Partisan agendas don’t work on our library board

Guest column by Sean Duffy
Posted 3/12/19

The vitriol-filled partisan tempest over the appointment of a new trustee to our Douglas County Libraries board represents just one more attempt in today’s society to turn an apolitical community …

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Partisan agendas don’t work on our library board


The vitriol-filled partisan tempest over the appointment of a new trustee to our Douglas County Libraries board represents just one more attempt in today’s society to turn an apolitical community institution into a controversial political football. The facts don’t match the furor, and, in my view, the commissioners made a sterling appointment in Meghann Silverthorn. I’m glad to have her as a colleague — but not for the reasons her critics think.

Let me share some facts.

Securing an appointment to the library board includes personal interviews by a panel of representatives from municipal government, the school board and the library board. This year, 24 individuals were interviewed over two full days to fill three vacancies — a group culled down from 40 applications. I was part of that panel, and we asked candidates about their vision for our libraries, how libraries, learning and literacy shaped their lives and how their personal and professional experience informs their desire to serve.

Our panel forwarded three names to the commissioners for each vacancy. Did we all agree on all of the names or on the ranking of those names? No. But we had a very strong consensus on each candidate sent on.

Here is the key point: We didn’t ask about, nor were we interested in, their partisan affiliations or their political views. Why?

Because that is irrelevant to the work of a library trustee.

In a time when it seems like every entity, indeed every gathering, has to have a political patina, our library board is — or at least has been — an apolitical oasis where we talk about creating opportunity for our citizens, our role in deepening a sense of community and ensuring DCL is a home of fundamental civility and decency.

Beyond our general work of governing the fiscal and operational aspects of the library system, in 2018 we focused on the transformation and updating of our Highlands Ranch branch, where I’ll be proud to cut the ribbon and welcome the community back home in just a few weeks. In 2019 we are focusing on the early stages of design for turning the well-loved Castle Rock branch into a 21st-century beacon for the community that will serve Douglas County well for decades. These transformations are paying dividends for families and taxpayers. At our new branches in Lone Tree, Parker and Castle Pines, customer traffic is up 25 percent to 30 percent.

We do this work in the context of being strong, fiscally conservative stewards of the tax dollars entrusted to us, and providing top value for every dollar through programming, services and content. By any measure, we’re one of the top library systems in the country.

We do this work, also, without discussion of partisan affiliation or political ideology. We have fights, but they’re not left-right, or D versus R. In fact, on a personal note, as someone who has worked in public policy and politics for 30 years in two states, I wanted to join the library board precisely because we would not talk politics. The focus is on our passion for literacy, learning and libraries.

This is why I am disappointed at the level of rancor and personal attacks we’ve seen in the past few weeks. Meghann Silverhthorn brought to her interview a compelling personal story of her family’s journey and how her success has been marked by a deep love of reading and libraries. She shared her commitment to ensure others have the opportunity she had to build a rich and rewarding life through excellent public libraries.

That’s exactly what we want, and what our county needs, in a library trustee. I am completely convinced that she will be one of the best, most passionate and most community-responsive trustees our library system has seen. And we’ll leave politics where it belongs: in great books on the shelves of our libraries.

Sean Duffy, of Highlands Ranch, is president of the Douglas County Libraries Board of Trustees. The opinions expressed here are his own.


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