Sheek: Libraries change lives and strengthen communities

Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017 6:14 PM
Karen Sheek

I am a retired librarian so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of my favorite places in Cortez is our local library. The libraries of today are very different from the ones many of us grew up in, where “S-h-h-h” was the word most frequently spoken, and materials were primarily print-based.

Technology has brought a new dimension to today’s libraries, but their mission continues to focus on inspiring life-long learning, developing a love of reading and advancing knowledge while continuing to strengthen our communities through a variety of programs that span all age groups.

The modern library evolved over time. Today’s libraries are much more than receptacles for books. Cortez Library patrons are expected to check out 100,000 hard copy items this year, but 31 percent of those will be DVDs, with e-book and e-audio circulation already up 15 percent over last year.

The library subscribes to a number of databases. These are online catalogs or indexes which provide vetted articles on a wide range of topics – from car repair guides to newspaper articles on a variety of topics to details on millions of U.S. businesses – as well as a database offering more than 50 digital magazines. Today, patrons can download materials from our local library without even going into the library! Set up an “Overdrive” or “One Click” digital account (library staff can help you with this) and suddenly you have a world of e-books and e-audio books accessible from anywhere.

Many patrons come in just to use the computers. The other day I visited with a tourist who had come in to check her email. After the Excelsior plant fire in Mancos, several folks used the library’s computers to research possible jobs. Many companies accept only online applications, so a computer with internet access is critical, and the library fills that need for patrons.

Many of our residents do research using library computers, take online classes and even type research papers. A printer is available – the first five pages are free, and cost 25 cents per page after that.

The library is a meeting place with a conference room small groups can reserve and small study rooms for student groups and local professionals to meet with clients.

Technology has also made it easier for patrons to manage their borrowing. If you have internet access, go online at to browse the library catalog. With a library card, you can reserve materials, save favorites to your library account, renew materials or see if you have a fine. To set up your account, go to the online card catalog at, click on “My Account,” then “My Info.” Type in your Patron ID, which is the full number on your library card, then enter your password, which is your last name all lower case, and you’re set.

Our library has an outstanding staff that continually explores new ideas for engaging the community. The library offers a weekly story time for youngsters – along with story time at the Cortez Farmers’ Market during the summer and fall – and a fantastic summer reading program.

Teens interested in a book club can inquire about the “Great Stories Book Club.” Individuals needing computer tutoring can get it for free upon request. “Literary Fridays” offer a variety of interesting programs every third Friday and, on the second Thursday of each month, the library teams up with the Sunflower Theatre to present a documentary or classic movie (free to the public, although a $5 donation is suggested.)

New this fall, a series of monthly events for children is scheduled for the days when school is released for staff work days. The first will be a “craft-a-palooza” on Sept. 29. Call the library for details at 565-8117.

Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American industrialist who donated $50 million to build libraries throughout the world, wrote, “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never-failing spring in the desert.” As such, libraries are one of the best investments a community can make – in themselves and in their future.

Our library averages about 3,000 visitors a week – more visitors than the recreation center – which translates to 156,000 patrons a year passing through its doors, but unlike the rec center, there is no charge to use the library. It is primarily funded through city taxes with some funding from the county, state and federal governments, along with small grants.

As you might imagine, the dollars never seem to stretch far enough. If you value our library and have the time, consider joining the “Friends of the Library.” They provide service and help raise funds for special library projects. Or, consider purchasing a book or making a monetary donation in honor or memory of a friend or loved one.

As novelist Sidney Sheldon wrote, “Libraries change lives for the better.”

Who wouldn’t want to have a part in doing that?

Karen Sheek is the mayor of Cortez, a position elected by Cortez City Council members. Reach her at or during her office hours from 12:30 - 1:30 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month.