Please take a moment as we welcome James LaRue as the new director for the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. Born and raised in Waukegan, IL, he’s spent the past 29 years in Colorado and recently relocated to Chicago to begin his new job in January. A lover of music, movies (Groundhog Day, Soapdish, Ex-Machina), breakfast anytime and Chicago hot dogs, he is a self proclaimed RE-reader, choosing to plow through a lot of the same books every year with favorites including: Heinlein, Connie Willis, Dorothy Sayers, the Harry Potter series and the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman. Director LaRue was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few more questions:
Q: What are some of your interests outside of work? (hobbies, travel, etc)
A: I dabble in music – piano (pop tunes from the 20-40’s, ragtime), banjo, guitar, ukulele. And I have been writing haiku since 6th grade. Beyond that, walking, reading, travel.
Q: Are you involved in any community organizations? Do you belong to any other professional organizations other than ALA?
A: In Colorado, I was on a host of boards (youth, community theater, Rotary, economic development, leadership development, etc.). For the past couple of years, I was an independent consultant and let most of that go. For now, I’m enjoying the focus on a new job and new city. Not right now, but I may look into something on association management.
Q: What makes you laugh?
A: Marx Brothers movies, Daniel Pinkwater, and everything else.
Q: What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?
A: Once I did some original storytelling to a group of kids, ages 4-14, to celebrate the opening of a new library. It was the toughest and most diverse audience I have ever faced. And at the end, my daughter, then 4, threw her arms around me and said, “That was WONDERFUL, daddy!” The relief.
Q: Where did you study for your undergraduate degree? What was your major?
A: Illinois State University in Normal, IL. I got a double major in English (mostly creative writing), and Philosophy (ask me about Nietzsche, I dare you).
Q: Where did you study for your graduate degree? What area was your primary focus?
A: University of Illinois-Urbana. Mostly, I focused on public library administration, but library systems (as regional library service centers) were hot back then, too.
Q: Do you have any publications?
A: My most extensive is the online repository of my newspaper columns. I wrote a weekly piece from April 11, 1990, to January 12, 2012. You can find them here: laruesviews.blogspot.com.
I’m also the author of “The new Inquisition: Understanding and Managing Intellectual Freedom Challenges” (Libraries Unlimited, 2007). After that, bunches of articles, book chapters, and blogs.
Q: Are there any other educational awards or acknowledgements you’d like to mention?
A: I’ve gotten a few awards that took me completely by surprise, and I found deeply touching. The first was a “Business Man of the Year Award” in 2003 by the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce (mostly for the library buying and renovating an old grocery store in a dilapidated stretch of downtown). The second was when I left Douglas County Libraries in 2014; the Trustees actually named a library after me. When I mentioned this on a trip to Bulgaria, librarians were impressed, saying, “Here, you must first be dead.”
Q: Congratulations on your new job as IF director! What exactly does your job entail?
A: My job involves working with staff on two responsibilities: the Office for Intellectual Freedom itself, which is involved with support of librarians dealing with intellectual freedom and privacy challenges, and various professional committees (the Intellectual Freedom Committee and its Privacy Subcommittee, the Intellectual Freedom Round Table, the Ethics Committee). We also have a hand in various publications like the recently revised Intellectual Freedom Manual, and advocacy and thought leadership involving everything from Banned Books Week to our blog and online learning. The second responsibility is the Freedom To Read Foundation, which raises and distributes money for a host of related activities, including our partnership with the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign to offer IF education for credit.
Q: What would you most like to share concerning ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and its mission?
A: Intellectual Freedom – the right of all to have access to the intellectual content of our culture – is a fundamental value of our profession. It requires a level of engagement and vigilance, particularly when that value is threatened. And it also needs the involvement of our members.
Q: What issues concerning Intellectual Freedom do you think are most pertinent?
A: Issues of poverty and privilege remain, both in terms of early exposure to language, and around the digital divide. Our schools are under attack at many levels. The whole idea of academic freedom seems fundamentally threatened.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share regarding your position as director or the work you and your staff do?
A: As a profession, we’re in the middle of one of our big, periodic, generational shifts. I’d like to recruit a new cadre of passionate IF advocates. It’s clear that we’re going to need them.
Q: What is one thing you still want to accomplish?
A: Right now, librarians are among the most trusted public officials in our society. I’d like to leverage that trust to a position of more conscious thought leadership. I continue to believe that being advocates for early literacy, for engaged civic and civil debate is a unique contribution to our communities – and those communities need us.
Q: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
A: Excellent question. Look me up again and we’ll talk.
Again, I’d like to thank Director LaRue for his time. It was a delight getting to know more about him. It is clear that he is passionate about librarianship and intellectual freedom as well as dedicated toward advocacy in this field.
Linsey Milillo works in teen and adult reference services for the Lane Libraries in Fairfield, Ohio. She’s an avid blogger with interest in reviews, programming and discussing timely issues at the center of library and information services.