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, 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.