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 16, 1996 - Highlands Ranch
In 1990, the citizens of Highlands Ranch had no library at all. Well, that's not quite true. They could trek to the small Oakes Mill Library over by I-25. Or they could leave the county altogether.
But Highlands Ranch residents -- like most of the rest of the county -- are the perfect profile of the regular library user. Beyond that, many of them have kids, and tend to be very supportive of education. South of C-470, the only other place a family could go together was the Highlands Ranch Recreation Center on Broadway.
In 1991, less than a year after the voters approved the formation of the Douglas Public Library District, we managed to find just about the only leased space available in the area. We opened up a 4,000 square foot library at the other end of the same Convenience Center that houses the 7-Eleven.
Two years later, a vacancy in the center -- plus the very welcome assistance of County Commissioner Michael Cooke and the Highlands Ranch Community Association -- allowed us to double our space. We were also able to sublease some space to Douglas County's Department of Motor Vehicles, overseen by Reta Crain, the County Clerk and Recorder. It's a partnership that has worked well (and saved money) for both of us.
Building a library collection takes time. When we first opened our Highlands Ranch Library, the core stock was some 5,000 paperbacks, suitably reinforced for intensive use.
Just this year, the library surpassed its nearest neighbor -- the Oakes Mill Library -- in number of volumes. Highlands Ranch is up to over 48,000 volumes now. In a little over three years (January, 2000, which is when our current lease expires), the building will be full, just as our Oakes Mill Library is right now.
Now we introduce another library friend: the Mission Viejo Company. Jerry Poston, a Vice-President of the company, served for awhile on the Library Board. During that period, Mission began to firm up their plans for their first "Town Center," located on the southwest corner of Broadway and Highlands Ranch Parkway (just behind the new Safeway).
Jerry presented a plan to the Douglas County Planning Department that placed a 3.4 acre parcel of land -- space for a permanent, replacement Highlands Ranch Library -- in the heart of the Center.
The cost to Douglas County taxpayers for this land? Zero. In addition, Mission Viejo has pledged $190,000 to the project.
A 3.4 acre parcel translates (after parking and landscaping) to a footprint of 20,000 square feet. The various architectural restrictions of the town center project limit the library to a two-story structure. The probable build-out of the Highlands Ranch area is 100,000 people. A two-story building would give us 40,000 square feet -- within shouting distance of the basic library standards of half-a-square-foot per capita.
In the best of all possible worlds, the library district would put up a two-story shell of a building, but only finish half of it. Why? By the year 2000, we'll only need 20,000 square feet. But it's much cheaper to build a larger structure, than to try to expand a smaller one later. We could lease out the unfinished space to other entities such as Motor Vehicles -- until we need it.
As I've mentioned in previous columns, library planning envisions three regional libraries: one in Castle Rock, one in Parker, and one in Highlands Ranch. Thanks to the generosity of Mission Viejo, the library district can easily acquire the land we need in Highlands Ranch.
Yet although the land is free, construction is not. And not only does the library district have a need for a replacement Highlands Ranch Library, it also needs to expand the Oakes Mill Library, the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock (particularly, to accommodate the need for additional space for our Local History Collection), and by the year 2000, the Parker Library (we'll need to finish the space we reserved in the new building). Beyond that, Roxborough needs a small library, and we're looking at significant costs for technology upgrades.
Based on our best read of the future, the library will not have the revenues it needs to do all this. After due deliberation, the Board of Trustees voted to place a request for a mill levy increase on this November's ballot.
We need to find out just how close our vision of the library's future is to the desires of the people who pay for it.