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 30, 2010

December 30, 2010 - give an ebook to the library

Years ago I visited a cluster of libraries in north Texas. One of the library directors told me that their equivalent of a county commissioner couldn't see a reason to buy new books for the library. He said, "People haven't read all the old ones yet!"

And he was right. But the modern library, like the modern grocery or clothing store, survives on fresh inventory.

So what happens to the old stuff? In library jargon, materials that don't get used (which often includes older materials) are "weeded." They are removed from our collection.

Maybe that makes you sad. But in truth, this is one of the great untold success stories of libraries. Such books aren't just tossed into dumpsters - unless they're 1958 encyclopedias or dangerously outdated textbooks.

There is a brisk after-market of library materials.

We give them to poorer libraries. We give them to charter schools. We give them to teachers. We give them to churches. We sell them individually in our own booksales, and by the lot to Amazon (which shares back a commission from each sale). We send them overseas to our soldiers, or in cooperation with civic groups to international schools. What can't be used is recycled.

The wonder of print is that its life after it leaves the library is just beginning. What is weeded from our shelves blooms in many other hands (and may show up in library booksales more than once!).

I view this as perfectly in keeping with the mission of the library. We buy a lot of books, about 150,000 a year. But we also weed about that many. Bottom line? Combined, every year, we release about a third of a million titles into our communities, all at a fraction of their original cost. The more books in people's homes and hands, the closer we come to fulfilling our goal to promote literacy.

Last week I wrote about our ebook project: e-Discover the Classics. We offer about 500 classic titles for free download. And in fact, just this week I re-read Conan Doyle's "Hound of the Baskervilles" and "She," by H. Rider Haggard. I read them, in fact, on my cell phone, which proved remarkably convenient.

There's a lot to be said for the classics. They're not just old. They're good!

But here's something you probably don't think much about. What's the after-market for ebooks?

If I buy a book, the odds are good that at some point I'll give it away. I want to share it with a friend. I want to donate it to the library to route it to someone else, as above.

How do I give away an ebook?

If ebooks really do start to displace print - a trend that seems likely, although print in some form will no doubt remain for a long time - that question matters. Ebook content is locked down to prevent casual sharing of a file. Obviously, if you can just email a book to somebody, then that cuts into sales by quite a lot.

But if you can't give it away, even though you bought it and supposedly own it, the net result is the disappearance of that aftermarket. Fewer cheap books. Fewer donated books.

Fewer books.

I've just been appointed to a national task force of the American Library Association to tackle this issue, among others. My idea is this: I'd like to launch a national campaign. In 2011, give an ebook to the library, so we can let other people read it. Don't know how to do that?

Shouldn't we figure it out?

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

December 23, 2010 - e-Discover the Classics

We librarians know what’s going to happen. Especially after we hosted, in partnership with Best Buy, a couple of “tech petting zoos” to let people play with the latest gadgets, we’re sure that somewhere around Dec. 27, lots of people will bring their shiny new ebook readers to the public library, eager to scout out what we’ve got for them.

Most e-reader companies offer their own online stores. But that can get expensive. As I have learned for myself, you can spend more in an afternoon than you pay for the public library in a year!

It’s good to remember: libraries are a public purchasing cooperative. Why not leverage your library investment to gain access to books in this new format?

We already have something called Overdrive -- brand new ebooks (as well as audiobooks) that you can check out from us much like a regular library book. (Just click on “downloadables” from our library website at DouglasCountyLibraries.org.) That program works with several ebook readers, among them the iPad, the Sony eBook Reader, and the Nook. It does not work with the Kindle -- not because we don’t want it to, but because Amazon has its own, proprietary format.

Many epublishing vendors haven’t quite figured out how to deal with shared public content. They’re worried that library use will eat into private purchases. (In fact, libraries account for about a quarter of all book buying nationwide. We’re not only good to publishers, we grow the market for readers.)

Some vendors fear that ebooks will do to book publishers what file sharing did to music publishers: bypass the middle man altogether. And thus we have Digital Rights Management (DRM) issues to contend with.

Some vendors only offer their products through their own locked-down websites. That means you have to search our catalog, then search other websites. It’s inconvenient and time-wasting.

So I’m pleased to announce a statewide public library holiday special – e-Discover the Classics.

Thanks to the Colorado Library Consortium, your local library now offers almost 500 classic titles (419 ebooks, and 47 audiobooks), all downloadable for free. Harvested from Project Gutenberg, which features public domain and other freely accessible works, the e-Discover the Classics Collection is integrated right into our library catalog.

To find, for instance, “Jane Eyre” or “the Brother’s Karamazov” you can just search for them as usual. But there will be a new “tag” in the record: “click here to access a downloadable book.”

Do that, and you’ll be taken directly to the download page of Project Gutenberg, which has files in a variety of formats appropriate for your computer, your new ereader, or your cell phone.

Because these titles are copyright free, they’re yours. Keep ’em. Send the files to others. It’s perfectly legal. And five hundred titles isn’t a bad beginning for your personal elibrary.

We’ll also highlight a nice, compact list of the titles on our website, so you can just work through them as a project.

Finally, we’ve also put up a page where people can find useful links for using their new ebook readers, or leave questions and comments. It’s here: http://blogs.douglascountylibraries.org/ediscovertheclassics/.

An example of our tips: I highly recommend the free e-content management software called Calibre (http://calibre-ebook.com/). It should be one of the first programs you install on your computer after you get your new reader. It works with most file formats and devices.

Publishers do have to change with the times. So do libraries. But there’s still a place for thoughtful public exploration, collaborative purchasing, and the fearless advocacy of literacy and lifelong learning.

Your public library: it’s what’s next in reading.

LaRue’s Views are his own.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

December 16, 2010 - think globally to reform education

I've been accumulating strong opinions about K-12 public education over the past few years. Let me try to do three things this week: lay out what the problem is, point out some of the key obstacles to reform, and offer a few of my own suggestions for creating a world class American education system.

The problem: according to a number of studies (see the Programme for International Assessment, for instance, which measures the educational achievement of 15-year-olds), the United States doesn't even make the top ten in reading ability, math or science.

A few months ago I reviewed a sample of world literacy studies. The conclusion was stark: the current generation of American students may be the first in the history of our nation to be less well-educated than its parents.

We wouldn't accept that kind of performance at the Olympics, where the United States does very well. But athletic performance won't help us compete in global economic markets.

And the issue is more than us winding up as the cheap, dumb labor of the world. We need smart people here at home, too.

Key obstacles: local control. This premise, this article of faith, seems to unite liberals and conservatives. But review the data above. It doesn't work.

When it comes to education, we are regularly outperformed by nations who adopt clear and consistent national standards. Comparing student performance within the state, or among states, just isn't good enough. There are Olympic educational standards, international benchmarks, and programs that work better than ours.

I would start with textbooks. American textbooks are almost uniformly bland, boring, bulky, and overpriced. We need a national library of short, clear, progressively more complex chapters, available to all, downloadable to any computer or ebook reader, easily printed into pamphlets.

Another obstacle: the enduring anti-intellectualism of our culture. Even within our schools, I see or hear about teachers, administrators and parents who don't approve of Gifted and Talented programs, or denigrate International Baccalaureate programs, yet do support competitive sports.

Studies done right here in Colorado demonstrate that one of the key predictors of academic success is the presence of a strong school library program. And yet the average age of the books in Colorado school libraries today is 15 years.

We know what works. And we don't do it.

Another obstacle: deliberately misleading politics. How often have you heard the statement, usually attempting to justify vouchers, "I should be able to use my tax money as I please. After all, it's my money!"

In 2009, my Douglas County School District property tax came to $700. If I'm going to claim $5,000 a year or so to send my son to a local Christian school, then I'm not just using my money. I'm using yours, too. I'm using a lot of people's.

Claiming public money to teach my children that, for instance, the world is only 6,000 years old and that evolution is false, not only violates the First Amendment's prohibition against the establishment of religion, but it also won't get us any closer to international competitiveness in the sciences. It's bad civics and bad educational policy.

So what to do about it all? I think we need to think globally. Let's stop blaming teachers for their failure to execute an incoherent educational policy. Let's do what honest scientists and sports trainers do: look at the evidence.

Who does the best job educating their young, and how do we adapt their lessons and improve on them?

Right now, that isn't us.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December 9, 2010 - charter choice leads to same results

There are many kinds of educational choice in Douglas County. There's public education at your local school. There's open enrollment, where you can move your child from one neighborhood public school to another. There's public education through charter schools. There's private education, whether secular or religious. There's homeschooling.

Which is right? It depends, naturally enough, on both the wishes of the parents and the needs of the child. I know from overseeing literacy programs through the years that no matter what the current educational philosophy is, it fails a consistent percentage of the student population. We don't all learn the same way, and any rigid approach to teaching inevitably misses the mark for some.

As an early advocate of charter schools, I believe in the value of experimentation. But I try to be honest about the results, too.

For instance, I don't see much press about the well researched results presented in The State of Charter Schools in Colorado: 2008-2009.

It has a lot of data, too much to summarize here. But I will quote this to give the larger context: "During the 2007-2008 school year, 141 charter schools operated in the state of Colorado. ... Charter school enrollment in 2007-2008 represented 6.9% of the total public school enrollment. If all of the charter schools were combined into an imaginary district, the enrollment of that district would be the fourth largest in the state. Of the 133 charter schools that responded to the survey, 66% of charter schools (88) stated there was a waiting list/lottery pool for their school. The average waiting list size was 462 students, ranging from two to 7,500, and the statewide total was 38,374."

In Douglas County, again in 2007-2008, there were 58,723 students in the whole district. There were 6,580 students enrolled in charter schools, a little over 11% of our total student population.

So clearly, there's an interest and a need for alternative education. But how well does it do?

The report presents school statistics by ethnicity, special needs, and details student performance in reading, writing, and math. Here's the bottom line: in most areas, charter schools are a lot like public schools. In the areas of reading and math, Colorado charter school students often do better than their public school counterparts in grades 6, 7, and 8. But that reverses in high school; they do poorer.

Homeschoolers tend to do much better in elementary years, too. But not all parents feel themselves equipped to teach higher math and physics.

Public education has a political dimension. It is the place where we want to acculturate waves of immigrants, and to forge patriotic citizens (the Pledge of Allegiance and civics), yet also to encourage critical thinking. It is the place where we wish to feed the hungry (the school lunch program). It is the place where we wish to grow public health awareness (required vaccinations, sex education, drug education). It is the place where we want to ensure the physical fitness of our young (P.E. programs). It is the place where we want to nurture and excite tomorrow's technologists (through Science/Technology/Engineering/Math programs); it is the place where we want to shelter them from the wickedness of the theory of evolution (see attempts to insert "intelligent design" into science classes).

It is a place where so much is expected, even when the expectations are profoundly self-contradictory, that success is a long shot.

In fact, I believe Douglas County has offered my children an excellent education, although I had to pay close attention.

But the truth is, America's primary and secondary public education system is quickly falling behind the rest of the world. Simply offering more "choices" that produce pretty much the same results isn't much of a plan.

Next week, I'll speak frankly about some of the other problems that come with "choice," and begin to sketch what real educational reform might look like, and why we need it.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 2, 2010 - curricular reform is easy

I am the result of two educational influences: public schools, and the public library.

Growing up as a boomer in the 50s and 60s, my typical class size was 34. I really don't recall that being a problem. School was generally better than home for me, and I had teachers with high expectations. I think we all got a pretty solid grounding in the basics.

I learned to speed read to get through my boring and tedious fourth grade social sciences textbook as quickly as possible. As I got older, I pretty much lived at the public library, and eventually was reading a book a day, seven days a week, mostly biographies and science fiction.

After college, and grad school, I really didn't think about formal education that much.

Until I had kids.

Like many earnest and clueless parents, I started to worry. Public education in the 1990s seemed very different from my own experience. I was already in Douglas County when there was something of a movement beginning. In brief, a small group of parents believed that there were very few, and very inconsistent standards for curriculum.

I started attending various school district meetings, and came to share that concern. Consider this: I know from working with European and Asian Rotary exchange students that a year in America doesn't even count toward their graduation. Almost all of our exchange students got straight As, not only because they tended to be smart, but because they had covered our content several years earlier.

If you go to school in Iowa, Minnesota, or Texas, then come to elementary school in Colorado, you'll find that you're about a year ahead.

Although the CSAP has changed this somewhat (and not always for the better), it's still true that if you move around the state, you'll find that there's not much curricular consistency from school district to school district. Even more amazing to me is the variance not only between schools within a district, but within classes at the same grade level in the same school building. That's because we have "local control" and "site-based management." Unlike most of the people I know, I think these policies serve our nation poorly.

After reading up on all this, my wife and I decided to homeschool our kids at least through the first grade. We believed it was important (a) to work through the developmental stages of play and values formation with them, instead of outsourcing that to crowds of other children, and (b) to lay a firm foundation of reading, writing, and math.

Oh, and (c) it was fun! We took our kids to libraries (of course!), plays, museums, concerts, national parks, shopping malls, local political and volunteer events, sporting events, and more. Children, all children, are just amazingly bright, and seeing their fascination with the world was rejuvenating for us, too.

Later, I was one of the original founders of Colorado's first parent-initiated charter school: Castle Rock's Academy Charter. A friend of mine, Laurel Iakovakis, and I pushed the Core Knowledge Curriculum, which was later adopted by many charters. Laurel was the first dean of the Parker Academy. Later still, I served on the Academy Charter School board. My daughter went to Academy Charter from grades 2 through 5 (then homeschool again for a year, then public school, then Douglas County High School's spectacular International Baccalaureate program).

I learned some valuable lessons through that experience. First, curricular reform is easy. It really is. You pick a philosophy, find supporting material, hire teachers who believe in your approach, and there you are.

Second, there's more to a school than curriculum. There's institutional finance, and governance, and personnel management, and extra-curricular activities, and a confounding mix of contrary expectations by the parents.

I mention all this to begin to lay the ground work for a consideration of "choice" in public education. As I hope my experience makes plain, I've dabbled in a fair amount of it.

But next week I'd like to talk not just about choice, but about results. Eventually, we'll get around to the topic of the day: vouchers.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November 25, 2010 - English language still declining

Recently, a colleague sent me a link to George Orwell's essay on "Politics and the English Language." (One version can be found here.) In it, Orwell, author of both "1984" and "Animal Farm," takes aim against what he calls "the decline of language." He provides many examples.

The essay was published in 1946. But its insights remain fresh. For instance, he writes, "In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing." Few who endured the recent election season would argue with that one.

He continued, "Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a 'party line.' Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style."

That's true, too. In print, as in conversation, when people start repeating themselves, it's because they have run out of anything new to say. They invest the cliché and its repetition with a belief in its wisdom. Such clichés are comforting to some, like the choral response of a prayer.

Under the section, "Meaningless Words," he writes, "The word Fascism has now no meaning except insofar as it signifies 'something not desirable.'" Substitute "socialism" for "fascism," and it could be 2010.

Don't believe me? Next time somebody uses the term around you, ask him or her to define it. Then ask if professional fire departments fit the definition, and if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Orwell also quotes from my favorite Old Testament book, Ecclesiastes. "I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all." Such strong, clear, wonderful writing!

Then he translates it into what passed for educated prose in 1946. "Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account."

That reminds me of my favorite sentence, whose mellifluous rhythms so enchanted me as a child that I memorized it: "Crest has been shown to be an effective decay preventive dentifrice that can be of significant value when used in a conscientiously applied program of oral hygiene and regular professional care." Or as my mother put it, "brush your teeth and go to the dentist every six months, or your teeth will fall out."

It's fun to find bad examples of language. But Orwell offered some positive suggestions, too.

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

It's not bad advice ... for a socialist.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Monday, November 8, 2010

November 18, 2010 - learning to live in the cloud

I started using a Palm Pilot (as it was known back then) in July of 2000. It took another year to pick up a mobile phone. It wasn't until 2008 that I finally combined both into one device: a "smart phone" called the Palm Centro.

When you carry a gizmo around for 10 years, particularly one that uses the same basic software, you accumulate a lot of "data." In my case, beyond calendar and contact information, that meant newspaper columns, talks, essays, poetry, and journal entries. I used my Palm not only to organize my schedule, but also to think: to outline ideas, to record significant events that challenged or confirmed my beliefs.

But as my life and job have grown more complex, I find that my schedule doesn't really belong to me anymore. Having to "sync" my device with a variety of other computers got to be a tangle of cords, broken connectors, and mismatched calendars. Although the Palm Centro was great in many ways, it had a very poor web browser.

It was time to go to the cloud: syncing my data to the wireless Web.

It turned out that I was due for a new phone anyhow, so I just decided to take the plunge. I now possess (or am possessed by) the latest Palm Pre. (I almost went with an Android phone, and that would have been a good choice, too.)

The Pre is gorgeous, sleek and elegant. Years ago, I was a software reviewer, and have always paid close attention to the clarity and consistency of the user interface. The Pre is far more like the iPhone than the Palm Centro. That's not surprising, as former Apple executive, Jon Rubinstein, is said to have worked on the Pre.

I worked through the key issues in just a few days.

Step one: conversion. I needed to capture my over 1,000 contacts and many thousands of calendar entries. Palm provided a utility that did it in about half an hour. I also had to figure out how much of all that extra data really mattered. Answer: not much. But some of it did, and that was a little trickier.

Step two: learning curve. I poked around on the Pre itself, and watched some online videos. Finally, I checked out a "Complete Idiot's Guide" from the library, and paged through it a couple of nights. That was the right sequence for me: play, visuals, text. Bottom line: it took about four days to get remarkably comfortable with how the Pre operated.

Step three: rethinking my work flow. The Pre is Web-centric. I've had a Google account for a long time but didn't really use it much. So I had to spend some time understanding how Google Docs works, and getting more familiar with the calendar and contacts applications.

Step four: rethinking security. If I was going to be linking my life across various websites and services, I needed to be more thoughtful about passwords. I locked down the Pre itself, then adopted a new password scheme, based on a dynamic pattern rather than either a common password, or one so unique to each site that I had to write it down.

Step five: a moment of nostalgia. Really, would it be so bad to go back to the simple moleskin notepad? I fingered them avidly at Tattered Cover. Notebooks are cool. They never have to be recharged.

Step six: adjusting to life in a new world. I downloaded a few new apps (ebook reader, a more robust notes database, sudoku, an outliner). I'm finding that I like the Pre a lot. It's fun to learn new things.

For many, the smart phone is becoming both indispensable tool and window to the world. I'm looking forward to finding better ways to deliver library services in that environment.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Friday, November 5, 2010

November 11, 2010 - library takes community to the world

I've been spending a lot of time lately reading, thinking, and talking about the trends of ebook and self-publishing. Just this week, I got another example that also falls into the area of "local history."

Perry Park resident Pati Palumbo (who also happened to have taught my daughter years ago at the Academy Charter School) has recently published "Pathways of Perry Park: 1870-2010." Like the John Fielder work that inspired her, Palumbo started with historic photographs of frontier photographer William Henry Jackson. Jackson had taken a number of photographs of Perry Park in 1870. Palumbo found the same spots, and retook the photographs today.

The book contrasts the black and white photos on one side with extravagantly colorful modern pictures. Also included are other pages from the original book, which was apparently a kind of real estate brochure.

It's fascinating to see how place names change over the years. "Old Saguache" is now "Indian Head Rock." One meadow was once known as "The Vale of Cashmere." And this is a perfect time to interject some florid 1817 poetry by Thomas Moore.

Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere,
With its Roses the brightest that earth ever gave.
Its temples, and grottos, and fountains as clear
As the love-lighted eyes that hang over their wave!

And the wind, full of wantonness, woos like a lover
The young aspen trees till they tremble all over.

You just don't see a lot of poetry in today's real estate fliers.

These days, the Vale of Cashmere is known as the Big D. The "Washington Monument" is now "Sentinel Rock." "The Green and Silent Valley" is now a golf course. And one formation is now Dark Vader Rock.

Poetry gives ways to prose. But the magic of the "mystic valley" persists.

Palumbo created the book online at a place called Mixbook.com. This kind of one-off production might not have been picked up by a commercial publisher. But the ability to create the book herself (with a lot of help from family and friends) gave Palumbo a unique and deeply personal connection to it.

The original book was a gift from Mrs. Alda Pottenger, daughter of the Metlzer family that homesteaded Castle Rock. Her grandson, Chad Pottenger, married Palumbo's daughter Jeni. Chad and Jeni also assisted in the new book, mainly by finding the right shots.

The book is available for sale from www.pathwaysofperrypark.com.

What interests me about the book is not only its beauty, but that it illustrates a trend. In the 19th and 20th century, the job of the library was to bring the world to your community. But in the 21st century, the library is about taking your community to the world.

By collecting such works and making them available through our local catalog, we make it possible for people to learn more about Douglas County - somebody tracking the works of W. H. Jackson, for instance.

So we'll be adding the "Pathways of Perry Park" to our collection. It's worth a read.

P.S. I wanted to give a big shout out to Monique Sendze, the library's associate director of information technology. On November 1, 2010, she and her husband became American citizens. On November 2, she cast her vote, an act taken for granted by too many of us, but of great significance to her. Congratulations!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

November 4, 2010 - NPR firing lame

I listen to NPR, almost the only radio station I do listen to. I like it for several reasons.

* It covers international news. I find the British news shows particularly interesting. My daughter lived for a time in Germany, France, and Taiwan. Those places regularly get mentioned on NPR, not so much in most U.S. media.

* NPR covers science. "Science Friday" usually raises some topic that doesn't show up anywhere else. I think science is important.

* They do breaking and in-depth news. Often, I hear something on NPR several days before I see it in the paper. They also dig into a story, not just present a 30 second sound bite. I found their coverage from China - right after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake - riveting.

* Some of its shows, "A Prairie Home Companion" and "This American Life" for instance, often make me laugh, or present music and perspectives I appreciate.

Last week, I discussed the problem of "accidental extremism" -- what happens when you pay attention only to one voice in the political spectrum. It's fair to wonder: do people who listen only to NPR run the same risks as people who watch only Fox News?

The answer, of course, is yes.

Fox may have gone to court to defend its right to distort the news (as I talked about last week). But this week, we have the far more recent case of NPR firing one of its distinguished "news analysts," Juan Williams.

Why? Because while appearing on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor" on October 18, 2010, Williams said, "...when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

Why was that a firing offense? According to NPR’s CEO, Vivian Schiller, "News analysts may not take personal public positions on controversial issues; doing so undermines their credibility as analysts..."

Well, that seems pretty lame to me. Williams is a smart guy. His admission of discomfort at this moment in our history just makes him human.

Sure, "Muslim garb" can be tricky. Can you tell the difference between Afghani headgear and Sikh? I can't. But the comment reminded me of Jesse Jackson, who once reported that when he walked down an urban street at night, then was approached by strangers, he was sometimes relieved if they turned out to be white.

The issue here is lingering fear. Some of it may be statistical, or anecdotal, or even irrational. But all of us carry it around with us. Jesse Jackson wasn't arguing for racial profiling. Williams wasn't suggesting a new Crusade.

Firing Williams isn't censorship. NPR isn't the government. They can employ anyone they like. And in fact, Williams has apparently been offered a lucrative contract ($2 million over three years!) by Fox, who is delighted by the whole affair. Williams won't be injured by the deal.

The call from the conservative crowd immediately went up to end government funding for NPR. But that only accounts for about 2% of their budget. As any regular listener knows, most of the funding comes from irritating on air requests for pledges.

But they work. That means that the people who want it, pay for it. I do myself. At $15 a month, it's exactly three times what I pay for library services through my taxes.

If we're ending government funding for private concerns, does that include subsidies to oil companies, loggers, ranchers, and others? Which pot of money do you reckon is bigger?

Nonetheless, this flap does dent the credibility of NPR, at least in my eyes. It makes me pay a little more attention to them, to be a little more thoughtful, a little more critical, about what they tell me.

Ultimately, against accidental extremism, that's the only protection we have.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

October 28, 2010 - accidental extremism on the rise

Years ago, I lived in a small Arizona town. A guy at the local watering hole told me that radio played a big role in his life. "We get both kinds of music now," he said proudly. "... country AND western."

That old joke captures a lot of what I heard in a recent talk by John Creighton (johncr8on.com). He was speaking to a group of librarians about various trends in our society. One of those trends was something he called "accidental extremism."

According to Creighton, people tend to put themselves in the middle of groups. Few of us set out to live on the fringe. But in the age of talk radio, in the age of niche television programming, in the age of the Internet, it's much easier to find people who share the same general mindset.

For instance, conservatives listen to Rush, and watch Fox News. (Incidentally, I was just reading about FOX News. Back in February 2003, they appealed a previous court decision awarding damages to reporters Fox fired because they refused to run false reports. According to a report by one Mike Gaddy, Fox lawyers "asserted that there are no written rules against distorting news in the media. They argued that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves." The Florida Court of Appeals agreed with them: it's legal to lie. I guess that's true, too. But it's hardly "fair and balanced.")

Of course, the trend of selective media consumption, and of overt political bias, is not unique to conservatives. It applies to liberals and libertarians, to Green Party and Tea Party activists.

The point is that, over time, we stop hearing from people who don't already agree with us. And in the narrow world we inhabit, opinions that might have looked pretty "out there" a few years ago suddenly seem perfectly normal. We might still be in the middle of our group, but that group has itself strayed from the ever-elusive "mainstream America."

And there we are: accidental extremists.

I think Creighton is right. Speaking as a librarian, I can tell you that very few people seek out perspectives that challenge their fundamental beliefs. Rather, we read things that reinforce them. It feels good to be right.

And boy, can we get mad when we run across something that reinforces another group's beliefs!

But one of the most fundamental mistakes of predicting the future is the notion that a trend will continue forever. One might look at the trend of accidental extremism and say, "this leads to anarchy." We will inevitably splinter into ever smaller and weirder groups, which themselves will get ever more righteous and angry and insular.

But everything changes. At some point, the forces that drive those trends, whether welcome or worrisome, just give out. There is a rhythm to social forces. Some push us apart. Others pull us together.

To every trend there is a counter-trend. I'd be interested to hear from people about trends that actually bring people together across lines that previously divided them. If you know of any, send them to me at jlarue at jlarue.com. I'll summarize them in this column.

Hint: it ISN'T country western music. Not to those of us raised on Motown.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Friday, October 15, 2010

October 21, 2010 - be kind

I remember reading a great comic book when I was a kid.

The time was the not-too-distant future. People had anti-gravity swimming pools in their back yards. They got to wear clothes sort of like superhero costumes.

Most folks of that age were very materialistic. But while the society was both global and mostly prosperous, not every one enjoyed prosperity.

There was one gentle young man who visited the old, and spent most of his time helping others on the fringe. He was universally mocked. It didn't bother him much.

One day, a flying saucer arrived, and hung over the global capital. They had a simple demand. They wanted that guy. They wouldn't show themselves to anyone in the world government. They weren't interested in setting up diplomatic relations, or trade. They just kept saying they had come for that guy.

So the government finally asked the guy if he'd go. Seeing how frightened everyone was, he accepted.

And found, when they floated him up to the flying saucer and it headed off to Galactic Central, that the folks from outer space had chosen him to be the Emperor of the Universe. "But I have no interest in power!" he said.

"That's why we picked you," they said. "That's how we always pick our Emperors. It works very well."

It seems like a pretty good system to me, too. I've just come back from a couple of emergency backup speaker gigs, traveling around libraries in the West. Politics is in the air.

I've been thinking about the pursuit of power, and find that few people can articulate just why they want it. Even when they do tell you, you get the sense that they have something else in mind.

I'm not even sure I believe in power. Speaking as the leader of an organization, a husband, a father, a friend, and even a citizen, I think the quest for control is mostly a waste of time. You have influence, sure. You can lean things a little one way or the other - a little better (you hope), or a little worse (sometimes despite your best efforts). If you pay attention, it makes you humble.

One of the things I talked about in my travels was renewal. Everybody gets burned out sometimes, and right now, the cause is often politics or budget troubles (and often, they're the same).

At such times, it's useful to hearken back to a few simple things:

* breathe. Just noticing the air moving in and out of your body can be wonderfully calming.

* laugh. People are funny. And the funnier they are, the more familiar they become. You think, "that could (or did) happen to me." By and by, humor starts to look a lot like compassion.

* look around. Our world is beautiful. Over the past couple of weeks, autumn has arrived. Its signs differ from one part of the West to other. Sometimes subtle, the tones of the landscape work magic on the soul. Change is coming, inevitably.

Several themes emerged from my many conversations. People sense that we've swung a pendulum about as far as it can go in the direction of angry entitlement. It could be that it's time to try to locate a little common ground, a little kindness.

Because let's remember: it just might be the only way to get in the running for Emperor of the Universe.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

October 14, 2010 - vote No on the Bad 3

So you go to the doctor and he says, "I'd like you to lose some of that weight." You think, "You could lose a few yourself, doc!" but what you say is, "So are we talking a diet? Exercise? I can do that!"

But he frowns at you. "I'm afraid I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is, I want you to lose weight faster than that. We're going to have to amputate your leg."

"What's the good news?" you exclaim.

"To give you time to get used to it, we're going to amputate in stages!" He demonstrates: a whack at the knee, then mid-thigh, then at the hip.

That little scenario is pretty much the combined effect of Amendments 60 and 61, and Proposition 101, the Bad Three.

Honestly, I've been listening to and reading what the proponents say. While it pains me to be so uncivil, I don't know what else to call their claims but lies. Some proponents have stated in highly public forums and the press that no one will lose their jobs, that the effect is only something like a 2% reduction in "government" spending.

Have they not read their own proposals? As noted in previous columns, Amendment 60 alone would reduce the revenues of the Douglas County Libraries by more than half, effective January 1, 2011. If that should happen, over 170 library workers would lose their jobs shortly thereafter. Not 4 or 10 years from now.

That's certainly bad for hard-working and conscientious library employees, and the economy. But more to the point for our community, the services used so intensively by you, our patrons, would be harshly curtailed.

Some branches would close altogether, despite their value as community centers. Our new materials purchases - books, music, and movies - would be reduced by half as well, despite our having one of the highest per capita uses of those materials in the nation.

Based on our patterns of use, we would start cutting hours at the three or four branches that remain. Although plenty busy by any standard, some hours are less busy than others. Evenings would be first to go. That means no more night meetings at the library, which are currently booked out as much as a year in advance.

Over the past year or so, libraries all across the country have been seeing a big surge of use by people who use our resources to retool. They learn to write resumés, they search for jobs online, they write business plans for start-up companies. This would not be a good time for them to lose library access.

I've been involved in various Douglas County communities for a long time, and I've learned something nobody talks much about. The quality of our lives depends on two strong legs: the private sector, and the not-for-profit.

Business cannot and does not thrive without an ongoing investment in infrastructure: roads, schools, libraries, water, public safety. Some people protest business regulation. Yet those laws, inspections, fees, and our courts create something without which no business can long survive: a predictable and consistent environment that promotes the common good.

Don't believe me? See Haiti.

Likewise, the not-for-profit sector depends on the productivity of business. Humans need to make things, grow things, build things. Those activities not only celebrate achievement, but also create wealth. A percentage of private profits returns to the not-for-profit sector, investing in and sustaining that shared environment.

Both business and government, being human enterprises, are only as good as the ones who work in them. Both need to be watched, and both need to be put on a diet every now and then.

But blindly hacking off one of your legs isn't a diet. It's just a good way to make it impossible to stand.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Friday, October 1, 2010

October 7, 2010 - my colleagues I salute you

The last time I went to Durango, I drove over Red Mountain pass at night, during a snow storm. By the time I got down, my knuckles were as white as the ice in my tire treads.

I had gone to Durango to run a workshop for Sherry Taber, then the new library director. She was trying to pull together a committee to build a desperately needed new library.

It took years. But just before her retirement, she made it happen. A few weeks ago, I returned to Durango, and visited the now 2-year old library with Andy White, the gracious new director. The building is gorgeous. Nestled against the river, narrow gauge rails and a bicycle path, the library embraces sky and setting.

The next day, I drove down to Farmington, NM. The public library director there is Karen McPheeters - a firecracker of intelligence and energy who also put years into securing the funding, designing, and now operating one of the most impressive libraries in the nation.

Karen was the first director I knew to adopt the "self check and automated material handling" technologies that we use. I had sent some people to her library to scope it out before we invested in it. Karen was, and still is, some ten years ahead of the rest of the library world. She has a corporate background, and brings that focus sharply to bear on her systems.

The library also reflects many of the beliefs of the Native American tribes in the area, from its floor plan to its orientation to the solstices. By being totally of its place, the Farmington Public Library succeeds in doing something else: it's world class.

Then I accompanied Paul Paladino, director of the Montrose Library District, back to his house. He showed me his new home project: he built a "casita" for his mom, attached to his own house. It's a straw bale building, and it uses the same processes that he used for the first straw bale library in the state, and only the second in the nation. That library is in Naturita, and is now a year old.

The 4,500 square foot building in Naturita is all electric, and has bills that vary from $200 to $300 a month, which is phenomenally cheap. The community actually helped build it. Like Paul's casita, the library is cool and comfortable. I was fascinated by the chemistry of the earth plaster then lime wash finish. A combination of those two makes a wall that actually heals its own cracks and gets stronger over time. Paul is a master craftsman, and more than one kind of builder.

Oh, and on my way out to Durango, I stopped in the new Penrose Community Library, where Jean Christensen, the assistant director, gave me a tour. It's a beautiful adobe building.

Then I spent a night in Salida, where director Jeff Donlan invited me to a packed public program they hosted about Burma. He was (as always) literate, witty, and clearly comfortable in the role of community convener.

While each building I saw was unique, there was also something they had in common. Every one of these libraries was alive not only with people and materials, but also with art, with public technology, with inviting spaces for individual sanctuary and social contact.

Colorado is a stunningly beautiful place (as is northern New Mexico). But what really made those towns sparkle for me was this: the forward-thinking and innovative management of the public library.

My colleagues, I salute you.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

September 30, 2010 - come out, come out, whoever you are

When I was 11 or 12 years old I rode my black Schwinn bicycle everywhere.

It was a lot of work, for two reasons.

First, all my favorite places - the library (of course), the Illinois Beach State Park, the YMCA - were miles apart.

Second, the aliens were after me. See, I was doing a lot of reading about UFOs. It seemed pretty clear to me that the people most interested in the phenomena were the ones most likely to be abducted. And probed, which didn't sound pleasant.

So when I was tearing around town, I took maximum advantage of tree cover. I dodged through parks and alleys. I made sudden and unexpected turns. I doubled back to take weird short cuts.

Crazy? you ask. Maybe. But consider this: They never got me.

And speaking of pursuit and concealment, I've been trying to puzzle out who is really behind Proposition 101, and Amendments 60 and 61. I started like this: Who actually benefits from these measures?

I can only come up with two candidates.

The first is economic development people in states other than Colorado. Private and public sector people both will certainly flee a state whose civic infrastructure is collapsing. That's not idle conjecture. See California.

The second prospect might be closer to home. The provisions of these initiatives allow property owners to vote anywhere they have land, and slash away at property taxes across the board.

Who wins from that arrangement? Nobody who actually lives in a community, and has to deal with the quality of roads, schools, and libraries, or the response of fire and police departments. You just need an insurance policy, right? And a steady stream of renters.

So here's another answer to the question of "who benefits?": Absentee landlords.

I justify this speculation because somebody had to pay for all the petition printing and gathering. We should know who is pushing for sweeping constitutional changes, right? Under the law, people who spend that kind of money on political measures are required to declare themselves.

Except they didn't.

Now it is true that several of the sponsors admitted to a federal judge that they got a lot of help from Doug Bruce, an absentee landlord who has pushed similar measures in the past. So a court asked Bruce to come in and answer some questions about what looked like a crime.

They tried, anyhow. Court officers attempted to deliver a summons. Thirty times. They left cards and notices at Bruce's residence in the morning, in the afternoon, at night. No one would answer the door.

Meanwhile, lights went on and off. Someone set out the garbage. The cards and notices disappeared.

You have to admire it. Doug Bruce is as wily as a tween on a bike. They couldn't catch him.

On the other hand, a judge did finally rule the proponents "evasive and unbelievable." And fined them.

I strive mightily to resist the pull of cynicism. But I have to ask: If you're trying to change the law, it's because you think people should follow the law, right? If the proponents are convinced that Amendments 60 and 61, and Proposition 101 are truly good for us, then they should stop sneaking around, and come out and debate it. What's to hide?

Unless - and this just occurred to me - there's a third possibility. It would explain everything. What if this is a conspiracy of ... aliens?


LaRue's Views are his own.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

September 23, 2010 - "it takes a village ...to eat the leftovers"

I can just hear it now. Cue exasperated parent: "What are you going to do with a degree in Spanish and Latin American Culture?" And then, later, "why on earth would anyone want to get a doctorate in anthropological linguistics?''

Answer (because it's so obvious): "I want to be a famous chef."

That would be Rick Bayless, best-selling author, award-winning restaurateur, TV show host, and once guest chef at the White House, where he prepared a state dinner honoring Mexico.

You never know where your studies are going to take you.

We've gotten quite a buzz about his coming to the library. Our "A Day with Rick Bayless" (Wednesday, October 13) is a busy one.

We sold out the exclusive lunch with him at the Old Blinking Light Restaurant in Highlands Ranch.

We also sold out the next event: at the Lone Tree Recreation Center, at 3 p.m., he'll do a cooking demo -- bacon-tomato guacamole and green herb ceviche, from his latest cookbook "Fiesta at Rick's: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends."

At 6 p.m. he'll show up at an author reception at the Wildlife Experience in Parker, followed by a special talk. (It's $60 for the reception, $30 for the talk.) You can even buy his latest book, at every one of the above events, courtesy of Tattered Cover.

We have a lot of sponsors for this one. I'm grateful to Chef Kevin Fitzgerald of Old Blinking Light, who will be cooking a Bayless tribute. I'm grateful to the Whole Foods Market, which is supplying ingredients for the Lone Tree cooking demo, and to Canon Catering/Taco Mojo for the equipment.

Other support has been provided by the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado, Colorado Community Newspapers, the Wildlife Experience, Tattered Cover Bookstore, and Colorado Litho, Inc. A portion of proceeds will go to the Douglas County Libraries Foundation to support literacy activities.

It's not too late to join our sponsors. As part of a generous grant, the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado will match new or increased donations made in 2010 or 2011 to Douglas County Libraries. Wanna put your money where your mouth is (so to speak)? Contact Katie Klossner at kklossner@dclibraries.org.

Want tickets to any of the above (except the ones that are sold out)? You can find tickets online at DouglasCountyLibraries.org, by phone at 303-791-7323, or in person at any Douglas County Libraries location.

We are very pleased to make this contribution to culture in Douglas County. And parents, next time, don't be so disparaging of your children's educational choices. They might just be a recipe for success.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Library Board to consider resolution on Amendments/Proposition

At its September 16, 2010 meeting (7 p.m., Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock), the Board of Trustees will consider a resolution concerning Amendments 60 and 61, and Proposition 101. If those measures are successful, the Board anticipates the layoff of more than half the library staff, the potential closure of libraries at Castle Pines, Louviers, and Roxboroughs, and the significant reduction of hours in the remaining locations. Public comment will be welcome at the meeting.

Monday, September 6, 2010

September 16, 2010 - old days not so good

How would you like to pay 25 cents a pound for rib roast?

Men, would you be willing to lay out $28 for a top-of-the-line suit? Ladies, could you afford $3.25 for a new woolen skirt?

Or maybe you've been hankering after a new car. Would you spend $826 for something right off the production line?

Or suppose you wanted to rent a modest 1,440 square foot house. Does $2 a week seem too steep for four rooms and a bath? Heck, buy it outright for just $4,101!

You might think that all sounds too good to be true. But that's what things cost back in 1919.

It may be nostalgia for the past that's behind Proposition 101, the third of the profoundly anti-government measures on the ballot this fall. (The other two are Amendments 60 and 61, considered in my previous two columns.)

Proposition 101 seeks to stoke the anger of people who saw their motor vehicle fees rise last year. Among its provisions is to "reduce vehicle ownership taxes over four years to nominal amounts." "Nominal" means $10 a year.

That's what it cost to register a car in 1919.

But Proposition 101 doesn't stop there. It also lowers the state income tax to 4.5%, then phases in a further reduction to 3.5%.

Anyone following the news over the past year knows that the state already cut over a billion dollars from its budget. If this goes through, the state will lose more than twice that. At the same time, if Amendment 60 goes through, the state will also have to backfill an additional $1.6 billion resulting from the drop in school property taxes.

As I noted in my last column, that leaves the state with the responsibility to give 99% of its money to local schools. No more roads. No more higher education. No more social services for children. And apparently, no more matching money for federal medical program payments, which may prove problematic for people who are not perfectly healthy.

But what does Proposition 101 mean for local governments? Let me give you an example closer to home.

Because motor vehicle fees are part of your property, the money is divvied up among various entities in your community that depend on property taxes. In 2009, the Douglas County Libraries, for instance, got $1.4 million. Once 101 is fully "phased in" that would drop to less than $10,000 a year. That's a 93% drop in revenue.

The same scale of reduction applies to the county, the school district, and every municipality, metro, fire, and water district.

Proponents of these measures describe them as "modest."

The best interpretation of this gleeful willfulness to slash government funding is that it is predicated on a profound civic ignorance. Government exists to perform functions we actually depend on - such as transportation systems, clean water, and an educated citizenry. Take away the investments that pay for those services, drive the revenue down below the costs, and your own life takes a dive.

Oh, and by the way, here's what nobody mentions when dreaming fondly of the good old days of 1919.

The average salary was $1,125. The life expectancy was 56.

Friday, September 3, 2010

September 9, 2010 - Amendment 61 reduces debt - and construction

Suppose you decide it's time to move out of your rented apartment. You have some money, but not enough to buy a house outright. So, like millions of other Americans, you start shopping for a mortgage.

You quickly learn that the longer the term of the loan, the more house you can buy. The payments are lower, although of course it takes more time to pay it off. With a shorter term, you can't afford as much house. It might not even be worth it.

But now suppose your employer informs you of two new rules. First, your banker, if he gives you a loan at all, can only offer a ten year mortgage.

Second, your employer tells you that once you do pay off your mortgage, he is going to cut your salary by the amount of your monthly mortgage payment because hey, you don't need it anymore, right?

That set of new rules, applied to government instead of to citizens, is Amendment 61.

Under this proposal, Colorado - alone among all the United States - won't be able to borrow money at all. Other governments (schools, fire and water districts, libraries) can ask their bankers (the public) to approve a loan. In fact, they must have an election in order to borrow. But they have to pay back the loan in ten years.

Oddly, there is no ten year bond market for public projects.

Of course, the increased annual cost of projects that must be paid off in ten years means that there won't be as many. Or they'll be much smaller. That means a big reduction in the public construction projects that employ contractors, engineers, concrete and manufacturing suppliers, and more.

Think about such projects as the Denver International Airport, which then spurred the construction of roads, which then sparked housing developments, schools, and retail developments. Growth means jobs.

But now, in the midst of a recession, we have a proposal to cut jobs.

Some governments have been paying mortgages by thoughtfully managing their cash flow. But if Amendment 61 passes, once their mortgages get paid off, they have to lower their property tax rates by the amount of their payments. To put it in personal terms again: when you look after your money intelligently, you should get a pay cut!

There are many other wrinkles. A big one for Colorado concerns what is now a routine matter for many Colorado schools. Tax money doesn't come in evenly. Mainly, it is collected during May, June, and July.

That doesn't match up to the fiscal year. Many schools now run year round. So they borrow money from the state to get through the winter and spring. They pay it back promptly. But under Amendment 61, that borrowing stops, too, unless there's an election every year. That's likely to affect the school calendar.

There's also a new provision for the percentage of debt a school district can carry. The Colorado Legislative Council estimates that 36 school districts - representing about half the students in the state - would be unable to build any new schools at all, for perhaps as long as a decade.

This has nothing to do with the need for new schools. It doesn't even have to do with the willingness of the public to pay for them. It's just not allowed.

Again, the full text of the amendment - a change in the state constitution on the ballot this fall - can be found, along with arguments for and against, by Googling "ballotpedia Colorado 2010."

Look it over.

And ask yourself: if you couldn't afford to get a mortgage anymore, if shared infrastructure were now so expensive that you just couldn't pay for it, if the big public works that help our economy suddenly ratcheted back by a third or more, who would that benefit?

September 2, 2010 - Amendment 60 kills jobs

09/02/2010 - amendment 60 kills jobs

Maybe you've heard this one. After a long and wicked life, Joe dies. He finds himself standing not at the pearly gates of heaven, but at the threshold of the underworld.

"Welcome to eternity!" says the devil. "And now, you have a choice on how to spend it."

He opens door number one. Three men are standing on their heads on a grassy lawn.

"What's behind door number two?" asks Joe. Three men are standing on their heads on concrete.

"Door number three?" asks Joe.

Three men stand up to their knees in human excrement. But they're drinking coffee. Joe thinks it through for a while, figures he would probably get used to the smell eventually, and at least he won't be thirsty.

"Door number 3," he decides.

As the door locks behind him, a voice comes over the loudspeaker. "Break's over. Back on your heads!"

Which leads me to this fall's ballot questions. Two of them are amendments to the state constitution (60 and 61). One of them is a proposition (101), which means it can be amended by the legislature.

All of them have a single purpose: to lower taxes.

Despite that simple summary, all of the measures are surprisingly complex. For a good, even-handed discussion of them, including arguments for and against, I highly recommend the Ballotpedia site (Google "ballotpedia colorado 2010").

This week, I'll focus primarily on Amendment 60. It has many provisions. I'll highlight just a few important ones:

* First, it overturns all local elections since 1992 that exempted local governments from Doug Bruce's TABOR restrictions. Those restrictions are restored.

* Second, any property tax increases that the voters approved during that time will be restated to the dollar amount specified in the original ballot question. So let's say the voters approved a mill levy increase of 2 mils in 1992. Back then, it generated $200,000 a year. But property values rose over the past 18 years. Let's say that last year, 2 mils equaled $1,000,000. Under Amendment 60, it goes back to $200,000.

* Third, it mandates the phased-in reduction of school property taxes by half, and requires the state to pick it up instead. The Colorado Legislative Council analysis says that this would require 99% of all state funding to go to local schools. It's not clear how it would pay for other mandated services.

As part of the library's budgeting process, we've tried to get a handle on just what these amendments, if approved by the state's voters (even if rejected by Douglas County), would mean for us.

I suspect that because these changes are so sweeping, they would likely be tied up in court for years to unravel all the implications. But the best analysis I can offer of the consequences of Amendment 60, for the library, is this:

* the first two provisions mentioned above would likely reduce our $21 million annual budget by over $11 million. That's a 52% cut.

* the library spends the bulk of its money on people. Currently, we employ 331 people to operate 7 libraries, most of them 7 days a week.

* to balance our budget, I would expect to lay off at least 172 people. Not because business is down, by the way. Libraries are busier than ever.

* with half as many people, it seems inevitable that all of our libraries would reduce their days and hours of operation. It seems likely that at least some of our libraries - the ones we rent rather than own - may close altogether.

People often say to government workers, "I pay your salary!" And if they're taxpayers, that's true. But they forget that we pay their salaries, too. Public employees go to the dentist, pay for kid's music lessons, buy car insurance, shop at the local grocery store, eat at local restaurants, pay for home repairs, and whittle away at their mortgages. Unless they don't have jobs.

In our economy, we're all connected. Eliminating an estimated 80,000 jobs statewide isn't likely to put more money in your pocket if fewer people can buy whatever you sell.

More about Amendment 61 and Proposition 101 next week. But for now, unlike old Joe, you might want to ask a few questions before your choose your future.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

August 26, 2010 - volunteer to teach

The fundamental mission of the Douglas County Libraries is to promote literacy and lifelong learning.

What results from such advocacy? Here's one of them: productive citizens.

Recently, I asked Kate Prestwood, who heads up Douglas County Libraries adult literacy efforts, to give me an update on the status of the program.

She responded with some wonderful stories both from tutors (volunteers we train to be teachers) and students. Some of our tutors are paired with students working on basic English or GEDs (a high school equivalency certificate). But we have a surprising number of international students.

One of them, of Asian origin, came to us because she was working at a big box retail store, and suspected that her use of English was a little odd. Thanks to volunteer help, she's passed a test to start moving up the retail chain's corporate ladder. These days, she addresses customers "politely." (Learning to speak English from watching television might well build up a repertoire of impolite expressions.)

A Russian aerobics instructor (who is also working another full time job) noted her increasing fluency in English. To thank her tutor, she made a custom CD of her favorite Russian music.

Another student, from eastern Europe, is working with her tutor to launch a new business. It's going well. And because of the student's growing confidence, she says, she now is starting to slip out from under the thumb of an overbearing mother-in-law.

Another woman, from South Korea, writes proudly (and grammatically!) about how she has put both of her daughters through American colleges, and finally has time to invest in her own education.

The consistent story of our students is this: through often extraordinary and inspiring work, they better themselves, they contribute to our society, they give their children a better life. And often, they invite their tutors to stand beside them on the proud day when they become American citizens.

Right now, we have 101 people matched with a tutor. Some tutors have more than one student. Others are still waiting to be paired up, although we have 80 students waiting for tutors, too. The disconnect here is mainly one of schedules. Many of the folks looking for tutors have work, school, or kids, and may be available, for instance, only on Tuesdays at 3:45 p.m.

Bottom line: we need more volunteers.

We also need volunteers interested in facilitating our Practice Your English groups at Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock. Parker has a great group of volunteers, and the Saturdays are always covered. But at Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock, we have a shortage. This is a group setting, not the usual one-on-one. But some people actually prefer this setting.

It is a privilege to live in this country. If you'd like not only to enrich your own life, but make a profound difference in the life of someone else, please consider volunteering your time in the service of literacy.

You can reach Kate Prestwood at 303-791-7323. Call today.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

August 19, 2010 - library teams with election office

A few years ago now, the Douglas County Libraries consolidated most of our phone lines into a central Contact Center. This did two things for us. First, it let us get rid of a lot of annoying sounds and service interruptions in the public areas. Our staff can concentrate on the people who show up in our buildings.

The second thing was that it let us really monitor the number and type of calls we receive, bringing in a lot of eye-opening data. That data has helped us manage a host of operations more efficiently.

Our Contact Center people do more than answer the phones, though. They manage a number of projects, the most recent of which was our team-up with the Douglas County Elections Office. In brief, the county paid us to answer the phone for that office – and provided us the training to do so. This is our second year of providing this service.

The 2010 Douglas County election season officially opened on July 19th. Primary ballots were mailed out and voter questions began pouring in.

From 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday July 19th to August 10th, our Contact Center was the first line of response for election questions. In the first two days we received as many calls as we did in the entire 2009 election.

We answered 4-5 calls an hour and were able to assist 86% of the voters who called us. (We passed along to the election office the ones that stumped us.) All together, election calls accounted for 15% of our total volume for the election period.

What kinds of things did voters ask us? The common questions included: address corrections, how to affiliate with a party, and how much postage a ballot requires.

Voters didn't have to do anything special to get us. Voters dialed the usual election number, and we just switched it over to our people automatically. Our staff could tell how many people were calling, and which line they were coming in on. We kept careful track of statistics.

Having one of the more efficient contact centers around, I'm pleased to report that we are able to provide the service at a very competitive price. Each call costs the election office 87¢ to answer. The library can do it for 50¢. By tracking such things as "dropped calls" (calls that didn't get answered because they overwhelmed the available lines) we can also maintain much better than industry-standard rates for responsiveness.

Like a lot of businesses, the library has tightened up its expenditures. Using existing resources, we were able not only to provide high quality public information, but even to generate a modest amount of new revenue – at a cost that still saved money for the county.

I'd like to acknowledge not only the out-of-the-box thinking of our county elections people (and in particular, County Clerk Jack Arrowsmith), but also our Information Technology and Contact Center staff who made the process so seamless and effective.

I think the public appreciates knowing that independent arms of the government look for ways not only to provide useful service but also to save money together.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

August 12, 2010 - expert thinking

In 2005 Philip Tetlock wrote a book called, "Expert Political Judgment: How Good is it? How can we know?"

To find out, he did something extraordinary. He went back and studied 50 years of writings by various media pundits and commentators who made predictions about politics and economics. Then he carefully tracked the results.

What did he find?

Experts don't do so good.

They were worse than random. As one reviewer noted: "Human beings who spend their lives studying the state of the world... are poorer forecasters than dart-throwing monkeys." It didn't make any difference if they were conservative or liberal.

The reasons for this appalling performance are many.

Reasonable people with modest opinions aren't that much fun to read. People who say outrageous things command more attention. But that doesn't mean they're right. In fact, the wilder they get, they less likely that is.

It's a twist on the old "hedgehog versus the fox" fable. The simple hedgehog knows One Big Thing (how to roll up into a prickly ball and ignore outside threats). The clever fox knows many things.

Most experts are hedgehogs. They fall in love with their own perspectives and are impervious to all the evidence to the contrary. It becomes a kind of arrogance.

Or as H. L. Mencken once said, "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."

Foxes, on the other hand, are wary of big ideas that explain everything. They are less grandiose.

But foxes make better guesses about the future. The future is nuanced.

People get fooled by their own supposed expertise. They get deeper and deeper into arcane knowledge and think it really tells them something. But Tetlock concluded that more general perspectives - taking into account the information from multiple areas of study, and more than one perspective - gives people a better read on the likely future.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

August 5, 2010 - why do you think that?

I've written in the past about what we should do when we learn that something we have long believed turns out not to be true. (In brief, strive to change those beliefs to be more in line with reality. Doesn't that sound easy?)

But where do these beliefs come from in the first place? Why do we believe them?

On a personal level, according to the brain and linguistical research work of George Lakoff and others (see "Don't Think of an Elephant," and "The Political Brain") it all comes down to "framing."

Have you ever heard an argument where suddenly it's clear that one side is about to lose? Their evidence in tatters, their rhetoric shattered, you imagine that surely they will back down ... but no.

It was never about the evidence.

When you knock down the supposed reason for their belief, another one immediately takes its place. The frame - which only sees what it is convinced must be true - remains.

Framing is really nothing more than a metaphor, a story that begins with the body, and winds up as a filter for all we understand. For instance, the love of the mother for the child creates a literal sense of warmth in the child, a warmth centered in the heart. We believe it because we feel it.

From there, it's only a short hop to to saying that your heart belongs to your mother - until, of course, someone else generates even more heat.

On a political level, it gets a little more complicated. But maybe not much more.

Lakoff argues that both conservatives and liberals base their political philosophies on the idea of the family, that earliest and most formative of social experiences.

Lakoff says that conservatives have the frame of the strict father. Liberals believe in the nurturing mother. Each of those frames, those stories, then plays out in a host of ways.

The strict father believes in right and wrong, reward and punishment. The nurturing mother believes in kindness and meanness, in learning and forgiveness. Those orientations can be directly tied to individual willingness to support law enforcement, or social services.

In the political realm there is something else: repetition over time.

I was also doing some reading about the early development of think tanks. (See William F. Buckley's "The John Birch Society and me," and the Heritage Foundation's "The origins of the modern American conservative movement," both articles freely available on the Web.)

Following the failure of Barry Goldwater's run for the presidency in 1964, conservatives of the time adopted a simple approach: put together a list of core beliefs. Keep talking about them. Set up institutions that could be contacted by media looking for quotes on "the other side."

The ascendancy of the conservative mindset, the reflexive belief that "lowering taxes" is good, no matter what they pay for, can be directly attributed to that strategy. It took almost half a century of more or less consistently applied effort. Changing beliefs takes time.

So why do we believe what we believe?

Because we try to make sense of the world. Because we are hooked by good stories, and the stories we hear early enough, and often enough, begin to sound right.

Some of those story tellers are "experts." And next week, I'll tackle this question: can they be trusted?

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 29, 2010 - here come the homelanders

One of the talks I most enjoy giving is about Strauss and Howe's generational theory of American history. Their work ("Generations: the history of America's future," and "the Fourth Turning") details the interactions of four distinct generational types. These types follow each other repeatedly, making a predictable cycle of historical moods.

When I started giving the talk, I focused on the four generations then in the work place: the Silents (born 1925-1942) occupying senior management positions, Boomers (born 1943-1964) beginning to move into those positions, Gen-Xers (born 1964-1981) on the front lines, and a sprinkle of Millennials (born 1982-2001), just starting.

I gave the talk last week, and guess what? The Silents, at least in that room, were gone - all retired. Boomers and Gen-Xers were in charge, and the Millennials had arrived in force.

I have been giving this talk for a long time, it seems.

But what about the next generation?

Strauss and Howe have given them a name: the "Homelanders." This is the generation raised in the shadow of 9/11, much as the Silent generation was raised in the shadow of World War II.

My audience found the name sobering.

Generations are forged as the result of two factors. One of them is world events. Every generation has unique memories of shared experiences: the death of JFK, the moon walk, VietNam, the Challenger explosion, the Berlin Wall coming down, Columbine, etc.

But the second factor is the pendulum swing of parenting styles. Moms and dads loosen oversight of their offspring to the point of near abandonment, and their children grow up to tighten the oversight of their children to the point of suffocation.

The Silent and Homelander generations, history suggests, fall at the suffocation end of the cycle.


I think the clearest example happened back in April of 2008. As Lenore Skenazy wrote in an editorial, "Why I let my 9-year-old ride the subway alone" for the New York Sun, she left her son in downtown New York's Bloomingdales because he wanted to see if he could get home, all by himself, by subway and bus. He did, too. It took about twenty minutes. But he was "ecstatic with independence," said his mom.

But that's not the end of the story. Skenazy wrote, "Half the the people I've told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids."

I heard Skenazy speak on talk radio shortly after the story. And there were two threads. One of them was sharply accusatory. How would she have felt if something had happened to her son? Terrible, she said, but the crime statistics around Bloomingdales were roughly comparable to Boise, Idaho, and nobody seems to think Boise children need to be carted around in Hummers.

The second thread was interesting. People called in to report their first moment of real independence: riding a bus somewhere. A bike trip across a busy street. The first camp or road trip.

Those were the moments that began to define a sense of self, that celebrated the birth of autonomy. It was important. It meant something.

Parents communicate to their children a vision of the world. Sometimes, that vision is colored by confidence; sometimes, by fear.

But we can be sure of one thing. The next generation will conclude what every generation concludes: they weren't raised right.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 22, 2010 - petitions

It was just a matter of time.

Libraries generate a lot of traffic - from 1,000 to 2,000 people a day depending on the library's size. Our patrons represent a good cross-section of the community.

Library users tend to be engaged in other ways. For instance, many of them are registered to vote.

So it's no surprise that the petition-gatherers have found us.

As it happens, free speech is one of the core values of the public library. Advocating for various issues, asking for signatures or donations for political causes, is a whole category of  free speech, and clearly protected by the United States Constitution.

Of course, there are two kinds of petition-gatherers: some are respectful and polite, and others are pushy and argumentative.

For a long time, the library's general procedure has been this: you need to let us know you're here, you have to stand outside (not inside) the library, you can't block passage either into or out of the library, and you can't harass our customers.

Just asking somebody to sign a petition is not harassment. Let me emphasize this point: all any library patron has to say is "no thanks," and keeping walking. It's a useful skill to develop.

If the gatherer keeps following you, berates you, grabs you, or stands between you and the door, that's harassment. When that happens, we'll kick them off the property, at least. Just let us know.

The library doesn't have anything to do with who shows up. Their presence does not imply our endorsement. Not too long ago, we had people gathering signatures for this fall's Amendments 60 and 61, and Proposition 101, whose provisions would shut down libraries all across Colorado. I think, personally, that's a really bad idea.

But support for free speech doesn't just mean "speech you agree with." Lively political debate, informed with current and relevant information, is mostly a good thing. Libraries happily supply intellectual ammunition to both sides of nearly any issue.

But as the petitioners get more common, so too do various unpleasant incidents. I saw one guy talk a young woman out of $5 she clearly didn't want to give. One pair of petitioners created a subtle blockade in front of the door. One guy demanded that we supply him with a table and chair. (No.)

We can't supervise these people every moment.

On the other hand, we can place a few reasonable limits: we can constrain them to a particular location, well away from the front door. We can limit how much time they have for a particular cause, and we can shoo them away when they break the rules.

So the library board is considering these options. We may well create some marked off zones for petition-gatherers to congregate. We may have to establish a limit, a maximum hours per cause per week just to make sure that everybody gets a chance.

If you have thoughts about this, feel free to email me at jlarue @ dclibraries.org. Our concern is to both ensure the constitutional right of expression, but also to preserve your right to enjoy the library without having to run a gauntlet every time.

Meanwhile, advocates for causes might do well to remember that obnoxious behavior, in-your-face rudeness, turns people AGAINST your cause.

Be polite.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July 15, 2010 - what the nation needs

Recently libraries were in the news in Colorado and the nation. But it was weird news.

The first case was Peter Boyles, who got very exercised that some newly built libraries in Adams County didn't have flags flying in front of them. My first thought was, Good for him. What a great opportunity to encourage citizens to step up and show their civic pride.

It happens that I know something about the situation in Adams County. They've done a wonderful job of building their inviting new libraries on very tight budgets; outside improvements and landscaping happen last.

When we opened our Highlands Ranch Library in 2000, the local Rotary club underwrote a flagpole, and then-state-senator John Evans got us a flag that had flown over the nation's capital. At our Philip S. Miller Library, a library volunteer and Board member, Sue Meacham, sponsored the flagpole in memory of her husband, Fred. That's what community involvement looks like.

But of course that wasn't where the radio pundit was going. No, the main findings seem to be that first, public buildings are required by law to have flags and flagpoles! (Um. No, they're not. Look it up.) Second, what outrageous proof that librarians were not patriots! (Wrong again.)

It happens that about 80% of the libraries in Colorado do have flags and flagpoles. The ones that don't, tend to be in rented buildings, or are part of municipal complexes where there's a flag flying, but usually in front of city hall.

The bottom line: instead of taking the opportunity to build civic pride by engaging citizens, this was all about destroying civic pride by seeking to undermine the reputation of one of our nation's most effective and credible public institutions.

In the name of patriotism?

The second new item was a Fox News piece in Chicago, questioning whether public libraries were just a waste of taxpayer dollars. No particular evidence was presented that they were. But several imputations were made: for one thing, libraries are a really dated idea, going back to 1900 B.C. (It's kind of like another really old idea called "the alphabet.")

For another, they asked, who even uses the library? Based on one day's video shoot at one location, more people were using Internet stations than were browsing shelves for books. Besides, they said, Illinois is on the verge of fiscal collapse, and here's a great way to save money!

It may well be that TV news people don't use libraries. If they did, they'd notice that library parking lots are packed, in Douglas County even more so than Chicago, and Chicago has some of the busiest libraries in the world. And never mind that we have plenty of data that shows library Internet use grows other kinds of library use (checkouts, reference questions, program attendance), too.

I'd also like to point out that closing every library in the state of Illinois wouldn't do much to help the state's budget, since most libraries get their modest funding locally.

But I think some people who think of themselves as patriots and fiscal conservatives are missing the point here.

To hear radio and TV people tell it, the problem is that people can't seem to find a sufficient number of American flags, or just aren't spending enough time sitting in front of their radios and televisions.

These aren't problems that worry me much. Here's one that does: today's generation of children, according to numerous studies, is the first in the history of our nation to be growing up /less/ well educated than its predecessor. That's in sharp contrast to, for instance, China.

That fact has sweeping implications for our country's future in a time of increasing global competitiveness.

You want to talk patriotism? How about the radical idea that fostering the skills and exercise of literacy, encouraging the populace to read, to gather and discuss, to get their facts right, to engage, and to build rather than destroy, is precisely what this nation needs.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

July 8, 2010 - library connects

One of the recurring discoveries of my life is that everything connects. Get interested in something, and it leads you to something else. That leads you to the next thing. Before long, you're interested in anything.

Following connections is great fun in your personal reading habits. It's fun for organizations, too.

For instance, the Douglas County Libraries is deeply interested in its many overlapping communities. The more we know about them, the more we can gather resources - people, information, facilities - to help the larger community succeed.

This week, I'd like to highlight three things in which the library is involved, all interesting and important.

The first is an upcoming business forum in Parker. On July 14, at both 7:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., there will be an hour-and-a-half meeting at the Parker Library. Jointly sponsored by the Parker Economic Development Council, the Parker Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Development Council, this meeting has a simple aim. The sponsors hope that anyone who either does business in the greater Parker area, or would like to, will come and talk about their issues and needs.

We know that many business are struggling. We know, too, that economic development organizations can provide useful support. But what's most needed right now in the greater Parker area? Advocacy at the town? Workshops on such topics as human resource issues, pending legislation, or new technologies? Time to network with other businesses?

The outcome of the meeting is to forge what some community members are calling "One Voice for Parker" - a unified and integrated business perspective. For more information, see onevoiceforparker.blogspot.com.

A second project is called "The Giving Tree." The work of a group of Leadership Douglas County alums (which includes a growing number of librarians), the Giving Tree is repeating last year's successful drive for school supplies. These supplies are then donated to needy Douglas County School District students.

This year, the Giving Tree is partnering with the Douglas County Education Foundation in their "Fill the Gap" program. The drive will run from July 12th through the 30th. The library is the primary drop-off location for school supplies or donations. You'll also see volunteers, from 9-2, Saturday and Sunday, at four of the six Safeway stores in Douglas County (Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Lone Tree and Parker). These volunteers will also accept supplies and donations.

The third project is called "The Wisdom Within These Walls."Anne McGhee-Stinson is a Douglas County resident associated with the Front Range Theatre Company (formerly known as the Castle Rock Players). Recently, she interviewed various local seniors then wrote up what they said. The presentation of these alternately funny and touching stories incorporates music, and an innovative "shadow box" technology.

Thanks in part to some funding from the Douglas County Libraries Foundation, "The Wisdom Within These Walls" will be presented Reader's Theatre style at the Parker Mainstreet Center (July 9-11), and at the Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts in Palmer Lake (July 16-18). More information is available at the website: www.thewisdomwithinthesewalls.com. The productions benefit both the Castle Rock Senior Center and the Silver Key.

Business, education, and live theater - what's the connection?

Your community, your library.
LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July 1, 2010 - Dean Ruppelt

Dean Ruppelt is a patriot.

He served in the Army Reserves from 1982-1987. He served another stint in the Navy from 1987-1991. In September of 2007, he joined the National Guard.

In August of 2008 he got married (on 08/08/08, in fact - a brilliant stratagem to make the date itself memorable.)

And on January 2009, he got called up.

At Fort Hood he got two months training. He left for Kuwait at the end of June, where he got two more week's training, this time in dealing with IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).

On July 12, 2009, he arrived in Iraq.

Dean told me that the surge he was part of marked the biggest military deployment from Colorado since World War II.

There's a program called anysoldier.com that links up soldiers that don't have folks to write them. But Dean didn't need that. He not only had a wife, but it happens that before he went to Iraq he was a maintenance technician for the Douglas County Libraries. He has a lot of friends there.

Thanks to the indefatigable work of Lisa Casper (who works both at our Highlands Ranch Library and at the nearby Tattered Cover), his supervisor Wes Cook, and many other library employees, Dean got a steady stream of emails, movies, socks, bars of soap, and candy.

Nothing went to waste, he said. The great favorite was candy, but for a surprising reason. The soldiers would pass them along to Iraqi children - a way to make friendly connections in a time of trouble.

At night, the soldiers would sit outside together and read stories from their pen pals. Dean's stories were about people and places he actually knew. That makes a difference.

Before Dean left for Iraq, he put in 17 days a year to drill with the Reserve. The library paid him for those days. While he was in Iraq, the library held his job for him - as indeed it was obligated to do under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Acts. Meanwhile, staff even sponsored a plaque for him at the Highlands Ranch Veterans Monument.

But of the 24 people in Dean's platoon, 6 people came back unemployed. You can't hold onto somebody else's job if you go out of business yourself. Dean admits that he was worried - the library has lost quite a few jobs through attrition over the past year.

When he got home (March 31, 2010) Dean was grateful to have work to return to. Direct exposure to war changes people. It's a lot to process. He said that coming back to people and work he knew made it easier to readjust.

But then Dean did something to express his gratitude. He nominated the Douglas County Libraries for a "Patriotic Employer" Award. It was a tricky thing; he had to submit it five times. But eventually, the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve granted it.

The award was presented to me on behalf of the library on May 28, 2010. We're having it framed, and will post it at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock.

That occasion gave me the opportunity to say three things. First, the people who work at the library were greatly relieved to have Dean come back to us, safe. Second, I am deeply proud of Dean for his extraordinary sacrifices for his country, and that pride is widely shared throughout our library. Third, it's ironic that the library gets the award for patriotism.

Dean Ruppelt is a patriot.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

June 24, 2010 - once upon a time there was a princess

Former county commissioner Melanie Worley told me recently about her first job. She was a fairy princess.

A local movie theater hired her, gave her a gown, cape, and wand, and instructed her to supervise the frequent hordes of children. Sometimes, she said, she had to bonk them with her wand.

It was excellent training.

Years later, when conflicts were running high between various government agencies, she suggested the formation of a group now known as the Partnership of Douglas County Governments (PDCG). It is comprised of representatives from Douglas County, the towns of Castle Rock, Larkspur and Parker, the cities of Castle Pines North and Lone Tree, the Highlands Ranch Metro District, the Douglas County School District and the Douglas County Libraries.

In brief, the PDCG makes it easier for governments to play well together. How? By introducing everyone to each other, and giving them a chance to share what is going on in their worlds.

Another countywide group - created in large part by now State Representative Carole Murray, Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce Director Pam Ridler, and ably assisted by Melissa Moroni - is called Leadership Douglas County. For the past eight years, a group of applicants has learned about the issues of the county, and, often, then stepped up to leadership positions. Such positions - on boards, commissions, and task forces - are always in need of new talent.

When Melanie Worley was termed out of her commissioner seat, she moved on to become the director of communications for Developmental Pathways (developmentalpathways.org), which "is dedicated to individuals with disabilities." She moved from public service to human services. (She would say, "it's all human services.")

And that's a nice parallel for the story of leadership development in the county. The 2010 class of Leadership Douglas County, in partnership with the Douglas County Community Foundation, recently produced a report called "Human Needs and Services in Douglas County: A Stakeholder's Assessment."

After conducting a series of interviews with 27 nonprofit and Douglas County human service agencies, and 46 surveys of community stakeholders, the report authors found the following:

* Human services needs have increased significantly. Douglas County has among the lowest rates of poverty in the nation. But let's put that in human terms: "Nearly 12,000 residents of Douglas County are living at or below federal poverty levels. Thirty-one percent of these are children." That's more people than live in either Castle Pines North or Lone Tree.

* Poverty, homelessness and reports of child abuse have more than doubled in the past three years.

* Stronger partnerships and even nonprofit mergers may be necessary to achieve sustainable service.

* Volunteers in Douglas County have demonstrated a keen ability to directly assist people in need. But there's still a shortfall of revenue.

* Charitable giving remains stagnant. Money to address human service needs comes from philanthropy or taxes. Douglas County lags both Colorado and the nation for charitable giving as a percentage of per capita income.

Nonetheless, the final finding is this:

* Optimism about sustained quality of life in Douglas County is high. And why not? We have much to be grateful for.

Yet, business, government and nonprofit leaders all agree that if we, as a county, fail to address these growing needs, the quality of all of our lives will suffer.

I commend the Leadership Douglas County class of 2010 for raising the important issue of the need and state of human services in our community. Fixing it will take more than waving a wand.

LaRue's Views are his own.