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Rumblings come from hither and yon about this or that library that is facing financial cutbacks.

But, I have generally assumed that the cuts were due to overall weakness in local government revenue streams because of the recession.

Libraries would seem to be an easy place to save some money since what we offer is more a "soft" service than a hard one like water or sewer service.

So it came as something of a mild jolt when I learned this week that The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries will begin with a working group next month to "create a common vision for public libraries."

The institute will convene dozens of business, government and library leaders to talk about our futures because, to quote from a press release, "public libraries in the U.S. are at a crossroads."

It is certainly true that the digital world offers libraries new and new and interesting challenges, but it is just not true that the rise in use of e-materials spells doom for libraries down the road, at least in the near term.

And for that near term, libraries probably need more money, not less, to help patrons get up to speed on all things digital while maintaining print collections and responding to the needs of people who cherish actual books and magazines.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what kind of common vision the institute's group comes up with.

Our vision is reflected in the district board's five-year plan, just adopted earlier this year. That vision places the library squarely at the center of a more- and more-connected community, fostering dialogue and providing various entry points for people to access information they might not be able to find elsewhere easily.


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