This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

April 16, 2003 - Library Troubles

These are hard times for Colorado libraries, and they are getting worse.

Over the past several weeks, I've talked to my colleagues on the West Slope and the Front Range, in rural Colorado and the metro area. I've talked to librarians working in schools, colleges, and municipalities.

All of them are in trouble.

There are a variety of factors. The most crucial, for public libraries, has been the abrupt loss of city sales tax revenue. Some libraries, such as Denver Public, have already sustained up to 25% losses within a single year, with more to come. Virtually every city librarian I talk to has lost positions, or is about to.

I've mentioned before that bad times in the economy inevitably result in an increase of library use. People come in to rent what they used to buy, or to read job ads, or to work on their resumes, or to meet people who also find themselves at liberty.

The demand for library services is going up. The resources necessary to meet that demand, and even the hours some libraries will be open, are going down.

College and academic libraries are also facing massive reductions, but here the cause is the drop in state revenues. Libraries aren't being singled out, generally, but their fortunes are closely tied to higher education funding. In Colorado, this year, that's not a good thing.

So my colleagues in college and universities are looking at significant lay-offs, and sharply curtailed purchases of books and journals.

Right now, school librarians don't seem to be as hard hit, in part because their revenues are based on property taxes, rather than more volatile sales taxes. But in Colorado, school libraries have been fighting their own budget battles -- and losing -- for many years before the current crisis.

Colorado libraries may take comfort, or even more alarm, in the fact that this severe downturn in library fortunes is nationwide. The Queens Public Library in New York is slashing hours and staff. The University of Michigan just cut 30 jobs. Minneapolis Public is hacking off 10% of its services and staff.

The news isn't all bad, of course. The New York Times recently announced the expansion of its annual awards for librarians, recognizing librarians who provide outstanding community service on a consistent basis.

The Columbus (Ohio) Metropolitan Library just got nearly $450,000 in donations toward a new branch library. Right here in Castle Rock, our library district is completing a new branch that will be built without a penny of public debt. (But also, thank goodness, with many private donations.)

How, though, shall we make sense of our times?

Here's a suggestion. Read "The Fourth Turning," by William Strauss and Neil Howe. Written in 1997, "The Fourth Turning" is mainly concerned with various strong cycles in American history. Those cycles are economic, social, and cultural. They even directly address the likelihood and severity of war.

According to the authors, America in many areas is coming to the end of an autumn, feeling the first tinges of a winter. Strauss and Howe predicted the current recession, and the challenges faced by both business and government.

In times of crisis, Americans look to their enduring institutions. Over the next decade or so, librarians will need to work smarter, do more with less, form new partnerships, and reach out to both their communities, and the rare philanthropists within them.

As Strauss and Howe point out, even if winter is coming, winter comes every year. Let's hope this one isn't too severe, or lasts too long.

And let's remember that in time, there will be spring. Even for Colorado libraries.

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