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 4, 2008 - back up to move forward
Back in my early twenties, I had an unusually vivid dream. I was driving a car, when suddenly, a big concrete wall loomed up in front of me. Crash!
For a moment, I was stunned, stopped, horrified. Then, I gradually realized that I wasn't bleeding. Nothing was broken. I put the car in reverse, and slowly backed up. Everything seemed to be working. I pulled forward around the blockade. And woke up.
The meaning was clear enough. Back then, I had a gift for making spectacularly bad romantic choices. The dream was about another breakup ... that I survived.
I find the image apt for the 2008 library election. Crash! - 52.6% of the county voted down a mill levy increase.
Castle Pines North voted for the mill levy increase at 62%. Parker approved it at 51%. Highlands Ranch and Lone Tree came in at 48%; Castle Rock at 43%, and Roxborough at 38%. But despite regional differences, the total is what matters.
The library was on the road to keeping pace with growth and demand. And after two attempts to make that case to the voters, I think we have to assume that the community has spoken. That road is blocked.
But as in my dream, I find that the library is still whole. In the entire history of the library district (formed in 1990) we have never taken on any debt. We have an extraordinary staff, whose dedication and skills are intact. On the basis of public use, of staff productivity, of community connection and impact, we are among the most successful public libraries in the nation.
That's not a bad place to be.
Of course, there are still some significant discrepancies in library services around the county. Our Parker Library is woefully inadequate. Castle Pines has no library at all. That's a service problem.
As we sat down to finalize our 2009 budget, we made another couple of discoveries. For the first time, our expenditures are exactly equal to our anticipated revenues. There's no wiggle room, and thus no contribution to our savings. Recent projections suggest that all of Douglas County may see a drop in assessed valuation next year. That means a drop in library revenue.
So not only will we not be growing, it's time to trim our sails. The alternative is to do nothing, and have to meet a crisis the following year, when only the most drastic action is possible. That puts too many library workers at risk.
Responsible leadership means that we have to make some thoughtful reductions in service in 2009.
We are not alone. I am well aware that this exactly parallels what's going on in many households across America. When times are tight, you can't do all the things you could do before.
In January, 2009, our Library Board and staff will begin to consider some changes in our service offerings. I anticipate that some of those changes might begin to be seen in June of next year.
Meanwhile, I'm taking a month off from writing newspaper columns. I've got some thinking to do.
Sometimes, you have to back up a little before you can move forward.
LaRue's Views are his own.