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.

Wednesday, May 10, 1995

May 10, 1995 - the library and the poor

There was a time -- after I got my undergraduate degree but before I figured out what to do with my life -- when I was very poor. I had struck out on my own, just inches ahead of one of the coldest winters in the midwest, for the sweet, benevolent warmth of Arizona.

I was utterly confident that I could find work. After all, I didn't think anything was beneath me, and I was willing to work hard. I was young, healthy, fearless, and completely enthusiastic about the prospect of learning a whole new city and regional lifestyle.

But it turns out that I wasn't the only midwesterner with that particular destination that year. After some 100 job applications, 26 interviews and 100 percent rejection rate, I began to panic.

The public library saved me. On the days (or evenings) when I had no money, but had to get out of my little hovel or scream, I could go sit in a cool, calm, unhurried space. I could read the newspaper (and comb through the job ads for the next round of applications). I could make (a few) calls from a public pay phone.

But even better than that, I could think about things that didn't have anything to do with my situation. I could read Japanese poetry, or French science fiction, or sample Native American mythology.

I could people-watch by the circulation desk. I could even listen to music. Once, I got to play chess.

In a city full of strangers, I had one place I could go that didn't cost a dime, where people began to know me, and where they even trusted me with treasures I could take home with me.

Eventually, things changed. But it took almost four months before I went from calculating whether I'd have enough food for the day to having the great luxury of knowing I had enough food for a whole week.

Of course, not all poor people are just starting out. Some get spit out of the gears of commerce just when they thought they were safe. Others scrape along the bottom their whole lives. Still others lose their security through disaster.

Whatever their ages, whatever the cause, these people still find their way to the library. And they are still welcome.

Beyond all the services I've already named, the Douglas Public Library District has some additional offerings. One of these is our Community Information Resource Files, accessible from any of our terminals. This is a listing -- always being updated -- of social service agencies in the county, as well as many other not-for-profit, civic, counseling, and educational agencies. More recently, we have added volunteer opportunities (type "volunteer" as a subject keyword search).

Another service is our literature stand. Often in several places in our libraries, we have locations where we stock free material from many organizations.

Yet another service is our meeting rooms. Some programs -- like Social Services' Commodities Exchange -- provide direct aid to people.

There are also many other agencies who have public meetings. Here, people can begin to find out about the area, make connections, get help -- or give it.

Whether our patrons are just passing through a bad time, or coming to grips with a permanent change, the library offers what is sometimes the hardest thing to come by: a safe haven, populated with employees whose very purpose is to provide information.

Or, sometimes, just the name of a good book.

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