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, 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.