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.
September 4, 1996 - Miller Money
I'd always heard that Philip S. Miller didn't like being called P.S. Miller.
But it turns out that his only objection was that there was another P.S. Miller in town, and the two sometimes got confused.
To the people that knew him, to his friends, he was Phil Miller. I regret that I knew him too late in his life to call him a friend. But I've always been impressed with the quality of the people who claim that distinction.
More to the point, I continue to be impressed by the man himself. It's hard for me not to think about Philip S. Miller. He figures so prominently in the history of our library. In the first year of county library services -- 1968 -- the county pledged $5,000 to the effort. Mr. Miller pledged $25,000. There are three things about this gift that stay with me. The first is the most obvious: he HAD $25,000, and was willing to give it to a public project.
Second, he didn't put up his own money until the county anted up first. In much the same way, Mr. Miller was willing to grant loans to young couples -- but only if at least one of them was working. He MATCHED funding, or in today's parlance, he leveraged his capital. Here's another example. On the day the building now called the Philip S. Miller Library was opened, he walked in, and with tears in his eyes, wrote a check for $500,000 -- the exact amount of the unpaid public debt for the new public structure.
But note carefully: he didn't write the check until AFTER the building went up. Again, his generosity was astonishing. But first, there needed to be evidence of will and of action.
Third, he took the long view. Throughout his life, his gifts to the library had strings on them: that $25,000 was for a library building. His $500,000 check was to retire the debt on a new building, not for operations. He put his money toward the enduring infrastructure of the future, not the transient expenses of the present.
I recall another story I heard about Mr. Miller. According to one longtime business associate, Mr. Miller felt real loyalty to his employees only when they'd chosen to stay with the business for a good while -- no less than fifteen years. It was the long view all over again, the notion that obligations attended evidence of commitment.
At his death, several Douglas County institutions learned of Mr. Miller's continuing legacy. His net worth -- some $32 million -- was to be set up as a trust. There were many beneficiaries of this extraordinary boon.
The library was one of them. Perhaps as early as next year, we should receive an astonishing 10% of the interest on the trust: perhaps as much as $150,000 each year.
Of course, Philip S. Miller is not our only philanthropist. Personal donations toward our new Parker Library last year helped us bring in the project under budget, and saved taxpayers some tens of thousands of dollars. Mission Viejo has pledged 3.4 acres of their new Town Center to the library.
As welcome as these gifts are, however, all of the donations ever made to the library throughout its entire history would not run today's Douglas Public Library District for a single year. Long term, reliable library funding depends upon its users, not upon wealthy benefactors.
But in much the same way as loving parents invest the down payment of their children's homes, Philip S. Miller (and his wife, Jerry) invested in the library. And the Douglas Public Library District has proven itself a frugal child, securing its own resources to match the beneficence of its forebears. Also like Mr. Miller, the library district saves for its future, and assiduously avoids debt.
I think he would have liked that.