself at the home of a newspaper publisher. He admitted that he did not understand poetry at all, or know how to tell if it was any good. So we got to talking. How, I asked him, did he recognize good writing in journalism?

He started rattling off some characteristics. Good newspaper writing was clear, fresh, free of cliches. It had immediacy and structure. It told a story. It was poignant but not sentimental.

And when he was done, I said "the same thing is true of good poetry." Every discipline has its quirks, of course, but by comparing samples of poetry to samples of newspaper writings, we quickly found that we had more in common than he'd thought: good writing is good writing.

Much the same thing is true in the worlds of for-profit, and not-for-profit. The end is different -- newspapers and libraries, for instance, have discrete purposes. But when you take a look at how private sector and public sector organizations operate, it again doesn't take long to identify some commonalities.

Successful organizations are clear about their purpose. They treat their customers -- and their staff -- well.

Successful organizations last. Yes, current quarter and annual performance matter. But great organizations stick around.

Successful organizations play well with others.

And that is a message that may need some underscoring after this endless election season. We need each other, all of us.

I'm writing this column before I know the results of any of the elections. But I do know this: Watching the library campaign in 2008 was a revelation to me. I met so many people whose deep and infectious passion for the power of literacy, for the value of the public library, profoundly impressed me.

They also created their own organization, that peculiar beast called a citizen's campaign committee. I'd like to publicly thank campaign CEO Justin VanLandschoot, Glen Matthes, Jim Anest, Steve Parry, Karin Piper, Warren Lynge, Sandra Kip, Bob Hanak, David Williams, Meg Truhler, Perry and Lindsay Kamel, Corbin Wagoner, Krista Simonson, and my incomparable Board of Trustees (Stevan Strain, Barbara Dash, Mark Weston, Bob McLaughlin, Demetria Heath, Amy Hunt, and David Starck). They -- and many more! -- gave literally thousands of hours to telling the library story, poking signs in the ground, raising money for mailings and postcards, showing up at rallies, or just chatting up their friends and neighbors.

They all underscored for me the simple truth that public institutions-- and their futures -- belong to the public. I am deeply grateful to them.

And you know what? I'm grateful to the other campaigns, too. Our shared community invested in a host of efforts to affect the future, to make it something closer to what we imagine it should be.

Some of those efforts will now go forwards. Others will have to regroup. But in the months to come let's remember to be kind. We are not only writing our own story, our own poems, we're writing each other's, too. Some of it is good writing.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

October 30, 2008 - early literacy means global competitiveness

About twenty years ago, I went with some other librarians to the Greeley mall. We were going to stage a "read in."

The idea was this: we put up some library signs, then stepped into a sort of reading corral. When small children would come by, we'd invite them to listen to a story. We'd taken a bunch of kid's books with us.

Shortly after I arrived, a little boy walked along who was about the same size as my daughter Maddy was back then. I suppose he was about a year old.

Utterly without thinking, I treated him just like her. I picked him up, spun him around, dropped into a cross-legged position on the ground, and opened up a book in front of him.

And two things immediately became apparent. First, I could sense from the corner of my eye the mother freezing up. "Uh oh," I thought. "I just snatched this boy right from under her. Bad idea."

But the other odd thing was that it was perfectly clear that nobody had ever read to this child before. He didn't know where to look.

You know how long it takes to learn how to follow the rhythm of reading a book? Opening the book, starting on the left, moving to the right, turning the page?

It takes two pages.

And within two pages, this little boy was acting just like Maddy: Relaxed in my lap, head turning smoothly with the pages. He was interested.

We finished the book, and I think read another one. Then I handed the boy gingerly back to the mom. He smiled happily at me, and at her. I apologized to the mother: "I didn't mean to frighten you. He's just the same size as my daughter."

And the mother said something that has stayed with me over the years: "I had no idea he was ready." She had somehow thought she would start reading aloud to him when he was older. How old, I don't know.

Early exposure to books is important. There are some significant correlations in behavior and attaining fluency.

For instance, one of the best predictors of 4th grade fluency is the ability, by about kindergarten, to recognize the letters in our alphabet. Children who have trouble learning to read in 1st grade are quite likely to have trouble in 4th. As I noted here a couple of weeks ago, reading scores in 3rd and 4th grade are reliable predictors of the prison population.

There's good news: several studies have demonstrated that one of the best predictors of academic success is a strong school library program.

But within the state, many school libraries are in crisis. The average copyright date of a book in Colorado's school libraries is 15 years. Many have no librarians.

We know exactly what to do to improve reading scores in Colorado -- but, in most schools, choose not to. It baffles me.

Then there's this even more alarming statistic from the 2008 Report of the National Commission on Adult Literacy. Alone among the first world  (democratized, free market) countries, the United States' current generation is less well educated than the previous one.

That's worth restating. In other developed nations, the current generation is better educated than their parents. In our country, the trend is in the opposite direction.

Today, 1 in 3 young adults will drop out of high school.

We know that low literacy is correlated with family poverty. It seems likely to me that it is also correlated with our ability to compete in a global economy.

Following the mall encounter, I remember being very glad to see that young mother show up with her toddler at our library. She learned something important: the time to start investing in your child's future is now.

I hope our nation is as smart.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

October 23, 2008 - personal appeal for 5A

About 70% of the currently registered voters in Douglas County requested mail ballots this year. I've already got mine. And like an estimated 70% of that group, I'll fill it out and return it in three days.

So by the time you read this, the election, at least in Douglas County, may be over. But please do not let that stop you from voting! We won't know the results until November 4, and every vote counts.

It really does. Last year, the library lost its measure by just 210 votes out of 42,000 cast. Only thirty-four percent of the voters showed up last year. A little more than half of them -- so 17% of our voters -- decided the question.

I'll be honest. Although I went into last year's election, as I go into this one, understanding that the universe persists in doing what it does, not what I want it to do, that loss was surprisingly painful. I found it personally disappointing that the election was lost in my own home town of Castle Rock.

As one of our newer facilities, reflecting the many things we've learned in recent years, the Philip S. Miller Library is a model of 21st century librarianship. It is deeply integrated into the life of our community, demonstrating its value in many ways every single day.

But I have concluded the obvious: library use does not automatically translate into library support. Our demand is at least 9 times greater than the national average. Yet we narrowly lost an election right after our period of greatest gain.

We can cite our return on investment study all day long. An independent agency demonstrated that we return $5.02 in services, goods, and value for every tax dollar. But some people simply cannot make the jump of thinking of taxes as investments -- even when the dividend is a community they can be proud of.

We can point out our astonishing services to children. We provide thousands of programs every year. We check out more children's materials than any library in the state, when we are not the largest library, or have the most children, or even the most children's books. But if you don't have children yourself, you may not appreciate the value of early literacy.

We can underscore the point that our negotiation of donated land collapses if the library loses this election. That would make any future expansion many times more expensive, in locations not nearly as well centered. But people who haven't negotiated such agreements think, "how hard can it be?"

Eighteen years ago, Douglas County's libraries were reckoned dead last among Colorado's library systems. Today, according to a recent national ranking, we are among the top five in the entire United States. That speaks volumes (hah) about the keen interest of our citizens in competent and responsive service.

But in the 12 years since our last tax increase, we've developed some capital needs that require reinvestment.

Like everyone else, I've watched with concern the recent economic thrashings on Wall Street. But I also know this: library use takes a big jump at such times, further straining an already overstressed system.

I know, too, that tomorrow's jobs will not find their beginning on Wall Street. They'll start on Castle Pine's Monarch Blvd., Castle Rock's Wilcox Street, Highlands Ranch Parkway, Lone Tree's Lincoln Ave., Parker's Mainstreet, and Roxborough's Rampart Range Road.

They'll start with someone researching a business idea at the library.

I believe that while public libraries are not the only tool communities can or should use in order to thrive, it is one of our best.

Douglas County Libraries has worked hard to earn the thoughtful support of our citizens, and has made its case in detail to anyone who would listen.

In turn, we have listened to voter concerns, and tightened our proposal accordingly. We reduced the request to a single mill. We will sunset 40% of the increase when our new buildings are paid off.

Humbly, I ask for your vote in support of the future of your library. That vote will ensure stronger libraries for our entire county, to the immediate benefit of all our communities.

Please, say YES to libraries in 2008.


LaRue's View are his own.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

October 16, 2008 - libraries build brains and community

After a recent talk I gave in Illinois, a Trustee asked me to help her understand the role of the public library in the 21st century. I said I thought it boiled down to this: libraries build brains and community.

Building brains has two parts. First, and most important, is the total immersion in language that has been proven to develop thick clusters of dendrites in the brains of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Those clusters of nerves are the biological basis of intelligence.

I've been doing a lot of reading about brain development and literacy. The two are tightly connected. Children who hear lots of stories, demanding attention, empathy, comprehension of new words, prediction of events, are not only smarter, kinder, and more competent human beings, they are also prepped for one of the most wondrous accomplishments of humankind: learning to read.

At our recent literacy summit, Douglas County Libraries invited the many literacy workers in the county to better coordinate all our services. I heard an interesting fact: prison planning is based on reading scores in 3rd grade. That is, the lower the literacy rate (and 3rd and 4th grade reading scores are solid predictors of that), the bigger the prison needs to be.

Let's put that in perspective. The current mill levy proposal by the Douglas County Libraries would increase taxes for a $300,000 household by about $24 a year -- the cost of one hardback book. The cost to incarcerate one person is about $25,000-$35,000 a year. Investing in the brains of infants saves money. And more than money.

But the growth of our intelligence doesn't stop with our admission to kindergarten. (Usually!) Libraries not only support the formal studies of young people K-12, we pick up on the other side of school, too. Whether you read for leisure or learning, libraries provide access to the most powerful tool for learning the human race has found: the book.

I've had some folks tell me that reading online is just as good, maybe better, than reading paper.

Not yet.

When we read online, we read snippets, visual sound bites. We read data. But to make real sense of that data, we need context and explicit connections.

That's what books do: set the environment, tie the factoids together, apply it back to that environment. The Internet is still mostly about data. Books are about knowledge.

Libraries, by their collections of print at all levels, by their advocacy of literacy in general, build our brains as long as we live, moving us from ignorance to knowledge, and, with luck, from prejudice to wisdom.

The second task of libraries is building community. This has several dimensions as well.

One way we build community is by providing basic research (competitive market analysis, business plans, funding strategies) for home-based businesses. That activity -- local business development -- has been for many years now the fastest growing sector of our economy.

Let's underline that point. Where will we find tomorrow's economic engine? Hint: it won't be on Wall Street. We'll find it right here in your local community. Your local library will be part of it.

We build community in another way by providing free public meeting space so the people can meet, discuss, share their learning, plan together. We're an anchor store not only for actual visits -- over one and a half million last year! -- but for the mall of the mind.

To put it another way, books are a great resource, but people are a resource, too. Getting them assembled and organized in a common and neutral space is much like organizing a collection of books.

It is my fervent belief that public libraries are an essential part of our community infrastructure, fully as vital as roads, and police, and fire protection.

It takes brains to know where you're driving to, it takes literacy to stay out of more than one kind of prison, and it takes knowledge to build a community that withstands the persistent flames of ignorance and fear.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

October 2, 2008- librarianship is a good life

I recently returned from the Illinois Library Association in Chicago, where I had the privilege of giving the keynote address. I was raised in that area and began my career there. So I had the chance to see a lot of old friends, colleagues, and early professional influences.

One of those influences was Dr. Fred Schlipf. Several decades ago now, I took an administrative practicum with him. He was then the director of the Urbana Free Library in downstate Illinois. Recently, he retired, although he still teaches at the university and does building consulting.

I showed up that morning, wearing my only tie (I was putting myself through grad school, and most of my clothes came from Salvation Army), and was told that Dr. Schlipf was in the children's room, downstairs. I went to join him. About halfway down the stairs, I realized that the previous night's rain had flooded the basement.

And there was Dr. Schlipf, jacket off, pants rolled up, a bucket in one hand and a mop in the other. He beamed at me: "Welcome to the administrative life!"

That's a pretty good introduction.

He also taught me something about how libraries should be run. He had me work a week in each department, learning what they all did. Then he asked me where I thought I'd seen any problems.

It wasn't in the "technical services department," where materials were ordered and processed. The backlog was 4 items, and they were a little embarrassed about that. (They got it cleaned up by the end of the hour.)

It wasn't in circulation, reference or children's (aside from the need for tighter seals on the walls, and a new pump). But there was a slight confusion of mission and practice in his local history area. Or so it seemed to me.

He asked me what I thought should be done about it. He asked, in fact, for a proposal. So I wrote one up.

Then he put me in charge of it. I got to call a series of meetings, work up agendas, and try to implement some changes. And I felt that working with his staff, we did just that.

That experience has served me in good stead through the years. To this day, I, too, value providing such "administrative practica" -- helping newcomers to the profession get a glimpse of the inner workings of an institution committed to excellence.

It not only brings a fresh set of eyes and perspective to our own issues, but it gives people the chance to see that change is not a wave of the magic wand; it's a process. It takes time, and tact, and persistence.

While in Chicago, I also got to have dinner with a woman I hired, years ago, as the supervisor of shelvers in Springfield's public library. She is, today, a library director herself, and her library won "Special Mention" in "the Best Small Library in America" competition this year.
Her name is Ann Hughes, and her library is in Glen Carbon, Illinois.

It's an obligation of those who received mentoring that mattered to pass it along, although Ann never needed much mentoring.

I returned just in time to see Dave Barry's hilarious address for the Douglas County Libraries Foundation's first annual Author Extravaganza, the excellent work of Margie Woodruff, Elizabeth Huber, Jennifer Pavlik, Kristin Hayek, and many others, including a host of volunteers.

My point: there are a lot of wonderful libraries and librarians out there, making a difference in their communities. It's a good life.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

September 25, 2008 - new responses to public comments

I've been giving a lot of my personal time lately to talking to various community groups about the library's ballot question this fall, question 5A. (And yes, these columns are written on my time, too.)

Let me begin with something wonderful. At every talk, someone tells me about the fine, often extraordinary service they got from our staff. I believe it.

Thank you, oh passionate and dedicated Douglas County Libraries staff! Your service is the library's product.

But some people also have doubts, questions, and concerns, not previously addressed in this space. I thought I'd speak to some of them here.

* The county has grown through the years. Haven't library revenues grown with it?

Yes, our revenues have grown (although not nearly as fast as demand!). But here's the bottom line: our annual budget is $20 million. The cost of a new, desperately needed library in Parker is $23 million. The cost of a new Lone Tree Library (and the structured parking it needs for the site) is another $20 million. Our current revenues are enough for our current operations. But they are not enough to build -- or operate -- the larger facilities Douglas County needs.

* The proposed Parker Library is not friendly to people with disabilities.

The proposed library is at this point little more than a site plan and concept. If new funding is approved, the library will give all of 2009 to a comprehensive and public design process. The needs of all our users will be carefully considered. We picked an architect, not a floor plan.

* The library should take a page from the school district and put mobile library buildings on the proposed new sites.

This proposal has at least four problems. First, the sites in Parker and Lone Tree are all on donated land. But the donation is contingent upon an election win. The owners offered that land because they want libraries, not trailers. And if the library issue fails, I guarantee the owners will quickly move to other options.

Second, libraries aren't classrooms. I can't help but wonder: How would we divvy up the space? Children's books in one mobile? Adult bestsellers in another?

Third, books are really heavy. The basic mobile isn't designed for the load. That means each one would need extensive modification, at significant cost.

Fourth, wouldn't all of these mobiles need dedicated staff? And backup staff? And restrooms? This begins to sound like a lot of overhead.

Here's my judgment: school-style mobiles, library trailers, are expensive, unwieldy, and would be utterly unsatisfactory to all parties. It's a bad solution for libraries.

* Library demand is driven by population growth. Assess a developer impact fee instead of trying to raise taxes!

Several developers have actually been very supportive of the library. But the library lacks any statutory authority to mandate developer fees. Nor can anyone else collect them for us. We depend upon the kindness of strangers.

* I'm concerned that (a) the library allowed Republicans to register voters outside the library, or (b) that the Democrats are distributing pro-library material.

OK, you caught us. The library is Republican. And Democrat. And unaffiliated. As rare as it may be in today's environment to say this, the library is definitively non-partisan. We are both neutral and common ground.

Surely, there must be some things we can agree on. Allow me to offer some suggestions:

* it is better to have children who read than children who don't.

* it is better to have citizens registered to vote than citizens who aren't.

* it is better to have voters who are well-informed than voters who are clueless. (Incidentally, see the library website for both online information and public programs about all kinds of election issues: DouglasCountyLibraries.org/Research/iGuides/DCElections, and DouglasCountyLibraries.org/Events/CivicEngagement.)

* it is better to support institutions that build community than to support efforts that divide us.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 2008 - 9/11 was not Pearl Harbor

I remember talking to my father about the days before Pearl Harbor. Times were hard.

The list of problems passed from memory to history almost to legend: the Depression, the Dustbowl, bread lines, bankers leaping from Wall Street skyscrapers. Nothing seemed to be working: not business, not government, not even the weather.

Then, on December 7, 1941, a surprise attack by the Japanese against a United States naval base in Hawaii transformed public opinion almost overnight. Within two weeks, at least according to my father's WWII navy buddies, the United States went from a suspicious and isolationist stance to a unified nation braced for war.

The change was both immediate and remarkable.

The overall death toll at Pearl Harbor reached 2,350. On 9/11, almost 3,000 people died in the attacks. And here's this week's discussion question: Why didn't America snap into alignment the two weeks following September 11, 2001?

There are at least two possible reasons. First, we knew how to apply the idea of "war" to a nation. Japan was geographically distinct. It had a hierarchy of well known leaders.

The "war on terrorism," however, wasn't so clear. A nation can surrender. But how do you know when you finally beat the terrorists? Answer: You don't.

A never-ending war is one of the premises of George Orwell's "1984." It's not a good thing.

Second, there was a generational line-up in 1941 that was unusual.

There were older Americans who spoke with a strong moral authority -- part of the so-called "Missionary Generation," born between 1860 and 1882. FDR became their most powerful voice, uniting the nation through a series of "Fireside Chats." Commercial radio, then, was about where the Internet was in 2001.

There was also a mid-life generation of get-it-done generals. The "Lost Generation" (born 1883-1900) had survived their hardscrabble, hard-drinking youth, and faced the realities of war straight-on, without flinching.

Then there was the young "greatest generation," born 1901-1924. Heroic, optimistic, good scouts, they rallied together and gave their all.

Together, these three generations made up the perfect sequence of gifts and abilities to triumph in war.

Various historians have pointed out the similarities of generational types across the ages. The Missionaries were much like today's Boomers: fiery in youth, judgmental and self-righteous in midlife, compelling and powerful as seniors.

The Lost were much like today's GenXers. And the GI's had a lot in common with today's young Millennials.

So what was the difference? In brief, at the historic moment of 9/11, we were half a generation off. We were all just a little younger than the peak of our potential.

So instead of a sudden realignment into a socially cohesive society, with clearly defined, understood and accepted roles, we ... went shopping.

The odds are very good -- approaching certainty-- that the United States of America will face another crisis. What happens then may have less to do with the trigger than with the generational alignment of the nation holding the gun.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

September 4, 2008 - "I am - the library"

Back when I lived in Greeley, I got word one day that Reverend Jesse Jackson was coming through town. It was his second run at the Presidency, and he was going to give a whistle stop talk. I had heard he was a good orator, so ran over on my lunch break to give him a listen.

He used the traditional call and response technique: he'd shout out a phrase, everyone would shout it back, and eventually, it would work into a complete sentence.

On the one hand, that's kind of fun. There's a lot of energy around that kind of group response. On the other hand, it reminds of the joke about why Unitarians make terrible choir members: they're all reading ahead to see if they still agree. I felt distinctly uncomfortable shouting out political statements when I didn't know quite where they were going.

Jesse Jackson is perhaps best known for his 1971 "I AM ... SOMEBODY" speech, which used the same technique. And that speech inspired an interesting project I just heard about. It's called "I Am -- the Library." It's an "ethnographic video project, which documents the everyday ways a public library is used."

It turns out that Jesse Jackson began his career as a civil rights activist when he fought to desegregate his hometown public library. He was 20 years old, so this was in 1961. The place was Greenville, South Carolina.

"I Am - the Library" is the work of sociologist Audrey Sprenger, Ph.D., and Emily Crenshaw and Mary Grace Legg of the Denver-based Production Company Lockerpartners. From January through August, they filmed over two hundred Denver residents talking about the library. It was timed to culminate at the Democratic National Convention.

Every year, Denver Public Library racks up more visitors than all of the city's sporting events combined. Not surprisingly then, there are people with a lot of stories to tell. The library, for many of them, is not just a place to go: it is at the very center of their lives. You can find a 2 minute clip about the project at denverlibrary.org/programs, a quick montage of people who literally put a face on their local library.

Getting libraries on film seems to be a trend. There's our own Public Service Announcement video (search for "Discover Your Library" on Youtube) -- which recently won an Emmy.

You can even search for "library musical" on Youtube and get a surprising number of hits. We've done that before, too, in our "Kit Carson's Last Campfire: the Musical," in which our entire Douglas County History Research Center breaks into song.

Sometimes it's hard to believe that just 47 years ago, there were segregated public libraries in America. Whatever your politics, it's impressive that today we have the first African American nominee for President by one of the two major parties.

And make no mistake: at your local public library -- and at the ballot box -- you are most definitely somebody.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

August 28, 2008 - board resolves to ask for mill levy increase

On August 21, 2008, the Library Board of Trustees adopted a resolution to place a mill levy increase question on the November ballot. That ballot will ask for voter approval for 1 (one) mill. 0.4 mills will be retired when the building projects are paid for -- which is estimated to take about 20 years. One mill is $7.96 per year on each $100,000 of home value.

What are the projects? A neighborhood library in Castle Pines (in leased space), a new Parker Library (on donated land), and a new Lone Tree Library (also on donated land). They would open in 2009, 2011, and 2012, respectively. Castle Rock and Highlands Ranch would also see some building improvements, as funds are available, but not later than 2012.

The proposal is different from last year's in three ways.

* It's cheaper. Our public feedback revealed a lot of concern about the economy. We heard you. Despite rising construction costs, we lowered the anticipated expense by scaling back the projects, and phasing in their construction. The library has always taken an aggressively conservative approach to public expenditures.

* Part of it sunsets. When the capital is paid off, that part of the mill levy -- 0.4 -- goes away. The rest will be used to operate the expanded facilities.

* It's urgent. Last year, our planning was far enough out that no big changes were immediately necessary if we failed to address district demand. That's changed. For one thing, the promise of donated land in Lone Tree -- a significant savings for all -- will be withdrawn if the voters turn down our proposal again.

For another, the inequities of service across the county are becoming more pronounced. In the 12 years since our last tax increase, the county has not grown equally. Today, Parker has a library half the size of the library in Castle Rock, but serves a population almost twice as large. Castle Pines has no library at all. Lone Tree has quite a beautiful building, but soon will serve an area far beyond its capacity.

Trustees represent the entire county. If the voters want us to live within our existing revenues, then we'll have to redistribute the resources more fairly, diminishing some services across the county to invest in necessary infrastructure. That's painful and disruptive. And, I hope, it is also unnecessary.

As I've always said to my staff, crisis planning is a sign of bad management. It can be averted through sound planning. Averting a crisis is precisely what we're hoping to do. The increased cost for most households will be about the cost of one hardback book per year.

A copy of the Board resolution, and the complex ballot language (don't blame us -- there's not a lot of leeway in how we have to ask for things) can be found at DouglasCountyLibraries.org.

Many thanks to all of you who took the time to give encouragement, criticism, and thoughtful input to the Board's decision. The Trustees are an extraordinarily diligent group of people, and invested hours of their volunteer time to address community needs in the most responsive way.

Ultimately, the library isn't mine, isn't the staff's, isn't even the Board's. It's yours. You have a choice about its future, and its ability to serve you.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

August 21, 2008 - love story leads to children's room gift

by Sheila Kerber, Manager, Philip S. Miller Library

Mark Twain once said, “Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.”

I would like to introduce you to a remarkable couple who have slowly grown their love for over fifty years. Douglas County Libraries' Philip S. Miller Library is the beneficiary of a generous bequest from Dr. Robert C. Sullivan in honor of his wife Bobbi. Above the door in the Children’s department a plaque will read: "Through this door come tomorrow's leaders" and below "Children's Room dedicated to Roberta D. Sullivan from Dr. Robert C Sullivan."

Last Tuesday I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Dr. and Mrs. Robert C. Sullivan who celebrated 52 year of marriage on June 30 of this year. This is a real love story.

In 1954, Robert was getting ready to graduate from Williams College when he went to Smith College one afternoon with a car full of friends for a blind date. Robert remembers "there was a long walkway from the house to the curb where we were in the car. The first two girls came down, and they looked like were going to Siberia. Their heads were down. Then Bobbi came down. She was skipping, and her red hair was flying in the breeze, and she had the most beautiful smile I had ever seen. I said, to myself, I have to get to know this girl. And I did."

Robert and Bobbi dated for two years while Robert began medical school at George Washington University, and Bobbi finished her music degree at Smith College. They met in New York on weekends, and Robert worked construction during the summers in Grand Rapids Michigan so he could be near Bobbi. Finally on June 30, 1956 they married. The wedding took place in Bobbi’s backyard in Michigan. That same evening they began driving to Washington, D.C. so Robert could resume his medical studies at George Washington University.

Bobbi began teaching music at Mount Ranier Junior High School in Maryland. She entered the school the first day with a bust of Beethoven under her arm and discovered a lifelong passion for teaching and for the arts.

Bobbi gave birth to six children: Robin, Brian, Timmy, Celia, Elinor and Catherine. Their lives were not without hardship. They lost their third child, Timmy, to a virulent flu epidemic in 1965.

After Robert completed his medical degree, his much beloved Uncle Robert encouraged him to come to Denver for his internship. The Sullivan family was in Colorado three months when they knew they wanted to live in Colorado forever.

When I asked Bobbi and Robert what they liked best about one another. Robert said "She is enormously fun to be with. She is unpredictable and there is always something to enjoy about her." Bobbi's answer to the same question was that Robert was such a decent and generous person. "He is very interesting to live with. There is not a dull bone in his body."

When I asked them what they learned from their parents, Bobbi’s parents taught her that honesty was important and that it is important to "finish what you start." Robert’s parents taught him the value of hard work.

I asked them if they could have pursued another profession what might they have chosen, Bobbi would have been an oceanographer and Robert would have been a pilot.

When I asked them what they are most proud of they both answered, "Our family. We have five wonderful kids and twelve grandchildren, and we are very proud of them all."

They both enjoyed every moment of raising their children. They also loved their careers, Robert's as a surgeon and Bobbi's as a music teacher, but they both agree that family comes first.

I wish you could have seen the remarkable way they still look at one another as they shared the story of their lives. It is so obvious that they have a deep and abiding love for each other. They truly laugh often and love much.

Douglas County Libraries feel very lucky that Dr. Sullivan has expressed his deep affection for his wife by giving so generously to the children of Douglas County. Please drop by and see the lovely plaque which will stand as a permanent testament to the love of one man for one woman.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

August 14, 2008 - we need to think bigger

When I was 18, I came up with a basic life philosophy. I called it "the expandable egg."

Imagine a chicken in the egg. One day, the young chick is aware of pressure. It's uncomfortable, then constraining, and finally intolerable.

So the chick starts to kick and peck. It breaks out of the egg.

And immediately: Wow, it's big out here! So the first instinct is to seek shelter. Under mom, away from mysterious threats.

But eventually, the chick gets bolder, and starts exploring. After a while, she learns all kinds of shortcuts to the best or hidden food. What was immense and unknowable becomes familiar.

And then, it becomes too familiar. Constraining. One day, the chick pokes through the fence, and --- wow, it's big out here!

Learning is an egg that gets bigger and bigger.

It applies to using libraries, too.

In Douglas County, many, many children are first exposed to libraries through storytimes. Here they fall in love with one of our staff, discover fascinating stories, learn fun finger plays and songs.

Not long after that, they move on to the picture books, driving a hefty percentage of our business. In 2002 the entire checkouts of our district, adult and children's materials alike, were about 3.1 million items. Last year, we checked out that many items just for children! We don't have the most children in Colorado. We don't have the most children's materials. But we did check out more children's materials than any other library in the rest of the state.

After picture books, young readers start finding the series they love: American Girls, or Lemony Snicket's "Series of Unfortunate Events." Or they discover a passion for airplanes or bugs.

Then they become aware of the larger environment of the library: young adult books, comic book series, adult books, reference materials, online resources.

And then, sometimes, they move around Douglas County, checking out (pardon the pun) all of our locations. More often, perhaps, people's library experiences remain centered on just one of our buildings -- except for the materials they place on hold, which can and do come from any of our libraries.

I sometimes wonder if people understand the real charge of the Douglas County Libraries. It's all there in our name: our job is to meet the library needs of the entire county.

Our Library Board has chosen a regional model. On a square foot basis, larger libraries are much cheaper to operate than smaller ones. We have also chosen to try to place our libraries in or near downtowns; our contribution of street traffic is a potent boost for business and community building.

But it is also the case that because we leverage countywide support, each of these municipally-based libraries is much larger and better equipped than a city would be able to afford by itself.

For instance, the town of Castle Rock's Philip S. Miller Library was paid for in part, and has a continuing subsidy from, the communities of Highlands Ranch and Parker. That's a good deal for the people in Castle Rock. Right now, in the very crowded Parker Library -- which is half the size of the Philip S. Miller Library, but already serves more than twice as many people -- it's not such a good deal for Parker area residents.

Counties don't always grow evenly; there was a vacant and correctly store in Castle Rock when the library's reserves were sufficient to grab it. There is no similar property for sale in Parker, nor are our reserves now large enough to act on such an opportunity even if there were.

It can be a challenge to keep the whole county in mind. But I think it prudent to remember that library service, and funding, is based on the whole egg.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

August 7, 2008 - are successful libraries worth reinvestment?

Consider the following. Based on a comparison of library statistics between 2002 and 2006:

* Visits to libraries increased by 10 percent across the country; at Douglas County Libraries, 65 percent.

* Circulation (checkouts) grew by 9 percent nationwide; at Douglas County Libraries, 74 percent.

* Nationwide, the number of Internet-capable computers increased by 38 percent; at Douglas County Libraries, 126 percent.

* Our circulation of children's materials (in 2007) is the highest in Colorado at 3,122,000 and is 48% of our circulation. That outstrips the 42% that was reported as the highest in the country in 2006 -- at a library in Vermont.

Here are a few local stats:

* Over 80% of our households have at least one active library card.

* Independent research has revealed that the return on investment for the Douglas County Libraries is just over $5 per tax dollar invested.

* A recently completed poll by Hill Research reports that we have an approval rating among our citizens of a staggering 93 percent.

Despite all the above, that same Hill Research poll says our odds going into a 2008 election with our current proposal are: fifty-fifty. Plus or minus four percent.

I hasten to add that this even-steven split isn't about some kind of perceived problem with us. There's a lot of concern about the economy out there.

That means the library will have to think long and hard about both what it can afford, and how it can meet vital capital needs in these tightening times. Message received.

But just because I have the kind of brain that can't stop asking the next question, I've been pondering the difference between the public and private sectors. Those of us in government often hear this suggestion: run it like a business!

If our library were a business, the market would call for investment. Double digit growth in use every year, and a proven record of tight fiscal management? By any measure, the Douglas County Libraries is successful: performance-oriented, forward-looking, an industry leader. In the business world, you'd snap up more stock.

In the public sector, reinvestment means a tax increase. One could argue that the dividends are reckoned as service. But more often, people think "things are fine! Why give the government more money!"

They don't think: "I like the outcomes of my investment, and if I invest more, I'll get more of those outcomes."

What are the outcomes of a successful public library? Children who love books. A community that gathers together at neutral ground to talk, to connect, and to plan. An economic engine for downtowns. A hand up to new and expanding businesses. A place where everyone, regardless of age or formal education or wealth, has free access to the intellectual resources of our culture. Is that worth reinvestment?

Back in the private sector, crisis is greeted with a drop in the value of stock. But in the public sector, crisis is often used to justify the urgent need for new funds.

So here's the puzzle. We reward businesses for success and punish them for failure. But we reward government for failure and punish it for success.

Isn't that weird?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

July 31, 2008 - generations build or destroy the public sector

A few months ago I got to give one of my favorite talks. The topic was generations: how a combination of parenting styles and world events leads to distinct differences between us, and how those differences play out at home, in the workplace, and in society generally.

One of the people who heard the talk -- a police chief -- invited me to give it again, this time to a leadership group of police officers.

At first, I'm not sure they thought that a librarian would have much to say to them. But what I like about the topic is that it eventually touches everybody.

I learned that several metro area police departments are finding that they just don't get as many qualified officer candidates as they used to. Where once a modest ad might bring in 2,000 people, now only eight show up, and four of them really shouldn't be given badges and pistols.

Many officers reported that the way they were trained doesn't seem to be working as well with new recruits.

We talked frankly about that. What motivates potential officers today isn't the same thing that motivated officers from one or two generations ago. And they certainly don't learn the same way -- why try to teach the same way?

In short, thinking about generations isn't fluff: it's essential to the recruitment and training of qualified employees.

I find that the more I give this talk, the more harshly critical I become of my own generation: Baby Boomers.

One critique came from my own daughter who said, "No offense" (which is NEVER the way you want a comment from your children to begin), "but I -- and my generation -- are just so tired of angry Baby Boomer partisanship."

Ouch. But it's true. If you examine the record of our generation, here's mostly what we've done: destroy public institutions.

In sharp contrast to the work of the Greatest Generation -- institution builders, all -- the primary focus of most of my generation is to place our own individual convenience or values above the common good.

But here's the twist: even people in public service do it. That is, I've heard police officers disrespecting state and federal government; I've heard state workers dis the city workers. I've even heard librarians do it: speak with distrust and mistrust of government.

Government would be the people who sent firefighters and police officers up the steps of the crumbling towers on 9/11 -- to save lives. Government would be the people who have successfully eliminated a host of childhood illnesses, and taught millions of Americans to read.

So I suspect what I'm saying is AHEAD of the times, and it may be startling to you. But here it is: we need public institutions. We really do. And yes, they should be competent, and cost-effective, and responsive.

They aren't, not all the time. But then, neither is any other human enterprise: not business, not non-government not-for-profits, not anything. On the other hand, the record of local government is pretty good.

Incidentally, I put libraries right up there with police and fire and roads. An intellectual infrastructure is vital to our society, too.

For the past decade, I have directed my staff to work on this goal: to integrate our library as tightly as possible with our community. We are a vital asset: responding to individual needs on one hand, and community needs on the other.

We've done a really good job, too. We are an essential partner to both public and private education. We help people find jobs and launch businesses. We partner often and effectively to bring our research skills to bear on community issues.

We change lives. Or rather, we give people the tools they need to change their own lives.

Private institutions come and go. But the job of government is to endure, trading profit for longevity, for service both individuals and the public can depend on, for the quality of our shared lives.

Yet for more than 30 years now, Baby Boomers have been fostering an attitude of disdain and destructiveness toward public institutions. What possible result can there be but institutional failure? (Example: FEMA.)

Who wins?

I find the attitude of the Gen-Xers refreshing. Less ideological, more pragmatic, they just might save vital institutions.

The Millennials, coming up behind them, have a spirit of collaboration utterly foreign to my own generation, the willingness to entertain again the notion of public value.

I've decided that I need to change my own attitude. Do I want to live in a place where people are safe, well-educated, and healthy?

I do.

If I want quality of life, then I have to support public institutions, too. That support is not a burden -- it is both a responsibility and a privilege.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

July 24, 2008 - more library questions and answers

Herein is my 2nd column trying to address questions the public has asked about a proposed mill levy increase question for library funding (approximately $30 a year on a $300,000 home).

Q: Why is the library asking for money for the arts?

A: It isn't. It never did. It is asking for money to build and operate libraries. The proposed land for two of the library projects (Lone Tree and Parker) is adjacent to proposed performing arts centers in those communities. But the library isn't paying for them. They are local projects. Together, libraries and performing arts centers add up to a significant draw for economic development. But the funding for them is completely separate.

There is an independent library foundation, a 501 (c)(3) organization that uses private donations for the purchase of art in our libraries and in partnerships with other community agencies. But no taxpayer dollars are used for the purchase of art.

Q: Who needs libraries in the age of the Internet?

A: In 2007, the Douglas County Libraries checked out more children's materials (over 3.3 million items) – primarily books – than any other library in the state of Colorado. This investment in literacy is one of the key contributions of the public library.

There is additional research about the importance of the public library in the Internet age. First, technology has increased, not decreased, library use. The Internet is wonderful as a way to get quick facts. But the library is about far more than quick answers. It's about reading. It's about browsing the magazines. It's about programs for children, or teens, or adults. It's about meeting rooms and study spaces. It's about seeing and being seen. It's about building community. Second, the library is also a place that provides high speed access to the Internet – of increasing importance when more and more of our life is managed through it. Third, the library subscribes to high quality commercial databases that are “invisible” to Google; and our trained staff are highly skilled researchers – staff add value to the Internet, rather than being replaced by it.

Q: Why should the people who aren't getting new libraries pay for libraries in other communities?

A: There are three answers. First, because all Douglas County Libraries are inter-related. What is requested by a patron at one library, may be delivered from another library. The more strain that is placed on smaller libraries, the more they will transfer resources from the larger ones. Second, because the people in those other communities paid for your library. This issue is one of fairness. Third, even in communities that have libraries (Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Roxborough), we'll make modest improvements: an expansion of the children's room in Castle Rock, the conversion of a storage space or outdoor deck at Highlands Ranch into a meeting room, computer lab, or stacks space), and eventual expansion of the Roxborough space as the population grows.

But the first answer is the best: libraries are a cooperative purchasing agreement. By spreading the costs around the whole county, we keep the costs low.

Q: What has the library done to control costs?

A: Long before the library considered coming to the voters, we tightened our belt. Our business -- the number of items checked out -- climbed from 3.4 million items in 2003 to 6.4 million items in 2007. That's an increase of 89%. We did this while holding our staff virtually flat. How was this possible? For many years, the cost center of the library has been the people who ran library checkout and checkin processes. With a one-time investment in capital (self-check and automated return systems), the library reduced the staffing needs for those processes by almost two-thirds. It retrained and repurposed those staff to provide more direct public service -- in the stacks, building displays, answering questions. In the process, the removal of large circulation desks gave the library more space. Library materials used to be backlogged, sometimes taking 5 days to check in. Now, most materials make it back to the shelves the day they're returned. All of those changes have saved money, and have allowed the library to keep up with unprecedented growth in demand.

The Library Board has been a good steward of taxpayer dollars, and has established reserves for capital improvements – but those reserves are not sufficient to build or operate any new libraries.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

July 17, 2008 - library answers planning questions

First, my thanks to the literally thousands of people who have responded to recent library mailings about our consideration of a proposal to add additional library space and materials around the county. I appreciate it.

Second, some of our citizens have asked pointed questions. I'd like to answer them.

Question: in Parker, why don't we just buy and renovate the vacant King Soopers, as we did with the old Safeway in Castle Rock?

Answer: the building isn't for sale. The owners have other plans for the property. We can't buy what isn't on the market.

Question: "are you idiots aware that there's a recession?"

Answer: we have got to do something about the quality of public discourse in this county.

No, we're not idiots. Yes, we are aware that some of us are spending up to $30 more a week to fill up our gas tanks -- for which we receive absolutely NO increase in value.

Here's another choice: for about $30 more per YEAR (based on the average home's value of $300,000), our community can build three new libraries, and add tens of thousands of new materials every year. Borrow just one of those books back from us, and you've recovered that investment. Borrow two, and you're ahead of the curve. When times are tight, libraries are an even better value.

There is some urgency to a 2008 question: for two of our libraries (Parker and Lone Tree) we have been offered free land. If we fail to seize that opportunity by the end of the year, the free land goes away in Lone Tree. Future library expansion will be even more expensive.

Question: don't libraries undercut bookstores, video and music stores?

Answer: libraries don't steal business from the private sector. On the contrary: we grow it. Bookstores near libraries do better than those farther away. The same is true for movie and music stores. We don't compete with one another; we build markets together.

And we WANT the business community to thrive. Every year, we help hundreds of patrons find new jobs. We help hundreds of entrepreneurs do the research necessary to launch new home-based businesses -- the fastest growing sector of our economy. Through our "economic gardening" initiative (in combination with the county and local economic development and chambers of commerce) we provide the data to take those businesses out of the basement, and get them into offices on Main Street.

Question: what's the evidence for the need for new library facilities?

Answer: I can cite lots of statistics (a well-tested standard of half-a-square-foot-per-capita served, where it's clear the population greatly outstrips our square footage; a statistic of checkouts-per-person-per-year of 20, some three to four times greater than the rest of the nation; a use of children's materials greater than any library in the state; a growth in demand, year to year, of 18-33% depending on location).

But it really comes down to this: if you use the library, you know the need is real. If you don't, take a trip to one of our branches and see for yourself, assuming you can find a parking space. (Incidentally, 4 out of 5 households in Douglas County use the library pretty regularly.)

So does all that add up to "need?" Or is it just an opportunity to invest in a kind of community -- one that demonstrably values lifelong learning -- where you actually want to live?

I'll continue to address recurrent questions in this space for the next few weeks. Also, please note our public meetings at:

* Highlands Ranch Library (9292 Ridgeline Blvd.
Saturday, July 12 from 4 to 5 p.m.
* Neighborhood Library at Lone Tree (8827 Lone Tree Pkwy)
Saturday, July 19 from 4 to 5 p.m.
* Parker Library (10851 South Crossroads Dr)
Friday, July 25 from 6 to 7 p.m.
* Philip S. Miller Library (100 S. Wilcox St., Castle Rock)
Monday, July 28 from 6 to 7 p.m.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

July 10, 2008 - Libraries- Necessity or Luxury?

by Sharon Nemechek, Manager, Lone Tree Library

[I was having a conversation with the manager of our Lone Tree Libraryrecently. The topic was "what do people need?" This literate andengaging essay is Sharon's eloquent answer.] - Jamie LaRue

Can you identify the necessities in your life? Stop and think….are youable to distinguish the necessities from the conveniences and theluxuries? Most of us would agree that our basic needs include air,food, water and shelter. But, what about books?

In "Man’s Search for Meaning," Viktor Frankl, who was imprisoned infour different concentration camps during WWII, observed that it wasnot necessarily the strong, fit laborers who survived the starvation,torture and hard physical labor in the camps, but those prisoners whohad travelled and read books. For the few hours they were idle theyescaped the daily horrors of the camp and in their minds visited theplaces they had seen in life or in literature. That mental escape wasessential to their survival.

As a librarian I find this fascinating. I know that books help usunderstand our universe, but is it possible that they satisfy somebasic human need, that without them we might not survive? And if so,what does that say about the place of the library in our lives?

Psychologist Abraham Maslow and economist Manfred Max-Neef each workedto define a system of human needs. While Maslow believed that needs arehierarchical, Max-Neef proposed that human needs are constant acrosscultures and time periods and that true needs are few. Both agree thatbasic physical needs include air, food, water, shelter, and protectionfrom danger. What I find interesting, though, is they both suggest thatwe also have some basic emotional needs that must be satisfied,including the need for affection/intimacy, a sense of belonging,respect, understanding, recreation, creation, identity and freedom.

Is it possible that these basic emotional needs that Frankl, Maslow andMax-Neef observed can be satisfied with a visit to your local library?Well, let’s take a look…..

Affection/intimacy. Although this one has been attempted at thelibrary, I wouldn’t recommend it. But, you can find resources on how tobe a better partner or parent. And, some libraries have singles nights.

A sense of belonging. The library has been described as a "thirdplace," a place in addition to your home and workplace that’sintegrated into your daily life. In one study libraries equaledStarbucks and grocery stores for number of repeat visits by patrons perweek. In Douglas County 80% of households have at least one librarycard. The library has truly become our community "living room."

Respect. Library staff respect the reading preferences, interests andinformation needs of all patrons. This is one of the guiding principlesof our profession.

Recreation. Reading or listening to a good book is not only greatentertainment, but it often provides a much needed escape. During mydivorce, a stressful and emotional time, I devoured all the "escapist"fare I could find. Immersed in a fast-paced story I found respite frommy almost constant worries.

Understanding, Identity. We gain a deeper understanding of ourselvesnot only from Wayne Dyer and Dr. Phil, but also through the beautifullytold stories of Willa Cather, Ha Jin, Wallace Stegner, Jhumpa Lahiri,Cormac McCarthy and many, many others.

Creation. Do you want to start a small business, build a robot out ofLegos, plant an herb garden or turn some beads and wire into abracelet? The library has books, DVDs and classes to show you how to doall this and more. Recently my son checked out a DVD on how to build aquarter pipe. Now he's inspired to turn our garage into a mini skatepark.
Freedom. What greater freedom is there than access to any book you’llever want to read? What greater freedom than the journey into a greatstory?

Is the library necessary for survival? After air, after food, after shelter. Absolutely.


James LaRue, Director
Douglas County Libraries
100 S Wilcox Street
Castle Rock CO 80104

"One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries." - A. A. Milne

Thursday, July 3, 2008

July 3, 2008 - libraries energize entrepreneurs

[This week I wanted to highlight the business development work of the library and its partners. Our "reporter" is Rochelle Logan, my wonderful Associate Director of Research and Collections.]

I recently attended the National Economic Gardening Conference in Steamboat Springs where participants from twenty states, Japan and Australia came together to discuss ways to support small businesses in their communities. The concept of Economic Gardening started in Littleton, Colorado some twenty years ago. In addition to attracting new business from outside your city or county and keeping them, Economic Gardening (EG) helps local entrepreneurs thrive and grow which brings more resources to the community.

"Economic Gardening is a great opportunity for smaller businesses. It provides access to resource channels that they might not be aware of or otherwise be difficult to engage." Christian Eppers, Manager of Economic Gardening, Chamber of Commerce at Highlands Ranch.

EG programs offer tools to the small business that only larger corporations can afford. Types of services EG programs can provide include market research, competitive intelligence, industry trends, marketing lists, and Website optimization.

Why would librarians be interested in Economic Gardening and helping small businesses in our communities? One of our goals at Douglas County Libraries (DCL) is to reach out to answer the community reference question. It’s a natural fit to partner with local economic development entities such as the Highlands Ranch / Douglas County EG program. I was asked to serve on their steering committee made up of representatives from Team Highlands Ranch. I enjoyed the excitement and resolve this group generated while planning the EG launch. More information about that program is available at www.highlandsranchchamber.org/

"We are extremely excited about the partnership we have with the Douglas County Library System and the Chamber's Economic Gardening program. Douglas County is very fortunate to have the Douglas County Library System as a resource. They continue to stay on the cutting edge." Steve Dyer, President Chamber of Commerce at Highlands Ranch

We also collaborate with Castle Rock Economic Development (CREDCO). They plan to launch their EG program shortly.

In addition to working with community EG offices, DCL started looking for resources that our librarians and local EG offices could use. As a result, we added new business databases to our inventory that can be accessed from the new www.douglascountylibraries.org. Click on Research Databases to access Reference USA, Small Business Resource Center, Demographics Now and much more.

To be successful, entrepreneurs need good information and help with business research. Trained professionals at our libraries know how to find resources to answer specific questions as well as offer programs to train small business owners on how to find the information for themselves. The new small business service at DCL is designed to work with business startups and other entrepreneurs who need help in building their business. To contact a business librarian send an email to bizlibs@dclibraries.org or call 303-791-READ.

Douglas County Libraries are well located in our communities and offer meeting space and study rooms that are heavily used by small businesses as a place to work quietly, talk to librarians and access our outstanding reference collections, both in print and online.

Clearly we have an opportunity to leverage the knowledge and build DCL’s role to support economic development initiatives. From what I learned at the National Economic Gardening Conference, DCL is once again on the cutting edge in offering this type of service and fostering partnerships with community business organizations.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

June 26, 2008 - "Why do I not know about this?"

A few weeks ago, I put out a call for stories about how the library changed lives. I'd like to give you a taste of some of the wonderful responses we've gotten.

This one is from Hannah Fenstermacher:

"I grew up with the library having a consistent presence in my life. My mom was a library fan, and I remember going to our small town library each week to pick out new books. I continued to enjoy libraries as I went on to college - and then when I moved to Castle Rock - the library was one of the first places on my list to visit. While I have always enjoyed libraries - and always been an avid reader - I am not sure it was necessarily life changing until I had a baby last August.

"I believe new mothers generally have a couple things in common - they're pinching pennies, they're malnourished of adult interaction, and they're wondering how the heck they entertain this new little person ALL DAY LONG without going crazy. I fell into all three of those categories - particularly because previous to having our daughter, Freya, I was always on the go and surrounded by adults all day long, whether through school or work. I decided to begin working part-time from home when Freya was 4 months old and began interviewing babysitters to watch her a couple hours a week. One of these daycare providers mentioned 'baby storytime' to me, and asked me if I had ever been. I said no, and thought to myself, why do I not know about this??

"I began attending baby lapsit storytime on Tuesdays at the Castle Rock library with Geri in November 2007 when Freya was nearly 5 months old. We were hooked! It has now been about 6 months . . . and we never miss a Tuesday .... Nowhere else can you come into a safe environment, where your child can shake rattles, listen to stories and interact with other children where there is no cost involved. Nowhere else does Geri say every single time, 'You are wonderful people - if no one yet has told you how wonderful you are today, I am telling you now.' No where else can you interact with other parents, who are also there because they care about their child's development and want to have other parent interaction.

"A 30 minute period once a week may not seem 'life changing' to most people .... But, I truly believe that when I leave storytime, I am a better mother. Not only because I have exposed my child to reading and everything wonderful that goes with it - but because I have had a break in my day where there is guaranteed fun, happiness and support."

Over the past months, we've been taking advantage of recent research on brain development to better establish something called "early literacy." If you read to your child, you probably already follow these simple steps -- but you may not know it.

By taking the time to understand those steps, like those followed by such warm and loving staff as Geri, you can be a far more effective teacher for your child.

For more information about this wise investment in the development of your child's brain, see our website at http://www.douglascountylibraries.org/AboutUs/Literacy. Look for "early literacy."

Douglas County Libraries -- keeping moms sane and making kids smarter. It's the right thing to do.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

June 19, 2008 - library launches new website (DouglasCountyLibraries.org)

I've learned a few things over the years.

1. Almost everything important requires teamwork.

2. Significant achievement should be celebrated.

3. Nothing is ever finished.

In light of these three principles, I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge a big moment: a new library website.

In accordance with the first principle, I'd like to thank Moira Ash (Web Administrator), Bob Pasicznyuk (Associate Director of Virtual Services), the Contact Center staff (Sabrina Speight, Don Dickenson, Lois Karbach, Carey Lambert, Jacque Moore, Janet Nelson, Carol Parry, Tanna Crowley, Kayla Hickman), Laurie Van Court, Hutch Tibbetts, Linda Sturgeon, our Community Relations staff, Roy Johnston, and the many others who helped us hone the user profiles, assemble databases and tools, and generally assist in rolling out a 21st century web presence.

Our website is a kind of library branch -- open 24/7, boasting a host of services, and staffed by real people, even if you can't see them. Our technical and support staff are among the best in the world, and their work together is impressive.

The library was the first website ever to flower in Douglas County, back a dozen years ago now. Our latest website went live on June 10, 2008. This one is based on Drupal, a complex and powerful Open Source "content management system." It allows not only the creation of complex websites, but permits, and incorporates, user comments. This marks a change in how we add content to our site, distributing the work among many minds.

I hardly know how to describe the incredible richness of our site. It really is much like a visit to a library.

Front and center (the blank spot at the top of the home page) is our catalog -- the crowning achievement of America's public libraries. Or you can switch from "catalog" to "website" to do a search -- and pull in a host of other resources, including local community members. Just below that is a link to manage your account -- holds, what you've got checked out, renewals, and so on. Just these two options deserve a column of their own.

Also on that first page is a navigational tool (the "tabs" along the top of the screen), and some key links on the left pane (everything from contact information, to our program calendar, to our site about voter information).

The rest of the page is given over to highlights. It will be different every time you load it.

Right now, you'll see links to "eLearning2Go" -- online training, including everything from office software to college, career, and test preparation. The library website: a virtual classroom. How cool is that?

But here's that second point: celebration! The unveiling of this website reflects at least a year of preparation -- and more. Well done! Fireworks! Cakes and candles! Dancing in the street!

And now the third point: the library's website, it goes without saying, really isn't done. It never will be. Anything this infernally complex has incomplete parts, quite aside from the fact that the public keeps expecting new and better things from us. Bear with us as we fill in the outline, tweak the system, and generally respond to both public and staff scrutiny.

In weeks to come, expect to see our website continue to evolve, I hope toward greater simplicity. (And let's add another principle: 4. Simplicity isn't easy.)

But perfection is a fool's dream. Let's take a moment to breathe a big sigh, and say, "Wow."

DouglasCountyLibraries.org -- you're just a click away from one big neighborhood of knowledge.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

June 10, 2008 - "discovery packs" prevent sibling torture

When I was a kid (one of five), my parents could afford only one vacation a year: a car trip from north of Chicago to my mother's folks in Ohio. It was usually in the hottest month of the year.

The interstate highway program was still under development back then. For years, the trip took 10-12 hours, as we stuttered, stoplight by stoplight, on the two lane roads through Chicago, then Gary, Indiana (whose sky was always red, even at night), and across Indiana.

Eventually, with I-94 and I-80, the trip got whittled down to six hours, allowing no more than two potty breaks.

Imagine five kids in the back of a Ford four-door. No seat belts. Six hours. Pre-air-conditioning. Parents who smoked more or less constantly, interrupted only by the usual threats: "Don't make me stop this car! Do I have to come back there and separate you two?"

It's a wonder any of us survived.

I brought comic books and science fiction novels, because it didn't bother me to read in the car. But we usually had to fall back on dumb Interstate games -- finding a license from the farthest away state, looking for words on billboards, extra points for being the first to spot a VW bug, and so on.

These days many cars have built-in DVD players, or parents bring portable ones. Or they have other electronic devices to distract the children from the excruciating mutual torture that so often attends confined sibling interaction.

Allow me to offer another tool for those family drives. Jordana Vincent, one of our Collection Development Librarians, told me recently about one of our cooler new products. They're called "Discovery Packs."

You can find them in, and check them out from, the children's room at all of our libraries. You can recognize them by their fun and friendly logo (designed by Jake, one of our in-house graphic wizards).

Each Discovery Pack contains several picture books, a DVD, and a toy of some sort. Each pack has a theme. Right now, we have eight: Space, Dinosaurs, Fire Safety, Time, Horses, Pets, Fairies and "Move It!" "Move It!" is focused on exercise and healthy eating. In addition to the books, it includes activity mats, a Mousercise CD with workout music, and a Denise Austin Kid's workout video.

Of course, you probably won't have your children doing actual exercises while they're strapped in, but the point is that these packets are a convenient and entertaining way to not only divert your child from the boredom of the road, but also to insinuate a little learning.

We live, after all, in a multimedia world these days. This kind of thoughtful rounding up of items along a theme is another example of the added value of librarianship. You swing by, grab a discovery pack, and you have something that can keep a child (and parent) interested. When you're done, back into the bag, and hand it back to one of our friendly librarians.

And of course, Discovery Packs are good for home, too!

I'm always delighted to see the many creative solutions our staff come up with. So give this one a try with your preschoolers, and let us know how it works for you. Let us know, too, about any other ideas for themes your children might like to explore.

And remember, whether on the road or at home, the mind you save ... may be your own.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

June 5, 2008 - how has the library changed your life?

Libraries change lives. They sure changed mine, and more than once.

For instance, back at the end of fourth grade I went to the downtown library. I saw Mrs. Johnson, the first librarian I had ever met (way back at the bookmobile, which was another life-changing experience). We got to talking, I don't remember what about, but I do remember that she gave me a book called "The Dialogues of Plato."

That might seem like an odd thing to give a 10-year-old. But there are at least two explanations.

First, I was an odd 10-year-old.

Second, Mrs. Johnson believed in the Great Books. "You can read?" she thought. "Then you should read about Socrates!"

She was right.

The first dialog I read posed a deceptively simple question: "What is wise?" Then followed the most amazing conversation. Everything the student said was questioned, and questioned again, and again.

Until then, I had no idea that thinking, that talking, could be so much fun.

The other kids in my class were interested in ... well, I'm not sure what they were interested in. TV? Sports, some of them. But I know what I was interested in.

The examined life.

It could be that that particular moment in history, at that particular place, was just the right place for me to be. Not far away was the University of Chicago, and the Great Books Foundation. Their premise was that people of all ages -- but particularly the young -- would be significantly improved not just by a passive exposure to classic literature, but by a lively and even aggressive engagement with it.

I don't know about improved, but I was definitely engaged.

And it changed my life. That book, and my response to it, defined my character. It made me hunger for real discussion, for exposure to challenging ideas, and the chance to debate them, learn something, grow.

I'm guessing this is true for some of you, too. Recent forums the library has sponsored (our "Great Discussions" facilitated community programs about a host of global political issues) have generated rave reviews.

It's not surprising. I know of lot of people lately who find commercial TV and radio news, with its reductionist sound bites, little more than annoying. The world is more complex, more nuanced, than lends itself to 5 second "coverage." Why not spent an evening exploring a tough topic with other thoughtful people? And where better than the library?

But all of this thinking about how just one book, introduced at the right time by a canny librarian, can capture your imagination, can shift the whole direction of your life, has made me curious about the rest of you.

Because I'm now a librarian myself, collecting stories is part of my job description. So I'm soliciting yours. Has the library transformed your life?

I'm not just looking for childhood stories, although I'm interested in those, too. I know we've helped people disgusted with their current jobs find, or create, better ones. I know we've provided medical information that just might have saved somebody's life. It's possible that someone met the love of their life here.

Let me know. Please email me at jlarue@dclibraries.org, or call 303-688-7656. I'll share the best of them, with your permission.

It just might be that these kinds of transformations are the whole point of living. And libraries.

LaRue's views are his own.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

May 29, 2008 - DNA tells the history of mankind

For our 25th wedding anniversary, I gave my wife a framed version of a beautiful photograph she took of a pond in Berlin.

She asked what I wanted. I said I wanted to have my DNA tested. After 25 years, I said, you deserve to know who I am.

So she ordered the testing kit from National Geographic's Genographic Project (see www.nationalgeographic.com/genographic), and I dutifully swabbed the inside of my cheeks with the scraper. It will be some four to six weeks before I hear back. It cost about $100.

So those rumors about Indian ancestry -- truth or myth? Are there any other surprises? I chose to follow the paternal line (my paternal grandmother's father was supposed to be full-blooded Cherokee).

National Geographic also sent a quite wonderful DVD about the genetic history of the human race. Dr. Spencer Wells is a most engaging host, who gallivants around the globe exploring and explaining human genetic change.

Here's the broad thesis of modern genetics: we are all Africans.

A single genetic pool -- the San Bush people (the only people to use the "clicking" language) -- is a small and handsome tribe from east central Africa. Some 60,000 years ago some of them left their homeland, possibly because of drought. We know this: the oldest surviving strands of our genetic history (especially mitochondrial DNA, which goes back another 40,000 years) are in their neighborhood.

The next archaeological evidence of early humans appears in ... Australia! That's a little surprising -- it's 10,000 kilometers of water away. Rolling back the genetic clock and matching it to the global history puts that at a time when glaciers had sucked up a lot of water. The migration probably followed coastal routes (Africa to Middle East to India to west Pacific) that are now back underwater, so there's no intervening evidence.

But there was a final 250 kilometers of travel over water from Malaysia to Australia -- about which I can only say, "these people REALLY wanted to get away from their parents."

The DVD that National Geographic sent me is fascinating. This geneticist goes to Australia, where he is told by an aborigine that we westerners may wonder where we came from, but his people KNOW. They came from Australia.

But in an obscure, isolated village in India, there's a distinct genetic marker -- tracing back to Africa, and inherited by all Australian aborigines. But there are no Australian genetic mutations that show up traveling the other way (from there to anywhere else).

Conclusion: Australians are Africans.

There's another migration: Africa to the Middle East. From thence, to India again, and northeast (following migratory paths of animals) to central Asia.

From there, the genetic history of mankind abruptly forks: west to Europe (to move into lands where the glaciers had receded) and northeast again into Asia, thence to the Bering Strait, and over the land bridge to the Americas. That would be where my Cherokee DNA marker shows up -- or not.

The way this works is that my sample will now be nothing more to National Geographic than a coded number. And I'm the only one who knows the code, so it's anonymous. But I can look at that data, unlocking it with my private code, and follow all the migratory paths of my fathers. (It's another $100 to track your mother's DNA.)

I swear there is something in us -- collective unconscious, genetic memory, or something else entirely -- that remembers all these roads.

But I feel this deepening understanding in a way I haven't before: we really are just one family. It's pretty cool to have proof.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

May 22, 2008 - we are all immigrants

I want to tell you about a magical book. It's a book that tells several stories at once, filled with tragedy and humor and love. It does this utterly without words.

The book is called "The Arrival," by Shaun Tan. It is, technically, a "graphic novel" -- a sort of hardbound comic book.

The cover looks like a worn leather folio, with a drawing of a man encountering some kind of bizarre animal. Just inside the covers is another arresting image: 60 faces, of every ethnicity.

The story begins in what I think of as "the old country." A man is packing up a photograph of his small family. Soon, we see them all walking through the city. Around them there are shadows: the tails of dragons, snaking through the gray streets.

The man boards a train, pulling away from the fingers of his wife and daughter.

Soon he is on a ship, along with many other emigrants. For several pages, we see nothing but clouds. Finally, he arrives to a country that is utterly bewildering. There is a big harbor, with statues in the water. There is an enormous hall.

The man is examined. Strangers look in his mouth, in his ears (with an odd instrument, something like a protractor). He collects stamps with mysterious symbols on them. Eventually, he is issued what may be a passport.

Next, the man tries to find his way in this utterly strange place. He looks for lodging. He encounters peculiar animals (like the one on the cover) -- first threatening, then increasingly familiar and friendly. He seeks work. He shops for food -- and nothing looks like anything he has seen before.

Along the way, he meets others, asking for help through pictures he draws in his notebook. And he hears their stories: of lands they too fled, where there were faceless giants who vacuumed people right up into the sky, of guards who seized books and imprisoned young girls, of the utter devastation of war.

There are moments of play and warmth; he meets another young family and they treat him to a meal at their home.

One day, he sends an envelope back to his own family, with money in it. Seasons pass, told in a kind of time lapse photography. And at last, his family arrives!

In the last few pages, we see the man's young daughter wandering, enchanted, through the new land. Finally, she meets another new arrival, and points the way, smiling.

The artist, in an afterword, thanks many people for the four years of research it took to produce "The Arrival." He writes, "Much of this book was inspired by anecdotal stories told by migrants of many different countries and historical periods, including my father who came to Western Australia from Malaysia in 1960." The drawings of the great hall were based on photographs taken at Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954.

What makes this book so powerful? It has the altogether remarkable ability to capture the deep experience of the immigrant.

As you "read" the book, you know that you're literate, as the man is literate in his own language. But you can't make any sense of the symbols in the new land. You're as confused and thrilled as he is.

To convey a host of disparate stories with great insight and tenderness, but without a single recognizable word, is an act of genius.

What makes the story universal is that quite aside from which nation you came from, or which nation you wound up in, all of us travel from one inner state to another. All of us risk much, lose much, and learn much. Ultimately, we all depend on each other for attention, for compassion, and for help.

"The Arrival" is available from the Douglas County Libraries.