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.
June 9, 1999 - Owens Vetoes Library Bill
Colorado is unusual in many respects, but not least is the way we make it easy for people to use our libraries. I've lived in states where crossing an invisible line meant that you suddenly had to fork over $100 a year to use a nearby library. And if you wanted to directly connect to your local library's computer, then the next library to it, that meant two phone calls, usually running two different telecommunication protocols.
But here we have something called the Colorado Library Card. If you're a bona fide resident of one library's service area, most of the rest of us give you a card for our library, too. Cost to you: zero.
We also have something called ACLIN -- one phone call that connects you to every library web page and catalog in the state. That's all free, too.
In other words, your local Colorado library has expanded its mission to serve not just local constituents, but a state-wide community. Using mostly local revenues, we have put in place a remarkable system for sharing resources. It is truly a model to the nation.
But now that we have built a fine network for borrowing each other's materials, we need something to lend. Since these resources serve a populace well beyond that of our local funding bases, it's logical to seek state-wide, supplementary income. As President of the Colorado Library Association this past year, I've been working on this, along with many, many others.
I'm pleased to report that our proposal -- Senate Bill 93 -- passed both the Colorado Senate and the House this year. It enjoyed strong support from both parties, as libraries often do.
I'm dismayed, however, to report that last week Governor Owens vetoed SB93, which would have provided $2,000,000 annually to Colorado's school, public, and college libraries for the purchase of educational materials.
The chief beneficiaries of this bill would have been Colorado's rural libraries. The $3,000 minimum grant, for some libraries, would have more than doubled their ability to buy materials. At a time when we're striving so hard to improve our children's reading and writing scores, surely an estimated 100,000 extra books around the state each year might have helped.
In Douglas County, we planned to use our share of the money (about $64,000) to purchase business start-up materials, information that would assist local home office/small office entrepreneurs in forming a sound business plan, and in navigating the maze of government regulations.
What was Owens' objection to the bill? Well, published reports say that he believed children should be protected from pornography and violence on the Internet. According to less official sources, he believed that software filtering should be mandated for all libraries providing Internet access to minors.
But this bill wasn't about the Internet. The grants could only be used for the purchase of educational materials, real CONTENT, not to buy computers or Internet access.
Moreover, most libraries that do provide public Internet access have already adopted policies governing its use; some require filters, others don't. This decision is both institutional and local. For instance, a university health sciences library might quite appropriately adopt a different policy than a rural K-6 schoolhouse.
Finally, while no one -- librarians least of all -- wants to see our public institutions turned into peep shows, it is flat out unrealistic to expect that your local librarian, armed only with software intended for home use, can tame an unregulated, international communications medium. If we were to make such an impossible promise to our patrons, we'd rightly be branded liars and fools.
Meanwhile, most libraries -- like every other institution these days -- are finding that the World Wide Web has changed things. A policy we have long abided by is the idea of equal access to minors: that even young people had the right to examine anything they were liable to find in a library. As I have written many times, literacy is its own defense.
But now, the World Wide Web provides access to things that we didn't put in libraries before, most specifically graphic sexual content. Do the same policies still work, still make sense? Many practicing librarians would say "probably not." So we're thoughtfully trying to figure out what kinds of solutions will work best for our own institutions.
At the Douglas Public Library District, on occasion, we find youngsters looking at something that isn't appropriate in a public setting. We shoo them away. The plain truth is: this "problem" is more a matter of media hype than anything substantial.
Nonetheless, librarians provided to Governor Owens several drafts of language to meet his concerns about this issue. Our only communication in response was a veto -- and a host of unreturned e-mails, phone calls, and letters from around the state.
As a result, Colorado remains one of only 4 states in the Union that does not provide per capita aid to its libraries. That is our collective loss, and no one's gain.