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, January 28, 2004

January 28, 2004 - loss of state funding

There's a story told about George Bernard Shaw. He was sitting next to a well-dressed woman at a fancy dinner party. "Madam," he said, "would you sleep with me for one million pounds?"

The woman smiled wickedly. "I most certainly would!"

"Would you sleep with me for one pound?" Shaw asked.

"What sort of woman do you take me for?" she sputtered.

"We've settled that," said Shaw. "Now we're just dickering over the price."

Well, the Colorado legislature is in session, and Colorado librarians are trying to decide just what our price is.

Three years ago, Colorado libraries received about $6 million annually from the State. The first $2 million was something called "State Grants to Libraries." Qualifying libraries got a minimum of $3,000 each. In the two years this program was in operation, an estimated 200,000 books were purchased, and under the terms of the money, they were all fair game to be borrowed by anybody in the state.

The second $2 million went to the Denver Public Library, for serving as our State Library, and providing walk-in circulation and reference services for the readers far beyond the Denver city limits. They also lent many items through the same statewide Interlibrary Loan program.

The final $2 million went to 7 regional "systems." The systems weren't very well understood by, or visible to, the public. While the libraries in the metropolitan area tend to be pretty good, staffed with trained librarians, mostly housed in good buildings, that's not true elsewhere in Colorado. The systems have provided basic training for library staff, assistance in applying for grants, cooperative networks to help libraries get their materials on line, and much more.

The systems were also responsible for coordinating all kinds of inter-library cooperation, including our statewide courier -- the means through which we have been able to DELIVER books from one library to the patron of another.

Governor Owens used his line item veto to zero out the state grants to libraries two years ago.

Next to go was the Denver Public Library funding. The same year, Denver got hit again by city cuts, and has now slashed its book budget, laid off staff, and reduced the hours of its Main Library.

System budgets were the last to go - zeroed out last year. But a few hardy legislators managed to scrape up $600,000 to keep it alive for another year. Since then, we've done a lot of restructuring. We've whittled the 7 systems down to just one. Only a handful of system employees remain.

Naturally, the reduced system won't do nearly as much as it did before. But the $600,000 would at least keep the courier service afloat, and provide for some basic statewide cooperation.

But of course, there is no budget for systems this year, either.

As one of my colleagues put it, "This breaks my heart." It took 30 years to put together a system that not only was remarkably inexpensive, but truly served as a model for the nation. It took just three years to rip it to shreds.

But the state doesn't seem to be through with us. After an 87% cut in the state's commitment to our funding, it has come up with a way for us to SPEND money -- a true unfunded mandate that also has the by-product of making the things we can still afford, almost useless.

And all we have to do is to put our virtue on the auction block.

But that's next week's topic.

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