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Dry Times, Indeed

June 7, 2002

Four point five million dollars. This comprises the budget cuts made by Colorado Governor Owen last week that entirely erased funding for three major library programs.

I could be sarcastic and say that our Kid-Friendly Governor is determined to provide more roads for Front Range kids to practice their insufficient driving skills on.

But I won’t. It’s a tough job being governor, and anyone who can smile and commit billions to new roads while cutting very efficient and valuable state library programs to save a few million … well, such a one is tough.

It’s not the end of the world. Our library is well-funded locally because of community support during recent elections, and most public libraries get most of their support — adequate or not — from local sources.

The Salida Regional Library gets about 85% of its annual revenue from property taxes.

Many people still think the library is a city library. The next most popular guess is county library. I remember one visitor who thought we might be a federal library and wanted to know for sure before he made photocopies on our machine.

He was also concerned about the federal government ruining our economy through something he called Negative NORAD Displacement.

Our library is actually a library district, something nice permitted under Colorado law. This tends to make us less “political” because we don’t have to appeal to a council every year at budget time. But one might argue that it makes us more political in that we appeal directly to our voters when needed.

But state support is important for efforts such as promoting cooperation among libraries. Libraries have a long history of this; sharing is their business. But interlibrary cooperation is best guided from above so that the most efficient arrangements can be made.

This is one of the many ways that public money spent in libraries is well invested. Libraries do a lot with relatively little. I’ve always considered libraries to be one of the best investments of my tax dollars.

Not everyone agrees, because not everyone knows. Consider the comments of a Washington State legislator about his governor’s decision to eliminate their state library. The legislator said he never used libraries anymore, anyway, because everything was online.

When pressed about this, he said he goes to the “Find It” web site to get everything he needs. “Find It” is a government information locater service, but the legislator did not know that it was invented, funded, and run by the very same Washington State Library that was being wiped out.

Ah, well. One reporter called library programs “low-hanging fruit” during budget cut time.

The Colorado programs cut included two resource sharing programs: the Colorado Resource Center (which reimbursed Denver Public Library for serving as a statewide resource — a clearinghouse of sorts) and the Payment for Lending program which reimbursed net lenders a small fraction in the never-ending Interlibrary Loan game.

These programs supported an efficient system of sharing among Colorado libraries, and right now the library community is trying to figure out if the sudden gap can be bridged.

The other program was the new State Grants to Libraries, which guaranteed a minimum of $3,000 to every library in Colorado — public, academic, and school — for educational materials.

Colorado was one of the last states with such a program, but now it’s gone. Dry times, indeed, but we’re still here and with a water cooler, no less. Pay us a visit this summer.


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