As president of the Wilkinson Library Board, I know that I speak for the entire board in welcoming questions from the public about the library budget. The community cares deeply about the library and is invested in its success. I would like to talk about how we can make that a more constructive and inclusive process.
In January, Harvey Roisman wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Planet about the operations of the library. In February, he followed up on those comments by calling me and sharing his concerns. I invited him to come to a Board meeting, to discuss his issues, which primarily focused on employee benefits and the Sunday closing decision. The conversation at our March meeting was civil and constructive. Members of the board were able to clarify some factual matters, and didn’t agree with all of Mr. Roisman’s conclusions, but he made a number of well-considered points, which the board is seriously taking under consideration.
I would just like to compare the above process to that of the recent spate of flyers and bumper stickers, which have appeared around town. Difficult tradeoffs in a $2.4 million budget do not lend themselves to sound bites. Enough said.
In the case of the letter published last Thursday in the Watch, it is unfortunate that numbers are being used in isolation to question the integrity of the library administration and board. Specifically, Mr. Benson, a former library employee, is saying that travel expenses incurred over three years by the library director are excessive.
Wilkinson Public Library has a long history of participating in statewide and national library conferences, a practice that has helped the library develop and sustain its highly regarded and popular collections, services, and programs. Freely sharing knowledge and information is, after all, a cornerstone of librarianship – and that is precisely why libraries across the nation and state participate as fully as they can with the American Library Association and its Colorado affiliate, the Colorado Association of Libraries. Other travel is directly related to participation in the cost-sharing relationship the library enjoys as a member of the MARMOT regional consortium of libraries. Since Telluride is remote, travel is a part of participation in MARMOT, although “skyping” is also regularly used. MARMOT is one of the vehicles that allows our patrons to access materials that are not in Telluride’s library collection via interlibrary loan, and the organization is instrumental in the shared development of library software (the online catalog), including newly emerging digital/e-book resources.
It is not only the Library Director who has participated and benefited from travel. Staff has also attended conferences to make presentations and to spread to the library community some of the unique programs they have created. These conferences have enhanced their knowledge, which in turn enhances the services that they provide to our community. Travel within the library profession goes in both directions. Last fall, we hosted the Risk and Reward Conference in Telluride, with over 300 librarians from all over the country coming to Telluride to share ideas (and bring revenue to the community). Most libraries are struggling with similar financial issues to Telluride, but the library community deeply believes in sharing knowledge and investing in education. These are core values of librarianship. In the same spirit, the Wilkinson Library has traditionally invested in its people. There are three people on the staff who have benefited from tuition assistance in order to receive a Master’s of Library Science. I, for one, am happy that we have been able to enhance the resumes of all of our staff.
Notwithstanding the above, times have changed. The historic level of travel and personnel development was both sustainable and reasonable within past library budgets. Now that the library faces shrinking revenues, every line item in the budget, no matter how worthy, is subject to review and possible reduction.
The Wilkinson Library 2013 budget is available online at www.telluridelibrary.org for review by anyone. In response to recent suggestions, the library will make several printed copies available to check out at the front desk for library patrons. Library board meetings are open to the public, where public comments are always welcome.
We encourage anyone who wishes to help the library manage its budgetary challenges to join with us in deciding library priorities. In the next month you will be hearing about a consensus building process, which will help us define those priorities. We sincerely hope that we can pursue a constructive process with full community participation, which we believe is the best way to see that all priorities are fairly considered.
– Judy Thompson, President, Wilkinson Library Board of Trustees