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

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

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

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, November 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.


  1. Well, this beautifully written piece sent me back to Waukegan, IL and that lovely old (granite?) building overlooking Lake Michigan that was once our library. Some of my earliest and fondest memories (yes, over 50 years ago) are of story time there, and choosing my first library books with what can only be called reverence and a sense of wonder. I love the library and have a stack of books from a recent visit. They are like treasure chests to me...I can't wait to open them up and see what's inside. Thanks for the nice story.

  2. Hereafter I shall not be known as Unknown...hopefully

  3. That was the Carnegie Library, Elizabeth, on the corner of Washington and Sheridan Road. I remember hanging out there, too. It had catwalks! Ray Bradbury hung out there, too.

    You can read about it, and see a picture here:

    Thanks for your comments.