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Let’s continue with library history

December 7, 2015

Let’s continue with library history. In January 1995, I became the library director, and at the February board meeting I proposed that we pursue a certain low-interest federal loan as a way of financing the construction of a much-needed library addition.

The 1908 Carnegie building was tightly packed and difficult for many people to enter (impossible for a wheelchair). I did not know the board well and was grateful when president Betty Blackwell wasted no time in moving that we proceed.

Our preliminary application was approved, and we needed some design work by a certain date. We found an architect, and I faxed him a letter and drawing. He quickly replied he was interested, but … um … the building couldn’t look like what I drew. (Good.)

The design and cost estimates were done in time for a final loan approval, which came in time for us to get on the ballot for the November 1995 election. (Zoom.)

We had two questions: one to sell bonds for construction and the other to raise the mill levy from 2.5 to 3.5 mills to cover operating a larger facility, expanding library hours, and increasing our book budget. They passed by a 2:1 margin. We were very happy.

Immediately, the federal agency rep came to speak to the county commissioners, who at that time had to be involved in our bond issue. And by the way he’d be bringing their architect who would be overseeing the project and our architect. (What?)

It was an unhappy day. The presentation to the commissioners was awkward and depressing, after which we went back to the library and spent three hours going through an enormous stack of papers I would have to deal with. My face hid nothing. The agent said, “Don’t worry. We’ll help you.”

But I couldn’t do it. I immediately went back to county attorney Ken Baker. He said, “Do you really want to do this?” I apologized for the unanticipated presentation, said forget everything you heard because we had to do something else …

… which was to sell bonds on the private market instead of using the funds for the federal loan. We were fortunate to sell during a low point in the bond market, and the funds came directly to us.

This freedom was important. For one, we were able to customize our payment schedule and shorten the schedule from 20 to 16 years, saving $100,000 in interest (the federal agency preferred a 40-year loan but would do 30). Then, a couple of months later, the construction bids came in far above our estimates. Another unhappy day.

We began a fundraising drive. I preferred election questions to fundraising, but in the end we had to do both. However, volunteers came forward to help raise money, and the community responded wonderfully.

We raised more money and cut things from the project and came to a middle ground. Construction was delayed a year, and we moved into the new addition just before Christmas 1997.

Then, we emptied the old Carnegie building and worked on that, eventually filling the upstairs with shelving. We had a grand opening in April 1998.

What does all that mean? There were many lessons, but the big one was that a community gets the library it wants. The director, staff, and board have important roles, but you can only lead a horse to water. Our community wanted a good library, made it happen, and proceeded to use it. (Thanks!)

The new library was followed by many years of growth, which we’ll talk about next time.


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