Before I get into library finances, I should clarify something that confuses a lot of people. Douglas County Libraries is not part of some other government agency. We are not a department of the county, although we share geographic boundaries. We receive no money from them, nor from any of the cities or towns or school district in Douglas County.
Instead, we are an independent library district, created in accordance with state statute, by a vote of the people, in 1990. Virtually all our funding comes from a voter approved property tax of 4 mills. In 2009, that generates (with a few other smaller streams of income) about $21 million.
On January 10, the library Board of Trustees and senior staff met to set a course for the future. In three hours, we adopted a refocused mission and vision statement, reviewed our financial status and goals, and finally, adopted some specific plans for the next three to five years.
Over the next three weeks, I'd like to cover those issues in more detail.
First (this week), what does the library stand for?
Second (next week), what is our financial status in these troubled times?
Third (two weeks from now), what does our mission direct us to do to respond to our budget issues? To put it more positively: what are our plans?
"Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." - John Kenneth Galbraith
Isn't it the truth? Every single one of us has held onto strategies that have been clearly demonstrated not to work. Women trapped in situations with abusive men finally get themselves out -- only to immediately hook up with another one.
Business owners persist in plans that focus firmly on a long-gone past (think the American automobile industry) or demonstrate the most incredibly cynical and short-sighted greed (subprime lending, for instance).
Politicians -- whether it's fostering Great Society welfare dependency, or proclaiming the gospel of market deregulation up to, and right past, the point of public health or industry collapse -- just can't accept the fact that negative results disprove really bad ideas.
Every day we find out that things we just know to be true, aren't true at all. And even though our erroneous premises cause us direct damage, we pull ourselves together and bravely ... stay the course.
Maybe if we just try harder... If we just BELIEVE...
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.