Library bonds retired early

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— The East Routt Library District, serving Steamboat Springs, is headed into the new year with a load of debt off its books.

The library district, which operates on a small property tax millage, recently made the final payment on a $575,000 general obligation bond that wasn't set to be retired until later in 2001.

The Bud Werner Memorial Library opened its doors in 1967, serving a population of 2,000 residents with a collection of 5,000 volumes. Funding for the library came from contributions in memory of the late, great Steamboat ski racer Buddy Werner. The local contributions were matched by a federal grant. Today, the library's collection of books, tapes and CDs has expanded to more than 55,000 volumes. Routt County residents who carry library cards number 12,000, and the library circulates more than 225,000 items a year. The library is at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Thirteenth Street and borders the Yampa River Core Trail.

"Back in 1993, the library board decided to refinance the bonds. It turned out to save almost a year of payments," Library Director Chris Painter said. "We saved about $42,000."

Voters in the East Routt Library District originally approved the $575,000 bond issue in 1986, allowing the library to build an addition that tripled its size.

Painter said the library is again feeling a little tight in its quarters, and parking is already a problem. However, the library board is determined to research a comprehensive plan for the library's future capital needs, rather than launch a series of building bump-outs that would gradually add to the size of the library, Painter said.

The library gained some space for its collection in 1997 when it eliminated a downstairs meeting room and moved its collection of children's books and tapes into that space. The room gained upstairs houses the library's impressive "Western Collection."

When the library was expanded in 1986, the library didn't have a video collection because there was no such thing as VCRs and video rental stores, Painter recalled.

"We didn't even have a computer back then," Painter said. "Now we have at least 25 computers. It's hard to have a crystal ball, but we believe the library will be around for the next 50 years."

Library Board Treasurer Mike Holloran said the board inevitably will look at expansion of the library, but he would like to see it remain where it is.

"If we're smart, we have to look at expansion," Holloran said. "I feel strongly, personally, I would like to see it stay right where it is."

Holloran and Painter say the possibility of expanding to a branch library has been discussed many times. But Painter said studies in other communities have shown that a branch library seldom takes pressure off the central library. And Holloran said research also shows that creating a branch library is a far more expensive alternative than simply expanding an existing library.

Holloran pointed out that the city of Steamboat Springs actually owns the library and the ground it sits on.

Ultimately, the city would have a great deal to say about any future expansion, Holloran said.

The advent of the Internet has certainly changed the way people gather information and changed the library as well, Painter said.

Many people come to the library to use its public Internet terminals to research education and career opportunities in other cities.

"We used to have people come in and ask us the easiest way to get a copy of classified ads in Portland, Ore.," Painter said. "All we could do was give them the address and phone number of the newspaper. Now they can easily find that information online."

The library board has been looking into the possibility of housing a collection of e-books, Painter said, but hasn't found any local demand for the latest incarnation of the bound volume. She doesn't think books printed on paper will disappear anytime soon.

"The vast majority of our customers are still coming for books," Painter said. "Our print collection remains the heart and soul of the library."

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