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.
Back when I lived in Greeley, I got word one day that Reverend Jesse Jackson was coming through town. It was his second run at the Presidency, and he was going to give a whistle stop talk. I had heard he was a good orator, so ran over on my lunch break to give him a listen.
He used the traditional call and response technique: he'd shout out a phrase, everyone would shout it back, and eventually, it would work into a complete sentence.
On the one hand, that's kind of fun. There's a lot of energy around that kind of group response. On the other hand, it reminds of the joke about why Unitarians make terrible choir members: they're all reading ahead to see if they still agree. I felt distinctly uncomfortable shouting out political statements when I didn't know quite where they were going.
Jesse Jackson is perhaps best known for his 1971 "I AM ... SOMEBODY" speech, which used the same technique. And that speech inspired an interesting project I just heard about. It's called "I Am -- the Library." It's an "ethnographic video project, which documents the everyday ways a public library is used."
On August 21, 2008, the Library Board of Trustees adopted a resolution to place a mill levy increase question on the November ballot. That ballot will ask for voter approval for 1 (one) mill. 0.4 mills will be retired when the building projects are paid for -- which is estimated to take about 20 years. One mill is $7.96 per year on each $100,000 of home value.
What are the projects? A neighborhood library in Castle Pines (in leased space), a new Parker Library (on donated land), and a new Lone Tree Library (also on donated land). They would open in 2009, 2011, and 2012, respectively. Castle Rock and Highlands Ranch would also see some building improvements as funds are available, but not later than 2012.
The proposal is different from last year's in three ways.
* It's cheaper. Our public feedback revealed a lot of concern about the economy. We heard you. Despite rising construction costs, we lowered the anticipated expense by scaling back the projects, and phasing in their construction. The library has always taken an aggressively conservative approach to public expenditures. We still do.
When I was 18, I came up with a basic life philosophy. I called it "the expandable egg."
Imagine a chicken in the egg. One day, the young chick is aware of pressure. That pressure is uncomfortable, then constraining, and finally intolerable.
So the chick starts to kick and peck. She breaks out of the egg.
And immediately: Wow, it's big out here! So the first instinct is to seek shelter. Under mom, away from mysterious threats.
But eventually, the chick gets bolder, and starts exploring. After a while, she learns all kinds of shortcuts to the best or hidden food. What was immense and unknowable becomes familiar.
And then, it becomes too familiar. Constraining. One day, the chick pokes through the fence, and --- wow, it's big out here!
Learning is an egg that gets bigger and bigger.
It applies to using libraries, too.
In Douglas County, many, many children are first exposed to libraries through storytimes. Here they fall in love with one or more of our staff, discover fascinating stories, learn fun finger plays and songs.