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, 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.