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.
April 2, 2003 - JBC Decision
I had intended to follow up on last week's column about the essential home library. But some actions taken this week by the Joint Budget Committee of the Colorado Legislature -- severe cuts in library funding, as well as many other programs -- deserve comment.
To begin with, I do understand that times are tough, and the job of cutting state services is difficult. It happens that I began my administrative career in libraries, back in Illinois, by having to deal with a 30% slash in revenue. This situation was not of my making, but it was my responsibility to deal with it. And I did.
So I don't hold the necessity of making cuts against the people having to make them. I do, however, have strong personal and professional feelings about the people and staggeringly short-sighted policies that led us to this moment -- the fiscal irresponsibility of both TABOR and Amendment 23, for instance.
Too, the philosophy that we should "give it back to the taxpayers" (whether through TABOR or the Governor's tax cut) when times are good has had this practical result: when times are bad, and people more desperately require the government services they reviled, those services can no longer be afforded. A modest personal refund doesn't buy you what the pooled resources used to. And that's all government is: a cooperative purchasing agreement.
But enough editorializing. The hard facts are these: since June 1 of last year, 85% of the state's spending on libraries -- and roughly 30 years of library progress -- has been eliminated. The recent Joint Budget Committee decisions zeroed out 7 regional library systems, our statewide courier system, and sharply reduced funding for the Talking Book Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
There's not much left -- a small State Library staff that itself looks terribly vulnerable for the next round of cuts.
The existing cuts won't take effect until this fall, and the effect, even then, probably won't be immediate or startling to much of the public. Library systems, for instance, provided consulting, automation support, planning assistance, and continuing education for libraries. They've repeatedly demonstrated their ability to make libraries more effective, both in terms of service and of cost. But it will take time for the lack of those services to show themselves.
I predict that in the coming months and years, many Colorado libraries will move in the following directions:
* cost recovery for interlibrary loan transactions. For years, the cost of delivery (from one library to another) has been subsidized in part by the state. In essence, this program meant that other libraries would ship to your local library almost anything you wanted. This greatly expanded what your library could offer. Gradually, this service will be available only to those who can afford it.
* the elimination of the Colorado Library Card. This program allowed you to use your local library card at close to 100% of the public libraries and universities in the state. You just walked in, presented your card, and got to check things out. This too was in part underwritten by the state in the form of modest grants to purchase more materials. Absent that funding, thrown back on diminishing local resources, I expect libraries to begin charging a "non-resident fee" for anybody outside their actual service area (typically, a town or county). Not one fee statewide, but a fee for each of the libraries you want to use.
* the Balkanization of library catalogs. The State Library has encouraged the development of large coalitions of library catalogs and databases. The advantage to the public is that they can perform one search, and see the holdings of many libraries. But those coalitions take central staff. If you can't borrow what other libraries own, who cares what they've got?
The bottom line is this: the Colorado library community, through visionary leadership and just a little seed money from the state, managed to weld together a truly unified statewide library system, one of the best in the United States. That system, which was itself a powerful forced for local economic development, and benefiting rural areas in particular, is being dismantled before our eyes.
From now on, fiscal realities may dictate a new operational motto: it's every library for itself.