A Letter from Poudre River Library District Board President

When Fort Collins library champions went to voters in 2006 to form a library district, it was because ongoing city budget cuts were draining the library’s ability to meet growing community demand. Voters agreed, and the Poudre River Library District was formed in 2007. As president of the library’s Board of Trustees, I see the same story unfolding in Boulder.

Just like Boulder, our library was an award-winning institution, much-beloved in the community. Just like Boulder, a citizens’ initiative brought the library district to the ballot.

Just like Boulder, our service area exceeded 100,000 residents, going beyond the City limits.

The Poudre River Public Library District Board of Trustees serves as the governing board for our library, and its members were selected by City and County officials to oversee the transition, operations, and plans for the district. Oversight for the board continues to rest in the hands of these elected officials. There are no costly elections to run, nor small single issue groups trying to disrupt down-the-ballot local elections which can be disproportionately impacted during low voter turnouts.

Today, just as outlined in State Library Law, our seven-member Board is fully – and solely – focused on ensuring that community interests are represented, that fiscal management of public funds is transparent and accountable, and that the library is responsive to the needs of the Larimer County community.

Just like Boulder, thousands of residents walk through the doors of our libraries each day to visit and attend programs. And just like Boulder, millions of items circulate out of our buildings each year.

Here are some of the ways our libraries differ, though.

Poudre River Library District libraries are open every day. Boulder’s libraries have varying hours, which change depending on the state of the City budget. Looking at the website today (a Thursday), I see that both the North Boulder corner library and the Carnegie Library for Local History are closed.

Boulder’s makerspace, which has gained national recognition for its programs and services, is only open a few days a week, directly due to budget constraints.

Our buildings get the maintenance they need when structural issues or upgrades are called for. Boulder’s buildings, far older than ours, have an ongoing maintenance backlog of $1.3M, which no line item in the City’s current budget addresses.

The Poudre River Library District board of trustees has, since 2007, and in accordance with state law, worked directly with the public and with city and county officials to ensure that the library’s services are meeting the needs of the community.

Our financial reports are addressed to the community of taxpayers, and include how tax dollars are being spent. This reporting provides a level of transparency that City-managed libraries can’t always provide.

Our district board is responsible also for the development and execution of strategic, facilities, technology, and pandemic response planning. Our fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of the district is codified in state library law, and serves the community and the library well, because the needs of the community when it comes to library services are the singular and only purpose of the library district.

Municipal libraries, on the other hand, often struggle to successfully make the case for their funding needs amid the host of other priorities that beset City budgets. Even when there is a generous bump in funding in a given budget year, or a private donor or foundation willing to give a grant for a program in another year, chronic underfunding leads to declining outcomes in what a City library is able to do for its community, and that doesn’t need to be the case.

Boulder has the chance this year to move to a library district like Fort Collins did in 2006. Our slogan that year was “Libraries - yes!” Having seen the difference in what library districts can do in a community, I hope voters will support the “yes on 6C” measure that can put Boulder’s libraries on a stable funding path.

Fred Colby is the board president of Poudre River Library District in Fort Collins, CO.