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.
October 9, 1996 - Oakes Mill
The Oakes Mill Library is an attractive brick structure on the corner of Yosemite and Lone Tree Parkway. The two-story structure has a footprint of 3,000 square feet. It backs up against a mostly dry creek bed.
In 1990, the Oakes Mill Library was open just five days a week. It was finished only on the top level. This space housed not only the adult and children's collections, it also reserved a small clearing for story times. At the time, Oakes Mill served the population of Acres Green, the community of Lone Tree, and all of Highlands Ranch.
In 1992, two years after Douglas County voters approved the formation of the independent Douglas Public Library District, the building was improved.
First, we finished the downstairs of the building, adding a small room for a Friends of the Library booksale, a lone staff office, an unfinished storage space, public restrooms, and a roughly 1,000 square foot community room. This community room then became our area for story times, which allowed the library's collection to grow a little bit. Upstairs, we carved out a very small staff workspace, reoriented the manager's office, and gave everything a fresh coat of paint.
The Library Board of Trustees spent a lot of time trying to decide how to fix a problem: access from one level to the other. The building was so small that we were loathe to give up interior space to an elevator. Finally, we believed that independent access to the downstairs space -- directly from the parking lot, or down an exterior set of stairs -- was probably sufficient.
At the time, especially with the opening of another 4,000 square foot library in Highlands Ranch, that seemed to take care of things for awhile. But this is Douglas County. Things tend to change pretty quickly.
The Oakes Mill Library remains -- like our Louviers Library -- a neighborhood facility. Oakes Mill is well-used and a source of real community pride for an area that, except for local elementary schools, has no other public centers. But as anyone can tell you who has driven through the area recently, the neighborhood has a lot more people than it used to.
Since our last expansion, the Oakes Mill Library has packed almost every available space with new materials. It has now reached the point where for every new book in, an old one must come out. In other words, although the collection is constantly changing, it is no longer growing.
And there's a problem with that exterior stairway. After a couple of staff people took a tumble down it, we found ourselves closing it off in bad weather.
So in 1995, the Douglas Public Library District's Board of Trustees engaged an architect to look at the maximum expansion of the building. Just how much space could we add? And how could we squeeze in an elevator?
Our architects -- the very innovative folks who also transformed a bowling alley into our new Parker Library -- came back with several options. We could move the entrance of the building from the south to the west, where people would step into a platform halfway between the two floors. From here, they would have a choice to take stairs up or down, or ride an elevator. Projecting to the south and east, on each level, would be a 3,000 square foot wedge. By the end, the building's total size could climb to about 10,000 square feet -- roughly twice what it is now.
Of course, this strategy has its own special costs. All of our other libraries maintain just one level -- which is far cheaper to staff, shelve, and to supervise.
The Board is currently conducting another study. Over the next five years, just how many people will the Oakes Mill Library have to serve? Will the proposed expansion of Oakes Mill prove sufficient? What other strategies might the Board consider to provide services to the area?
The Oakes Mill Library may seem of interest only to the folks who live in its service area. But I believe it has a larger significance. Within the next five years, all of our libraries may find themselves in much the same situation: too small, too crowded, boxed in by growth.
Next week, I'll look at our Highlands Ranch Library.