For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
August 14, 2008 - how big, eggsactly, are you thinking?
When I was 18, I came up with a basic life philosophy. I called it "the expandable egg."
Imagine a chicken in the egg. One day, the young chick is aware of pressure. That pressure is uncomfortable, then constraining, and finally intolerable.
So the chick starts to kick and peck. She breaks out of the egg.
And immediately: Wow, it's big out here! So the first instinct is to seek shelter. Under mom, away from mysterious threats.
But eventually, the chick gets bolder, and starts exploring. After a while, she learns all kinds of shortcuts to the best or hidden food. What was immense and unknowable becomes familiar.
And then, it becomes too familiar. Constraining. One day, the chick pokes through the fence, and --- wow, it's big out here!
Learning is an egg that gets bigger and bigger.
It applies to using libraries, too.
In Douglas County, many, many children are first exposed to libraries through storytimes. Here they fall in love with one or more of our staff, discover fascinating stories, learn fun finger plays and songs.
Not long after that, the children move on to picture books, driving a hefty percentage of our business. In 2002 the entire checkouts of our district, adult and children's materials alike, were about 3.1 million items. Last year, we checked out that many items for children alone!
We don't have the most children in Colorado. We don't have the most children's materials. But we did check out more children's materials than any other library in the rest of the state. I like what that says about our community.
After picture books, young readers start finding the series they love: American Girls, or Lemony Snicket's "Series of Unfortunate Events." Or they discover a passion for airplanes or bugs.
Then they become aware of the larger environment of the library: young adult books, comic book series, adult books, reference materials, online resources.
And then, sometimes, they move around Douglas County, checking out (pardon the pun) all of our locations. More often, perhaps, people's library experiences remain centered on just one of our buildings -- except for the materials they place on hold, which can and do come from any of our libraries.
I sometimes wonder if people understand the real charge of the Douglas County Libraries. It's all there in our name: our job is to meet the library needs of the entire county.
Our Library Board has chosen a regional model. On a square foot basis, larger libraries are much cheaper to operate than smaller ones. We have also chosen to try to place our libraries in or near downtowns; our contribution of street traffic is a potent boost for business and community building.
But it is also the case that because we leverage countywide support, each of these municipally-based libraries is much larger and better equipped than a city would be able to afford by itself.
For instance, the town of Castle Rock's Philip S. Miller Library was paid for in part, and has a continuing subsidy from, the communities of Castle Pines and Parker. That's a good deal for the people in Castle Rock. Right now, the very crowded Parker Library -- which is half the size of the Philip S. Miller Library, but already serves more than twice as many people -- is not such a good deal for Parker area residents. Or for Castle Pines, which has no library at all.
Counties don't always grow evenly. There was a vacant and right-sized store in Castle Rock when the library's reserves were sufficient to grab it. There is no similar property for sale in Parker, nor are our reserves now large enough to act on such an opportunity even if there were.
It can be a challenge to keep the county in mind when you're used to city libraries. But I think it prudent to remember that library service, and funding, is based on the whole egg.
LaRue's Views are his own.