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, 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.