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 29, 2011

December 29, 2011 - so you want to be an author

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting one Jeannette Albersheim. Mrs. Albersheim is in her 90s, and has many interesting stories to tell.

One of them concerned a journey that began in January 1944. While still in her early 20s, and with a Master's degree in Public Administration already behind her, she left what she called "a well-paying, interesting job in Washington DC" to sign up as volunteer for the Red Cross.

First, she had thought about signing up for a paying position with the Navy -- but it looked like she would just wind up stationed "across the Potomac." She wanted to see the world.

And she did. Working with the Red Cross, she became a just-behind-the-front recreation and hospital worker. She was at the blitz in London, Paris just after D-Day, and then around other major battles in France, including the pivotal Battle of the Bulge.

Ms. Albersheim told me that she had written up some remembrances from that time -- about 40 "chapters" of newspaper column length. What could I recommend for her about publishing them?

I get that question a lot. People suppose librarians know agents who can rocket promising authors to bestsellerdom. Maybe some librarians do. I don't.

There are several routes to publication these days. The traditional route is: "sign a contract with a publisher for 10%" model. That takes work, too - round after round of submissions, either directly, or through that elusive agent.

There is the "vanity press" of old, where you pay the full cost, plus mark-up, for a print run. More recent is the Print-on-Demand option, with services like Lulu.com -- you pay for a copy at a time.

There is "self-publishing" - where you do all the work to format your text, then subcontract the printing.

There is the ebook option, with Amazon, with Barnes and Noble, or a host of new epublishing startups like Smashwords.com or BookBrewer.com. Each of these options has its own costs.

People have a tendency to just imagine the end: a handsome book, beautifully typeset, professionally bound, and graced with a beautiful cover.

But getting there takes work. There is the writing. Then comes the rewriting for clarity and structure. Then comes the copyediting. (Nothing screams "amateur!" like a page littered with spelling and grammatical errors.) Then comes book design, page layout, tables of contents, and all the extras that make for a complete manuscript, such as securing both copyright and an International Standard Book Number.

Then comes, for some books, indexing. Then there's book cover design, followed by (for books formatted for paper, anyhow) printing, binding, and distribution.

No matter the format, the biggest challenge of all (after the writing itself) is marketing. There are many fine books that no one ever reads because not all authors are natural marketers. Not all publishers are good at it either.

The truth is, while producing a book isn't easy, it's not all that hard anymore, either. What's hard is finding someone to read it. (And just in passing, that's one of the key roles of the public library.)

So I asked Mrs. Albersheim why she wanted to publish, and for whom. She'd already sent most of her manuscript to family through letters, she said. But she wanted to offer her experience to the world. She wasn't trying to make money on it. She wanted to preserve her memories without having to put in years of editing, formatting, and marketing.

I suggested another relatively low-hurdle alternative: publish to the World Wide Web. I set up a blog for her (there are lots of free options; I like blogspot.com), and posted a few of her chapters. Then a couple other library staff (Cecily North, and Annette Gray) helped her clean them up, and scan some wonderful photographs from Mrs. Albersheim's files.

Let me say right now that the library can't commit to help every aspiring author walk through all the stages of self-publication. There are too many of you, and too few of us.

On the other hand, I think we do need to get more thoughtful and systematic about helping people figure all this out. I'm just about persuaded that self-publishing is one of the most important trends of our time, and the library needs to be at the heart of it. I'm going to be thinking about this issue over the next year.

Meanwhile, you can read the remarkable story of Jeannette Albersheim's WWII adventures here: redcrossatwar.blogspot.com.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 22, 2011 - a gift suitable for all ages

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


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

And of course, it should be free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

December 15, 2011 - tell me a story

When I was first starting out in my career, I had the pleasure of meeting the outstanding State Librarian of Illinois. Her name was Bridget Lamont.

Bridget was poised, articulate, incisive, and compelling.

I remember attending a meeting in Springfield. She entered the room, worked it (chatting with people, shaking hands, telling and gathering stories), then went up to speak. She made strong eye contact with everybody. When one of our more troublesome library directors came into the room late, she greeted him warmly, and invited him to sit right up there close to her, in the front row.

She presented her updates clearly, and somehow managed to get us all to go along with her on some new initiatives.

I was impressed. Later, I asked some colleagues about her background. "Oh, she started as a children's librarian," they told me.

At first, I was surprised. At that stage of my career, I didn't get into the children's room much. But the more I paid attention to the services libraries provide to children, the more I understood the secret to Bridget's success.

In brief, she was so good because she recognized that all of us, in some important ways, are still children. That is, we like to be remembered by name. We like to be smiled at even when we're grouchy. We like to hear stories. We like to do group activities that are fun.

Lately, I've been spending a lot of my professional time talking and thinking about the library's leadership role in the application of and access to various technologies. But after reading "The Polar Express" last night to about a hundred pre-schoolers, I'm reminded that Bridget is still teaching me by example.

You may have a high speed Internet connection at home. You may have all kinds of fancy home theater screens and DVD equipment. But nothing, nothing, beats gathering a bunch of kids in their pjs and reading a really good book together.

About a third of our business in libraries is this very, very important work of live storytelling. If all libraries did were story times, they would still be vital community institutions.

Some of that is the simple task of "reading readiness." We get kids excited about reading, because they can see that's where the stories come from. Through playing with sounds -- singing rhyming songs, for instance -- we grow their "phonological awareness."

Every story adds new words, meanings, and connections. That's about vocabulary.

We remind children that words are everywhere. That's growing their "print awareness."

We grow their own narrative skills by exposing them to thousands of other stories. That helps kids start to link things together, to see how events play out, to see how character is revealed through choices. And finally, we help children recognize specific letters, which in turn paves the road to reading fluency.

All of this is very sound pedagogy, and you can find out more about that on the library's website here: douglascountylibraries.org/storytime.

But the wonderful thing about public libraries is that it's not about school (even if it will make you better at school). It's about fun. It's about exploring the world of stories and ideas. Storytimes help kids become more genuinely curious about the world, to play well with others, and to always have lots of interesting things to think about.

Acting like that helps you grow up to be a pretty decent adult. Or even a state librarian.
LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

December 8, 2011 - knowledge has a price

December 8, 2011 - knowledge has a price

I've been presenting this week to librarians, Friends organizations, and board members in North Carolina. Speaking with me has been one Bill Millett, a consultant who does a lot of work with libraries.

Millett is a former economic development person, and he has some interesting things to say about that. For a long time, he noted, North Carolina was winning the economic development game across the nation. They were landing one big company after another. Why? Because they had cheap labor.

But that's begun to change. Some of those companies are leaving. Now, the competition isn't just national, it's global. There is no way that any place in America can keep providing the cheapest labor in the world.

More to the point, that's not even what companies are looking for anymore. They want skilled labor. He talked about a company in Dallas that moved overseas because they had 5,000 vacant highly technical positions -- and not enough qualified applicants. 

We know that China and India are spending a lot of time and attention on education. Their instruction is now heavily focused not just on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (the so-called STEM disciplines), but also on developing the creativity of young students. Maybe you've seen the numbers: there are more people in the top 25% of their student population than we have students.

Amid the campaign talk about American exceptionalism, it might behoove us to notice that we're not even in the top twenty of international student performance (according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Programme for International Student Assessment). In Colorado, a quarter of our students aren't graduating from high school -- half of them, in Denver, our capital. National research suggests that we may be raising the first generation of Americans who will be LESS educated than their parents.

To Millett, this willful erosion of what he calls our "knowledge infrastructure" -- the investment in early literacy, through higher education, to the continuous retooling that will be necessary in a global economy -- is a kind of treason. Our leaders are frittering around with pointless political gotchas when the livelihood of our children and grandchildren, and our standing as a nation, are imperiled.

He tells the story about a company that relocated to Charlotte some years ago, bringing 1,200 jobs with them. He writes, "Charlotte was a finalist along with Atlanta, Dallas, Tampa and Nashville. On the day that he announced that Charlotte had been selected, the company president said that all of the cities had much to offer. What made Charlotte the winner were a few factors that distinguished it from the competition, among them the quality of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library."

Since then, of course, that library has closed branches, laid off staff, and shut down a series of award-winning programs. The problem? Funding.

Millett, a Baby Boomer, said, "People who served in World War II are now known as the Greatest Generation. How will our generation be remembered?"

The Greatest Generation responded to the threat of Sputnik by putting man on the moon. 

We never went back. [Correction: yes, we did. But our last manned moon trip was in 1972, 39 years ago.] These days, even our upper atmospheric shuttles are all worn out. 

Which country will launch tomorrow's satellites? Where will they learn the skills and the attitudes that build confidently toward a better future?
LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December 1, 2011 - the science of highways

Every now and then, I run across something that so directly contradicts what I thought I knew that it stops me in my tracks.

I believed, like many people, that the Interstate Highways System was based on two memories of its champion, President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

After retiring as Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe during WWII, he contrasted his admiration of the German Autobahn with his trip as a young officer with the 1919 Army Convoy. The 1919 convoy's goal had been to cross the country from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco. It took 24 days. Twenty-one men were injured.

I assumed there had been business reasons for the highways, too, involving lobbying by the growing automobile industry.

Of course, Eisenhower wasn't the first to think of the problem, or the solution. Earlier plans had been drawn up. But it wasn't until 1956 that anything happened.

Why then?

Well, there was a socio-political component too: after the Supreme Court in 1954 ordered busing to address segregation, a lot of white people fled to the suburbs. And of course, the GI Bill paid for a lot of new housing.

But then I ran across a new explanation. I've been reading a book called "Fool me twice: fighting the assault on science," by Shawn Lawrence Otto.

In brief, Otto says it was all about the atomic bomb. The original military response plan to a nuclear attack was to tell its citizens to build bomb shelters, and "Duck and Cover." (The 1951 film of that name is available on Youtube. It features a remarkably catchy jingle for so grim a subject.)

But a school desk wasn't much protection against a gamma ray burst.

Eventually the Atomic Energy Commission realized the only way to survive the more powerful hydrogen bomb was not to be there when it went off. Otto writes, "As a civil defense official who served from 1953 to 1957 explained, the focus changed from 'Duck and Cover' to 'run like hell.'"

But evacuating a city, even with plenty of warning, just wasn't possible given the roads of the time. Hence, Congress approved the Interstate Highway System, whose full name is the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

Fortunately, evacuating an American city before an impending nuclear attack has not yet been necessary. But the Interstate has been used, many times, to try to evacuate cities just ahead of hurricanes. Even with "counterflow" strategies (using all lines on both sides to go away from the city), the results have been mixed. But surely, it works better than the old congested lanes with a million intersections and stoplights.

The point has been made since that time that good roads are a major contributor to economic growth. Consider the effect of C-470 and E-470 alone on our regional economy.

Highways aren't cheap. In 2006, the cost of construction (for the length at that time of 46,876 miles of road) was estimated at $425 billion. About 70% of the funding comes from federal fuel taxes. The rest is from state and local matching funds.

The thesis of "Fool me twice" is that most of the problems - and potential solutions - we face or discover as a species these days are still rooted not just in politics, but in science. And that's something all of us could pay a little more attention to.
LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November 24, 2011 - no TV before 2

It's an old argument.

Socrates expressed doubts about literacy. Teach people to read, he said, and they won't have to remember anything. Their minds would get lazy. They would believe that just by decoding scrawls on paper, they had somehow gotten to the heart of some idea.

But real knowledge, real understanding, takes time and attention and deep thought.

He was right. And wrong.

It is true that few of us examine our lives as closely as Socrates examined his. And literacy does make it possible for relatively lazy people to think they know something big when they only know a few small things.

But current literacy research (see "Proust and the Squid," by Maryanne Wolfe) demonstrates that reading helps us think faster and better. We use the words and ideas of others as scaffolds. We climb them, then add to them.

Literacy is the foundation of shared knowledge. What we may lose in depth, we gain in breadth and height.

While there are few modern day Socrates, there are many sounding the alarm about the next breakthrough in thinking: technology.

According to a recent article in Wired Magazine (see www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/10/infant-tv-guidelines), "a decade ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that parents limit TV consumption by children under two years of age."

More recent and comprehensive research by the AAP confirms the original caution and extends it to all kinds of screen time. The bottom line: the best thing we can do for babies is talk to and touch them. Language literally builds their brains.

The second most potent strategy is play. Plunk a baby in front of a TV, DVD or PC or any other glowing screen and they get hypnotized. But it doesn't do anyone under the age of two any good, and may do them harm.

In fact, just letting kids entertain themselves has proven to be far better for their developing minds. They solve problems. They grow their imaginations and creativity.

What does happen if little ones watch too much TV?

Falling asleep in front of the tube leads to sleep disorders -- no matter how old you are. But passive screen watching has been linked to mood and behavior problems, and perhaps to attention deficit disorder.

A 2006 study by some Cornell researchers (see forum.johnson.cornell.edu/faculty/waldman/autism-waldman-nicholson-adilov.pdf) found that "approximately seventeen percent of the growth in autism in California and Pennsylvania during the 1970s and 1980s is due to the growth of cable television." Not only that, in places where it rains a lot, more people watch TV, and autism rises.

Television, it seems, is a "trigger" for autism. Or, to work in the influence of too much rain, let's say it "precipitates" autism.

The main thing about kids up to the age of two is that if they're staring blankly at a screen, then probably nobody is talking to them. So programs and software that are sold as "educational" for this age group probably aren't.

Does this mean that technology is evil? No, it just means that kids don't really even understand what's happening on a screen until then. So before the age of two, talk, play, and read with them.

But what about after they're two? A 2001 study by the University of Massachusetts probing the effect of childhood viewing on adolescents (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11326591) found that "Viewing educational programs as preschoolers was associated with higher grades, reading more books, placing more value on achievement, greater creativity, and less aggression."

In other words, the content of the program was more important than the medium.

Library staff had an interesting discussion recently about the use of iPads in library storytimes. Should we or shouldn't we?

Here's my take: the core of our children's services remains the celebration of story. We sing, dance, do finger plays, talk in funny voices, and use books, puppet shows, and yes, technology, to infect children with the sheer fun of reading.

The technology isn't the thing that matters. The engagement and language, the playfulness, is.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 17, 2011 - imagine a world of men

A few years ago, I was riding on a bus with a librarian from China. We talked about an issue few people seem to know about.

In brief, there's a growing global imbalance between the sexes. There are a lot more boys than girls being born in China, for reasons I'll get to below. There are slightly more girls than boys being born in the United States.

At first, this looked like a golden opportunity. Could there be a better time to launch a Sino-American dating service?

But we realized that exotic romance wasn't the only option. A world with a big surplus of men and not enough women had one very probable result: war.

Now comes Mara Hvistendahl's book, "Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men." The problem is getting worse. War isn't the only issue.

As of this writing, Asia alone is "missing" 160 million women and girls. That's the entire female population of the United States.

How did it happen? Well, in many Asian and Eastern European cultures, there's a preference for boys. And technology largely invented in and promoted by the West -- the early detection of the sex of the fetus, and the ready availability of abortion -- has enabled parents to terminate a female fetus until finally they get the boy they wanted.

In 2007, one Chinese port city reported that for children under the age of five, there were 163 boys for every 100 girls.

College recruiters report the odds like this all the time. Doesn't this discrepancy "favor" women?

No. In many places now, there's not so much international dating as the widespread purchasing (and selling) of brides. Women are also forced into prostitution -- what we call "human trafficking."

This is one of those issues where you can predict the "sides:" pro-choice and family planning versus anti-abortion. But whatever your ideological bent, you can't help but think this situation -- a global preponderance of men and the commodification of ever-scarcer women -- probably isn't good.

In those historical periods when women were under-represented, as in the Wild West, or the Gold Rush, violence was common. In ancient Athens, "a sex ratio of between 143 to 174 males for every 100 females" meant that women were essentially "confined within household compounds."

The original intent of early sex detection (the American invention of the sonogram in the sixties) was to help families get smaller: people could have the child they wanted, and stop. Over-population looked like a big problem then. For some people and places, it still does.

On the other hand, we've learned that as people become more affluent they tend to have fewer children anyhow. The government doesn't have to intervene.

So once again, technology has sometimes surprising consequences.

While this problem may appear to be personal -- each family making its own decisions -- it also has national and global consequences.

What should be done about it?

Opinions will differ. Hvistendahl argues for a global ban of sex-selective abortions. Others will continue to push for a ban on all abortions. But who will enforce such bans, and how?

It's an important subject. I recommend the book for anyone who just doesn't have enough to worry about, or possibly, has been worried about the wrong things altogether.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November 10, 2011 - art centers mark coming of age

I have now had the distinct pleasure of attending the ribbon cutting ceremonies for two wonderful facilities: the Lone Tree Arts Center, and the Parker Arts and Cultural Events (PACE) Center.

The Lone Tree Arts Center opened its doors on August 11. It has a 500 seat theater,  an additional 150-225 seat event theater that opens through a glass wall to a 300-350 seat outdoor terrace theater; and a lovely and functional entrance plaza. The cost for the facility was $23 million.

The PACE Center had its ribbon cutting ceremony on Oct. 28 (and will be officially opening on Oct. 29). And by the way, it was the most innovative such ceremony I've seen. Several ribbons were pulled across the stage, one behind the other, with one town Council person assigned to each. At the countdown, all of the ribbons were scissored through at once -- an exciting and interesting visual display.

The PACE Center has a 536 seat theater, 250 seat amphitheater, an event room with a catering and teaching kitchen, an art gallery, a dance studio, a media laboratory, and classrooms. It cost $21.7 million.

Because the Lone Tree Arts Center opened first, I've already attended about four events, and find that it works beautifully not only as a theater, but also as a sort of mini-conference center and luncheon space, as well as a reception and featured speaker venue.

I've only attended one performance at the PACE Center, but I can see already that it will be a success, too. 

Both centers have comfortable theaters with fine acoustics. Both have thoughtful designs. Lone Tree used Ohio-based architects Westlake Reed Leskosky. Parker employed Denver-based Semple Brown Designs.

Both centers took advantage of just the right moment in the economy to build impressive public spaces that were remarkably affordable. 

There are some differences. The funding for the Lone Tree Arts Center was based on a public vote, and narrowly carried. The funding for the PACE Center is based on Certificates of Participation (COPs) -- a kind of mortgage paid for out of existing revenues. Both projects have demonstrated close management of costs, and both Lone Tree and Parker have relied upon corporate and private donations.

Another difference may be just my own read. From the perspective of live performance, the Lone Tree Arts Center is clearly set up as a touring facility. That is, a show rolls in, sets up the stage, does the performance, and leaves.

The PACE Center feels like a more diverse community space. While it can host touring shows, too, the studios, media lab, and classrooms seem to encourage local citizens not just to consume culture, but to create it.

There is room in Douglas County for both approaches, and I'll be curious to see how these design differences pan out over the next few years.

I can't help but notice as I wander through each of the towns to see the related new construction, particularly in Lone Tree. An investment in the arts (and medical centers, in both communities) seems to encourage other investments. I can certainly see the appeal of living within walking distance of either place. Both will increase the vitality of their respective municipalities.

It's a good thing to be able to drive just a short distance to a great show, and be home before midnight. Now we just need more late night restaurants. Douglas County is coming of age.

Kudos to the leadership of both Lone Tree and Parker, and congratulations to your citizens.
LaRue's Views

Thursday, November 3, 2011

November 3, 2011 - we revere the book

A big study done in 2005 found that when average citizens heard "library" they thought "book."

Recently, the study was repeated. Since 2005, a lot of things have happened.

Over 97% of America's libraries have Internet access. Over 80% offer free wireless.

Many initiatives have been launched around the nation to connect even rural residents to the most sophisticated computer resources on the globe. That includes business databases, periodical articles, and a host of government and private research firms.

Based on the the most cutting edge investigations into brain development, libraries have articulated and responded to the need for early childhood literacy. That includes not just live storytelling for all ages, but outreach to families in a variety of settings.

The evidence is clear. The more stimulus young minds experience -- particularly around exposure to language -- the better their lives will be. Libraries really make a difference here. In Douglas County alone, we offer over 5,000 story times a year for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

In many communities around the nation, libraries are economic anchor stores. We generate more traffic than grocery stores. That traffic creates a "halo" effect. A visit to the library often results in $20 of sales to nearby businesses.

Speaking of business, more people come to the library than ever to look for jobs, or establish a business that creates jobs.

And we do a land office business in the fields of music and movies -- which represent their own kind of literacy.

So what does current research find?

Today, when people hear "library" even MORE of them think "book."

Librarians are constantly alert to what their communities use us for. But there's a profound disconnect between what we observe, and what our citizens feel about it.

Some of my colleagues are deeply frustrated by this. Not me.

Here's how I see it. Libraries, more than almost any other institution in history, have an unassailable brand.

When it comes right down to it, most Americans have a profound reverence for the Book.

That's because Book means three things:

* story. One of the deepest drives of humankind is for a narrative. We want to know what happened to whom. We care about character and transformation. We ask, "and then what happened?" The Book tells us a tale: a journey, a challenge, a discovery.

* idea. But it's not just about a series of events. The story has to be about something. We want to learn, too, not just be entertained. We want to know what the story means.

* immortality. While all of us remember stories from our early days, that memory only goes so far. We recall parents, grandparents, maybe even great-grandparents. We may come to know children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren. And that's about where the flame of human connection and continuity gutters out.

But the Book endures. We still have the story of Gilgamesh, from 5,000 years ago. We know about Egyptian gods imagined in the time of the pyramids. The Bible tells us (among other things) about the tribes of Israel from millennia past. We have histories from the age of the Greeks and Romans. We have fairy tales from before English was a language.

And every hard won secret wrung from the glory of nature, every founding fact of science, every practical discovery of engineering and medicine, has also been captured by print. We don't have to lose those things. Books enshrine knowledge.

The Book preserves life because it preserves memory. It conquers death.

And where do Books live? The Old Norse Gods went to Valhalla; books, to the library.

While not every book does in fact endure, within or without the library, the idea of the Book, and of an institution dedicated to the gathering, organization, and presentation of it to everyone is a founding principle of civilization.

So today's library is not JUST about books. But what an awesome place to start.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

October 27, 2011 - no test in Constitution

On the one hand, we honor it. We appeal to it. We think it matters.

On the other hand, it was and is riddled with profound mistakes.

The Constitution of the United States of America was crafted by some of the brightest people the world has known. They were also well-educated by the standards of the time. Of the 55 delegates who drafted the Constitution in 1787, 60 percent of them had attended college.

The striking idea at the heart of our founding document was that the purpose of government was to preserve individual liberties. Yet at the same time, it explicitly endorsed slavery, and denied women the right to vote.

Recently I've been reading about the many controversies that attended its adoption (see the writings of Cornell professors Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore). Here's one you don't hear much about:

In 1787 and 1788, the draft U.S. Constitution was harshly challenged because it was explicitly irreligious. Not anti-religious. There's a difference.

But unlike virtually every other political document of the age, the draft Constitution made no references to God. Religion makes only one appearance: Article 6 declares that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

And that was news. Eleven of the thirteen original states did have religious tests. Even in Rhode Island, founded on the principles of religious tolerance, and a place where many Catholics and Jews worshiped, you had to be a Protestant to hold office. 

Virginia and New York had adopted freedom from a religious test, however, probably under the influence of James Madison, who in the Federalist Papers wrote that too fervent a pursuit of religious opinions lead men "to vex and oppress each other."

But a Massachusetts Constitutional delegate protested that the no religious test clause meant that  "a papist, or an infidel" was just as eligible as Protestants. Delegates from New Hampshire and North Carolina worried about "pagans, deists, Mahometans [sic]," Jews, abolitionist Quakers, and "yea, an atheist at the helm of government." 

A Connecticut constitutional delegate proposed a one sentence preamble to the Constitution, to at least begin with God. A Virginia delegate proposed that the religious test be amended to require no OTHER test than a belief in God, who would reward the good and punish the evil. 

Both changes were overwhelmingly rejected by the convention.

Why? According to defenders of the article, public service should be open to any "wise or good citizen." There was as much a shortage then as now, and no religion seemed to have a corner on them. 

Baptist leaders defended the no religious test clause. Religion should be detached from "temporal power" lest it be corrupted by it. That wasn't just a fear, it was clear recent history, both in England, and in the colonies. Let the state try to promote a particular religious view, and tyranny followed. Religion was between man and God, not man and state. 

Religion just wasn't the business of government. Or as Jefferson wrote, "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say There are twenty gods, or no God. It neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket."

Another defender wrote that the time had passed "when nations could be kept in awe with stories of God's sitting with legislators and dictating laws." No less a personage than John Adams, just before the Constitutional convention, wrote that the architects of American governments never "had interviews with the gods or were in any way under the inspiration of Heaven." Rather, our governments were "founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretense of miracle or mystery..."

So at last, the United States Constitution was approved, and the prohibition on religious tests was preserved. 

The clear separation between government and religion was further reinforced by the adoption of the First Amendment. But that's another story.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October 20, 2011 - he made the toys we wanted

The first computer I ever used was an Apple ][+.  It only displayed 40 characters per line, and didn't understand upper and lower case. Mostly I used it for spreadsheets, which was a revelation.

Then I used an Apple //e (Apple loved using idiosyncratic typewriter characters back then). And with that, I wrote a comprehensive computer catalog manual for a library in Springfield IL. After that, I knew I had to have something that made the writing process so much easier.

Briefly, I considered a new machine from Apple, called the "Lisa." It was the precursor to the Macintosh.  But it was very pricey.

So I bought a Kaypro II -- a machine running the CP/M operating system, then the dominant business platform. It was the first loan of my life ($2500 for computer and printer). I paid it off in two years, mostly through writing about computers. 

My next computer was an MS-DOS machine, also from Kaypro. 

When Windows came out, I found it really confusing, contradictory, and thoroughly inelegant. Then a friend lent me an Apple Powerbook, a Macintosh laptop. I gave it a hard and thoughtful look. 

And it grabbed me. I saw what Windows was TRYING to do (which was "copy Apple"). The Apple operating system was a brilliantly executed, paradigm-shifting way to think about interacting with a computer. I shifted platforms.

Later came the other fascinating devices: the Newton (in that brief period when Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple by John Sculley), then (after Jobs returned) the iPod, the many interesting Mac designs, the iPhone, the iPad.

Most of the folks in my family use Apple computers, although later I shifted again to the Linux operating system, mostly to explore the Internet. But I do have, and use, an iPad.

After hearing about the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs on Oct. 5, I listened again to his famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford. He talked about how he dropped out of college, then did things that didn't seem important at the time. 

For instance, he took a calligraphy class. 

Later, he even got fired from the very company he founded.

But he came to realize that those experiences became the foundation of his character, and his life's path. 

Jobs was not an engineer or a programmer. He was a designer, with a passion for the subtle touches that mark the difference between something that works and is serviceable, versus something that not only works, but is also an engaging sensual delight. 

And he rediscovered the freedom of new beginnings.

He was that extraordinary phenomenon, a visionary. He had a passion for the future, a belief that something "insanely great" was not only possible, but urgently necessary. 

His management style was often acerbic, confrontative, and disruptive. But he shipped the products that people wanted.

A few weeks ago, I read that Apple was, briefly, the most valuable company in the world. Even after it fell back behind Exxon, it still remained the unchallenged tech company, surpassing not only early rival IBM, but the company that once seemed unbeatable: Microsoft.

There's a cynical phrase. "He who dies with the most toys wins." Jobs created some of the most compelling toys the world had ever seen. And as someone else noted, poignantly, millions of people heard about Jobs' death ON a device that he created. 

And now he's dead, a man a year younger than I am, the kind of detail one can't help but notice.

There are never enough years, I suppose, at least not if we have our health and the joy of translating dreams into reality. Money, based on all the psychological research to date, doesn't seem to have anything to do with happiness.

But here's something that does matter. One man turned his restless imagination into a fountain of creation. That's the big reward. He made things. He changed things.

So my tribute is just two words, finally, the two words so hard to earn, and so rare to hear from those we ourselves admire. 

Well done.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October 13, 2011 - who will be the last one standing?

Back in 2008, I was interviewed by a reporter. With a knowing air, he asked me if libraries were going to survive the Internet. On Feb. 27, 2009, after 150 years of operation, his newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News, printed its final edition. 

Now when reporters ask me that question I answer, "You bet we'll survive. Will you?"

For awhile, it looked like only the smaller newspapers would make it, because they provided the only way for local businesses to advertise. But now even the smaller papers are feeling the pinch, shrinking their staffs to the point where a lot of news just doesn't get covered.

And if newspapers disappear, who WILL cover the local news? I worry about that. Can citizen journalism provide enough quality content? And how are they supposed to make a living?

There may also be a big shake-up in the world of book publishing. 

As it happens, libraries are a big part of that marketplace. We account for about 10% of all commercial publishing sales. For children's book, it's 40%. 

But now some publishers (four of the big six) won't sell ebooks to libraries at all. The other two will only lease them. (And as I've written before, when you "buy" an ebook, odds are good you're just leasing it, too. Read the license agreement that came with your Kindle or Nook.)

These big publishing houses have made a unilateral decision that overturns centuries of precedent: they have denied ownership of content to libraries (requiring us to go through third parties to manage that content), AND raised their price to us over the straight retail cost. 

Part of that is because they believe that libraries rob them of sales. But think that through. Last year, Douglas County citizens checked out over eight and a half million items. Does anyone really think people would have bought that many?

What libraries do is ENCOURAGE sales, by letting our patrons sample lots of things, and building up their habits of reading, listening, and watching. That habit is the practice of literacy. And it's also the creation of a larger market for stories and ideas.

Over 2 million people a year visit our catalog. They're all looking for books, and we make it easier to find them. I buy a lot of books myself, but it's because I found the authors I like at the library.

Yet some publishers would be much happier bypassing the library altogether, and going with the Netflix model, now adopted by Amazon. Pay a monthly subscription fee, and read all you want! Never mind that the cost of that deal is considerably higher than what you'll pay to a library, and you still won't own anything.

Meanwhile, Douglas County Libraries has identified over 700 publishers who are eager to sell to us. And the growth of self-publishing (from 29,000 titles in 2004 to over 2.7 million in 2010) has put a lot of authors out there who just might be willing to sell their ebooks to us directly. Recently, three of the top 10 bestsellers in America were self-published, so it's not like we'd be buying things people don't want to read.

Can libraries manage our own electronic content, integrating it into our existing catalogs? Indeed we can. And I've been doing a little traveling and speaking around the country lately telling other librarians how to do it, too.

So if some publishers won't sell libraries books, and self-published authors will, then libraries will start shifting their budgets away from the big houses, skipping over a whole link in the distribution chain.

If and when that happens, I think the shoe is on the other foot. It just might be the publishers, not the libraries, that can't survive the rise of the World Wide Web and the ebook.

Wouldn't it be ironic if libraries were the last ones standing?

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

October 6, 2011 - yes on 1A

For a long time, I didn't have any feelings about term limits one way or the other. But when Colorado adopted them I began to notice some things.

First, of course, state limits on Congressional terms were struck down by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1995. So no other state was going to have Congressional term limits. Given that the most powerful Congressional committee appointments are often made on the basis of seniority, it wouldn't serve us well for Colorado always to be the new kid.

Second, I've testified several times over the years before various state legislative committees. The difference in decorum before and after term limits was pronounced.

Before term limits, many of the senators and representatives had been there for a long time. They had relationships based on mutual trust. They understood that bills were complex and interconnected.

After term limits, that lack of history led to several unintended consequences. For one thing, in my observation, legislators were noticeably ruder to each other and the public. For another, with less time to build coalitions, legislators tended to run on a few narrow issues, make a lot of noise about them, then leave before they had to deal with the consequences.

Far too often, term limits are a lazy man's democracy. It's a system where voters want to exercise control over those in office, but aren't willing to do the work to make an informed decision. It's power without responsibility.

There are some elected officials who do a terrible job and get re-elected. There are some wonderful elected officials who get "termed out" just when they're hitting their stride. I consider both results a failure of citizenship.

On the other hand, at the local level term limits may make a little more sense, at least for some positions. For a few purely political jobs the people may want to rein in a candidate's will to power, and encourage more participation and diversity of opinion.

But other positions are more technical and professional in nature. There's an investment in training for the official that represents a real asset to the community.

This fall, Douglas County voters will be asked to extend the term limits for the Sheriff's office from two four-year terms to three. No one is trying to do away with term limits altogether, just add one term to this particular job description.

The sheriff's office is one of those technical jobs, greatly benefiting from the training of the person who holds it.

More to the point, Sheriff Dave Weaver is one of the good elected officials. He's a smart administrator who has built a good team. He pays attention and is responsive to our community.

If you don't track local law enforcement as a matter of course, spend some time on the Sheriff's website (www.dcsheriff.net). Under his leadership, the Sheriff's office has racked up an impressive record of achievement. Tossing him out has no benefit to us, and may do harm.

I represent no one but myself on this issue. But I will be voting FOR 1A. Let's make a decision this time based on the actual performance of the candidate, not because the clock struck some arbitrary hour.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

September 29, 2011 - library targets six community goals for 2012

Some months ago I wrote about library staff conducting interviews with some 40+ community leaders. We asked those leaders three core questions: what issues do you think your constituents will most care about over the next couple of years? What information do you need to make important decisions? And who else should we talk to?

After gathering all that, we had another meeting to comb through it with many of the people we met with. We wanted to know whether we got things right, what we'd missed, and what else we should be thinking about.

Ultimately, we boiled down our 2012 action list to 6 items.

* Promote Douglas County businesses. We have a variety of business communities in the county. And while several of them have had local campaigns to "shop the Rock" (for instance), there's never been a comprehensive push to area residents to spend their money here in the county.

There are many advantages to such a program. Not only do those dollars keep our local citizens working, the sales tax revenues fund important regional infrastructure that helps all of us.

The library will carry this message to the Partnership of Douglas County Governments. Most economic development organizations and chambers of commerce receive strong support from both the county and local municipalities. It makes sense (and cents) to return the favor.

* Secure long term and sustainable water. The library can't solve this one. But we can help the people who work on it. We'll be assigning at least one crackerjack reference librarian to existing organizations working on water issues.

* Provide job training. There are a lot of people looking for work. Soon, we'll be announcing our partnership with Arapahoe/Douglas County Works! That's a job training center, offering a host of new skills to motivated job seekers. We will offer free space to them at our Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock.

* Facilitate volunteerism. This is a hot one. Lots of people are looking for a chance to "give back" to their communities. But right now it's not easy to find the opportunities. While there are many worthy organizations, potential volunteers have to go to each website, then poke around very different organizational schemes.

The library will lead an effort to make the process a little easier. Many of our high school students need to get those volunteer hours in before they can graduate.

* Celebrate civic engagement. Keying off the previous issue, the library will begin to identify some outstanding civic heroes around the county, and give them the recognition they deserve. All of our communities DO have heroes, and they deserve their moment in the sun.

* Help veterans find jobs. There are a tremendous number of service men and women returning from duty who bring extraordinary skills with them. Yet we know that many of these people have particular difficulty getting connected to local employment. In our role as information providers and community connectors, the library should be able to help with that.

Again, I want to thank the many thoughtful people in Douglas County who helped identify the important concerns we all have in common. Now it's time to get after them.
LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 22, 2011 - how to make a pigeon superstitious

Every family has its oddball superstitions. That might be tossing salt over your shoulder, muttering "bread and butter" when you're briefly separated from someone by an obstacle on the sidewalk, not walking under a ladder, saying "Gesundheit" when someone sneezes, and so on. 

Some of these are delightful (some families have to say "rabbit rabbit" to each other first thing on the first day of the month). And sometimes, such behaviors border on the obsessive and disturbing (like constant hand washing, or forever having to check that the oven is off).

Tracking down the origins to particular phrases can be fun, but there's a deeper question. Why do so many of us believe so many weird things?

I'm reading a book called "The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies -- How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths," by Michael Shermer.

I was surprised to read about a study by behaviorist B. F. Skinner back in the 1970s. Skinner made pigeons superstitious.

Here's how. First he put a pigeon in the eponymous Skinner box. If the pigeon pecked a key within the box, he or she got a pellet of food. It didn't take long for pigeons to figure this out. And they behaved rationally: peck the key, get food. Logical.

But then Skinner started messing with their minds. Food started dropping from the shoot randomly. That is, they still had to peck the key, but sometimes it didn't work. What the pigeons were doing wasn't significant.

But pigeons, like people, are just sure their behavior has something to do with the behavior of the universe. So if the pigeons happened to be hopping or twirling around counter-clockwise, and the food did appear, then that's what they did the next time. Twirl counter-clockwise, peck. No? Twirl counter-clockwise three times, then peck. No? Twirl SIX times.... 

It works. Eventually.

This resembles nothing so much as somebody playing a slot machine. It isn't logical to put so much time into some activities. Most of the time, it just isn't worth it. But the randomness of it is precisely what makes it so compelling. 

Superstition is the adoption of a false belief, linking a behavior to an outcome that it has nothing to do with.

Shermer cites another example. Suppose you're walking through the African bush and the grass to your right rustles. You think, "That might be a lion," so change direction. Maybe there wasn't a lion, but you're still alive. 

Or suppose you say, "Nah, it's fine," and there is a lion, and suddenly you're a juicy food pellet dropping randomly into nature's Skinner box. 

Better to believe every breeze is a predator, even if it makes you seem a little jumpy.

Shermer's idea is this: it's not that we're wired to believe odd things. It's that we're wired to believe, period. We try to figure things out. We make meaning. We look for patterns and intelligence around us, and constantly modify our behavior to optimize the odds of our success.

Sometimes, those beliefs really can and do save our lives. Sometimes they're just silly.

On the other hand, when you make too much soup out of too few ingredients, it gets a little thin. Skinner oversimplified a lot of things in his psychological theories, and there's more to our minds than stimulus and response. I think.

But I love it that pigeons can be taught to be superstitious. Here's what I don't know. Can they be cured? 

Can we?

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

September 8, 2011 - library ready for recession

The story of the library's response to the recession has two dimensions.

The recession began in the private sector in fall of 2008. As jobs disappeared, more and more people used the library. This was true all across the country, and has been well-documented. 

People borrowed what they could no longer afford to buy. They used libraries to sharpen their resumes, look for jobs, apply for jobs online. Sometimes, they came to the library just to find a place where there were other friendly people.

Despite that increased demand, city-based libraries (like Denver Public, Aurora, Englewood) saw immediate loss of revenue. They get their money from the city's general revenue, which tends to have a large component of sales tax money. When people buy less, cities have less money. Because of this, many municipal libraries are in big trouble.

The Douglas County Libraries, as an independent library district, gets most of its money from property taxes.  And property taxes are indexed to an assessment year, typically with an 18 month delay. That is, 2012 tax collections will be based on assessments made in June of last year. (For more information on the process, see www.douglas.co.us/assessor/Property_Assessment_and_Taxes.html.)

Since appraisals happen in odd-numbered years, but are based on the year before, all property tax-based public institutions have a pretty good idea what's coming. So the library knew at the beginning of 2009 that we would see the results of the 2008 recession in 2012. (And not in 2010, since the recession happened after the June appraisals.)

We didn't know exactly what the hit would be. For a while, estimates varied from as low as an 8% drop in revenues next year to as high as 20%. Now they seem to be settling into about a 10% decline.

So we got ready. Douglas County Libraries had already invested in self-check and automated return systems. We set some budget reduction goals. The big one: through attrition, not layoffs, we would reduce our headcount. In fact, we eliminated whole job descriptions. We reorganized around each staff departure, applying various benchmarks to get more and more efficient and productive.

And it worked. As of 2011, we have achieved the staffing levels we had in 2006, without a single layoff. At the same time, our level of business has increased by over 54%. In fact, according the July/August edition of the American Libraries magazine, on the basis of circulation (checkouts) per capita we are the sixth busiest library in the United States.

So that's the first dimension of our story: sound planning and good stewardship. We don't anticipate a funding crisis next year because we used the time to plan for it. Libraries are pretty good at that.

The second dimension is about the jobs themselves. For the past couple of years, we have replaced some vacancies, but almost always with internal people. We've only gone out into the job market for things we didn't have a lot of people qualified to do -- mostly IT positions.

The good news is that this internal focus allowed us to identify a lot of bright and ambitious staff who wanted to move up. We put together and took advantage of a couple of leadership development programs. I have no doubt that we boosted a good dozen people's library careers.

But the bad news is that we have remained pretty closed to the rest of the library world. When jobs do come open, even for the non-professional positions, we get inundated with applications. Many are over-qualified: fine for us, demoralizing for them.

Right now, a lot of fine librarians have completed their master's degrees and can't find work.

It's good to spend time developing one's staff. But at some point, institutions also require an infusion of new blood. Here's hoping the economy turns around soon.


LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 1, 2011 - Castle Pines keeps a good thing going

Sept. 1, 2011 - Castle Pines keeps a good thing going

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the formation of several Midwestern libraries.

The call always began within the community. Libraries, particularly during the late 1800s, were seen as one of the ways by which a community "came of age."

Douglas County mostly followed the same pattern, with local city residents organizing, finding space, volunteering, and ultimately opening the libraries in Castle Rock and Parker, although the modest funding came from the entire county. Over time, the establishment of the Douglas County Libraries as an independent district changed that a little. The larger population centers were pretty well set.

After some election losses in 2007 and 2008, and the anticipated fall of property tax revenues after the recession, it looked like the library district generally would have to shrink. We did close our satellite in Cherry Valley.

We proposed closing Louviers, too. But the good citizens there immediately stepped up and showed how much the library mattered to them. At this point, they fundraise more each year than they pay in taxes -- an extraordinary commitment. If they stand by us, we stand by them.

In Castle Pines, committed citizens even managed to establish a new library there, in a rented storefront. That effort had several components: first, we sold our aging bookmobile, so did have some staff and materials to transfer. Second, the Castle Pines Metro District had purchased some land from us. We plowed that money back into the community. Finally, some local residents, members of the Castle Pines Chamber of Commerce, and others helped negotiate a deal that covered our rental costs for two years. We have three years left on our lease.

As part of local community efforts to help us keep underwriting this new facility, the citizen-led Castle Pines Library Campaign (including Warren Lynge, Carla Kenny, Sharon Kollmar, Linda Day, Joan Millspaugh, Sarah Tweed, Vicky Kellen, Darren Everett, Lisa Crockett, and Terri Wiebold) has started fundraising.

And right out of the gate, they found their first donor: the city of Castle Pines itself.

On Tuesday, August 9, the Castle Pines City Council approved a $50,000 contribution to the support of Castle Pines Library for the next three years. Half of the amount, or $25,000, will be in the form of an immediate gift to the library, while half will be contributed in 2012 pending private contributions in an equal amount.

The committee's slogan -- "Let's keep a good thing going!" -- resonated with Mayor Jeffrey Huff and other members of the city council, whose vote in favor of the gift to the library was unanimous.

This is how communities are made: the combination of vision, dedication, and local investment.

To celebrate this commitment, the library will host a check-signing ceremony at 10 a.m., Sept. 7, at the Castle Pines Library. Mayor Huff and Library Board of Trustees President Amy Hunt will have a few words to say. Our emcee will be Darren Everett.

In addition to a little speechifying, interested parties may hear about some other ways to donate or sponsor the mighty little library. Or call the Castle Pines Chamber of Commerce at 303-688-3359, the Castle Pines Library at 303-791-7323, or go to DouglasCountyLibraries.org and click on "Donate it!"

Once again, thank you City of Castle Pines for such an amazing and generous gift to “Keep a Good Thing Going.”

We hope to see you on the 7th.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

August 25, 2011 - moving up the organization

I am annually reviewed by my bosses, a 7-person board. A few years ago one board member asked me what I was doing about succession planning. 

I thought, "Uh oh." Was this code for, "pick your replacement, bub, you're outa here?"

But in fact, to that board member, "succession planning" meant something far broader and more significant. 

Here's the idea in my own words, but very much derived from that board member's deep professional experience in organizational development work:

It all starts at the top. The governing body sets strategic directions. It has a goal or goals. And yes, I know that some governing bodies never get around to that, squandering their time on little operational issues. But a healthy organization has leadership that maps out a path to the future.

The board then looks at its Chief Executive Officer. Does that person have the skills to achieve the goals? If so, dandy. 

If not, what would it take to help that person acquire the necessary skills in a timely fashion? That becomes the "development plan" for the employee. If the CEO isn't within 18 months of having the skills necessary to get things done, the board may have the wrong CEO. 

But it doesn't stop there. Now the CEO does the same thing. 

At the next level of the organization there are people who may be within 18 months of doing the CEO job, too. What skills do THEY need? Once again, that gap in knowledge or experience becomes the list of annual development objectives. 

When I've talked about this to others, sometimes people express surprise. Why would a CEO train up his or her own competitors? 

The answer, to my mind, is pretty straightforward: because the job of the CEO is to help the institution succeed. The more smart, capable people on hand to fulfill overarching goals, the more likely that is to happen, particularly if they combine their efforts.

And note that this is not about anointing a single successor. It's about creating more than one potential candidate for key positions. It's about assembling a "bench" of people who are actively getting better, improving their potential organizational value through purposeful learning. 

But it doesn't stop there, either. At every level of the organization, supervisors should be doing the same thing. 

The skill set for a front line supervisor might well be different than those required of a CEO or senior executive staff. But whatever the level, the necessary skills are identifiable, and there's a list of strategies -- training, formal education, task force work, external partnerships, mentoring, and so on -- that help people acquire those skills. 

It is the job of every supervisor to know what skills their people need in order to align with organization goals, and to put together annual plans, specific to each individual, to help everyone move up in knowledge and ability.  

Ultimately, this process of assessing skills and building annual learning programs should touch every person in the organization, top to bottom.

Organizations have to be careful not to identify just one person for too many slots. Often, a single golden child gets groomed for several positions -- but when the time comes, he or she can take only one of them. The "bench" needs to be deep. 

This system of staff development -- and indeed, of system-wide personnel management -- is also an honorable thing to do for employees. It keeps them engaged in their jobs and careers, keeps them interested, keeps them excited by keeping them growing. 

But what if one of these people you invested in takes a job somewhere else?

My response: how wonderful for them! Now you have high-performing friends and colleagues who deeply appreciate the help you gave them. And they might come back to you later, even more able and experienced.

In the long run, such an organization gets a reputation for offering lots of opportunity, and for moving people up quickly. That, in turn, attracts brighter and more ambitious applicants.

So in the end, the right reaction to talk of "succession planning" isn't "uh oh."  It's "ah ha!"

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

August 4, 2011 - popular reading builds community

"Main Street Public Library" is a forthcoming book by Wayne Wiegand, an eminent library historian. It's the story of four public libraries - Bryant Library in Sauk Centre (Central MN), Sage Public library in Osage, IA, Charles H. Moore Library in Lexington MI, Rhinelander Public Library in Rhinelander, WI.

The public library movement, beginning in about 1876, was in many ways the response to waves of "foreigners." As Wiegand notes, nervous Americans adopted two strategies to regularize the newcomers: compulsory education, and such highly visible institutions as the public library.

The four libraries followed a pattern that applied to a lot of Midwest libraries. It went something like this:

A core group of civic leaders, usually radiating from pre-suffrage women's groups, issued a civic call. Some modest amount of funding was committed by town councils. A tiny start-up space was found, with a non-librarian and a small stock of "good books."

Eventually, someone hit up Andrew Carnegie, who ignored the request for awhile, then dickered over the price, then eventually provided capital funds -- but never for books, and never for operations. This strategy of requiring matching funds, proof of serious intent, had the effect of growing organized support essential for the establishment and sustainability of the library.

Over time library management became a little more professionalized. Library Trustees looked for "trained" librarians. Libraries that thrived -- meaning that they wound up with more space and money -- built relationships with their communities in three ways: children's services (mainly story times), the provision of public meeting space (both for individual reading and group gatherings), and, most powerfully, response to the demand for popular fiction.

With ringing and lofty rhetoric, librarians assured all that we were essential to democracy because we informed our citizens about the issues of the day. Indeed, this organized presentation of information, reliable, thoroughly reviewed and vetted, was the essential function of the institution. As the profession grew in stature, "collection development" meant the compilation and distribution of prescriptive lists. Those lists did indeed influence many libraries' holdings.

The anti-fiction hostility of librarians was pronounced. Many librarians sounded the alarm about the dangers of, yes, reading. Oh, the horror of women who read romances, boys who read comic books, and men who stashed the Police Gazette under their mattresses!

That prejudice lasted a long time, extending with particular ferocity against the Stratemeyer Syndicate (producers of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series).

But despite the civic mandate of local leaders, despite the profound anti-fiction bias of librarians of that time, there was a third player in the histories. It turns out that what people mostly wanted from the public library wasn't heavy-handed educational lectures. They wanted a rattling good story.

And by and large, they got it.

Wiegand advances the idea that libraries did in fact do what they were supposed to do: we built community. We just didn't do it the way we thought we did. Popular reading itself was the key.

Think about it. Which had more to do with the emergence of the American pscyhe: "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," or the by-his-own-bootstraps fiction of Horatio Alger? Which had more to do with national scientific progress: "Scientific American," or the inventions of Tom Swift? Who had more to do with our attitudes about gun ownership: Alexis de Toqueville, or Zane Grey?

Sometimes it's hard to tell if history teaches us anything or not. But I'm happy to pass along this professional update from your local librarian: go ahead and read. Really. Anything. For the good of the nation.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 28, 2011 - who needs libraries?

In the words of that great sage, Yogi Berra, "You can observe a lot just by watching."

Recently I met with some library colleagues to visit a remodeled branch in Colorado Springs. Then we talked about all the projects we're working on. It's a useful exercise. Colorado librarians are pretty honest about what does and doesn't work.

When you listen to all the details about a library - its demographics, its funding, its politics, its mix of staff and services - it's easy to think that each one is utterly unique. 

Yet we do face common problems. One of them is the propagation of a "meme" -- an idea that wants to get repeated. That meme takes the form of "who needs libraries now that I have the Internet/an e-reader?"

Many libraries in Colorado and around the country have undertaken some very successful branding efforts. They buff up their logos, hone their tag lines, and sometimes, for awhile, succeed in getting a little local buzz.

But then we're on to the next thing. Libraries have so many services that we get a little distracted. Meanwhile, the idea that libraries have somehow become obsolete winds up on the lips even of the people who visit us three times a week, and complain about the inability to find a parking space. 

So I suggested to my colleagues that maybe we're more alike than we know. Instead of focusing on what we do different, maybe we should talk more about the three ways we are very much alike.

At the heart of the public library is the notion of community sharing. We are a cooperative purchasing agreement. Whether funded by sales or property taxes, public libraries take many small contributions of money, and leverage that into the purchase of collections, or access to collections, that are far beyond what any of us could afford individually. 

You've got an ebook reader? Wonderful! But it doesn't take long to run up a big bill on Amazon or the Barnes and Noble bookstores. You can spend in half an hour what you don't spend in a year for your library. The library can provide books for your e-reader, too. 

The argument is pretty straightforward: libraries are way more cost-effective than buying everything yourself, most of which you really don't want to keep anyhow. Just because the book is electronic doesn't change the value proposition. Teaming up - buying once, using many times - is a smart investment.

A second way we're alike is that we help individuals of any and all ages and backgrounds to explore and discover anything they like. Sometimes, they come to us because they need something for school or for their jobs. 

But more often, they come because they're following their own interests. That might be learning a new language, or building a porch, or growing a garden, or learning to play banjo. Or it might be just reading science fiction or murder mysteries or romances or browsing fashion magazines. Public libraries are a patriot's dream: We are all about the pursuit of happiness.

A third way we're alike is that we build community. Libraries generate traffic. Last year our 7 locations in Douglas County racked up over 2 million visits. People come to homeowner's meetings, children's story times, civic clubs, and evening programs. They meet friends and associates. They chat with each other as they wait to use public computers. They get out of their homes and get to know one another.

So it's ironic. Often the busiest place in town, a place where people can follow their interests, save heaps of money, and build enduring bonds with their neighbors, libraries still have to fight the false perception that no one needs them.

Once again, Yogi nailed it. "Nobody goes there any more," he said. "It's too crowded." 

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

July 21, 2011 - grandparents matter

Who I am has a lot to do with my granddad. He dropped out of school in 10th grade to take care of an invalid mother, but spent the rest of his life reading and thinking. He's one of only two people I know who read the entire 11 volumes of Will and Ariel Durant's "The Story of Civilization." I got my love of books from him.

He loved debate, and was willing to take unpopular positions if he believed in them. He was the first person I met who would talk enthusiastically about any topic: religion, politics, history, sex. While he appreciated a good argument, he didn't seem to have much ego attached to it. He just wanted to learn something, either about an idea or about another human being. Ideas and people interested him.

Aside from the example he set me - curious, engaged, friendly - he also did something else. He told me I was smart.

It happens, in my home, that that was a powerful thing. I got a different message from my father.

But sometimes, when you get a clear and positive acknowledgement from someone you admire, it can save you. My granddad's respect for me became one of the foundations upon which my self-image was built. He made a difficult childhood easier. Grandparents matter.

And if you’re a grandparent, you can learn to be a better one.

I've written before about OLLI - the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Denver. In brief, OLLI offers three terms per year of classes. Each term lasts 8 weeks. You can sign up for an unlimited number of classes for just $100 per term.

The main audience for the programs is people over 50. The classes address everything from literature and writing to science, technology and math, from language workshops to current events. Fun!

OLLI has three locations: OLLI South serves the Douglas County area. It's located at 11004 Wildfield Lane, Littleton (off Santa Fe, near Titan). OLLI Central serves Metro Denver, and OLLI West serves the Golden area.

The new term is about to start up. For more information, call 720-339-1379, or look them up at www.universitycollege.du.edu/olli.

One of those classes is taught by a couple of friends of mine, Frank and Dix Morris. It's called "Discover the Power of Presuppositions."

The course offering states, "There is a general assumption that senior citizens are loving (they're nice, give gifts and, possibly, leave an inheritance). A close study of the most effective seniors reveals them to be masters of communication who know how to effectively instill major messages."

The class provides left and right brain methods for thoughtfully placing affirming messages in the minds of others.

Class time includes concrete explanations, class dialog, examples of each new powerful phrase, take home material and simple assignments to be used with others so class members can experience how presuppositions actually work.

Explanation: "A presupposition assumes a reality before it has been proven." For example, if a teacher says to children on the first day of class that they will be an excellent group of learners, they will take that to mind. They'll try to live up to it.

Grandparents do this with grandkids. Great leaders use presuppositions all the time. As the Morrises tell me, the class could have been called "How to be highly effective in all relationships."

The class is on Tuesday mornings.

So whether you've got grandkids, are looking to make the world a little brighter, or just want to scratch an intellectual itch, why not investigate OLLI's offerings? You can get a sample of what they're like at four upcoming sessions:

Monday, August 1
10 am Tattered Cover at 9315 Dorchester St in Highlands Ranch
1 pm Lone Tree Library at 8827 Lone Tree Pkwy in Lone Tree.

Friday, August 5
10 am Parker Library at 10851 S Crossroads Dr in Parker
1 pm Phillip S Miller Library at 100 S. Wilcox in Castle Rock

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 14, 2011 - on the empathy of apes

It's been said so many times we believe it. It's a dog-eat-dog world. Survival of the fittest. Whether it's life in the wild or in the marketplace, competition and self-interest is what drives us.

But what are we to make of this? In 1964, a group of psychiatrists led by Jules Masserman at Northwestern University reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry that "rhesus monkeys refused to pull a chain that delivered food to themselves if doing so gave a shock to a companion. One monkey stopped pulling the chain for 12 days after witnessing another monkey receive a shock. Those primates were literally starving themselves to avoid shocking another animal." (See the magazine "Greater Good," Fall/Winter 2005-06.)

Or consider this report by Franz B. M. de Waal, a Dutch psychologist, primatologist and ethologist, on another primate study in Taï National Park, in Ivory Coast. "... chimpanzees took care of group mates wounded by leopards, licking their blood, carefully removing dirt, and waving away flies that came near the wounds. They protected injured companions, and slowed down during travel in order to accommodate them."

Isn't such behavior counter-intuitive? Wouldn't more chimps survive if they simply abandoned the wounded?

No. de Waal goes on, "All of this makes perfect sense given that chimpanzees live in groups for a reason, the same way wolves and humans are group animals for a reason. If man is wolf to man, he is so in every sense, not just the negative one. We would not be where we are today had our ancestors been socially aloof."

de Waal has written many fascinating articles and books. Douglas County Libraries has several of them, including "The age of empathy: Nature's lessons for a kinder society" published in 2009, "Primates and philosophers: how morality evolved," published in 2006, and "Animal social complexity: intelligence, culture and individualized societies," published in 2005.

He can turn a phrase. "What we need is a complete overhaul of assumptions about human nature. Too many economists and politicians model human society on the perpetual struggle they believe exists in nature, but which is a mere projection. Like magicians, they first throw their ideological prejudices into the hat of nature, then pull them out by their very ears to show how much nature agrees with them. It’s a trick for which we have fallen for too long. Obviously, competition is part of the picture, but humans can’t live by competition alone."

It's not all sweetness and light in the jungle, whether floral or concrete. Chimpanzees sometimes turn murderously violent. I remember the rage and acting out of my own adolescence.

Yet apes empathize. Research suggests they also mourn, laugh, and reconcile.

Of course, anyone who has ever owned a cat, a dog, or even a bird knows that emotions are not unique to humans.

Or as de Wall puts it, “We start out postulating sharp boundaries, such as between humans and apes, or between apes and monkeys, but are in fact dealing with sand castles that lose much of their structure when the sea of knowledge washes over them. They turn into hills, leveled ever more, until we are back to where evolutionary theory always leads us: a gently sloping beach.”

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

July 7, 2011 - spellbinders

[This column is by Priscilla Queen, a Literacy Specialist for the Douglas County Libraries.]

A few weeks ago, in a letter to the editor, Irma Backelant asked, “Have grandparents become the nuisance generation?” She described feeling like an outsider when her grown children’s friends complained about the annoyance their parents have become. Backelant realized that the complaints were being made about her fellow grandparents, and was aghast at their being ridiculed rather than valued as the elder generation.

Last year I became a grandmother myself and hope to figure out how to be helpful and wise in this new role. Mrs. Backelant’s question also spurred me to respond and share a few programs and activities that Douglas County Libraries offers the community to the benefit of children and elders alike: Spellbinders and Book Start.

Traditional stories demonstrate that elders can be a source of wisdom and perspective for younger generations. They also illustrate the consequences of rash and callow behavior by the young, as in this old German tale:

There was once a very old man whose eyes had grown dim, his ears dull of hearing. His knees trembled. When he sat at table he could hardly hold his spoon and spilled broth upon the tablecloth. His son and his son’s wife were disgusted at this, so the old grandfather sat in the corner behind the stove. They gave him meager food in an earthenware bowl. He looked to the table with his eyes full of tears. Once he dropped the bowl and it broke. The young wife scolded him. He said nothing, but only sighed. After that they brought his food in a wooden bowl that could not break.

One day there were sitting thus when the little grandson of four began to gather some bits of wood upon the ground. “What are you doing there?” asked the father. “I am making a trough,” answered the child, “for you and Mother to eat out of when I am big.”

The man and his wife looked at each other, and began to cry. Then they took the old grandfather to the table, and henceforth let him eat with them, and likewise said nothing if he did spill a little of anything.

Spellbinders was developed precisely to give older folks a positive role in their communities. Spellbinders tell stories to classrooms of children, recreating the age-old custom of storytelling on the front porch or around a fire. The children who listen to the stories of our Spellbinders reap the benefits of a rich literacy activity.

Spellbinders volunteers are 55 or older because one goal is to connect generations and provide an experience with a grandparent for school-aged children. Children have thanked our Spellbinders with heartfelt enthusiasm. One boy wrote, “My grandpa doesn’t live close. Thank you for being my grandpa for a day.”

Spellbinders develop traditional folktales or create new stories from personal anecdotes. Douglas County Libraries Literacy Department and Douglas County School District have partnered to offer this free classroom enrichment to teachers and school librarians. It is a unique opportunity that supports literacy in many ways. Spellbinders also enjoy camaraderie with each other through regular meetings and other events in the community.

Book Start is another intergenerational volunteer program giving children the experiences that show that “adults in my community care about me.” This program provides training in current early literacy techniques and places volunteers with local child care facilities where they read aloud weekly. Preschool age children are in a vital time of language development. Science shows that if those early years are filled with playful words and a love of books, children have much improved chances for later success in school. Our training will show you how to blend beautifully written books with simple songs and fingerplays you might have thought you forgot. Book Start volunteers discover that reading aloud with young children makes a big difference in the lives of both generations.

We all have a need to be respected in our older years. If you are looking for opportunities to become that wise elder, to engage with the younger generation and stay young at heart, please consider volunteering in one or both of our literacy programs.

Spellbinder training is scheduled for August 1, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and August 5, 9 a.m. to noon. The 10-hour training will be held at Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock; you must attend both sessions. Please contact Priscilla Queen at pqueen@dclibraries.org or 303-688-7626 for more information and to register.

The next Book Start training is scheduled for Wednesday, July 20, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and another on August 17th, 9:30-12:30 both at Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. Please contact Geri Domareck, gdomareck@dclibraries.org, for more information and to register.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 30, 2011 - a fair flower comes to Castle Rock

This is the story of two beginnings.

The first concerns the house at 404 Perry Street in Castle Rock. It was built in 1888, apparently by stone mason H. B. Remington. The next owner, the first one to live in it, was Washington Irving Whittier, a well known teacher, editor, postmaster, realtor, legislator, and circuit-riding minister. Whittier was a cousin of American poet John Greenleaf Whittier.

In 1890 he sold the house to James Woods, another school teacher, and by all accounts an excellent debater. (There were debating and literary societies in those days). His wife and two sisters opened a dress making business in the house.

From 1895 to 1902, it was owned by William Thayer, another debater, an elected Castle Rock Trustee, and a train dispatcher. Then the house went to a saloon-keeper, carpenter, concrete, plastering and masonry business operator named George Burk.

People had a surprising mix of skills back then. They had to, I suppose.

The house continued to change hands, but over the years, was home to several other businesses, among them Elegant Edibles, Casual Catering, and a bike shop.

The second beginning concerns the new business opening there. The name of the shop is Finn*Lafleur. It will be an art and fashion gallery. The fashion is hip, European, and will feature hats, belts, shoes, and soon, furniture.

The business gets its name from Carlos Finn, 36, and his 29-year old sister Desiree and her husband William Lafleur. "Finn" is Irish for fair, and "Lafleur" is French for flower. So the shop's name means "Fair Flower."

Carlos (Carlos Michael Finn) tends bar at Next Door, and has long been associated with an art gallery cooperative in Denver. He's also a painter, creating what he calls "primitive, naive, child-influenced" pieces. His art will be on display.

His sister has mostly worked in the oil and gas industry, but she and Carlos used to work at the Pinos restaurant together (now the Union). William, known as Billy, is an assistant supervisor at the Red Hawk Golf Course.

I do a lot of walking around Castle Rock, and happened to poke my head into the house one early June evening to see what all the bustle was. Carlos, Desiree and Billy were transforming the house.

Although they are renters, they have put a lot of sweat equity into the place. Gone was the old carpeting, revealing a lovely old hardwood floor. They restored it. With pride, they showed me around the freshly painted little house. They have constructed benches, installed track lighting, made a dressing room, and covered up old pipes. It looks great.

The shop had a soft launch on June 18, during the downtown's car show. They're still tweaking their hours, but will probably be open something like 10-7 most days. They'll want to be open on weekend,s so may close on Mondays.

The history of the house (and its additions, not treated here) comes from the Douglas County History Research Center, located within the Philip S. Miller Library. We have lots of fascinating research about the people and buildings in the area.

The history of the Finns and Lafleurs comes from just talking to these industrious and ambitious Douglas County natives (Carlos and Desiree grew up around Santa Fe and Titan Road, then in town). They're all smart, personable, and interesting folks.

I like the way things come back around. Multi-skilled and ambitious people take a gamble, and add another layer of memories to a building. What was a dress shop is now kind of a dress shop again. And history is still being made.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 23, 2011 - where's your music, kid?

"Send me a kiss by wire / baby my heart's on fire...
Baby telephone / tell me I'm your own."

I don't want to start any fights. I'm a low key, nonconfrontational kind of guy. But I can't help but notice things.

And what I've noticed is that this current generation doesn't have its own music.

Sure, it has Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, etc. It has a lot of GOOD music, no question. But throughout American history, it seems like each generation comes up with its unique sound, a musical genre that is distinctive and definitive. Until now.

At the turn of the 20th century we got ragtime (Scott Joplin). Then came jazz. Then the Memphis blues. Big bands (Benny Goodman was named the King of Swing in 1935). Mahalia Jackson popularized gospel in 1947. Pete Seeger ushered in the folk revival in 1948, which branched in many directions.

Rock and roll was born in 1951, Elvis, Ray Charles and Soul Music in 1955, Motown in 1959. Reggae in 1960. Patsy Cline in 1961. The Beatles in 1964. Woodstock in 1969.

In 1975 we got punk rock. In 1977 we got disco. 1978 brought us hip hop. MTV rose in 1981. Michael Jackson's Thriller happened in 1985.

In 1990 Grunge rock slithered out of Seattle. In 2003, Eminem got a Grammy for best rap album.

And that seems to be it. The last distinct American sound, shared broadly by a whole generation, was rap.

Further back, in 1987, the term "world music" was coined to describe "eclectic" music. That was one year after Paul Simon's breakout "Graceland," featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Since then, a lot has happened technologically. And technology definitely affects music. (See the "Hello my baby" lyrics at the top of this column.) Nowadays, the Internet is the biggest factor. The sheer availability of music has soared.

In 2008, digital downloads grew by 25% to $3.7 billion (including 1.4 billion songs), accounting for 20% of music sales. But according to some sources, over 40 billion songs were illegally file-shared, which means that 95% of music downloads are illegal. By 2009, digital sales accounted for 98% of all singles sold in the USA and Britain.

Add in Youtube and Pandora, and you don't even have to break the law to hear sounds from everywhere.

Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of terrific bands and musicians around. There's no shortage of music. I hear great rock and roll, fusion, ska, blues, folk, funk, and on and on, all over the place. Successful musicals are back on Broadway.

But what I don't hear is that sudden shift in rhythm or consciousness that says a new form of music has been birthed on our shores.

So here's what I think. A distinct musical sound is always of its time and place. It's a focused reaction to a particular moment in history. And right now, a generation raised on what amounts to a global radio station has so much to digest, so many different influences, that it hasn't been able, yet, to come up with a distillation.

Music has gone global, and it will take us awhile to make sense of it.

Am I wrong? Is there a new kind of music that has in fact caught on, is shared widely in our culture? Write me at jlarue at jlarue.com.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 16, 2011 - when electrons revolt

When I was growing up, there was a guy in the neighborhood whose family made him go into the garage every time there was a storm. He attracted lightning.

You've probably known people who can't wear watches. The watches start running backwards, or stop and start unpredictably.

I've never been one of those people. Until recently. Lately, electricity and I don't seem to get along.

I remember looking at old catalogs from the early 1900s. You could buy all kinds of household appliances that had their own motors. Later, they had attachments so you could hook up a motor to them. Finally, appliances just came with power cords, because by then, there was an electric grid. Electricity had gone from fad to utility.

I suppose that's kind of like the Internet today, with wireless processors embedded in everything.

The two trends together are dangerous.

It all started for me when I got notified (via email) that someone had contacted my credit card company and succeeded in changing the account's email and billing address. It wasn't me, so I spent a morning on the phone as they walked me through new security settings. Then I got a call from someone claiming to be from the credit card company who wanted to know if I changed the settings ok, and to what, and suddenly asking a lot of questions without answering any of mine. Finally, I said I'd better call THEM back -- and they hung up. When I did phone the company's fraud department, they said they knew nothing about that call.

Then, on the way to the airport, my wife's mobile phone cut out. She asked me to plug it into the cigarette lighter. It not only didn't charge the phone, it short-circuited the car's air conditioning.

Then the library was moving its servers from the somewhat dicey power in downtown Castle Rock to a big server farm in Denver (co-located in Phoenix). But naturally, that meant that our catalog and other databases went wonky for a few days, to the great confusion of many of our patrons.

When I got back from my trip, I then tried to cancel that credit card (which I'd kept restricted but active in case I got stranded). No problem, they said, but fax in a bunch of stuff to prove you are who you say you are. Fine, I said.

But could I get a fax machine to work? After repeating the same steps 6 times, then watching the machine dial all by itself, chortling at me I swear, yes.

Then my home Internet went down. I'd reboot everything, and it would work, kind of, for whole seconds at a time. Then stagger into partial screen draws.

I've really gotten used to immediate Internet access. My daughter depends on it for her job (giving international English lessons).

When I called my provider to troubleshoot, the handset died halfway through the session. Dead battery.

When I got the home network up and running again, my computer's keyboard would suddenly go mute every now and then, requiring me to un- and re-plug it.

Don't even get me started about flight attendants who tell you to turn off your book, which then won't turn on again.

I totally believe in the myth of Atlantis. How could a whole, advanced civilization just disappear one day, you ask?

Simple. They got everything they needed to do, everything they needed to know, scrunched into a single, wafer-thin, electric-powered gizmo. And somebody dropped it, or it went on the fritz, or, I don't know, it got hit by lightning.

I'll be in the garage.

LaRue's Views are his own.