by: Donna Bryson
DENVER (AP) — Libraries are sedate and quiet — nothing like a tussle over control of a library system that has erupted in northern Colorado.
This week, elected leaders from five Weld County towns and from the county commission agreed to move ahead with an effort to oust the entire High Plains Library District Board, which some librarians in rural parts of the county accuse of trying to take over their libraries. A sixth member of the tax district, the city of Greeley, has not joined the campaign.
The district and its independent libraries partners have been sharing resources since 1985, when they banded together to survive in the face of cuts in federal funding that had supported a range of local services. Issues that have been rankling for decades may seem minor — such as who should decide how many books can be checked out at a time, or how much to charge a library patron who wants to use the copying machine. But Don Warden, who helped draft the library district’s rules when he was Weld County director of in the 1980s, said the local library is “part of the identity of their community” for many in rural Colorado.
“It’s a sensitive issue that goes beyond libraries,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday. “They want to maintain control.”
The library tussle is part of a larger reaction to a demographic shift from rural to urban. Last year, Weld County elected officials were the first to raise a secession question. Weld was among the six counties where voters rejected breaking away to form a rural 51st state in November. Five counties passed secession measures, seen as messages from prairie towns to urban centers that they see as arrogant and aloof.
Now, the six members of the High Plains Library District Board, who deny any takeover intentions, are getting the message.
Kelli Johnson, spokeswoman for the embattled board, told AP she’s heard the charges the board was attempting a takeover of local libraries when district officials approached their partners across Weld County to talk about how to implement a centralized computer system and other changes aimed at improving efficiency. It underlined a sense felt for years that rules were unclear on how the district board and libraries with their own boards are to work together, she said.
Johnson said the board sought input on operational matters. The board includes members who have worked for libraries in the region for years and are committed to cooperation and serving all patrons, she said.
But Jerry Krois, library director in Eaton, one of the communities pushing to oust the board, told AP he was left feeling he was “not being listened to, not being respected at all by the board.”
In 1985, six municipalities, a Weld County school district and Weld County formed what would become the High Plains Library District Board. Local libraries get two-thirds of the funds generated in their service areas by mill levies, and the rest goes to a district fund for shared services, such as book mobiles and an inter-library system. The district serves more than 200,000 residents in Weld and parts of some neighboring counties. Over the years, the district has opened branch libraries in growing communities that did not have their own libraries in 1985.
Over the next month — if they are not slowed by a court injunction the district board has said it will pursue — community leaders in the district will be voting to ratify the board members’ ouster and name elected officials such as mayors in their place.
Warden, who is semi-retired and now working as an interim Weld County finance director, said he worries a protracted legal battle is ahead. “That’s probably the heartbreak of the whole thing,” he said.