As cities begin to see libraries as expendable, what do they mean to their patrons? From the Englewood Herald.
Dr. Bill Betzner, a retired naturopathic doctor, studies at the Englewood Public Library on March 5.
Dr. Bill Betzner sat at a table in Englewood Public Library on a lazy Saturday afternoon, filling worn notebooks with observations on the many colleges he's attended. Betzner has lived an eclectic life — he was stationed in Italy in the Air Force, taught music to ranchers' kids in Montana who came to school by helicopter, and put his doctorate in holistic centrist science to use as a naturopathic doctor. But these days, the retired 77-year-old often finds himself deep in thought beneath the library's stained glass panels depicting Englewood history. Englewood's 30,000-square-foot, 87,000-volume library means lots of things to its patrons, but to Betzner, it's a haven for philosophic thought. “Have you heard of four-fold logic?” Betzner asked. “We tend toward black and white, true or false thinking. But if we disagree, you think you're right and I'm wrong. I think I'm right and you're wrong. But there are more than two sides: on the third, we're both wrong. On the fourth, we're both right. In the middle of this comes understanding, and that's wisdom.” The old doctor's wisdom seems fitting for a library, where one patron may be working on a master's thesis, another setting up their first-ever email address, while kindergartners squat on a rug for storytime. “The answer to what the library means to the community is as varied as the community itself,” said Dorothy Hargrove, the library's director. “We meet so many people where they are.” A place to go, grow Hargrove said the library is an increasingly vital resource in a time when dispersed families and contracted civic life have reduced places for people to go beyond work and home. “I have had people write me thank-you notes saying they finished writing their book here or finished their dissertation here, because as much as they love their children, they cannot write at home, because somebody's screaming at them,” Hargrove said. “Our meeting rooms are full all the time. Just try to book a meeting room here. It's knitting groups, community associations, dog lovers, Celtic harp players; people with shared interests come together at the library and meet their neighbors." Hargrove said seldom is her job more rewarding than when she or her staff are able to help people build skills they need to participate in 21st-century society. “I had a gentleman who was looking for a job as a cook or a busboy who didn't understand the concept of a password,” Hargrove said. “How do you function in a digital age when you don't know that? The public library was able to spend some time with him, and open a whole world for him.” The library also offers a variety of job skills classes, including resume building and interview practice. “To think we're opening doors here, I think that's why we work here,” Hargrove said. A matter of location The library's accommodations, spread across the first floor of the Englewood Civic Center, could be subject to change. The three-story building — which also houses the Hampden Hall performance space, Museum of Outdoor Arts, city council chambers, court and various other offices — was listed for sale last year by Englewood City Manager Eric Keck. It's currently priced at $18.6 million on loopnet.com. Though city leaders say talk of a sale has a long way to go, city council members have bandied about ideas for the building, including courting a hotel or retail or restaurant space. If the library were moved elsewhere, it might find itself in tighter quarters. “[T]here is a lot of space [in] our present library that is not used,” Mayor Pro Tem Rick Gillit said in a post on nextdoor.com. “If we made our new one a little smaller we could keep everything that we have in our present library and put it in a smaller better laid out one.” Home is where the heart is, said Hargrove. “Wherever the library is, is the center of the community in my book,” Hargrove said. “Whether that's here or another spot, so long as it's still accessible, comfortable, and beautiful, I'm not attached to this particular spot.” The library's location in the Civic Center, which it has occupied since 2000, has pros and cons, Hargrove said. “This is not a good place for a family to walk to the library,” Hargrove said. “It doesn't feel safe after dark, even though we've never had any specific problems. If the library were in a more residential area, I think pedestrians and bicyclists would feel safer coming here. We don't get a lot of after-school traffic. It's a little intimidating. With the light rail, people are always coming and going. Is that as family-friendly as we'd like it to be? On the other hand, when we have big events, we're happy to advertise that you can just hop on the light rail to get here.” Homeless people use the library as a place to access computers or just for a place to be, said library manager Jon Solomon. “First and foremost, anyone is welcome in our library,” Solomon said. “Like any library, we have a code of conduct we expect everyone to follow. One of our policies is how much baggage you can bring in, but that's a safety issue. We might ask them to remove their bags or leave, but that could be anybody.” Hargrove said she enforces the no-sleeping rule. “We understand people need a place to sleep, but it interferes with the ability of others to enjoy and use the library,” Hargrove said. “That's what our rules of conduct are based on. If other people find their neighbors uncomfortable, one of the nice things about this facility is that there's a lot of space, so you don't have to sit on the same couch with someone you don't want to be near.” 'A lot of space here'
The library seems to ably live up to Hargrove's idea of a vital resource for many patrons. “I was out of commission and unable to work for five weeks,” said Margo Casey, a pastoral counselor and medical social worker. “This place sustained me.” Casey said her job can get pretty heavy, but she can escape into literature at the library. “The library makes me so happy,” Casey said. “What a treat.” Still others are just discovering the library. Katie Tran, a biology major at CU-Denver, was visiting for the first time on a recent Saturday to study for her physics midterm. “I've been looking for a peaceful place to study,” Tran said. “Normally, I study at Starbucks or the DU library, but they're too crowded. There's a lot of space here.” “I just got my library card today,” said Eren Ramirez, an accounting student at Regis University. “I've been studying here lately, so I figured I might as well get one. I've been really curious about what else is in this building. I mean, there's an art museum? That's pretty cool.”