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.
February 25, 2004 - Trustee Training Workshop
I just returned from a "Trustee Training" workshop in Pueblo. Some 100 or so board members of public libraries showed up -- representing libraries stretching from north of Denver to the southeast corner of the state.
This may well be one of the last such programs for a while. The sponsors of the two day event were two of the remaining library "systems" in the state. Our legislature has all but eliminated system funding. Two years ago, 50 people made up the staff of these 7 regional support systems. Now there are just a handful. By the end of this year, there will be none.
There are some lessons in all this. First, it has become abundantly clear that the state neither understands nor supports local libraries. In fact, it goes out of its way to punish them. I got a look at the final figures: our 79% reduction of state support far exceeds that of any other state in the union. The next biggest hit after Colorado was a state that lost about 25 percent of their state funding.
Is the state facing a funding crisis? Sure, and one largely of its own making. But that doesn't explain why libraries are first on the hit list.
Second, it's also clear that the hundreds of local people who volunteer their time to serve on the library board -- the business people, the seniors, the moms, the folks from all walks of life and, yes, BOTH political parties -- have a keen appreciation for the role of the library in their towns.
I heard a most inspiring tale from Woodland Park. The library passed a bond issue for a much needed new building -- which wound up being constructed smack in the middle of everything.
When the Hayman Fire raged nearby, ham radio operators approached the library board to ask if they could put a tower on what was now the highest building around to help coordinate rescue and emergency operations. The library immediately agreed. Now, there's a permanent ham radio station operating from the basement of the building.
I heard about the new library in Louisville, a rallying cry for people who want to hang onto the vibrant downtown in an age of malls.
I toured the new Pueblo Library, an altogether remarkable building, part of Pueblo's surprising level of investment in public art in their downtown, joining the river walk, a new museum, and even a working historical excavation, right across from the conference center.
I'm puzzled by the disconnect between what some of our legislators think about libraries (we're hotbeds of liberal pornography, apparently), and what is absolutely plain in the 135 or so towns and cities that host public libraries.
Colorado's libraries are directed by governing boards that are deeply involved in, deeply committed to, the social, economic, and intellectual well-being of their communities. Libraries are not entities pushing some arrogant agenda of their own. Instead, they are tools communities use to solve a host of local problems, from teen drop-outs to emergency services to homeschooling support to the provision of venues for public meetings and artistic performances.
And we do it using the tools we've always used: collections of staff, materials, and true public space.
Aside from the baffling hostility of the state, this is actually a very exciting time to be working in public libraries. The trend in Colorado is that the public library is moving closer to the heart of community planning, one more local asset to bring to the table.
I'm struck by an interesting dichotomy. Much is made of the physical infrastructure of government -- a code word for highways. Colorado also has, and needs, an intellectual infrastructure, and that means more than the blather of talk radio. (I guess that does give people something to do on the highway, although may I recommend one of our books on tape or CD instead?)
I take some comfort in the fact that although the state is eagerly dismantling our intellectual freeways, our local communities are still building and driving on them. The fact that these roads will soon stop at the edge of town is something the state doesn't seem to know, or care, about.