Telluride Library Closed On Sundays: Protest During Telluride Film Fest 2013

Unfortunately, the Wilkinson Library Board opted to apparently follow the lead of the director, Barb Brattin in closing the library on Sundays.   This change took effect in early January of 2013 amid a wide array of protests from various community members as well as a special joint meeting of the San Miguel County Board of Commissioners and the Wilkinson Library Board to address this issue in particular.

Basically, the Library Board is claiming a projected reduction in annual revenues (due to declining property values) is “forcing” them to take such drastic action.  While it might be true that revenues will decline over at least the next couple of years, the fact of the matter is this special taxing entity incurs revenues of close to 2.5 million dollars for a town of about 2,500 residents and county which is just over 5,000.   The library has been open on Sundays as long as I can remember and is a key core community asset – funded by taxpayers – which both residents and visitors can utilize and enjoy.

What has changed over the past several years is a dramatic increase in programming designed to engage the community in various respects; whether it’s educational, recreational, birthday parties, historical, private interests, etc.    Speakers will use the program room for presentations.  Yoga or dance groups will use the program for their purposes.    I saw the Dali Llama speak in Aspen over a cybercast presentation.  Special culinary programming takes place on a weekly basis during peak seasons.   Various music related activities use the program room.  The Telluride Film Festival transforms the program room into a venue for it’s annual festival.  There are too many programs to mention in one breath.

I think a lot of these activities are excellent and am in support of their existence if possible; however, most exist via some form of subsidization via library funding … at the very least to maintain the facilities, administer and supervise the events, as well as promotional activity.

Similarly, it appears that staff and related expenses have increased over the past several years in order to facilitate what can only be described as a “quasi day care facility”.   It is difficult for any library patron NOT to notice the presence of kids in the library.  This is not to say that kids shouldn’t be in the library.  Hardly.  It’s a question of how they got there and who’s picking up the tab.  I’ve heard reports of “after day care” services marching kids into the library and then leaving them for their parents to pick up later.    Some parents who work in town may instruct their (older) kids to go to the library until their work shift is over.    The scenarios are numerous.   This might seem benign enough, but who is going to watch over the kids?  The library has apparently grown it’s staff according over the years to address this issue.

I was one of about 40 people in attendance at the joint meeting and it was clear the overwhelming vast majority of those who spoke were in favor of keeping the library open on Sundays and had an issue with the excessive degree of programming and “day care” which would remain in tact.    I believe there was one individual who spoke out in favor of programming – who happened to be the son of one of the Library Board members.   What most of the attendees wanted to see happen was essentially to allow the basic core services of the library remain open 7 days a week – as has been the case for as long as anyone could remember and make cuts to programming and child care related services.  I think most of us who are in opposition to the Sunday closure don’t have an issue with programming in and of itself, but rather that it’s taking priority over fundamental services residents and taxpayers have grown to expect.

Seth Cagin was recently reappointed to the Library Board – who seemed to be a major proponent of Sunday closures in lieu of making immediate cuts to programming and related items.  While both the director and the board have invited the public to meetings and general discourse, it is clear from the dialogue which has transpired that they’re not relenting on their position.  So, at this point, it seems the only course of action is that of civil disobedience.  Since the film festival is the most visible “programming event”, it might make sense for those individuals who are interested in protesting the overall position of the Library Director and Board to do so in such a way that sends a message.

More on this later ….

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