The Moffat County Library Board isn't ready to commit to seeking its own taxing district yet, but members know they face an uphill battle to convince taxpayers to pay more money for better services and the library's fiscal independence.
Library Director Donna Watkins admits it's a "tough sell." Before the Library Board commits to such a challenge, members are waiting to confirm that everyone is 100 percent on board. If that proves to be the case, a brainstorming committee will begin formulating a public relations campaign to enlist public support for a special taxing district next year.
We think the Library Board should proceed with a public-relations effort whether they seek their own mill levy. The library has proven to be one of the most efficient, far-reaching and beneficial services the county provides. Many would argue that a full-service library is a cornerstone of a vibrant community. An informational campaign could help the library increase traffic, regain its previous funding level and generate support from more volunteers.
One of the positive things the library has going for it is a proven history of fiscal responsibility. The board and Watkins are so good at saving money that the Moffat County Board of Commissioners forced them to dig into their "rainy day" reserve to pay operating costs this year.
As a result, many of the library's outreach programs have suffered. Library staff no longer can leave the building to conduct story hours, or book talks with schools because they don't have the personnel. The library is closed Sundays and on Saturdays for lunch. Watkins periodically closes the library for half-days to conduct staff training so library employees can stay on top of new technology, new software and discuss problems and customer service.
Almost 100,000 people walked through the doors of Moffat Countys' libraries in 2003 (obviously many were repeat customers), and the library circulated 96,000 items. Watkins directs her staff to ask everyone who walks through the door "Did you find what you were looking for?" as they leave. Many times, the answer is no, so library staff try to help patrons locate what they came for. This "human intervention" is time-consuming, but after all, what good is having a library if people can't find what they're looking for?
The library has remained focused on value-added quality services despite not getting the financial support they've received in the past. The staff provides training and assistance on the Internet-accessible computers, scanners, microfiche, copiers and computerized catalog. They've beefed up their Spanish-language materials, including a computer with a Spanish operating system, and have tried to provide story hours and programs for Spanish-speaking patrons.
They also offer services for the developmentally disabled and senior citizens.
Clearly, the library is making an effort to be as responsive as possible to the needs of individual stakeholders. But Watkins has to draw a line somewhere, usually between assistance and training. For example, the staff might show someone how to connect to the Internet, but then leave them with instructions on how to navigate it.
"A library is a quality of life issue and all we're able to do is hang on by our fingernails around here," Watkins said. "The community has to understand that libraries are not free."
Whether the public-relations campaign gets off the ground, we think it's long overdue. It's time we all stopped taking the library for granted.