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 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.

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