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 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.

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