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Libraries need support

Heather Sappenfield

When the Kobe Bryant debacle was going on, I watched Diane Sawyer stand before the television camera in all her loveliness after the commercial break and begin her segue into the larger story with “Little Eagle County, Colorado. …” Her intent was to show that we were a podunk, backwoods dealing with the “big world.” I lost all respect for her and her scriptwriters. A three-minute check of statistics would have revealed that we’re spatially the largest county in the state, that we have a 43 percent college graduation rate (almost twice the national average), and that we’re predicted to be Colorado’s next major population center. Or she could just have stepped into our libraries, and we could have shown her a thing or two.My husband and I have a saying: You can gauge a community by its libraries. I believe this has held true throughout history. They are sanctuaries where citizens and visitors, regardless of age, race, or financial stature can enter, gratis, and enjoy the direct feedback of how well a community values literacy, art and itself. In our case, we in “little Eagle County” should hold our heads very high indeed.Yet, libraries can be even more than cultural founts. Let me illustrate what I mean by telling you my story: In 1999 I resigned from my teaching position at Battle Mountain High School to be a stay-at-home mom for our daughter. It was a painful choice. I loved my career and my students, but my husband and I felt strongly that we wanted our child to be raised at home by her own parents (what a concept). What made the choice even more difficult was our impending financial situation. My husband is also a teacher and, well, you know the cliches about teacher salaries. Add to the equation the exorbitant valley in which we live, and we had a monthly dollars in vs. out that tallied to cents. Any way we looked at it, we were going to be financially strapped. So, we buckled down, got rid of the car payments, settled into a strict budget, and began the joy of raising our daughter without the chaos of day care and juggled schedules. We were so poor it hurt.There was no dining out. No new clothes. No skiing. No expensive groceries. I could go on and sound a bit like Dickens – no anything that required spending money.Thank God for the Eagle Valley Library District.We had always been frequent library users in, I hate to say, a yuppie fashion, but now we realized the true power and value of a library.We visited the library several times a week. We checked out baby board books, we checked out picture books, we checked out children’s videos, we checked out children’s music CDs. Story hour every Thursday was an event we anticipated. Through story hour, we met other parents and children of similar ages, and often we would incorporate picnics at the park afterward. Robyn Bryant, the children’s librarian at Eagle, knew my daughter by name and would welcome her each week (along with many other tots), and this would give her the biggest smile and an early sense of belonging. We attended the Halloween party and the Christmas-holiday celebration where we could hear music, do crafts, enjoy stories and whisper in Santa’s ear.Our use wasn’t restricted to the children’s resources, however. My husband and I checked out books and videos with a vengeance. It was free shopping. My husband listened to books on tape in the car during his commute. I would check out magazines, to which I’d had to give up subscriptions as part of our budget. We attended the interesting speakers and stimulated our brains, appreciating the way the library fulfilled the intellectual space that a university might.We used the library constantly, and I was amazed by the care with which I was invariably treated and with which its programs and its resources were managed. In a time when we could afford nothing, through the library, we had a wealth of arts and entertainment. To this day, I am so grateful for this and so damn proud of this community for creating this resource. I know there are many other families and people in the same situation we were, and I feel good knowing that the library is there for them, too, offering a reprieve. When I was encouraged to apply for a position on the Eagle Valley Library District Board of Trustees, I felt it was the least I could do in order to give back.Perhaps you remember that first library in the south end of Avon’s City Market? That was 1991. Through the visionary guidance of Director Charlyn Canada, the district has grown into the three handsome facilities you know today. Just from the time I joined the board, an incredible amount of new technologies and programs have been added to the district’s offerings in order to keep up with the needs of our community. Storytime kit bags are loaned to preschools to promote early literacy development. The Literacy Project now encompasses over 560 students and tutors. Book club kits can be checked out. There are teen book clubs. Web offerings have expanded so that now you can get Bradford legal forms at no charge, download audio books right onto your computer, and even look up how to change Old Paint’s oil in Chilton’s database. But most of all, our libraries are getting crowded. Story hour in Eagle is now held across the hall in the meeting room because attendance is so great. The computers are constantly used. In Avon alone last year between November and April, 34,674 people used the computers. The meeting rooms are rarely empty.I’ve had the pleasure and pride to observe in my time on the board the extreme financial care with which our libraries are managed. Julie Van Natta, your financial manager, is precise to the penny at each year’s audit (yes, that’s to the penny). These librarians have meticulously stored away $3.5 million toward future growth. It’s a thing to be proud of. What they could not have anticipated, though, was all of the communities in which we have branches needing expansion simultaneously, and our dilemma lies in this: If we expand Eagle, then we can’t afford to expand Avon. You get the idea, and librarians are scrupulously fair people. Not to mention they’d have to save years, and with increased operating costs might not be able to garner enough to pay for the second expansion. They need help.Our libraries are having to shore up under the weight of our valley’s exponential growth while at the same time are continuing to innovate and offer the latest services. Never mind the numbers, take a peek inside, especially once the ski season begins, and you ‘ll see that it’s time to be proactive if you want to continue to enjoy the same quality of experience and pride in these reflections of our community.Vote yes on both 5a and 5b, and keep our libraries great.Heather Sappenfield is a trustee of the Eagle Valley Library District.


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