After 29 years at the Basalt library, Milnor ready to turn the page |

After 29 years at the Basalt library, Milnor ready to turn the page

Barbara Milnor stands at the favorite place at the Basalt library, in front of the fiction section. She is retiring after 29 years, most recently as director.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

Basalt’s longtime resident who brought stability to the Basalt Regional Library after a tumultuous time and helped the new facility reach its potential as a community hub is turning the page.

Barbara Milnor, who has worked at the library for 29 years and as a volunteer before that, is stepping down June 1. She took the reins as library director in 2012 after serving on an interim basis several times as the library went through six directors over 10 years.

She was a volunteer when it was a two-room log cabin on Midland Avenue. Even after ascending to director, she kept her old position as collections manager — a role she is particularly passionate about. She orders the books, magazine, music, movie DVDs and more.

“I know so many people in town and I know what they want to read,” said Milnor, a Basalt resident since 1970.

“She created a sense of ease and harmony that maybe wouldn’t have existed with anyone else.” Carolyn Kane, former library board member

Ann Stephenson, president of the library board of directors, said Milnor tactfully worked for seven members of the board of directors, each with their views on what the library should be. Milnor’s sense of humor and ability to deal with each individual helped her get along so well with board members.

“It’s going to be hard to fill those shoes,” Stephenson said. “She’s a brilliant collections manager.”

Community members and staff urged Milnor to apply for the director position after the prior chief executive’s contract wasn’t renewed amid a funding crisis and widespread community outrage in 2012.

A new 21,000-square-foot library opened in 2010 but was plagued from the start by budget difficulties as property tax revenue dropped during the recession. Hours of operation were cut, as were expenditures for the collection.

After Milnor took charge, she worked with board members to restore the budget and get the community ingrained in the community.

“She’s built it into such a community institution,” Stephenson said.

Former board member Carolyn Kane said Milnor was the right person at the right time for the library.

“She created a sense of ease and harmony that maybe wouldn’t have existed with anyone else,” she said. “She has been quietly efficient but she has an understanding of what people want in a library.”

As is her style, Milnor agreed to a newspaper article only if the focus was on the facility rather than her. She said the library is in good hands with its staff of 15 and the new director.

“No one will miss a beat,” she said.

She credits much of the success of the library to the design by architect Michael Hassig of Carbondale. It has an industrial feel with exposed metal beams, yet it’s also warm, Milnor said. It’s widely regarded as attractive inside and out.

“Every piece of wood in the library is aspen,” Milnor said.

It’s got stunning two-story windows that face the Roaring Fork River and wetlands with Basalt Mountain in the background.

Milnor said the greatest compliment she’s heard about the facility is that it is “the living room” of Basalt.

When the facility was being built, some people questioned why the library would carry books and magazines in the era of the digital age, but the healthy book collection remains as popular as ever.

“Fiction is the first thing you see when you come in the front door,” Milnor said.

But the library is diverse and provides something for everyone. “Some people don’t get past the DVDs,” she said.

A large community room is so popular for events hosted by the library and other groups that it has become tough to book. The room, which has a stated capacity of 84 people, hosts everything from Aspen Music Festival student performances to mind-blowing demonstrations by magician Doc Eason.

Smaller meeting rooms are regularly booked with everything from attorneys doing depositions to sales people showing their collections to retailers to English in Action tutors working with students.

About 6,000 square feet are dedicated to the youth services library, which includes the popular Tree House story time room.

Use soared from when the library was located in a fraction of the space in a building beside town hall, let alone from when it was in the two-room cabin.

“When we built this new building, it got on people’s radar,” Milnor said. “It’s such a perfect library for this size of community.”

So what’s the next chapter for Milnor now that her library duty is done? She plans to sit back at her home in Fryingpan Valley, drink coffee and observe birds.

It’s a safe bet she’ll resume coming to the library two or three times a week — as a patron — to stock up on new books.

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