Library History 101 | AspenTimes.com

Library History 101

Dear Editor:

Seventy-four years ago, on Oct. 5, 1938, the first Aspen-Pitkin County library opened as a nonprofit called the Pitkin County Library Association. The association was initiated by Helen Collins, a local who had learned earlier that year that the Works Progress Administration could pay a salary for a librarian for any town that had a library.

The city provided the corner space of the Wheeler Opera House, which was divided into adult and children’s areas. Donations included not only the books but the potbelly stove, the coal, the electricity and furniture. From the beginning, there were “branches” at Old Snowmass, Meredith, Woody Creek and even Carbondale, where patrons could choose circulating books from shelves provided in the local general stores. The 1940 census listed a county population of 1,836, of whom 777 lived in Aspen.

Against vociferous opposition, the library forces won tax support of “not less than one-tenth of one mil or more than one-half of one mil per dollar of assessed value,” which provided the grand revenue of $421.01 for the tax year 1941. From the very beginning, the library depended on volunteers for almost every aspect of its operation. The county commissioners began their oversight of the library board in November 1940, five years before Walter Paepcke showed up in 1945. Not everything began with him.

In the 70 years since, the library has outgrown three locations. Each proposed expansion went through innumerable transparent public hearings before successive library commissions and boards of county commissioners on every aspect of finance, architectural design and staffing. This proposed iteration has the total support of our elected officials and of many constituencies: parents and children, people who need meeting space and anyone hunting for information as well as the loan of books and multimedia. Its opponents have exercised their statutory right to go over the heads of those elected officials on an issue unrelated to the library’s purpose.

Vote “yes” on 5A and 5B for a state-of-the-art expansion of our library.

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David Bentley

Aspen

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