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

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

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

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, July 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.