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.”

Barb Brattin, director, Wilkinson Public LIbrary

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

Growing up in the Midwest, we had a saying: “It’s too cold to snow.” That’s a statement I keep in my back pocket and pull out whenever I stare at snow clouds building. While the words rang true in Chicago, after eight winters in the Rockies, they have been refuted again and again, but I still stare up at the sky on a five degree winter day in the middle of a snowstorm and declare with great insistence, “It’s too cold to snow!”

We each keep stacks of rules to help us navigate life, axioms that guide our beliefs as to how things “should” be. What I’ve come to realize lately is that there is a whole genre of “shoulds” associated with public libraries and that, like the “too cold to snow” rule, they get to feel true even when they are not.

Let’s take a look at a few of the myths I’ve heard recently:

Myth #1. Information, knowledge and wisdom are a two-way personal experience between a book and the reader.

True? Absolutely. But not exclusively so. Since the advent of the Internet, we have watched people return to the library as an alternative to the isolation of one book/one person or one screen/one person. They value the sense of community and the ability to talk with others about a film or a book or participate in discussion after a lecture. The shared wisdom of the community is more valued than ever and the library provides the space for such interactions to happen.

Myth #2. Children cannot learn in a noisy place.

Actually, they can and for some young people, it’s the best way to learn. People, especially children, gather information experientially as well as through traditional library formats. So cooking programs and chests of costumes and yes, even video games teach children their place in the world, help them cope with a violent society, foster decision making skills and bridge cultures and backgrounds, giving kids team experiences so valuable in life.

Myth #3. The book is the only format of value.

I love books, too, but the bigger world is falling in love with the convenience of electronic formats. Ebooks may be a little slow to catch on in Telluride, but not in big cities. Arapahoe Library District (Denver area) today sent out a message announcing that as a result of patron demand for digital books they are laying off 15 employees who shelve physical books. How fast this trend hits Telluride, I can’t predict, but I can tell you we are watching.

Myth #4. We don’t need to be a five-star library! (The library is wasting its time applying for five-star designation.)

The truth is we are required by law to report use statistics to our state library. Those statistics are watched by other agencies like Library Journal that gives out star designations to institutions based on use per capita. We don’t go after that designation. It comes to us. It’s a wonderful gauge of our taxpayers’ return on investment. In fact, this library is the busiest per capita public library in Colorado. Seems we’re doing something right!

Over the past few years, Wilkinson Public Library has launched initiatives that ensure the library’s relevance in a changing world. Our challenge is to keep some quiet spaces and physical books for our traditional users while balancing the voracious demand for public programming and cutting edge formats, all in a time of declining revenues.

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