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.
September 25, 2008 - more answers to public questions
I've been giving a lot of my personal time lately to talking to various community groups about the library's ballot question this fall, question 5A. (And yes, these columns are written on my time, too.)
Let me begin with something wonderful. At every talk, someone tells me about the fine, often extraordinary service they got from our staff. I believe it.
Thank you, oh passionate and dedicated Douglas County Libraries staff! Your service is the library's product.
But some people also have doubts, questions, and concerns, not previously addressed in this space. I thought I'd speak to some of them here.
* The county has grown through the years. Haven't library revenues grown with it?
Yes, our revenues have grown (although not nearly as fast as demand!). But here's the bottom line: our annual budget is $20 million. The cost of a new, desperately needed library in Parker is $23 million. The cost of a new Lone Tree Library (and the structured parking it needs for the site) is another $20 million. Our current revenues are enough for our current operations. But they are not enough to build -- or operate -- the larger facilities Douglas County needs.
* The proposed Parker Library is not friendly to people with disabilities.
The proposed library is at this point little more than a site plan and concept. If new funding is approved, the library will give all of 2009 to a comprehensive and public design process. The needs of all our users will be carefully considered. We picked an architect, not a floor plan.
* The library should take a page from the school district and put mobile library buildings on the proposed new sites.
This proposal has at least four problems. First, the sites in Parker and Lone Tree are all on donated land. But the donation is contingent upon an election win. The owners offered that land because they want libraries, not trailers. And if the library issue fails, I guarantee the owners will quickly move to other options.
Second, libraries aren't classrooms. I can't help but wonder: How would we divvy up the space? Children's books in one mobile? Adult bestsellers in another?
Third, books are really heavy. The basic mobile isn't designed for the load. That means each one would need extensive modification, at significant cost.
Fourth, wouldn't all of these mobiles need dedicated staff? And backup staff? And restrooms? This begins to sound like a lot of overhead.
Here's my judgment: school-style mobiles, library trailers, are expensive, unwieldy, and would be utterly unsatisfactory to all parties. It's a bad solution for libraries.
* Library demand is driven by population growth. Assess a developer impact fee instead of trying to raise taxes!
Several developers have actually been very supportive of the library. But the library lacks any statutory authority to mandate developer fees. Nor can anyone else collect them for us. We depend upon the kindness of strangers.
* I'm concerned that (a) the library allowed Republicans to register voters outside the library, or (b) that the Democrats are distributing pro-library material.
OK, you caught us. The library is Republican. And Democrat. And unaffiliated. As rare as it may be in today's environment to say this, the library is definitively non-partisan. We are both neutral and common ground.
Surely, there must be some things we can agree on. Allow me to offer some suggestions:
* it is better to have children who read than children who don't.
* it is better to have citizens registered to vote than citizens who aren't.
* it is better to have voters who are well-informed than voters who are clueless. (Incidentally, see the library website for both online information and public programs about all kinds of election issues: DC Elections iGuide, and Civic Engagement events.)
* it is better to support institutions that build community than to support efforts that divide us.
LaRue's Views are his own.