Almost every summer, my family and I go on vacation to Breckenridge. It’s become imperative that we get out of the 100-degree heat of North Texas Summers and into the nice cool clean mountains of Colorado for a few days. We rent a nice Airbnb within walking distance of town, go for hikes, play at the omnipresent festivals and enjoy good food. It’s always a nice break from the stress and heat of Dallas.
Being a good librarian, I almost always visit the library of whatever town that I am travelling to, but for some reason, I had never made it to the Breckenridge library. This year, I actually scheduled a time to go on a guided tour with the Branch Manager and Operations Manager, it was such a good idea. My typical self-guided library tours definitely skim the surface of everything that libraries have to offer. It was so fascinating to hear the history of the building and about the projects and challenges of the library.
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The Summit County South Branch Library (SCSBL) is in an amazingly renovated historic building a few blocks off the main road. The creaking hardwood stairs and wavy glass windows of the entryway, gave me flashbacks to the 100-year-old elementary school I attended, but the structure felt more like an old town administrative building or Court house. What I found is that the building had been both and much more over the years.
What is now the SCSBL, has evolved and changed so much over the last century that it could probably qualify as a living entity. The original building opened in 1909 as a school, it has also been town offices, drivers’ license bureau, fire department, a College and now the Library. The current library renovation was completed in 2014.
I love a brand new, open concept, gleaming glass library as much as the next person, but old historic libraries full of odd nooks and crannies have their charms. The strangest thing about the library layout, probably works in its favor by reducing noise, the kid’s sections are completely separate from each other and from most of the library. There is a children’s section with a small playground, a Junior section with a slide and cozy reading nook, and a glassed-in teen section vaguely reminiscent of a retro diner. There are a handful of study rooms in odd places, like “Tip Top”, appropriately situated in a tower room. The Library’s large 100-person multipurpose room is in the basement and shares a wall with the local movie theatre. You just don’t get this kind of character in a new construction Library.
Walking around the library with my hosts, Pat Hasenfus, Branch Manager and Sarah Scheinman, Operations Manager, we got to compare notes about the challenges and opportunities of operating a library. The most interesting challenge for Breckenridge is due to being situated in a tourist town with limited affordable housing. Breckenridge, like many tourist towns, offers workforce housing to help control the high cost of rents and mortgages. Unfortunately, they just can’t provide enough affordable housing for everyone who works in town, so many people commute 30 minutes or more to work. This may not seem like a big inconvenience, but when you factor in mountain roads and winters lasting “14,000 years” (Melissa Schultz, Library Associate) you can see why it causes problems.
Unfortunately, there is no clear or quick solution to the housing shortage in Breckenridge. An estimated 75% of all homes in town are second homes, most of which are used as income producing vacation rentals. According to the Breckenridge Housing Report, it would cost the average worker 170% of their income to afford a market rate home. Obviously, that makes most housing unaffordable and workforce housing is still sparse, so most staff drive, and drive, and drive.
In spite of their challenges, staff could not have been happier, kinder, or prouder of their work and their library. My tour guides have a deep understanding of the community that they serve, and they truly want to offer the best to residents and tourists. They are happy to live a little outside of town in order to work for this amazing town and library.
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