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Interview With Columbia Library Board President Tom Richards
Tom Richards is president of the Columbia Library District. Each trustee serves on his own district board as well as on the regional library board, which is the governing body responsible for policy-making and fiscal oversight. A contract binds our three member library districts into a regional library system, allowing us to pool the resources of our whole region to give residents better service at lower cost.
Tom Richards has served on the Columbia Library District Board of Trustees since 2002 and as the Columbia board president for the past two years. He is also the chief financial officer for Landmark Bank, headquartered here in Columbia, with additional locations in southern Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. He lives in Columbia with his wife Melissa Lawson and their two children, Laura, age 10, and Jack, age 6. Here are his thoughts on libraries, DBRL and the Columbia Public Library.
Why do you think libraries are important?
Unrestricted, unfiltered access to information is a critical component of our democratic society. Public libraries ensure that such access is available to everyone, regardless of background.
What made you apply to be on the Columbia board?
I feel that it’s important to give back, through volunteer service, to the community in which we live. I was fascinated with the library itself as few other institutions play such an integral role in our community and touch so many different people across so many different backgrounds.
What makes DBRL special?
The regional system allows for operating efficiencies, which means that more tax dollars go toward materials and services as opposed to overhead costs. Additionally, the board and staff have done a great job exercising fiscal discipline over the years, resulting in a very sound financial condition that will carry us through the current economic downturn. A recent survey of residents in our districts found that 69% were satisfied with the overall value they receive for the taxes they pay to support libraries. [Note: Survey results are summarized in our 2007 Annual Report.]
What gives you the most pride as president of the Columbia Library District board?
I am actually most proud of the new Columbia Public Library building. I believe that people tend to vote with their feet, and it’s clear that people who actually use the library services love the building. It’s a very warm, inviting environment, a safe place where people of all ages can gather. No matter the time of day or the day of the week, the place is always bustling with activity. And, wearing my financial hat, few people realize that construction and financing costs for the project came in approximately $2.8 million below the total budget. For taxpayers, this means a lower debt service tax rate and paying off the debt earlier.
What challenges does the Columbia library face in the coming year?
There is no doubt that demand for library services has increased substantially since the current recession began in 2008, as people rediscover all the free resources and services provided by the library. Our challenge is to keep up with the demands of the community and ensure that we are able to continue to provide great service to our patrons.