Barb Brattin, director, Wilkinson Public LIbrary


Editor’s note:  Year after year, the Library Journal Index of Public Library Services, a public library rating system, has designated Telluride’s Library a five-star institution. And it just earned its fifth star in a row, which puts The Wilkinson Public Library into an elite club of 30 libraries that have seen stars five years in a row and third in the nation among public libraries with annual budgets of $1 – 5 million, hence the name of library director Barb Brattin’s semi-regular column, “Five Stars.” But that lofty designation does not eliminate challenge.

Barb Brattin, director, Wilkinson Public LIbrary

Barb Brattin, director, Wilkinson Public LIbrary (and Finn)

This may come as surprise, but it’s true: in 2012, the Wilkinson Public Library lost 11% of its income.

Dependent primarily on property tax revenue, The Wilkinson, like every other local government, earns less when property values decline. Despite our revenue shortfall, however, we continued to deliver world-class programs and services to a very engaged public 61 hours per week all year.

Now we’re looking ahead at 2014 with deep concern. According to San Miguel County government, we can expect another 10-15% drop in income. How unfortunate, just when the library is reaching its pinnacle of success.

In a recent study, Wilkinson was named one of only 30 libraries nationwide that has managed to earn the coveted five star designation from Library Journal five years in a row. As the busiest library per capita in Colorado, we shine among our peers as the model of successful library service, an organization comfortable with change, passionate about service, and dedicated to the community it serves.

How, then, do we cope with a potentially devastating loss in revenue and maintain our quality service standards?

Any service organization worth its salt invests in people, well-trained, passionate individuals who not only make their customers feel welcome, but also provide an experience that has them coming back for more. But staff doesn’t come cheap.

Staff is the most expensive part of the Wilkinson’s budget, consuming 66% of our bottom line annually. Faced with tough budget cuts, a great service organization inevitably faces cutting down on our most valuable and valued resource. In a small town, that’s doubly hard, because those staff members are our neighbors and friends.

As director, I am not ready to compromise that resource. We’ve got a good thing going and I am determined not just to maintain a collection worth using and programs you’ll remember long after you leave our building, but also the smiling face at the desk eager to connect you to ideas that inform your interests and passion.

Our solution: starting January 6, 2013, the Wilkinson Public Library will be closing Sundays and shifting those five hours per week to an earlier opening- 9 a.m., Monday through Friday. By condensing our limited staffing into six days per week, we’ll be able to continue to provide what you all have come to expect: the best service possible every time you visit. By shifting hours to weekday mornings, we’ll still be open the same total hours every week, 61, and even provide a little more convenience for the early risers and local parents who would like to visit the library after dropping their kids at school.

I would like to explain that decision in terms of “diluting the product.” Think of the Wilkinson as a high energy, nutritious drink that packs a punch. By spreading the ingredients into seven bottles instead of six, you’ve diluted the contents. In a perfect world, each bottle would deliver the same punch, but when ingredients are in short supply, I believe it is smarter to produce six high-quality bottles than dilute the product to fill seven bottles.

We’ll miss seeing you on Sunday. Let’s all hope local property values recover and we’ll be able to quickly restore that day. In the meantime, I hope you’ll take advantage of our vending machine at the Mountain Village Market, offering books and DVDs 7a.m.- 9 p.m. daily. 

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