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, December 31, 2009

December 31, 2009 - that was the year that was

Here at the end of 2009, I sent an email around to the staff of the Douglas County Libraries. I asked them to reflect on what they were proud of over the past year. I thought I'd share their responses with you.

Karen Dvorchak noted that "With the Bookmobile retiring this summer, I am very proud of the efforts the drivers and staff made through all kinds of weather and conditions to bring our services into the neighborhoods."

I got lots of comments about our new Castle Pines Library. Beth Dalton wrote, "This was truly a collaboration between the community and Douglas County Libraries. Many different groups and individuals within the library worked together to make the Castle Pines Library a success. The Castle Pines staff is grateful for all of the community members who have donated their time and money to the library." Other staff members wrote about the astonishing speed and teamwork that made this unplanned-for project happen -- 8 weeks from start to finish!

I also got many comments about our Parker renovation. As Debra Weskamp put it, "I am very proud of our staff at Parker for working gracefully and professionally during our Re-Model. It was well organized and patron services were minimally impacted when you think that we did not have to close the branch one day! It was like remodeling your kitchen and cooking 3 meals a day sometimes, but we made it!!" Sylvia Wilkinson thanked her "exceptional volunteers at Parker." Lynn Gillingham praised the "beautiful new children's area and other stunning renovations."

Joanie Mack noted how much fun it was to register new patrons. She wrote, "After I give them a brief introduction to DCL, I love to hear their delight at what is available to them and especially love to watch their jaws drop when they use our self-check system. It is so fast and wonderful! They are usually just amazed!"

Also from Parker, Jeanie Straub wrote, "We had a lot of great moments in libraryland at Parker but my favorite -- or one of top 3 -- was seeing Angie Stevens and her band rock out in our reference section ...

Sabrina Speight of our Contact Center was justifiably pleased by the 97% satisfaction rate in the customer service survey we ran on that department. She also noted that "In November, the Contact Center tested an initiative to assist the Elections Department by taking calls during their busy election season in order to provide better and faster service to Douglas County citizens." Governments working together to pool resources and save costs -- who would have thought? Thanks to Jack Arrowsmith, our County Clerk and Recorder, for this effort as well.

Dedra Anderson wrote that she was "pretty proud of the DCL Book Chat blog. (See http://dclreading.wordpress.com/.) It has over 125 staff suggestions for good reads for our patrons."

Ruth Ann Krovontka wrote that "One of the proudest times for kids at Highlands Ranch was the first annual Battle of the Books and the beginning of the second annual with Parker adding on."

Kathy Johnson was pleased to participate in her graduation from our two year internal leadership development program. (And all of our graduates are so good!)

This came from Margie Woodruff, our Foundation Director: "Libraries were an inspiration to people like Dr. and Mrs. Robert Sullivan and Mrs. Verna Daughenbaugh who paid for the children's department renovations at the libraries in Castle Rock and Parker through generous donations to Douglas County Libraries Foundation.

"Old friends and new gathered together for the book launch of the Perry Park Story, a reprint funded by Douglas County Libraries Foundation that documented their community story from the beginning to present.

"The spirit of the Louviers community was admirable. Despite the odds, they rallied to keep their library open and fundraised close to $18,000 to help cover operating expenses."

What am I proud of? In addition to all of the above (an amazing list!), I am deeply impressed by the spirit, the service ethic, the passion, and the intelligence, of our staff. It is a profound privilege to work with them.

On to 2010!

LaRue's Views.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

December 24, 2009 - A Gift Suitable for All Ages

For the past several years, I've been reprinting what I've come to think of as "my holiday column" -- a tradition. I hope you enjoy it.


What we really need is an all-purpose gift that will satisfy everybody. It should be suitable for all ages. It should require no assembly. It shouldn't need batteries. You shouldn't have to feed it. It should last forever. It should be constantly entertaining. The more the recipient uses it, the more he or she should like it.

And of course, it should be free.

No such animal, right? Wrong. I'm talking about a library card.

I'll never understand it. Most adults these days carry cards of every description; most of them DON'T have library cards. So for the woman or man who has everything, why not offer everything else? -- access to the total accumulated knowledge of the human race, not to mention the most wonderful stories ever told.

Of course, the real winner of a gift like this is not an adult. It's a child.

Here's all you have to do to make your holidays a success. First, come down to the library and fill out a library card application for your child. Then, check out three of four books. Wrap the card and the books and offer them to your children in the fashion that your holiday traditions dictate. Save this very special package for last.

When the child rips it open, say that this unassuming little card will let him or her get presents all year long. Then read your child to sleep that night with one of the books.

After your children have gotten bored with their other toys, read them (or have them read) the other books, then trot them down to the library in that slow week at the end of the year. Teach your children about exchanging one present for another.

At the library, every day is Christmas. Behind every book cover there are riches. After introducing your kids to a treasure trove beyond Aladdin's wildest dreams, why not mosey over to the adult section, and browse through the latest offerings yourself? You know you deserve it.

Many people -- librarians, teachers, Secretaries of Education, even sport celebrities and actors -- have urged every child to obtain and use a library card. It's good advice.

Besides, at prices like these, who can argue? If you are not fully satisfied after a lifetime of learning and pleasure -- I'll cheerfully refund your money.

Trust me, this could be the best season's greeting card you'll ever send.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

December 17, 2009 - 7 arguments for building new libraries

Recently, one of our employees moved to the Midwest to become the director of a library whose main building was destroyed by a thousand year flood. On the one hand, many members of the community are working to restore that library.

On the other, this former employee tells me he's hearing more and more often the refrain that building libraries just isn't necessary. Not in the 21st century. Not in the age of the Internet.

I disagree. After I thought about it for a bit, I could come up with at least 7 arguments for why we still need to build libraries. But I don't see why we have to stop at 7. Feel free to add to the list.

Argument#1 - The library is an anchor store and traffic generator. Libraries pull a cross-section of the public, all ages, all day long, through our doors. We are the business that never goes out of business. (Of course, the scheduled closing of 4 out of 7 libraries in Aurora at the end of this month indicates that this rule, too, has its exceptions.) Yet it remains true that even in a down economy, library use goes UP. You want your business to be by a library. If you're planning a development, you want the liveliness of a public building in the heart of it.

Argument #2 - Library construction is a powerful economic stimulus, especially in a recession. People often overlook that a public construction project employs architects, general contractors, local tradespeople, local suppliers, and so on, which in turn generates sales for local restaurants, gas stations, etc.

Argument #3 - Library buildings are a bridge over the digital divide. Libraries are about access, and our record of allowing digitally disadvantaged people - poor, young, elderly, etc. - to use public technology to bootstrap themselves out of technological ghettos is real.

Argument #4 -The Internet encourages, not replaces, library use. Every time we add more Internet terminals, the use of everything else goes UP - more books checked out, more browsing, more magazines read, more reference questions, more program attendance. There's a lot of data about this, going all the way back to 1999, and still holding true (see www.lrs.org/documents/fastfacts/163cirvinet.pdf).

Argument #5 - Library buildings foster community, both through providing meeting space and hosting programs that foster lifelong learning. Genetically, socially, we are wired for interaction. Libraries serve the role of both common and neutral ground.

Argument #6 - Library buildings manifest and reinforce a statement of community values. The library is a tangible sign of a community's commitment to individual inquiry, a safety net for the young and old, a secular sanctuary for people who need public space either for public contact or for private pondering. I remember pondering this comment from a member of the Greatest Generation: "In my day, we lived in modest homes, but built significant public monuments. These days, we live in palaces, and build government buildings out of split-face concrete."

Argument #7 - Library buildings are an investment in our children's brains. The children's storytime - featuring real live people from your own community - is our nation's single most potent strategy for sowing literacy in the land. The library is a space where even preschool children meet live performers, then are loaded up with materials to further deepen the experience. The presence of location offering trained staff to promote literacy and learning through readers advisor work, reference work, teaching, adds a resource to a community that not only employs local people today, but helps raise people who are employable tomorrow.

But that's just off the top of my head. I'd be interested from hearing more from our community. What's the value of a library building?

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

12/10/009 - 2010 initiatives undo public infrastructure

Last week, I wrote about civic literacy. One aspect of that is knowing something about our framework of laws, the United States Constitution.

Libraries are very much about the First Amendment -- freedom of speech. Sometimes, that gets awkward.

As I think Reggie Rivers once said, nobody minds if you stand on a street corner and profess your tender affection for butterflies.

The reason we need the First Amendment is to protect unpopular speech, to say things that are not innocuous or pleasant.

Here's a case in point. Last month, petition-gatherers stood outside several Douglas County libraries. Some of these folks were local.

Some were apparently from the west coast. A few of them claimed they were getting paid up to a dollar per signature. It's not clear who paid them.

None of these people were particularly sanctioned by the library. They just took advantage of their First Amendment right to stand outside a library and engage in free speech.

What were they gathering petitions for? Two state constitutional amendments, and one statewide initiative.

All of them strike much the same tone as 2000's "Amendment 21." That initiative, authored by Doug Bruce, attempted to reduce property taxes, by all agencies of local government, by $25 per year till the tax just ... disappeared. The state was supposed to pick up the lost money.

Amendment 21 was soundly defeated by the voters. They decided that the services they had already approved (such as fire protection) were still vital to their communities, and deserved local support.

The current batch of proposals does seem eerily familiar.

One proposed constitutional amendment requires, among other things, that all school districts reduce property taxes while "replacing the revenue with state aid."

At a time when the state is already cutting its support of education, and is apparently facing millions more in budget cuts as we climb out of a recession, that seems a little naive.

A second amendment bans many common kinds of public financing. If I'm reading it right, that would seem to include multi-year leases that had not been explicitly approved by voters.

Today, Douglas County Libraries rents library space in the communities of Louviers, Roxborough and Castle Pines. So I guess we'd have to have an election to okay that.

A countywide election costs about $100,000 these days. And if the voters don't approve the leases, those libraries would close.

The third proposal seeks to reduce both state and local revenues through a mix of means: cutting vehicle registration fees, lowering state income tax, and ending telecommunications fees.

Bottom line: various groups have estimated that when fully implemented, this initiative would cut state revenues by $1.7 billion, and local government revenues by $622 million.

Of course, the state will also be picking up the costs for reduced school revenues. Where the money is supposed to come from I cannot say.

So the library -- because it attracts such a steady stream of citizens -- became a prime location for people to launch an initiative that would almost certainly close libraries.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is free speech.

As my last column cited, a majority of American voters don't know much about the federal constitution. I bet even fewer can fathom the intricacies of the constitution of Colorado, which is already saddled with measures that require us to lower revenue (TABOR) while at the same time increase expenditures (Amendment 23).

See California for an excellent example of people who both want more services, and want to pay less for them. That approach -- not representative government, but government by initiative -- is behind the current batch of amendments, too.

It leads to bankruptcy.

However, each of these current measures succeeded in gathering over 135,000 signatures apiece. That means that they'll probably make it onto the ballot in November 2010.

What will be the cry to rally voters? "Lower taxes!"

But here's what that means. Worse schools. Worse libraries. Worse streets. Fewer police officers and firefighters.

It's hard to see how any of that is supposed to make our lives, or our business environment, any better.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

December 3, 2009 - what do you know about your country?

OK, grown-ups, it's time for a test. Go to this link:


It's sponsored by the ISI, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The only personal information you're asked to provide is your education level and income.

What pops up are 33 pretty interesting questions. When you're done, you find out, right on the spot, how well or poorly you did. It tells you which ones you missed, and what the right answers are.

Some of the answers you almost certainly learned in grade school. Some of them you should have learned in the process of reading the paper, watching or listening to the news, and talking to people.

The topic is "civic literacy" -- how much you know about the way the United States of America was set up, and what kinds of key events have happened since then.

You might find it interesting that most Americans who take the test fail it. The average score is 49%. College educators scored 55%. As an example, "Fewer than half of all Americans can name all three branches of government, a minimal requirement for understanding America’s constitutional system."

Given the sponsorship of the study, you might expect that one of the findings would include the value of college in the acquisition of civic knowledge. But "Earning a college degree does little to increase knowledge of America’s history, key texts, and institutions." Example: "Only 24% of college graduates know the First Amendment prohibits establishing an official religion for the United States."

How about the media? Well, it depends. "The survey revealed that in today’s technological age, all else remaining equal, a person’s test score drops in proportion to the time he or she spends using certain types of passive electronic media. Talking on the phone, watching owned or rented movies, and monitoring TV news broadcasts and documentaries diminish a respondent’s civic literacy."

It turns out that the best way to gain civic literacy is to talk about it with others, read about current events and history, and actually participate in civic activities.

On the other hand, a surprising finding was that officeholders -- elected officials -- "typically have less civic knowledge than the general public. On average, they score 44%, five percentage points lower than non-officeholders." That seems a little contradictory to me. Surely, they are spending time talking about civic events and they are certainly participating. Yet, "Thirty percent of elected officials do not know that 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence."

There is certainly no shortage of opinions in America today. But sometimes I suspect -- and surveys like this ongoing attempt by the ISI confirm it -- that we have a serious knowledge deficit. It will comfort no one to learn that this deficit is bipartisan.

Our national ignorance extends not only to civic information, but to economic. Example: "Only 54% can correctly identify a basic description of the free enterprise system, in which all Americans participate."

I'm seriously relieved to report that I did better than 90% on the test. The head of our IT department aced it.

But take the test in the comfort and privacy of your own home, assess your knowledge, and give a little thought to what you think a responsible citizen ought to know.

And if you discover that you need to do some reading up on things, don't be afraid to seek professional help. The public library: literacy is our business.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

November 19, 2009 - the learning library

Douglas County Libraries has learned some things. Beginning with our experiments in Roxborough, then Lone Tree, we discovered that a combination of self-check technologies and displays meant that we could move far more books, movies, and music with the same staff and space. In fact, we have almost 7% fewer staff this year than last.

Elsewhere in the district, we learned that children's storytimes, particularly when linked to the behaviors that lead to literacy, not only help parents help their children get ready to read, but resulted in our checking out more children's materials than any library in Colorado.

On the basis of various professional standards, almost all of our libraries are too small. But after the failed elections of 2007 and 2008, building bigger libraries is out of the picture.

On the other hand, the library consistently trims its budget to allow us to build up some capital funds. While that's not enough for big new buildings, it has been enough to allow us to do some modest renovations. We've also received some crucial private and community support.

So 2009 has seen two significant projects: the opening of our 2,500 square foot storefront in Castle Pines North (just weeks after we signed the lease!), and the remodeling of our significantly stressed Parker Library.

Here's an update on a few things:

* Our new Castle Pines Library, at just the two week mark, had checked out over half of its stock. And they have some of the most clever displays in our system. From that one building, we'll check out a quarter of a million items per year -- 100 items per square foot. I've written in previous weeks about the strong financial support of the Castle Pines community, without which that library would not exist. (Recently, we reached our $50,000 fundraising goal for Castle Pines, thanks to a $10,000 gift from Dr. Robert Sullivan.)

* Our restructured Parker Library is again working the themes of high quality children's services (accounting for 48% of our business meant that we needed to give them more space), and the exposure of our very popular materials through "power wall" displays. The majority of this internal construction was paid for by the bequest of Verna Daughenbough, at some $80,000. (We contributed another $40,000 from our savings.)

Since we can't build a new building, we need to find a way to get a higher percentage of materials out of the library and into people's homes. Our goal: get more than half of the Parker Library collection checked out, too. I think we'll make it. I don't have an answer for the parking congestion, though.

* Our Lone Tree Library recently got a visit from the senior staff and Trustees of the Pueblo City County Library. It turns out that we check out more materials from that one 10,000 square foot building (over 1.2 million items annually) than they do in their entire county. They wanted to see how we did that. (See self-check and displays, above.) Lone Tree consistently checks outs more than 60% of its inventory.

Next year, we hope to make some similar improvements at Highlands Ranch and Philip S. Miller. Then we're done with what we can afford for awhile.

The Douglas County Libraries is now the third busiest library system in Colorado. After reviewing our statistics recently, I've noticed that suddenly we're about to catch up, and probably pass this year, the number 2 library: the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs.

After that, given our consistent growth in activity each year, I think it's only another couple of years before we lap the busiest library in the state: Denver Public, with its 30+ branches.

Amid the worrisome news of recession, of private sector bailouts combined with outrageous executive bonuses, I hope Douglas County residents take some measure of pride in a public sector agency that lives within its means, plans ahead, and strives for excellence.

As I say, we've learned some things. There is an intense demand for library services in our county. The numbers suggest that we've done a thoughtful and successful job of addressing it.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

November 12, 2009 - defy dyslexia, discover reading

Some months ago, I got an email from Erica Vlahinos, a senior at Douglas County High School. She told me that she was a Girl Scout, working on her Gold Award Project -- the equivalent of a Boy Scout Eagle Award.

I'd met Erica before, we discovered when we met in person. Both of us had been in a Castle Rock Players production years earlier. In fact, Erica planned to make a career of acting, with a keen interest in musical theater. I bet she'll do very well.

Erica confided that she'd had one big difficulty in her life. She was dyslexic. In her efforts to overcome that she'd discovered how helpful it was to have audio books, sound accompaniments to text. Her idea for a Gold Award Project was to team up with some of her other theater friends and make recordings of some children's books.

After we talked some more, I suggested that she draw her source material from the Gutenberg Project. These materials, available at no charge from www.gutenberg.org, are out of copyright, part of the public domain. Kathleen DiLeo, one of our youth librarians at Philip S. Miller, also prepared a list of 25 bona fide children's classics out of copyright.

I didn't hear from Erica for awhile. Then, I got a message that she was done. She, her mother, and her Girl Scout advisor showed up at the library one day with a basket of very handsome, spiral bound books, each with a customized CD.

Erica calls this series of booklets, the "Defying Dyslexia, Discovering Reading Series." We will be cataloging them together as a discrete set for our children's department at Philip S. Miller.

The format of the books is this:

* A very attractive, illustrated cover.

* Acknowledgements. Many people contributed to the project in time and money.

* Meet your reader -- a little information about the voice talent. Among her readers were Marc Keefer, Mary Driver, Sandra Armentrout, Maiki Vlahinos, Alex Vlahinos, Kathy Lyons, Karin Nunly, Jamie Hilton, Emerson Steinberg, Jules Kingery, Paul Wise, Mitch Sellers, Shaelli Lawlor, Sara Bautista, Heather Emerson, Tiffany Trammell, Candace Leczel, and Sue Dumont.

* The text of the book itself, again with illustrations. I have before me Beatrix Potter's charming "The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck." But the series includes many other others.

* Guidelines for contributing to the library. This is one of the things that most delights me. If someone finds this series of use, she writes, then add to it!

* Information about the Gutenberg Project.

* A CD in a plastic pocket, with its own illustration.

* A message from Erica.

I find this project impressive on many levels. First, it's obvious that many hundreds of hours went into the handcrafting of these items. It is a privilege to add them to our collection.

Second, it does my librarian heart good to find young people mining world classics, then making them fresh.

Third, by donating these works to the public library, they become shared resources and community assets.

Fourth, Erica's triumph over dyslexia is inspiring in its own right, and will certainly provide encouragement to others. As she writes, "You have Dyslexia, but that does not define who you are or what you can become. Good luck in your future endeavors, may nothing stand in your way!"

Congratulations, Erica Vlahinos, for your good work, and on the completion of your Gold Award Project!

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

November 5, 2009 - the Perry Park Story

When my young family first arrived in Douglas County, we were lucky enough to meet longtime Perry Park residents Francis and Sally Maguire. Perry Park, west of Larkspur, was and is an area of surpassing loveliness.

The Maguires provided enormously entertaining stories of Douglas County history (which included, from my perspective, an alarmingly brisk turnover of library directors). Congenial and stimulating hosts, the Maguires did much to help me understand the political and historic context of the area.

Soon, I fell in love with Perry Park, and eventually we rented a condo in the area for several years.

So it seems fitting that the Douglas County Libraries Foundation has funded the re-publication of Ardis Webb's "The Perry Park Story: Fulfillment of a Dream."

This brief history was originally published in 1974 by Ardis and Olin Webb. It has long been out of print. Additional material includes a chapter by Sally Maguire called "Happily Ever After," and the DVD "Perry Park: in the Shadows of Giants" by the Network Douglas County Television.

Together, this new publication both preserves the work of previous historians, and brings the story up to date. (Fittingly, both Webb and Maguire got their bachelor degrees in journalism). In the DVD, the images of Perry Park continue to be heartbreakingly beautiful. And Sally is once again an erudite, gracious, and engaging host.

Copies of the book will be available at the Perry Park Country Club Pro Shop and all library locations. The book will be sold for $12.00 a copy, plus tax. Profits will support the Douglas County History Research Center.

The Douglas County History Research Center, itself a department of the Douglas County Libraries, was the coordinator of the project. The History Center, with its collections of papers, photographs, aerial maps, booklets, and more, is not only a repository of local memory. It is also the wellspring for new works, as this publication shows.

In the Internet age, I think this kind of project is precisely what libraries should be looking to: the gathering, organization, and preservation of local history.

While the pattern of information seeking has clearly changed -- Google's streamlined interface, speed, and reach has pushed it ahead of yesterday's phone call or visit to a librarian -- Google still doesn't create content. It links to, indexes, or digitizes other people's content.

That means that libraries have a far more important role to play in the emerging information environment: a nurturer of writers, an explorer of our own backyards. A creator of content.

I'll conclude with my own memory of Perry Park. In 1990, Perry Park residents were still talking, with some heat, about developer Lee Stubblefield, who around 1976-77 left behind him a string of broken promises and financial obligations, and fled to Mexico.

The men were particularly outraged. But almost every one of the women who had been around at the time had a different reaction. Their eyes would mist over. They would sigh. "He was a good looking man," they said.

It's an interesting transition, from developer to Founder. It seems to involve, as Sally suggests in her chapter, the ability to conjure a compelling "dream." Today, despite a long and wandering trail, many Perry Park residents are living it.


LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

October 29, 2009 - pay me now or pay me later

Nationally, more than 2.3 million adults are in American jails or prisons -- more than one in every 100 adults. That costs $50 billion a year.

Today, Colorado incarcerates some 38,273 people. It costs an average of $27,000, per inmate per year, to house them. Altogether, the annual corrections costs in Colorado are about $760 million.

So here's the question: would you like to save money? Would you like to reduce crime? Would you like to find a way to turn people away from imprisonment, and toward productive lives?

Have I got a deal for you.

I recently read a report (available from www.fightcrime.org) that makes this claim: "quality early learning can save $190 million a year on corrections costs in Colorado."

There are now a number of studies that prove what already makes perfect sense: investing in a child's brain makes a difference. Oft-cited is the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program study. It compared two groups of at-risk 3- and 4-year olds. "The study found that by age 40, those who participated were almost twice as likely to have earned an Associate's degree than those left out of the program. The study also found that by age 27, those at-risk kids who had not sttended the program were five times more likely to grow up to be chronic law-breakers than those enrolled in the program.

"At age 40, those left out of the Perry Preschool Program were twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes, four times more likely to be arrested for drug felonies, seven times more likely to be arrested for possession of dangerous drugs, and 85 percent more likely to have been sentenced to prison or jail than those who attended the program."

"High-quality early learning programs" have some distinct characteristics. They require highly-qualified teachers with appropriate compensation, comprehensive and age-appropriate curricula, strong parental involvement ... and all of a sudden, I see that we're also talking about Douglas County Libraries' highly successful children's storytimes.

Across the entire library district, nearly half of our checkouts are children's materials, and most of those are "easy" or picture books. Throughout Douglas County, we offer roughly 10 storytimes a day -- all well-attended.

Reading and being read to, hearing and learning vocabulary, seeing and thinking about social situations and life problems, doing all these while very young, are all strategies for becoming both fully human and law-abiding. Those strategies translate to a life that is intentional, that both meets personal needs and adapts intelligently and non-destructively to the larger societal environment.

The fightcrime.org report mentions that a year of lockup, at $27,000, is quite a bit more than a year's tuition, room and board at the University of Colorado, at about $18,000 a year.

Or $100 a year at your local library.

See, there's no alternative to having to pay some of your own money to help create a culture, a society, where people thrive. The question is whether you want to spend a lot, or a little, whether you would rather invest in freedom, or in prison cells. Freedom, it turns out, is not only literally smarter. It's cheaper.


LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

October 22, 2009 - bark for books

When he was three years old, Caiden started to stutter. A lot of children do around that age, especially the smart ones.

Most of the time, kids grow out of it. It's a synchronization issue. Neurologically speaking, learning to match brain speed to vocal articulation is a surprisingly complex thing.

The right thing for parents to do, incidentally, is to have patience. Love and encouragement is the ticket. Slow it down. Sing to and with them. With really astonishing speed, kids sort it out.

But Caiden's dad was, well, kind of a jerk. He mocked Caiden. He fake-stuttered, too, loud and long, then laughed. He interrupted and exaggerated Caiden's more difficult phrases.

Before long, Caiden's occasional stutter had turned into a serious and persistent problem.

Caiden's dad was abusive in other ways, too. Eventually Caiden's mom kicked him out.

But the damage, it seemed, was done. Caiden's stuttering isolated him all the way through kindergarten, and seemed likely to follow him through first grade, where he was just learning to read.

And he was learning fast. Caiden was so bright. It broke his mother's heart that when he tried to read out loud, his stammering frustrated him so.

Enter Cagney. Cagney was a greyhound - but not a very fast one. After Cagney failed to even place after four races in a row, his owner decided to let him go. The Colorado Greyhound Adoption people rescued him and placed him with an older and childless couple.

This couple trained Cagney in the Bark for Books program. They'd noticed that for some reason, Cagney just loved children. He'd fold himself up on his big floor pillow and look adoringly at any youngster that came along.

Caiden's mother hadn't planned to sign Caiden up for the program. But when they came into the library one afternoon, he watched Cagney with fascination as a little girl read to him.

The timing was such that just as the little girl had to leave, and before Caiden's mom knew quite what was happening, Caiden plopped down beside the dog, and opened a book. Caiden started trying to read.

The mother cringed inside. Caiden's stammering was pronounced. After a particularly painful passage, Caiden looked up, anxious and half-angry, right at the dog

Then something wonderful happened.

Cagney, as greyhounds sometimes will, stretched out a paw and set it on Caiden's thigh. Cagney gazed deeply and steadily into Caiden's eyes, radiating calm. It was a look of utter acceptance and love.

Then, amazingly, Caiden seemed to relax. He started reading again, and this time he did much better. And Cagney seemed to like the story a lot, Caiden said later.

It didn't happen all at once. Caiden also saw a speech therapist. But that was the turning point.

Caiden is in fourth grade now. He just got the lead in a school play. One weekend, he even got to take Cagney home when the childless couple was travelling.

Caiden doesn't stutter anymore.

Recently, a library director got an email. It ended like this: "I thank the library, and that wonderful dog, for saving the life of my son."

LaRue's Views are his own

[Note: although all the details of this story are true, they were drawn from several families. I combined incidents and changed a few names. Here's what doesn't change: sometimes, often, dogs demonstrate way more kindness, presence, and attention than people do.]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

October 15, 2009 - Read America!

It's fall, the time of library conferences. I've been invited to speak at several of these lately, which I do on my own time.

Two weeks ago, I got off the prop plane from Salt Lake City to Twin Falls, Idaho, and some local librarians picked me up for the drive to Burley. If I'd had a skateboard and sail, I think I could have made the trip in half the time -- the wind was fierce, strong enough to set the whole series of enormous American flags snapping beside the highway.

The next morning, the mayor of Burley welcomed the Idaho Library Association to town, and told about the founding of Burley. About 150 years earlier, he said, a wagon train was rolling through the area. Suddenly, the wind picked up. "Circle the wagons!" said the wagonmaster. "We'll stay here till the wind dies down."

Just the next week I got off the prop plane from Salt Lake City to Elko, Nevada. (It's not actually all that far from Burley, although the look of the land is quite different.) This time, I was armed with a brief but useful email from one of our staff, Lisa Casper. Lisa used to be the director of the Northeastern Nevada Museum here.

Among the things Lisa passed along:

* Gold Mining - why most people move to Elko. The large open pit gold mines (Newmont, Anglo Gold, Dee, etc.) outside of town produce a lot of the world's gold.

* Gambling - everywhere. (Fortunately, I brought the home mortgage. Baby needs new shoes!) But it IS everywhere -- it was weird to check into a hotel against the backdrop of slot machines.

* Honorary Mayor - Bing Crosby, who had a ranch north of town. It happens that I am a big der Bingle fan, so that's important news.

* Basque restaurants. Lisa even sent me eating tips, and told me that the best places are all on Silver Street "downtown behind the Stockmen's and near 3rd where the brothels are." (Wait, there are brothels in town?)

Lisa's mail made me realize how delightful it is to have that kind of one page overview of a place. Instead of just another town, Elko already had a personality for me.

I enjoyed the overview so much that I think it would be a fine project for almost any library: why not put together a little welcome to town letter, backed by some library research. What should be there?

* a paragraph about the history of the place.

* local legends.

* basic orientation - areas to check out, key landmarks, key institutions and hours. (The library should be featured prominently, of course.)

* famous food.

* upcoming or regular events.

* things to do. Nearby sights can be helpful, too.

* a place to pick up more current info - library and newspaper websites, etc.

Once assembled, this welcome letter should be made available to area hotels and motels, visitor centers, and Chambers of Commerce.

I once thought it would be great to have a statewide "Read Colorado!" program, modeled on the American Automobile Association's "TripTik (R)." You'd get a bundle of maps and guides that would take you across the state, library to library. At each library, you'd get oriented to the town, pick up some coupons maybe, and check out the works of local authors. Maybe the library could loan you "playaways," self-contained devices, audio samplers of local works, that could be listened to in the car from one town to the next.

But now I realize that I was thinking too small. This needs to go nationwide.

Literary tourism is what America needs. And librarians are just the folks to make it happen.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

October 8, 2009 - knowledge nothing to sneeze at

I am understandably reluctant to wade into the health care debate again, but this is just too good to resist.

Do you want to really DO something about the state of public health? If so, then consider this: every time you sneeze, you spray some 40,000 droplets into the air at about a hundred miles an hour. It's a terrific strategy for putting lots of germs into the atmosphere. Coughing isn't much better: you again broadcast your saliva at high velocity.

But wait! you say. I always sneeze or cough into my hands!

And after that, you touch telephones, door knobs, keyboards, food, your mouth, and so on.

I could go on about this, but suffice it to say that there is a wonderful video on the Web that should be mandatory family and business viewing. Called "Why Don't We Do It In Our Sleeves" (www.coughsafe.com/media.html), this video demonstrates various strategies for coughing and sneezing. What makes it entertaining is that a panel of experts rates (on a scale from one to ten) each attempt to capture the cough or sneeze.

The rating habit is, well, infectious. I find myself doing it all the time now -- ranking both my own and other's sneezes.

It's good to train ourselves and our children in prevention of the transmission of disease. That concern is sharper than usual because of the current focus on H1N1, or the so-called "swine flu" (although it apparently has nothing to do with pigs).

And speaking of the flu, the library has created a web page pulling together a lot of information on the topic, from the pronouncements of local health officials, to national news, to various international sites. You can find the page at douglascountylibraries.org/NewsEvents/H1N1.

To tie things back into that larger context, library staff have also assembled a list of information sources on the topic of Health Care Reform. You can find that at www.douglascountylibraries.org/Research/iGuides/HealthCare. The introduction says: "The controversy swirling around proposed health care reforms can make it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, reality from rumor. Here are some online resources to help you navigate the issues."

The resources include humor (shockingly absent in much of this debate), the actual language of the federal bill now under consideration, independent research by various reputable organizations, some fact-checking of various allegations, and a round up of partisan sites. It's a good and balanced introduction to what people are saying.

I've been thinking lately that all of us are far more connected than we know. There's a downside: we provide breeding grounds for germs, we are vectors of contagion. In fact, we do so much of that, one suspects that it may be the true purpose of humankind. From the perspective of the germs, I mean.

But humans also lend one another company and comfort. In the case of the library, we pool both our laughter and our knowledge.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October 1, 2009 – thank you Castle Pine friends

Last Saturday, September 19, 2009, we opened a new storefront library in Castle Pines North. (Address: 7437 Village Square Drive - #110, Castle Pines North.) Called "The Castle Pines Library," it's not very big: about 2500 square feet, with some of that taken up by bathrooms, storage space, a checkin area, an office, and a staff break room.

Several people spoke at the opening: Castle Pines North Mayor Maureen Shul, Douglas County School District Board President Kristine Turner, Library Board president Mark Weston, and me.

There's always a tension at these occasions. On the one hand, there are so many people to thank. On the other, the audience just wants to get in there and check out some materials!

So I fear that I did too little thanking, and that's a shame. This column is dedicated to the many people without whom the Castle Pines Library would never have come to be.

The many people who had a hand in making this library fall into four categories:

* People working for other community organizations, mainly the City of Castle Pines North, the Castle Pines North Metro District, Castle Pines North Master Association, and the Castle Pines Chamber of Commerce. I expect most people really don't realize all the meetings, emails, and phone calls that go on behind almost anything significant. Mayor Shul and City Treasurer Doug Gilbert were particularly active on our behalf, seeking out potential locations. The Chamber of Commerce, and in particular President Sharon Kollmar, Vice President Carla Kenny, and Chair Don Bobeda offered printing services, office space, fundraising ideas, manpower, endless enthusiasm, and more.

* Castle Pine Citizens. If the Chamber provided strong leadership, the community itself stepped up to provide many glad hands. Among these tireless volunteers -- who shlepped around donated books, etc. -- were members of the event planning committee Sharon Kollmar, Carla Kenny, Linda Day, Sandy Dempsey, Lindsay Kamel, Vicky Kellen, and Bryan Rudiak,led by Douglas County Libraries Foundation Manager, Margie Woodruff.

I want to specially thank Warren Lynge, who has been working steadily, for 3 years now, on keeping the dream alive. A special thanks to everyone who bought tickets for the Pancake Breakfast, all our guests at the Authors’ Reception, those who donated, browsed, and bought books at the Book Sale, and everyone who played at the Kids Book Swap.

* Local business people and donors. A special mention should go to Chuck Lowen, and property manager Paul Mitchell, for working with us secure and remodel a space they had helped make affordable. Of course, none of this would have been accomplished without the financial donations from Castle Pines residents and Douglas County supporters that brought us almost $50,000.

There are also some business names that you'll find on a plaque at the new library, certainly worth repeating here: The Barking Goat Tavern, Big O Tires, The Bundt Shoppe, Canyon Ridge Chiropractic, Castle Pines Athletics, Castle Pines Connection, Castle Pines Crocs and Storm Swim Team, Castle Pines Eye Care, Castle Pines Family Dentistry, Castle Pines Family Eye Care, Castle Pines North Cleaners, Castle Pines North HOA 1, Castle Pines North HOA 2, Castle Pines Orthodontics, Castle Pines Veterinary Clinic, City of Castle Pines North, Cherokee Ranch & Castle, Colorado Kids Pediatric Dentistry, BBVA Compass Bank, Creme de la Cr̬me Early Learning Centers, DAZBOG Coffee, Douglas County School District, Douglas County Sheriff, FirstBank of Douglas County, Faze Two Children's Consignment, Hallmark Management, King Soopers, Castle Pines Kiwanis, The Johansen Law Firm, La Dolce Vita, I-25 LLC, Little Italy Pizzeria, MedExpress Urgent Care, Party Stylings, Prudential Preferred Real Estate, Safeway, Sam's Club РLone Tree, SecureSearch, Sylvan Learning Center, Tattered Cover

* Library staff. Yes, our Facilities, IT, Community Relations, Foundation, Collection Development, our managers, and front line staff all get paid to work for the library. But they bring extraordinary passion and pride to that work. From the signing of the lease through opening day just 10 weeks passed -- that's pretty quick! And the library is beautiful.

For me, the moment that makes it all worthwhile was this snapshot: the four- and two-year old, huddled together on the floor, and fascinated by a picture book. It was their very first trip to the brand new Castle Pines Library. It took a lot of people to make that happen.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

September 24, 2009 - stop doing it!

Recently I interviewed an author (Kate Lawrence, author of "The Practical Peacemaker") who made a beguiling argument: the path to peace begins with a simplified life.

In so many ways, Americans have chosen lives of busy consumerism. As a consequence, we run ourselves down, use up all kinds of natural resources at a wholly disproportionate rate to the rest of the world, and have little time left over for the deep satisfactions of spending time with friends, or just lying about and reading.

This insight applies to organizations, too. A few months ago, library managers got together to start planning next year's budget. It turns out that it is very easy for us to come up with new ideas, programs, and services.

But we were all stonkered by one exercise: what can we STOP doing? That's not an idle question; our resources are tightening, and the demand for our core services is on the rise.

Let me walk through a typical idea and response.

The proposal: Let's stop buying movies of any description. They are prone to theft. The DVD format is prone to scratches, making them all but unplayable after just a few uses. Before too long, the format is going to disappear anyhow, as they move to downloadables. This would free up a lot of money, space, staff time, and hassle.

Some people suggest that providing DVDs for checkout unfairly competes with video rentals -- but that complaint doesn't come from video rental stores. They know better, and tend to do best when they position themselves close to libraries. The mix of our wares is different, but they tend to be complementary.

Reasons for keeping: in some of our branches, movies account for almost a third of our checkouts. That's millions of transactions a year. We promote reading, but reading isn't the only kind of literacy, and a lot of families have come to rely on us for inexpensive entertainment. If our job is to respond to the public's demonstrated demand for intellectual content, it couldn't be any clearer: they want books AND movies AND music.

Resolved: we'll investigate other solutions to managing this troublesome resource. But it's worth it, because it's part of the library's mission to provide access to the intellectual content of our culture.

So then we trotted out another idea for the stop list: providing public distribution of federal and state tax forms.

There are a few things I bet the public doesn't know about this. We aren't required by law to do distribute tax forms. Nor are we compensated for doing so. Except for the occasional grant, and reimbursements for telephone expenses (funded separately), we get no money from either the federal government or the state. Virtually all of our revenue comes from local property taxes -- federal and state taxes just don't enter into the picture.

It gets worse. It takes a lot of staff time to order the forms and instruction booklets -- a nightmare of ordering, stocking, filling displays. Tax forms eat up a lot of library space, and we're running out of space.

The use of this service is in fact in decline. The vast majority of Douglas County taxpayers have Internet access, and most of the forms and instructions are available online.

And get this. Not only does the federal government not pay us to provide this service (when not even the Post Office does it anymore, which is actually part of the federal government), these days we have to pay for the forms. That's right; they charge us to do their work for them.

Was there ever a better service to stop doing than one that (a) has nothing to do with the library mission, (b) has nothing to do with our own revenues, other than depleting them, and (c) seems to be in decline anyway?

It happens that we've already ordered the forms for the next tax season. (It takes a lot of planning ahead, and we've been doing it for a long time.) But I'm thinking that this just might be the last time.

Comments and counter-arguments? Email me at jlarue@dclibraries.org.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

August 20 2010 - health care

Last week, on vacation, I drove down to Salida to see a friend. In the park across from the library was a health care protest. In tone, it was much like the many wild emails I've gotten lately about the scary takeover of medical care by big government.

I don't claim to be an expert. But speaking as an administrator of a public agency, I can tell you this: it's scary right now.

According to an article in the Washington Post (January 25, 2009), "A growing number of workers in 2009 will pay more for health benefits -- and in some cases receive less coverage -- as their employers grapple with the financial fallout of rising medical expenses and diminished revenue and profits, recent surveys of human resource officials show."

In another article (Medical News Today), I read that, "In 1999, employers covered about 90% of the cost of health insurance for employees, compared with 73% today, and the percentage likely will decrease to 70% over the next few years."

At a recent meeting with some of my counterparts at other government agencies, I heard, over and over, that many will be instituting hiring freezes. Why? Declining revenues, just as in the private sector.

At the same time, most of my peers are projecting health insurance jumps of 25 percent. That would seem to mean that not only will many employees -- public and private alike -- not get raises, but will also see a real reduction in their pay due to insurance company rate increases, and a shifting of those costs directly to workers.

Will they get more coverage in exchange? It seems unlikely. Instead, many employers are pushing high-deductible "health savings accounts" and programs aimed at keeping workers healthy through diet and exercise. In itself, that's not a bad thing. But then why the big jump in costs?

In a piece from the AFL-CIO website, I read, "Profits at 10 of the country’s largest publicly traded health insurance companies rose 428 percent from 2000 to 2007, while consumers paid more for less coverage. One of the major reasons, according to a new study, is the growing lack of competition in the private health insurance industry that has led to near monopoly conditions in many markets."

It is common to hear people complaining, in scripted "tea parties" and so on, about out-of-control government. But I pay a lot more for health insurance than I do for schools, for instance, and have a lot less say about it. For schools or libraries, an increase in my costs buys me an increase in service. The insurance business doesn't seem to work like that. It increases its rates to ensure profits, no matter what the effect might be on local business and government, or the people who work in them.

As I say, I'm not an expert, but the situation does make me scratch my head and wonder. While I'm not sure outrage does any actual good, maybe a little more outrage should be directed toward the problem we have today, instead of at the attempt to do something about it.

LaRue's Views are his own.

P.S. After running this article, I asked our staff to pull together a list of further sources of information about this topic. You can find it at:

Happy (and healthy) reading!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

September 17, 2009 - pick 3, spend 50

Recently, former DCL manager Peg Hooper emailed me a link to a fascinating campaign. It's called the 3/50 project (www.the350project.net) -- and it makes so much sense it's a wonder nobody thought of it before.

The tagline of the project is "saving the bricks and mortars our nation is built on." The whole idea is this (pulled from the project home page):

"What three independently owned businesses would you miss if they disappeared? Stop in. Say hello. Pick up something that brings a smile. Your purchases are what keeps those businesses around.

"If half the population spent $50 each month in locally owned independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue. Imagine the positive impact if 3/4 of the employed population did that.

"For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home.

"The number of people it takes to start the trend .... you."

And it ends with this: "Pick 3. Spend 50. Save your local economy."

It doesn't seem like this should be hard, does it? But those retail chains have such a wide selection, and the prices are so low! And what could be more convenient than the Internet?

As is so often the case, the choice comes down to short term and long term. In the short term, you have more to choose from, and you save money. In the long term, everybody winds up working for a chain, and sending more of their money out of town.

We buy what we value -- but we don't always think that through.

I do make it a point to buy something regularly at Tattered Cover in Highlands Ranch. Why? Because I think independent bookstores are important. There are independent restaurants in Castle Rock, Parker, and Castle Pines North I try to frequent, too. I not only like their fare, I like the people who run and work in them. It pleases me to know that my modest trade helps to keep them around.

The 3/50 project has supporters all across the country. You can find them on the website. I understand that some Colorado Chambers of Commerce are giving it a look, too.

And isn't there something comforting about the fact that real economic stimulus doesn't necessarily require enormous government programs? If you want your community to survive and even thrive, maybe it just comes down to this: spend your money where you live. The job you save may be your own.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 10, 2009 - welcome to Reloville!

Something magical happens to children. They grow from extraordinarily self-centered creatures (think of the toddler whose vocabulary centers around the words "no!" and "mine!") to members of a family, capable of both compassion and acts of genuine altruism.

I've been thinking about that after reading an article in Forbes Magazines called "America's 25 Best Places to Live," by Peter Kilborn. You can find it online at www.forbes.com/2009/07/07/relocate-relocation-cities-lifestyle-real-estate-affordable-moving_print.html. It's worth a read.

Here's the good news: of the top 25 places in the United States to relocate (usually in pursuit of a climb up the corporate ladder), three of them are in Douglas County. Coming in at number 4 is Parker. Number 5 is Castle Rock. Number 20 is Highlands Ranch.

Why is that good news? Because the people who live in "Reloville" (Kilborn's word for these hot spots so attractive to rising professionals) are well-educated, tend to make pretty good money, and because they don't stick around very long, keep the housing market churning.

What's the bad news? According to Kilborn, "There is great public indifference to community affairs in many of the country's Relovilles. While, Relos join PTAs and coach soccer, the international sport of all Relovilles, for their kids, many don't join other community groups, run in local elections or contribute to campaigns for community improvements. A Relo can tell you the way to the airport, but not to the city hall.

"'When you come to ask them for money,' Robbie Robinson, a civic leader in Plano, said, 'they know they're not going to benefit from it, so it's harder to get them to contribute.'"

On the one hand, of course, why should anyone put significant personal investment in a short-term relationship with a community? Even if that community starts to decline, to be less attractive as a place for a Relo to briefly alight, he or she will probably get out well ahead of the market drop, and there are bound to be other new places popping up around the country.

It's the market in action. Relovilles are based on the fact that housing is cheaper than it is in the urban employment centers just down the road. But because of the people who keep moving there, most Relovilles have survived the recession quite well. Kilborn writes, "Home prices in the Relovilles around Denver, Atlanta and Charlotte have barely budged."

But it's also the kind of short term thinking that can lead to real problems for these communities. Exhibit A: recent elections for schools and libraries.

When the supply of fresh, cheap housing starts to run out, then what? The infusion of outside cash driving the housing market dries up. The costs of sustainable infrastructure remain.

It turns out that Kilborn expanded his thoughts in a book called "Next Stop: Reloville - Life Inside America's New Rootless Professional Class." I'm pleased to say that we already have it at the library -- 4 copies, with 7 holds already stacked up.

It could be that Kilborn is on to something. It's tempting to say that maybe Relos are stuck in "no!" and "mine!" They haven't really joined the family.

Generally, though, this "rootless new class" seems to be doing quite well. Good for them, but is it good for us?


LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

September 3, 2009 - libraries should measure community impact

I've been thinking a lot lately about library development: how the public institution I serve has changed over time.

At the beginning of library development, the focus, the measures of success, are mostly about inputs. Is there enough money to hire staff, buy materials, build buildings, and invest in technology?

Assuming that those basic needs are met, then libraries start focusing on other kinds of measures: outputs. Internally, we use benchmarks. For instance, we divide the number of checkouts (or the number of new materials ordered and processed) by the number of people it took to do that. Then we compare it to last year's number. Objective: get more productive and efficient. (We have!)

A second kind of outputs is what made us the top-rated library in the country for our population size: the measurement of use. How many checkouts per capita (checkouts divided by service population)? How many visits per capita? How many programs attended? How many reference questions asked per librarian? These are the statistics of performance.

Both kinds of measures -- inputs and outputs -- are collected across the nation for public libraries. (We report them annually to our state libraries.) That makes it relatively easy for us to measure ourselves against each other.

On the one hand, that sounds competitive. I admit that I'm interested enough in excellence to be pretty aggressive about improving our "numbers."

But here's the difference between libraries and almost everybody else. If I hear about libraries outperforming us in some regard, I can (and do) call up the directors, and ask them how they did it.

And you know what? They tell me.

Similarly, if someone calls us to ask about how we did something, we share everything.

Why would we trade away our competitive advantage for nothing? Answer: because we're ALL in it for excellence.

When you get acknowledged as the best library in the nation, it doesn't come with a cash award. It's recognition, an identification of "best practices." Most of the librarians I know are in the field for love. If we can be better, well, then we should be. It's a professional obligation.

But lately, a lot of my peers and I are thinking there's a whole new level of library measurement. After inputs and outputs are community outcomes.

Both inputs and outputs, even when used to compare across organizations, still are internally focused. While that's useful operationally, libraries operate within a social, political, economic, and cultural context.

In Douglas County, our entire existence depends upon the support of taxpayers. While that support is focused on library services, surely excellence of library service has other positive results.

For instance, we check out more children's materials than any library in Colorado. What kind of impact does that have in the larger community?

A recent study ("The link between public libraries and early reading success," by Keith Lance and Robbie Marks) validates one obvious result: the more books preschool children are exposed to, the better readers they are likely to become. Literacy is a predictor of many other kinds of success.

It turns out that there is a wealth of data, already out there, about all kinds of things: the health and safety of families, drop-out rates, per capita income, percentage of new business success, and much more. It's time to dig into that and compare it to various library statistics. I bet we'll learn something.

The next frontier of performance measurement won't be just about how well the library does library stuff. It will be about demonstrating the impact of good libraries on the towns, cities, and counties in which they operate.


LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

August 27, 2009 - defend your opinions!

I subscribe to various Google services. When I log into one of them, I get quotes of the day. They're usually pretty funny.

Take this one: "An opinion should be the result of thought, not a substitute for it." - Jeff Mallett.

I just finished reading a very fine historical work, "From Redstone to Ludlow: John Cleveland Osgood's Struggle Against the United Mine Works for America," by F. Darrel Munsell, professor emeritus, West Texas A&M University. I'll be interviewing him for our Authors @ Douglas County Libraries TV show. Both Redstone and Ludlow are in Colorado, and of course, the Ludlow Massacre was an important event in the history of labor relations. (Seven of the Ludlow miners were even tried in Castle Rock -- and acquitted.)

Although I've written a book myself, I have to admit that I just don't have the academic rigor on display here. If Munsell makes an assertion of fact, it's footnoted. The source is clearly identified. If it's impossible to say what actually happened -- for instance, who fired the first shot at the Ludlow Massacre -- then he says flat out that there's no way to know for sure.

Munsell also does a fine job of digging into piles of historical documents, and coming out with a clear, intelligent summary of what happened. He draws some conclusions at the end, and those are backed up with lots of supporting evidence.

In short, he seems to take Jeff Mallett's advice: Munsell's opinions rest on a scrupulous examination of the facts.

That's rare. Like everybody else, I've been reading the newspaper about town hall meetings, and sampling websites and opinion pieces and reports about the health care debate. I make an effort to sample things on both sides, too. I've learned that no one source of information is consistently correct.

I've read misleading, and sometimes (I suspect) deliberately distorted information from everybody: conservatives and liberals, religious and secular, private versus public, you name it.

And why is that? Well, I think it comes down to this: human beings aren't as a class particularly good at telling the truth. We're good at telling stories.

The way our brains work is that we gin up a reasonable enough explanation for something we've seen or heard. Usually, that information is a little scanty. But once we buy into the opinion, we tend to ignore any information that contradicts it.

It takes real, often laborious work to catch ourselves in our premises, then to open our minds enough to consider the alternatives.

The process is made worse, particularly in political debate, because it so often becomes personal. Few people say, "Ah, I see why you think that. But I ran across this information and it made me see things in a new light. Let me know what you make of it."

Instead, they say, "what kind of idiot would believe this! You're biased, wrong, evil! You should just shut up!"

All of which tends to cast plenty of heat, but very little light.

I did a little experiment about this. Last week, I posted my own piece about rising health care costs on the library website. (My columns are there anyhow.) But this one was a little different. I posted it to cycle through the library's front page. And I turned on the ability for the public to leave comments. (After leaving it up for a week, I've turned OFF the ability to leave new comments.)

That was a little risky from a data security standpoint. Almost immediately, we tracked the attempt of hackers to insert malicious code into our website. I think (I hope) we caught it all.

But I did get some comments on the article. Only one of them provided a link to information of his own. Most folks just made a host of political assumptions, and went on the attack.

As I noted in my own responses, libraries are advocates for free speech. The library website might well serve as a public forum to help everyone in the community to explore issues of the day. That might be useful.

But that exploration seems to mean this: we'll probably spend more time defending our opinions than trying to form better ones.

LaRue's View are his own.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

August 13, 2009 - The Intersection of Two Worlds Benefits Library by Sheila Kerber, Manager, Philip S. Miller Library

This is a tale of two people with a passion for art and education who were once strangers from opposite ends of the world.

We will begin with Carolyn H. Korutz who was born in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. Carolyn was a true lifelong learner. She sang in the church choir with her four siblings. She loved to read and had a wonderful collection of books. Her Webster’s Dictionary was her daily companion. Her copy of the complete works of Shakespeare is well-worn, with notes penciled in the margin. Her daughters, Suzanne Kruger and Gretchen Cleveland remember fondly the hours their mother spent introducing them to the magic of words, illustrations and characters. Reading was a shared family pleasure and they made a game of quoting from favorite stories and poems. Carolyn spent happy hours at the public library.

So how does Carolyn H. Korutz’s life intertwine with the life of Tirivanhu Medziso? Tirivanhu is the fourth child in family of seven from rural Zimbabwe. He was raised in a rondavel, a house constructed from stones and a mortar made of sand, soil and cow dung. Mr. Medziso walked barefoot several miles to attend a rural school which had no books, pencils or paper. He learned to do his work in the sand with a stick as a pencil. In primary school a craft teacher recognized his natural sculpting ability and encouraged him to continue. Mr. Medziso paid his secondary school fees through the sale of some of his early sculptures. When he completed secondary school, he traveled to South Africa. There he studied under a Zimbabwean Stone Carver for six months.
Tirivanhu uses basic tools to carve a living out of the stone from the hills some distance from his home. He hires an ox cart to transport the stone from the mine to his open air work area. He heats old tablespoons, knives, etc. in the fire and then pounds them into a shape he needs.There is no electricity in his town. His sculptures convey an intimacy and understanding of everyday life. Tirivanhu has been able to support his family through the sale of his sculptures.

We are about to celebrate the 20th Artfest on September 12 and 13 and it was at an Artfest a few years ago that these two stories come together. Carolyn Korutz was strolling from booth to booth admiring paintings, photography and glass work when she felt compelled to visit a booth where she saw an abstract sculpture which depicted a mother reading to her child. She learned that the sculptor was visiting from Zimbabwe. She moved on so that she could catch up with her daughter, Suzanne. She related her experience to her daughter and she said that she also had been drawn to the same sculpture. They returned to the booth and Carolyn could not leave without purchasing the sculpture.

When Carolyn’s health began to fail she told her daughter that in the event of her death she would like to give the sculpture to her local library in Castle Rock. She had spent so many happy and fulfilling hours at the Philip S. Miller Library that she wanted to the sculpture to find a permanent home there.

A reception was held on Monday, July 27, where the artist, Tirivanhu Medziso and Carolyn’s daughters, Suzanne Kruger and Gretchen Cleveland met with Library Director, Jamie LaRue. Kruger said, “Libraries were a source of great pleasure and nourishment to my mother over her lifetime.”

Korutz like, Tirivanhu Medziso, was someone who loved to learn. She spent every one of her 91 years increasing her knowledge and appreciation of the world. There is a Zimbabwe Proverb which says “If you can walk you can dance. If you can talk you can sing.” Carolyn H. Korutz and Tirivanhu Medziso are people who we know never walked when they could dance and never talked when they could sing.

If you would like to see the work of the sculptor, Tirivanhu Medziso, visit Douglas County Libraries, Philip S. Miller Library or stop at his booth at Artfest 2009. The Castle Rock Artfest is located in downtown Castle Rock at the Castle Rock Town Hall and Philip S. Miller Library Parking lots.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

August 6, 2009 - 10,000 hours makes mastery

When I was young, and first taking piano lessons, Mozart really bothered me. I don't mean that his music bothered me. The music was charming and irresistible.

I was bothered by the fact of him. He was writing sonatinas practically as an infant. By the time he was a teenager, he could listen to long, complex symphonic performances just once, then go home and write down every note.

It wasn't fair.

Later, I used to think that the only rational explanation was reincarnation. You work on something for 7 lives, then you get born with all that practice encoded in your DNA. That made sense: as ye sow, so shall ye reap. It just takes time. Lifetimes.

Of course, we don't actually know that the world IS fair. Evidence argues against it. And the data for reincarnation is also a little murky.

But it turns out there's another explanation for Mozart. I read about it in Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Outliers." In brief, the idea is this: practice anything for 10,000 hours, and you have a breakthrough. You achieve something that to the rest of us looks like magic or mastery.

Mozart's tyrant of a father had Mozart practicing almost from birth. And guess what? By the time he was the age I was when I started my tentative one note plunkings, Mozart the boy had put in his 10,000 hours.

Of course, you do have to have some talent. Time alone doesn't do it. But who is going to put in 10,000 hours doing something they don't have a knack for? The key to significant accomplishment is that combination: something you're good at, plus lots and lots of hours of preparation.

This sidesteps another question: was it worth it for Mozart? He gave us extraordinary music. But he died in poverty, and fairly young. Does the example of Mozart give parents the right to rob their children of their childhoods, as the Soviet Union once did in the case of promising gymnasts?

Of course, without that big push, maybe nobody today would remember Mozart. Is it better to have a peaceful life, or a life of remembered greatness ... and strife?

That, and you may quote me, is an excellent question.

With children, I'm inclined to cut them some slack, give them big, unstructured dollops of time running through the woods, cavorting in mountains, or frolicking in water.

With the library, I'm inclined to push for greatness.

As noted a few weeks ago, the Douglas County Libraries came into a new population ranking (250,000 up to 500,000) as the number one library in the country. (See "Hennen's American Public Library Ratings.") A few folks have asked me how we did that.

The answer is really pretty straightforward: we applied consistent effort in some consistent directions (quality service, advocacy for literacy, getting as many library materials in people's homes as possible) for many years. Eventually, we got good at all that.

When I was first starting out in libraries, I ran across several directors who were resume builders: popping in, launching hot new initiatives, then getting out before anyone really knew whether or not they had worked. But that's like trying to cross the ocean in a fancy high tech rowboat -- and changing the direction of the rowing at random.

So for people, here's this week's moral: start practicing. 10,000 hours is about 5 work years (40 hours a week). You can do it.

For institutions: the trick isn't innovation. It's consistent application of effort that leads to accomplishment.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

July 30, 2009 - libraries more than just a phase

Recently I was chatting with a friend, who told me that there are 7 phases of life. I found it compelling.

These phases or transitions mark the passage from one state of being to another.

* birth. Where it all begins. (Or does it?)

* childhood. Few of us remember anything before the age of four or five. The end of infancy is the beginning of memory. Or it may be the other way around.

* puberty. These first stirrings of sex herald adulthood.

* adulthood. At this threshold, formal schooling is done. One begins a work career, or otherwise joins the grown-up world.

* family. This might involve spouses and children. But at a deeper level, this is about establishing important and enduring relationships, in which someone other than you is nurtured and supported.

* retirement/empty nest. The formal work years are done. The children are gone.

* death. Where it all ends. (Or does it?)

Part of me wants to structure the arc of a life around the notion of values.

It looks like this: we receive values (through childhood), we test values (adolescence), we apply values (in work and early adult life), we transmit values (as parents and mentors), and just possibly, we transcend values (as questing seniors).

There's a library connection to all of this. (Surprise!)

It just might be that the real and true significance of my venerable institution is this: we're there.

That is, the public library is there for you, with a host of customized offerings, for everybody, at any and every phase of your life.

There are a happy few of us who established a habit of library use as children, and continued through the rest of our days. We are well familiar with the regular offerings of the the public library.

But for a significant percentage of the population, that habit never got formed. What, then, is the value of the library to them?

I think there are two.

First, the library as an institution assembles the public around activities that promote the public good: literacy, lifelong learning, civic engagement, and culture. Together, libraries encourage our communities to be both more civilized and more interesting.

Second, no matter how together you may feel, the odds are good that at least one of these big life transitions -- or the many smaller transitions that occur within them (such as a job change or health crisis) will catch you offguard. You won't feel quite equipped to deal.

And there we are: with books and databases and programs on healthy pregnancy (to deal with those before-birth issues), on early brain development, on support for education, on the issues of young adulthood, on career planning, on rearing your children and relationships, on retirement, and on estate planning (for those after-death issues).

Or it could be that our main contribution in such times of stress is simple escape. Overwhelmed by life? You need ... a western! A mystery! A romance!

What was once "a nice thing to have" now becomes absolutely essential to navigating a time of profound transformation in your life. And you don't have to do anything weird to access it: we're already a part of your community, with people trained to guide you quickly and confidentially to the sources that make a difference.

The public library: it's not just a phase. It's for all the phases of our all too complicated lives.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 23, 2009 - lifelong learning is fun

I've been thinking lately about how libraries work. Today, I might put it like this: driven by our core beliefs, librarians assemble complex systems to achieve important community outcomes.

For instance, because librarians have a keen value for literacy in all its manifestations, we build collections and programs to nurture a community of lifelong learners. Lifelong learners not only know how to read, think, and discuss, they get a big kick out of doing it. Regularly.

Lifelong learning has a broad reach. It takes in everything from attending storytimes as an infant, to watching obscure foreign films, to a comprehensive and compulsive reading of romance novels, to attending every free lecture you can find.

But not only libraries are in this business of growing literate communities. This week, I'd like to highlight the efforts of the University of Denver's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. OLLI, as it is known, is a lecture/study program designed for older learners (age 50 and up).

It happens that OLLI has a new south campus, located right here in Douglas County. For a modest membership fee (usually $100, but now an introductory offer of $75), you can choose from a listing of 9 topics taught locally -- and many more from other campuses. Membership offers other perks: access to the Penrose Library, discounts on Newman Center concerts, and so on.The fee is good for one academic term (fall, winter, spring).

Most of the classes last 8 weeks (typically one 2 hour session a week, usually held on a week day). They are taught, often, by OLLI members, many of whom have impressive credentials. A sample of upcoming topics:

* Eyewitness to Power - taught by Harry Cullis, on a book by David Gergen, former advisor to four U.S. presidents.

* Macbeth: Fair or Foul - taught by Patricia Paul, past president of the Colorado Language Arts Society.

* Colorado Mystery Writers Series - featuring eight different writers presenting on their own work.

* Searching for Hussan: a cultural, historical, and political tour of Iran - taught by Khosrow Badiozamani, who was born in Iran.

* A Survey of Comparative Mythology: the contributions of Joseph Campbell - taught by Thomas Carter, international businessman.

OLLI also offers a smattering of one-offs -- one-time lectures with their own modest fees (for instance, $10 gets you into a two hour class on fine music appreciation).

There are no exams. This is learning for the fun of it.

On Tuesday, August 4, from 10 a.m. to noon, OLLI is sponsoring an open house at the south campus. According to a recent press release, "The open house is an opportunity to learn more about the program, register for classes and meet OLLI members. For information, or to be added to the OLLI South database, contact Nancy Chase at 720-203-9708 or nancychase@q.com. OLLI South Open House & classes: Valley View Christian Church, 11004 Wildfield Lane (4 miles south of US85 & C470 on the northeast corner of South Santa Fe Drive & Titan Parkway)."

More information, and online registration, is available at www.universitycollege.du.edu/olli.

Meanwhile, for those of you who are not yet 50, or don't have $75 to spare, remember that the People's University (doing business as the Douglas County Libraries) offers a guaranteed scholarship to a lifetime of exploration.

Why not start today?

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

July 16, 2009 - DCL number one!

Two years ago, it took an average of 48 hours for materials returned to the library to make their way back to the shelf.

That's not surprising. Over the past five years, checkouts have jumped by 98% in Douglas County. More materials means more handling.

But I work with some remarkably insightful and innovative people. Case in point: my Associate Director of Virtual Services, Bob Pasicznyuk, put together a team that eventually involved almost everybody in the library and a good many community volunteers. That team tested, selected, and installed RFID tags, self-check stations, and behind-the-scene sorting systems.

In the past TWO years, we've seen a 31% jump in checkouts. That's almost a million new transactions every year. At the same time, since January of this year we've had a hiring freeze, thus we employ fewer people than last year.

And now it takes just 2 hours to get materials back on the shelf. In some locations, we have it down to 45 minutes.

The creativity, focus, and tenacity of my staff is matched only by the openness of our Library Board of Trustees. However, their willingness to invest in cutting edge technologies was tempered by their probing questions about what we were really trying to accomplish and why.

The answer was plain: we wanted to put more library materials in more Douglas County homes, and do it more efficiently, than any library in the country.

As our internal measures show, we just might have pulled it off.

But it turns out that there are external measures of library performance. One of them is called the Hennen's American Public Library Ratings. Douglas County Libraries has appeared on the list of the ten best libraries in the country for several years.

The 2009 rankings just came out. And I am very pleased to report that Douglas County Libraries is now ranked number one in the nation for our population group (250,000 up to 500,000).

To be honest, every ranking system has its fans and critics. In my judgment, there are many fine libraries right here in Colorado that didn't make this list, and should have. But while I may quibble with a particular ranking system, I heartily endorse the use of hard data to assess performance.

The main criticism of the Hennen's rankings is simply that, like so many statistical comparisons, they're based on data that tends to be old. The 2009 rankings were based on 2006 data. That was before our failed 2007 election. Since then, our per capita measures -- for funding, library space, and materials -- have lost some ground.

On the other hand, we continue to hone our ability to move materials.

You can view the ratings for yourself at http://www.haplr-index.com/HAPLR100.htm.

Allow me a moment of quiet pride in our institution. In 1990, we were rated as one of the worst libraries in the state. Fewest hours open. Fewest books per person. Fewest story times.

Today, we are regarded, after rigorous statistical analysis, as one of the best libraries in the United States. (And just by-the-bye, in 2009 we offer an average of 10 storytimes a day -- over 3600 per year. Trust me. That makes a difference in our community.)

Our success is directly attributable to the contributions we have received not only from staff and board, but from our community, whose creation of a library district in 1990, and whose increase in a mill levy in 1996 gave us the funds to achieve national recognition.

To put it another way: support equals excellence. Thank you!

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

July 9, 2009 - library hosts small business forum

Many people, I'm sure you will be astonished to learn, are more interested in themselves than they are in others.

One of the marks of maturity, however, is this: you begin to notice that all our lives are interdependent. That is, an environment where many people thrive is better for you in the long run than one that's just set up for your immediate convenience.

I was very impressed recently to read of the Town of Castle Rock's extraordinary steps to change longstanding processes to approve residential projects: decks, added rooms, etc. The council's bold leadership suggested that they would simply waive, for a time, associated fees and delays for permits.

Won't the Town lose money, and isn't it in fact facing a severe fiscal crisis?

It will and it is.

But it will also be promoting local businesses, and encouraging people to spend a little money to invest in the asset of their homes, at a time when that money buys more than usual. That business boost improves a community twice -- and maybe three times, because the modest sales tax on such services (buying lumber, etc.) does come back to the Town.

That larger perspective is rare, and is worthy of praise.

It is a fundamental premise of libraries that by pooling all of our knowledge, each of us can get a little smarter. Along that theme, I'm pleased to announce a Small Business Forum. We're holding it at the Highlands Ranch Library from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., on Friday, July 17th. The forum is free and open to all.

We'd like to start off by getting a real read on what's happening in the local business environment from people who know. There's a difference between what you read or hear about the business environment through national and regional media, and what's happening in Douglas County -- and it's a good difference.

Among our speakers will be a commercial real estate broker in Parker (Justin VanLandschoot), a Chamber of Commerce executive in Castle Rock (Pam Ridler), the coordinator of a countywide economic gardening project (Chris Eppers), and a County Commissioner (Jack Hilbert). We'll also hear from a librarian who specializes in answering local business questions (Tina Poliseo, who used to be a stockbroker). The forum will be moderated by Dorothy Hargrove, Manager of the Highlands Ranch Library, and also a member of the Highlands Ranch Chamber Board.

Many economic development people pin their hopes on outside investment -- the arrival of a big box retailer, or major new enterprise. Right now, that kind of activity has slowed.

But the real engine of economic growth, in the long haul, is small business. These are folks who already live in Douglas County. They already have a lot of expertise. They just may have a handle on the Next Big Thing.

Who is the audience for this forum? Entrepreneurs. Have you been nursing a notion that just might help you strike out on your own? It might be that this forum will give you the connection, the encouragement, and the information you need to make that happen.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

July 2, 2009 - in defense of Dewey

Back on June 8, 2009, the Denver Post ran a front page story, above the fold, about the Rangeview Library District's decision to abandon the Dewey Decimal System.

The day the article came out, an out-of-state friend was visiting one of our staff members. The visitor asked, "Is this actually a hot issue here in Colorado?" Our staff member kept a stern and straight face. "Absolutely," she said. "Dewey. Anti-Dewey. There will be blood."

My thought was this: I think this is a fine and interesting experiment for a library. Rangeview's director and her staff are trying all kinds of things lately. Fun.

But almost immediately and somewhat to my surprise, I got an impassioned defense of the Dewey Decimal System via email from one of our Douglas County patrons. Her main issue was that although the bookstore style classification adopted by Rangeview might work well in smaller collections, it tends to break down for larger ones.

For instance, "Cooking" (the bookstore or "WordThink" classification) makes a lot more sense than Dewey's "Cookery."

But when you have larger collections and thus more subjects, it's important to have finer gradations. Take subject headings for Korean cooking. In WordThink, it's "COOKING/RegionalEthnicAsian," or just "Cooking International." A label for the book might be "COOKING INTNTL." In Dewey, the subject heading is "Cookery, Korean." The number corresponding to that subject is 641.59519. It is specific to Korean cooking, which means that all the Korean cookbooks will wind up next to each other on the shelf. Numbers make finer breakdowns easier to label -- but harder to find (because you have to look up the subject to find the number, and the subject isn't always the words ordinary people use).

So some people do have strong feelings about this issue. But they're part of that relatively small subset of the population that actually understands Dewey.

I know from talking to the folks at Rangeview that making such a change isn't easy. It took them at least a thousand hours of thinking and planning and procedural design. They're about to open a bunch of new libraries, so this would be the time to make the change. I'm not sure that makes sense for us, though.

Here's why.

First, almost half of our checkouts (48%) are children's materials -- and a big percentage of those are picture books. Their labeling is absurdly simple -- the letter "E" (for "Easy Reader" or "Juvenile Picture" book), then by author. Dewey doesn't usually come into play. (Although you could make an argument that sorting picture books by subject would come in handy sometimes. But not most of the time.)

Second, about 15% of our checkouts are books placed on hold through our computer catalog, then picked up later. Since it's our staff that pulls the books, it almost doesn't matter how they're labeled, so long as we can still find things.

Third, a lot of our collection -- and percentage of checkouts -- is adult fiction. Last year, it accounted for about 14% of our business. Fiction is just shelved by author.

Fourth, of the remaining non-fiction materials, many zoom off the shelf because they're on display -- usually on one of our subject-oriented "power walls." In fact, for these materials, what we're doing already feels a lot like a bookstore. But we build displays on the fly, based on immediate use.

So what's left is just the older non-fiction materials. As an administrator, I ask myself: does it make sense to relabel hundreds of thousands of materials when we have a system that seems to be working right now?

I don't think so.

I've worked with Dewey, with the Library of Congress system, and with BISAC (the Book Industry Standards and Communication classification system that forms the basis for WordThink). None of them is perfect. All of them are usable.

But I still think it's great that libraries are shaking things up -- and people care enough to notice.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

June 25, 2009 - book bags

Over the years, I've gone to a lot of conferences, workshops, and professional events. I know this because recently I ran out of closet space. The problem? Book bags.

Book bags, or "swag," come with virtually every event librarians go to. Book bags are to librarians what T-shirts and baseball caps are to sports fans. When my closet door would no longer close, it's because I now have a couple of dozen of these bags.

Some book bag samples include:

* CAL - get RadiCAL (where CAL stands for Colorado Association of Libraries)
* A ClassiCAL Celebration (same idea)
* Colorado Teen Literature conference (a nice one, with a large zipper compartment)
* several from the Arkansas Valley Library System (now, alas, defunct)
* RefUSA (Reference USA was a sponsor for ... something)
* an old "Douglas Public Library District" Art of Reading bag (we're now the Douglas County Libraries, of course)
* Friends of the Greeley Public Library (which means I've had this one for over 20 years, which means I don't clean the closet very often)
* Natrona County Public Library (from a visit up to see a friend in Wyoming), and
* two bags from Paris: the American Library in Paris, and the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. (This last was from a trip to see our daughter at school.)

Suzanne, my wife, has some definite opinions about which features of these bags are successful, and which are not. She admits, though, that it depends on how you use them. For instance, one slim sack from Paris suggests that you might be carrying just one or two books at a time.

Parisians accomplish their errands by walking briskly around lively but crowded neighborhoods; Americans traverse vast distances in fully-loaded minivans. Here in the LaRue household, we move a lot of books. This European less-is-more approach just doesn't cut it.

I asked Suzanne if color mattered. She gave her thumbs-up to the blue/black ones, especially when made of waterproof fabric. They look like canvas on the outside, but protect your precious library materials from sudden showers or leaks from attached water bottles (also a nice feature).

Thumbs-down: the standard "natural canvas" look. They show dirt, and when washed, never regain their shape again.

Thumbs up: 18-20" wide, with a flat or gusseted bottom. This lets you really pack 'em in.

Thumbs down: shoulder straps that are too long. One of our DCL bags is like that. Assuming you actually put the straps on your shoulder, you still have to be 5'6" to get the bag off the floor.

Along the same lines and for the same reason, I prefer the bags to be wider than they are tall. Suzanne likes them more squarish.

Thumbs up: zipper on the top. It stops bags from spilling their contents around the minivan.

Thumbs up: internal library card pocket. Don't leave home without it.

So far, the best bags we've found have been the ones provided by OCLC. They're like little conference survival kits: a central pocket for mementos, two water bottle pockets, a slimmer side pocket for conference guides and maps, zipper on the top.

However, even in the LaRue Warehouse O' Books (tm), we don't really need as many book bags as we've got. So look for these distinctive collectibles at upcoming booksales.

Better your closet than mine.

LaRue's Views are his own.