Members of the Denver Library Commission got an earful from Denver Public Library volunteers last week, when twenty of them showed up at a commission meeting to express their anger over the way they have been treated by library management.
One former volunteer of the year, Rose Keating, was in tears as she described the hostile environment many of the volunteer docents face. "It's hard to walk in when you're growled at and not appreciated," Keating told the commissioners. "Treat us like human beings; you're not giving us any money. This is too good an establishment to let it go to hell."
Keating said she had difficulty finding volunteers to work in the library's computer lab, where docents help teach people computer skills, because they felt unwanted. "That library lab is going to be a difference between a job and no job for some of those people. I wanted help from the docents, but after five days, I only got three of them to help. They said, 'We're not going there again.'"
The volunteers' comments were prompted by a Westword story ("Checked Out," August 7) that reported that volunteers and employees are increasingly disgruntled with City Librarian Rick Ashton's management. Major concerns centered on the Denver Public Library Friends Foundation being pushed out of its longtime fundraising role; used books being sold online instead of through the Friends' annual book sale; the library purchasing an increasing amount of low- and middle-brow material such as the Harry Potter series; and boxes of books being thrown into the dumpster.
"It was shocking to us to see good books going into the trash," former volunteer Cynthia Monley told the commissioners, adding that she had taken an armful of tossed art books to a local art dealer, who said they could be sold for $16 each.
Commission members said they were stunned at what they were hearing.
"Until I read it in Westword, I was unaware of this," said commissioner Landri Taylor.
Several of the commissioners vowed to get to the bottom of the problems.
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"Wherever I go, people accost me, asking what is going on at the library," said commissioner Marilyn Amer.
Despite the controversy, the library is pressing ahead with its plan to ask voters to approve the formation of a library district, which would be funded by a property-tax increase.
Political consultant Floyd Ciruli released the results of a poll his firm conducted for the library to determine Denver voters' attitudes toward the institution. The $20,000 study indicated that the library is one of Denver's most beloved institutions -- it ranked just behind the fire department in terms of popularity -- but that voters might have a limited appetite for a tax increase to support the facility. While 65 percent of voters said they would be willing to pay an extra $48 per year to raise $20 million for the library, only 32 percent said they would support a $95 increase to raise the $40 million that Ashton says he needs.
Mayor John Hickenlooper and the Denver City Council will have to sign off on the library district, but the mayor hasn't yet taken a position, other than to say it's worth studying.