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.
December 3, 2003 - Meeting Rooms
In the process of planning for our new Philip S. Miller Library, we conducted many focus groups. There was a consistent message: we needed more meeting rooms.
It was true. Our "big" meeting room -- about 700 square feet -- was booked every Monday through Thursday night, as much as a year in advance.
But there were, often, just three or four few people in each meeting. So our new building in Castle Rock, like the Highlands Ranch Library before it, offered lots of smaller spaces for people to get together.
For a long time, we have tried to make sure that non-commercial groups had first call on these spaces. That's what accounts for the high demand of use in the evenings -- everybody is at work during the day. In fact, we have often denied the use of our spaces for commercial uses.
Why the preferential treatment? Mainly, because we are a public institution. Businesses are more likely to have the resources to rent space for their gatherings. Our primary clientele, particularly as regards evening use, involves people volunteering for what I would call "community building" -- forming not-for-profit networks that invest in
youth, and/or allow neighbors to come together around some common causes.
Gathering space, in Douglas County, is hard to come by. It furthers the public good for public institutions to provide it.
That process is very much in keeping with our mission, and in keeping with what librarians do generally: gather, organize, and make publicly accessible all kinds of resources. In this case, the resource we're gathering is each other.
We have also had all kinds of restrictions against commercial use of library space. Meetings had to be open to all. You couldn't charge admission. The serving of alcohol was very strictly limited -- to after hours, to donated beer and wine, and requiring the advance permission of the Library Board of Trustees.
But with the expansion of available space at all of our libraries over the past several years, we've begun talking about opening things up more. For instance, during the day, why not allow businesses to book the space for their private meetings? Businesses, too, are part of our community.
So I've presented a proposal, based on some careful consideration by our staff, about some changes to our meeting room uses. We're in the discussion phase now, so your comments are eagerly solicited.
Here's the first part of the new policy proposal. In brief, we will annually open our meeting rooms for booking, much as we do now. We will invite the not-for-profit community to book the space first. This space would continue to be offered at no charge.
But the second call will be open, on a first-come, first-served basis, to any community user. Here's the big change: commercial users will be charged a nominal fee for the use of our larger rooms. Why charge anything? Because although I'm happy to invite new uses, I don't want to undercut existing businesses that do charge for meeting rooms.
I'm also proposing that we open up the library to the use of groups that might want to charge public admission: music and theater performances, for instance. The logic is that the library wants to be a center of culture, and the absence of an affordable venue is a serious problem in this county.
By far the most sensitive notion is that of allowing the use, in some very carefully described ways, of alcohol in the library. My idea of an appropriate use might be a fundraising dinner for a local non-profit, for example, or a wine and cheese reception for an art exhibit. The restrictions would be: EITHER after hours or in the evening only (not before 7 p.m. on a night that we are open until 9 p.m.). Again, beer and wine only, and only if donated; it can not be sold. Such groups would have to have insurance, and would have to add the library as a named insured. They would also have to assure us, in writing, that someone would be carefully watching to make sure that no one other than adults had access to the alcohol. The Board would still have to approve each request.
What do you think of such changes? We are also considering holding a public hearing on this topic. Until then, please direct your comments to me at email@example.com or leave a message for me at 303-688-7656.