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 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.


  1. Reading to our children -- and to each other: there's no more precious a gift that parents or other adults can give a child! We read to our girls all the time, from infancy on... and in some ways, we've never stopped. Ours are all voracious readers as adults, and we trust that they'll read to their kids, our grandkids, as we did for them.

    We're a story-telling species, from the dimmest prehistoric times. The tradition thrives today: in formal oral histories, in talk show interviews (well, the good ones anyway!), and in readers' theater -- if you've not seen a production of Wisdom Within These Walls, or of Stories On Stage, you're missing something really special!

    You don't have to be a librarian (sorry, Jamie!) to give the gift of reading, your time and focused attention, to someone you love... or even to "just an acquaintance."

  2. hah! True. Good for you for passing on that wonderful gift to your children.