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Good Fortune

February 9, 2004

While we might be willing to accuse others of it, certainly none of us would take pleasure in the gap between our own good fortune and another’s suffering.

We might be this way because we know that fortunes are cyclical, or we are honest enough to recognize the role of luck in our circumstances, or we have suffered ourselves.

Ultimately, the suffering of others does affect our own lives.

Thus, we find ourselves discussing library funding again. Fear not, for the Salida Regional Library is healthy. But not every Colorado library is so fortunate. During the economic crisis of the last two years, library funding from the state has dropped 79%. Local support has decreased by more than $11 million.

When you consider that some libraries, such as in Chaffee County and Douglas County, have seen growth during that period, you can infer that other libraries have been particularly hard hit.

Some of those libraries matter a lot to our users, because they were heavy lenders via interlibrary loan — Denver Public Library, UC-Boulder, the UC Health Sciences library.

Consider how we recently needed to get information faxed for a patron on short notice. Boulder Public Library had the book, and so I called.

With evident pain, the librarian explained that she would do it — as a professional courtesy — but that they were not supposed to be providing such service outside their city now. They were too shorthanded. And could we pay something?

This is very different weather from three years ago. Back then, we would have called the Colorado Resource Center at Denver Public first, since they received state funding to be the CRC.

But we also could have called Boulder or any library and gotten the service without hesitation. Most libraries are busy, but any library would have helped us, as we would have them, and then gotten on with business without much thought about the cost of a fax.

It more or less came out in the wash, and encouragement of cooperation through certain state programs kept everyone working together. Now, balkanization is inevitable.

It’s not that interlibrary loan has stopped, but the ready sharing of everything, including time and expertise, has necessarily waned.

Colorado libraries share in many efforts, such as Interlibrary Loan and the new online reference service called AskColorado. We belong to one of several consortia in the state that sponsor online library catalogs. The state library runs the Colorado Virtual Library (CVL) and the SWIFT electronic interlibrary loan system, both of which collect and connect library catalogs for easy use.

But none of this is for certain anymore. Libraries are currently lobbying representatives to continue minimum support for two state programs: a single, stripped-down regional library service system, where once there were seven, to provide such services as the statewide courier system used for interlibrary loan; and the CVL/ACLIN/SWIFT network.

These services need state funding: $600,000 for the first, $376,000 for the second. This kind of resource sharing should be an abiding state interest.

So here’s a public service announcement: Write or call your representatives. I did. I offer you the library issue as a sample topic, but any carefully wrought opinion will do. The President may never hear your thoughts, but your legislators do.

The Mountain Mail periodically publishes contact information, but an excellent website makes it easy, too: <http://www.vote-smart.org&gt;. You can find your representatives by zip code and get address, phone, email, website info and more.

Speak your mind.

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