For the better part of a year, the Garfield County Public Libraries District (GCPLD) was without a formal executive director. The district’s previous executive director resigned in August 2021, preceded by several other employees including four of the six branch managers. By October, Finance Director Kevin Hettler stepped up to fulfill director duties in the interim.
Then, late last month, exciting news was announced by the libraries’ board of trustees. “After a long and thoughtful search,” wrote the press release, “[GCPLD] is happy to introduce to you our new executive director.”
James “Jamie” LaRue comes to the role with passion for intellectual freedom and a lifetime of experience. Growing up in Illinois, LaRue discovered his love for libraries at the age of six. Playing baseball one day, “bored out of my mind, way out on right field,” he told The Sopris Sun, he spotted something shiny in the distance. Curiosity prompted him to abandon the field, mid-game. Approaching what he discovered to be a mobile library, “Mrs. Johnson looked at me like I was the man she had been waiting for all of her life.” Her simple question set the course for young LaRue: “How can I help you?”
From that moment on, he knew his calling. He founded a library club in the seventh grade and went to work for the library in Normal, Illinois, as an undergraduate. After hitchhiking around the country and helping build an all-volunteer library in Arivaca, Arizona, he pursued a graduate degree in library science.
At that time, computer technology was revolutionizing libraries around the world and LaRue was right on the curve, converting paper catalogs to electronic catalogs and gearing up for the internet.
The bulk of his career occurred in Douglas County. There, LaRue was named Colorado Librarian of the Year (1998), Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce’s Business Person of the Year (2003), he earned the Julie J. Boucher Award for Intellectual Freedom (2007) and Colorado Association of Libraries’ Career Achievement Award (2013). In 2013, the Highlands Ranch Library was renamed the James H. LaRue Library. That change was later undone, because “you never know what a person may do that may tarnish the reputation of a library,” LaRue explained in good humor.
LaRue informed The Sun that during his time with Douglas County, there were about 250 attempts to remove materials from that library network. He observed that nearly every single one came from parents of children between the ages of four and six and 14 and 16, parents concerned about the developmental stages of their child and experiencing “love, loss and grief.” Later, he wrote a book on the subject.
Identifying this, he said, “changes the way a librarian responds to the complaint.” No longer “the enemy,” a concerned parent can be reframed as “probably a friend, [who] brought their kids to the library, read to them, cared about what they’re reading. Someone willing to act in the civic sphere to make a point — those are the marks of a good parent and a good citizen.”
LaRue has also been an adjunct teacher at the University of Denver, worked as a consultant and directed the Office for Intellectual Freedom for the American Library Association. “[Libraries] are an institution dedicated to individual dignity of inquiry,” he said, “it is where you come if you want to investigate the world.”
Asked what LaRue is currently reading, he told The Sopris Sun that he reads a book a day and is enjoying science fiction works by Nathan Lowell, a self-published Greeley author “suddenly selling 300,000 copies of his books, not available in any store.” LaRue has downloaded the books on a Kindle Fire.
“Most of the time, four big publishing houses generate 80% of what’s published in America,” he explained. That trend, however, is changing with the rise of self-published works and mid-level independent publishers. “It’s the greatest explosion of writing in the history of mankind,” he said. “By 2014, 16% of New York Times Best Sellers were self-published.”
Among his focuses for GCPLD: “build community and grow literacy.” LaRue cited a 2010 study that suggests having 500 books in the home of a child five years of age and younger is comparable to having two parents with masters degrees.
Other studies reveal that fourth grade reading scores are the single best predictor of health, education and other measures of success. The best predictor of strong fourth grade reading scores, meanwhile, comes from reading readiness by the age of five which, in turn, correlates with the number of books in the home. “Early childhood literacy is the key to everything,” he said.
Now a resident of Glenwood Springs, “Why did I want this job?” he asked. “The staff. The staff impressed me very much. I have rarely met people so committed, ethical, diligent, conscientious, friendly, intelligent.”
The second best part, according to LaRue, are the buildings. “I’ve built a lot of library buildings in my time and I think that the six buildings I see here are among the six best that I’ve seen. Really, very intelligently designed.”
Third, “the natural beauty is spectacular. I can’t believe the quality of the air and stunning views.”
Learn more about LaRue and peruse his thoughts on intellectual freedom at: www.jlarue.com