This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, June 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.

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