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.
March 19, 1997 - Public input on Oakes Mill Library
My wife and I used to follow old Route 66 from Chicago to Arizona.
It was exciting to see the stretches that were still a vibrant "America's Main Street." There were the distinctive old Phillips 66 gas stations. There were the first motels (a word created from "motor" and "hotel"). There were hundreds of mom-and-pop local eateries.
But about 20 years ago, Route 66 was strangled to death. It was replaced by (in succession) I-55, I-44, and I-40.
Sometimes the Interstate jogged just a half mile or so to the right or left, turning once bustling thoroughfares into abruptly gray ghost towns.
Sometimes, Route 66 became Business 55 (or 44, or 40). But Route 66 produced great postcards of frequently wacky local attractions. Business 55/44/40 produced roads that were eerily identical; the same McDonald's and Denny's and Wendy's and Pizza Huts repeated like the backgrounds in a Flintstone cartoon.
Much the same thing has happened in the heart of our cities. Where once every little town boasted an often idiosyncratic domed stone building outside of which was some kind of public monument, nowadays we get big, dull, flat-roofed cubes, air-tight and claustrophobic, landscaped in black plastic and wood chips. I call it Leggo architecture.
Yet public buildings can be a source of great local pride, can in fact define a civic identity.
Four things must be present.
First, there must be public decision-makers who recognize the significance of public buildings. It's also their job to make sure the resources exist in the first place.
Second, there must be conscientious staff to define the functional needs of the space.
Third, there must be architects of imagination, insight, and skill.
Fourth, there must be active civic involvement.
And so we come to our Oakes Mill Library. Our smallest 7-day-a-week building, Oakes Mill (on the corner of Lone Tree Parkway and Yosemite) is desperately crowded. It was built for 6,000 to 9,000 library materials. It currently houses some 37,000 items. And that's not enough.
In 1996, Douglas County voters approved sufficient resources to renovate or establish libraries in almost every area of the county: Oakes Mill, then the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, then Roxborough and Highlands Ranch, then Parker. This year, we're working on Oakes Mill.
So the Trustees are committed to finding the best solution for each of our locations. The resources are there. That takes care of the first condition of creating a good public building.
Branch Manager Gina Woods has created, with staff input and review, a thoughtful "program" for the building, carefully defining just what Oakes Mill should be doing as its serves the "neighborhood" of Acres Green and Lone Tree. That takes care of the second condition.
Third, the Library Board of Trustees has engaged architects Dennis Humphries and Joe Poli (the folks who transformed a bowling alley into our stunning Parker Library) to investigate alternatives for the building. At this point, we've narrowed down the options to two: renovate the building (roughly doubling the space on two, possibly three levels), or tear it down and start over, building a more logical new floor plan on a single floor.
There are, of course, several trade-offs between the two approaches. But the cost difference is much closer than I expected it to be.
So now we need some civic engagement.
At the Oakes Mill Library, Tuesday night, March 31, I will be presenting our options in more detail. I would very much like to hear from the residents of Acres Green and Lone Tree about this important civic project. It is they who will use the building, and I'd like it to suit them.