‘Mission creep’ might be culprit behind library’s woes


Will Boulder city and eligible county voters approve establishing a Library District this November 8? Like you, I have no idea, but there are certainly a number of issues yet to be determined and decided before any voter can make a definitive, intelligent and permanent decision on the issue at hand.

Not many agree the current Boulder Public Library is in great fiscal or physical shape. Years have eroded facilities and staffing levels never seem to be sufficient under the current financial means of supporting library functions. At least that’s what the Boulder Library Champions say. And according to to their analysis, there’s no way for things to improve under the current funding source which largely comes from Boulder’s sales and use tax income. Thus, the library champs want to tap into a more generous property tax scheme that will take care of money matters. That is, of course, if “mission creep” is somehow not the real culprit affecting the current library system or any other city-funded department.

Bob Greenlee

The term was first used to describe how our national military defense managed to become so large, cumbersome and expensive. The term simply suggests that once something is initially established and funded with public dollars there’s plenty of room to increase the number of additional “needs” beyond what was originally required. The Pentagon and Department of Defense are perhaps the largest violators of mission creep as their needs to preserve and protect our nation seems to have no bounds. One new missile system requires newer and more expensive ones along with an endless support system, requiring both funding and personnel.

Decades ago, Boulder had a single Librarian in charge of things, followed years later by someone who obtained the title of library director. Today the library needs someone to not only check books in and out but also to serve as the head of “a center for community, art, and culture.” Creep has firmly established itself in our library system, and today the person in charge is David Farnam who appears to have exceeded expectations in that obviously complex role. Adding more and more responsibilities and the time to tackle all those obligations is probably more than one person can possibly handle and that’s what causes mission creep and there’s almost no end to what funds and personnel may ultimately be required.

If the library could exist with the solo mission of checking books in and out, would more funding from taxes be required? Maybe. Maybe not!

How many citizens really know what other projects the current library is involved with? Like the Canyon Theatre, Canyon Gallery, BLDG61 Makerspace, Cable TV Channel 8 or the family literacy program? All are worthwhile endeavors but all require staff, funding and supervision.

Sometimes these library projects have caused issues or problems, like the one in 2001 when a local citizen was caught stealing 21 ceramic penises that were strung on a clothesline and hung in the library’s public viewing space near the Canyon Theatre as an example of Boulder’s propensity for “cutting edge” contemporary art. The person who copped the goods said he was upset that at the time the library refused his request to display a 10-foot US flag in the library’s entrance because the powers that were in charge at the time were worried that some people might be offended. So, the well-hung public art was stuffed in a garbage bag on a Veterans Day weekend as library patrons looked on and the thief left a calling card that said “El Dildo Bandito was here” and set up his own American flag at the library entrance. The cops ultimately found the culprit and ticketed him for a misdemeanor criminal tampering charge.

You may think I’m making this up. I’m not! This is an outrageous example of how an otherwise innocent but unmanaged situation can get out of control without ongoing adult supervision. We all love libraries but the things they do are not always known or fully appreciated. Will producing a Library District really improve things or just be a source of acquiring more public money for new library projects?

Bob Greenlee is an 18-year veteran of Boulder’s city council. He served as mayor during his last two years on the city council. Email: rgreen9231@aol.com



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