This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, November 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.