Public libraries are public institutions. They are not reserved for those who can pay to use services. While pay-to-play works for private entities, the public library is part of the social infrastructure of a community, much like parks. Think of the parks as Boulder's backyard, and the library as Boulder's living room. Anyone in the community is welcomed to use the library, regardless of their economic status and ability. That's what makes libraries such an important part of weaving a community of all backgrounds, abilities, ages, and income levels together.
The cost to provide city services has been rising faster than revenues for more than 20 years, digging a deep budget hole for most community services. As late as 2019, the library was operating at 2002 funding levels. And while the library only represents 3% of the city's budget, it took 20% of the permanent cuts during the 2020 COVID budget crises.
The library is first city service to be cut when budgets are low, and last to be funded when fortunes change. This feast-and-famine cycle is no way to treat the heart of our community. The library needs stable funding -- just like the 59 other library districts across the state currently operate.
Library districts are, in fact, the most common form of library governance. It's a tried and true method for library systems, and ensures lasting, stable funding.
We are a long way away from constructing an actual building that the library would own. So, renting will come first in whatever available commercial space is offered. Typically, the library negotiates free leases because it doesn’t have the money for rent or to buy land, and because commercial property owners perceive value in having a library branch because it draws people who then visit and shop at nearby businesses.
Ideally, the location would be in Gunbarrel Center in close proximity to other things like the grocery, cafes, bus lines, and etc. After a district is formed, the decision for its location would be up to a library board of trustees, some of whom could be representatives from outside the city borders. That could be you!
Corner libraries are the way the library can test the waters and see if there is demand for a fully established branch in the community. North Boulder is an example, which established a corner branch in 2014 and is now (via a dedicated tax approved by voters as well as other gifts and investments) slated to expand to a full branch in 2022 (although stable funding such as that provided by a library district will be needed to fund the operation of this branch long term).
Corner libraries do incredibly mighty lifting as community centers and gathering spaces -- the NoBo corner branch is one of the busiest spaces in all of North Boulder. Corner libraries can conveniently bring books right into your neighborhood from other locations and save you the trip downtown of dropping them off. They can offer literacy classes, Spanish classes, storytimes, and all sorts of community activities. Many people plan their outings around corner libraries - they might visit the library, bike to the cafe, stop at the grocery, etc. This creates a greater sense of community and belonging.
Corner libraries, like all neighborhood libraries, are not only community centers but economic drivers as well. It would be amazing to have one in Gunbarrel and other outlying areas!
The current construction plan for the NoBo branch is slated for 2022. Delays due to construction costs are causing the library to cut down on the initial design, which included a makerspace, community kitchen, and playground.
City and planning board delays resulted in the project going to bid post-COVID, and if you’ve done any home improvement projects lately, you know that the costs for materials are extremely high right now as a result of COVID. This is impacting the overall scope and budget of the development.
In order to give Boulder the library it deserves -- which should include green building standards, a makerspace, community kitchen, and playground -- the voters must approve a library district, which would provide the funding needed to complete the project as designed.
We understand the great burden placed on small business owners, and that's why the library has so many small business resources to make owning and operating a business easier.
In 2020, the Gallagher amendment was repealed, which will lead to a greater level of predictability in terms of the taxes business owners who own their property would pay, and ultimately will decrease the amount of taxes paid by businesses over time.
The Library Champions have suggested that the library district provide a rebate program for small business property owners in the intervening period, as well as some business-focused benefits (such as a business helpdesk, for instance), that would help offset the increase for small, local businesses in the district area.
Having more libraries — and greater access to libraries — leads to a more educated workforce in the community, which is good for business. And it's why Boulder Public Library already currently provides essential workforce development, such as job coaching, including real-time interview practice, full-service resume review, skills building and a writing lab. It also provides tech training resources like computer skills and email basics. And BLDG 61, the library's makerspace, has seen over 75 small businesses launched, including 12 patent applications. BLDG 61 is an incubator for small business. It provides free access to high tech tools like 3D printers, looms, woodworking equipment, laser cutters, a CNC router, and electronics. Through Boulder Reads, adult learners can get GEDs to go and work for small businesses, and the nationally recognized Small Business Development Center is located right at the library.
An educated workforce helps a business's bottom line, and the long term benefits of a library greatly outweigh the short term costs. It's a good investment to make for the community.
Property taxes can be a challenge for some seniors on fixed incomes. The State of Colorado and Boulder County offer two programs aimed at helping seniors cope with property taxes.
Senior tax exemption: If you are 65 or older, you can apply for a tax deferral on your primary residence. The taxes are then paid when the property sells or changes ownership. Interest is charged on the loan, but it is a low interest rate (currently 3%). Some seniors realized they could invest their property tax dollars and make more than the interest charged on the exemption. Seniors apply to get a new deferral each year, so people can evaluate their needs each year. (Need that new roof or boiler? Defer.)
Senior homestead exemption: If you are 65 or older and have owned and lived in your home for at least ten years, 50% of the first $200,000 in actual value (as calculated by the County Assessor) of your primary residence is exempted from property tax. The State of Colorado reimburses the county treasurer for this lost revenue.
The library is also an important resource for seniors. The library home delivery program serves seniors and those with mobility issues directly, so that they can get the resources they need without needing to come in-person. And when the pandemic hit, Boulder library staff called every senior over the age of 65 in the library card system. Their call was a welfare check, to make sure that the seniors in the Boulder community were doing ok, and to ask them how the library could be of service. For some seniors, the library is one of their only sources for human interaction. Volunteers make up approximately 14% of the library's entire workforce, and retirees make up the bulk of that group. Many retired professionals have found meaning and purpose through the library's volunteer opportunities. It's vitally important that the library is there for those who depend on it the most.
The discussion over the library’s funding needs began over thirty years ago. As a city department, it has endured the feast/famine cycles of a city budget that is reliant primarily on sales taxes to fund its services. In that time, demand for the library has only grown, while overall wealth across the city has also increased. However, the library’s budget has remained flat — in 2019, it was operating at 2002 funding levels.
Prior to the pandemic, some gains were made in the city’s budget, but the pandemic caused massive budget and service cuts from which the library hasn’t recovered. In the meantime, other cities have prioritized re-opening their branches — like Denver — as public health restrictions have lifted. Boulder services remain limited, not strictly because of public health limitations, but because the library lacks the funding to restore staff to its pre-pandemic levels. Additionally, regions that have library districts — Adams county, Erie, Fort Collins — did not see meaningful disruption in their services or staffing due to the pandemic, because library districts are far more stable during times of economic crisis.
The city and the region supports sustainable funding for our library. In poll after poll of local residents, we always see 70%+ support for library funding and growth. It's time to get this done for the community.
Library districts are the most common form of library system in the state of Colorado. They are funded by a property tax on the assessed value (not actual value) of a home. The proposed tax is $26 per $100,000 of assessed value. For the median value Boulder home, the increase is in the range of $240/year.
Right now, only city taxes pay for the library, even though 30% of cardholders live in outlying areas. The people of Gunbarrel and other unincorporated parts of Boulder county would be brought into the tax base, so that it more closely matches the user base of the library. A library district is the most equitable way for a community to support services -- and avoids the regressive nature of sales taxes on which much of Boulder's city budget relies. The exact amount of the tax will be defined as part of the district formation process, and all voters in the district will have the opportunity to vote on whether to impose the tax.
Unfortunately, the library does not have the budget need to resume full operations in 2021. Due to pandemic-related budget cuts and falling sales-tax revenue:
+ Thirteen library staff positions were eliminated and all 50 temporary staff were terminated. Three positions are held vacant, but are unlikely to the filled this year.
+ The Main library and the Meadows branch will operate on reduced hours - primarily for pickup of holds, with limited access to computers.
+ NoBo will begin curbside pickup of holds, by appointment. The Reynolds branch is closed.
+ Most physical collections are off-limits and the materials budget is reduced.
+ The Carnegie local history collection is closed with very limited virtual access.
+ The BLDG 61 Maker Space is closed with limited virtual access to technology and resources.
+ In-person programming has not resumed, and public meeting rooms are not available for public use.
It didn’t have to be this way. Our peer libraries which are funded as library districts have opened all their branches. They are offering free access to physical collections and maker spaces. In-person programming has resumed as it has been safe to do so, and their meeting rooms are available for public use.
Why the difference? With stable funding from property taxes, library districts were able to retain sufficient staff during the pandemic to meet patron demand, enforce social distancing, and perform extra cleaning to ensure everyone’s safety. However, municipal libraries, funded like ours, are struggling to support even basic services as sales tax revenue has plummeted and city budgets have been diverted to supporting pandemic response efforts.
The exact boundary of the library district will be defined once the Boulder City Council and Boulder County Commissioners start the process of forming a library district. You can view a map of the proposed boundary here. The black "extended area" line marks the proposed district boundary.
- Will I get to vote on the formation of a library district?
- What geographic areas will the district include?
- When will the library resume full operations?
- How would a district be funded?
- Why can’t the city of Boulder just fully fund the library directly?
- I’m a senior on a fixed income. Can I afford higher property taxes?
- I’m a business owner. Is the proposed tax too high for business?
- When is NoBo branch being built?
- What is a corner library?
- Where would a Gunbarrel branch be located?
- Why a library district?
- Why not just charge people to use the library?
Yes, once the Boulder City Council and the Boulder County Commissioners approve the formation of a library district and settle on the proposed district tax rate, all voters who live within the district boundary will have a chance to vote on whether or not they support the library district tax. If the tax passes, the district will be funded and can begin to function. If the tax vote fails, the district can be dissolved.
A number of news outlets have covered our library's funding needs and efforts to form the Boulder Public Library District. Know of one we're missing? Contact us!
- 06/19/21 Survey commissioned by former Boulder councilmember indicates concern for housing, climate (Deborah Swearingen for the Boulder Daily Camera)
- 06/14/21 Many turned to libraries during the pandemic for free Wi-Fi and other services. Will these venerable public institutions get the credit they deserve? (Jeanne Bonner, CNN)
- 06/14/21 Boulder libraries reopen more services as COVID-19 concerns subside (Alex Edwards for the Daily Camera)
- 05/26/21 - Boulder City Council votes to move toward a library district (Hannah Stewart for the Left Hand Valley Courier)
- 05/20/21 - Boulder takes definitive step toward library district (Shay Castle for Boulder Beat News)
- 05/20/21 - Boulder City Council makes initial move toward library district formation: Official resolution, tax vote likely set for 2022 (Deborah Swearingen for the Boulder Daily Camera)
- 05/19/21 - Boulder City Council agrees to create tax-supported library district (Deborah Swearingen for the Boulder Daily Camera)
- 05/18/211 - Council is set to decide library funding method: Staff will present two options that both include a dedicated property tax (Deborah Swearingen for the Boulder Daily Camera)
- 05/09/21 - [Opinion] Library funding is critical (Doug Hamilton in The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 05/08/21 - [Opinion] For Mother’s Day, consider the gift of a child-friendly city (Claudia Hanson Thiem in The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 04/18/21 - [Opinion] Gifts of the Library (The Boulder Daily Camera Editorial Board)
- 04/03/21 - [Opinion] Once More With Feeling - Time for a Library District (Claudia Hanson Thiem in The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 03/03/21 - Library advocates push for the city and county to consider a library district (Hannah Stewart for the Left Hand Valley Courier)
- 02/24/21 - No library district this year, Boulder council (informally) decides (Shay Castle for Boulder Beat News)
- 02/24/21 - BPL Funding Question Back on the Table (Deborah Swearingen for the Boulder Daily Camera)
- 02/23/21 - [Opinion] Mailbag: Boulder Library in Crisis, Town Discusses Library District 2/23 (Boulder Library Champions in the Lyons Recorder)
- 10/10/20 - [Opinion] Boulder Needs a Library District (Joni Teter, et al. in The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 10/03/20 - [Opinion] Yes, we ought to talk about race (Claudia Hanson Thiem in The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 09/08/20 - Boulder city staff members propose ‘conservative’ 2021 budget; Library branches, police annex could be cut (Katie Langford for The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 08/06/20 - Main Boulder Public Library reopens, offering limited services (Brooklyn Dance for The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 07/15/20 - Boulder launches One Book, One Boulder reading program (Noelle Videon for The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 05/06/20 - Boulder announces phased reopening of some city facilities (The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 05/05/20 - Boulder library community workshop develops personal protective equipment for hospitals, city (Hannah Metzger for The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 04/30/20 - Boulder Library Foundation launches fund to aid furloughed librarians (Julia King for The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 04/28/20 - CODI19 Support - Library WiFi Hotspots (City of Boulder)
- 04/28/20 - [Opinion] Elevate libraries in austere times (Claudia Hanson Thiem in The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 04/14/20 - Boulder furloughing 737 city employees beginning Monday (Sam Lounsberry for The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 04/06/20 - Potential Boulder County minimum wage, tax hikes lose steam as focus turns to coronavirus response and recovery (Sam Lounsberry for The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 03/07/20 - [Opinion] Council should support the library Boulder deserves (Sam Fuqua in the Boulder Daily Camera)
- 02/15/20 - Skeptical council questions library district, with eye on Boulder control (Shay Castle for The Boulder Beat)
- 02/14/20 - [Opinion] From the Editorial Advisory Board: Library district (The Boulder Daily Camera Editorial Advisory Board)
- 02/11/20 - Boulder City Council growing closer to action on library taxing district (Sam Lounsberry for The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 02/06/20 - Boulder Public Library funding model returns to Council ahead of final signal on property tax district (Sam Lounsberry for The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 01/29/20 - Boulder Library Champions announces 2020 plans (Jocelyn Rowley for The Left Hand Valley Courier)
- 01/01/20 - Boulder City Council will reconsider library district proposal (Jocelyn Rowley for The Left Hand Valley Courier)
- 08/07/19 - Supporters of Boulder library district aim for 2020 (Jocelyn Rowley for The Left Hand Valley Courier)
- 07/16/19 - [Opinion] Library Champions developing 2020 strategies (Boulder Library Champions in The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 05/09/19 - Poll: Boulder residents’ affinity for library is strong, view of tax increase favorable (Cassa Niedringhaus for The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 05/04/19 - Poll shows tepid support for library tax, but consultants insist victory at the ballot is possible (Shay Castle for The Boulder Beat)
- 05/03/19 - ‘Boulder Library Champions’ organize petition for library district (Cassa Niedringhaus for The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 04/25/19 - Library district could bring new services to Gunbarrel and Niwot (Jocelyn Rowley for The Left Hand Valley Courier)
- 04/30/19 - [Opinion] Boulder can have the library it deserves through creation of a district (Juana Gómez in The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 04/19/19 - [Opinion] Create a district for Boulder Public Library (The Boulder Daily Camera Editorial Board)
- 02/04/19 - Boulder library officials tout tax district as possible solution to funding woes (Anthony Hahn for The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 11/28/18 - Boulder will ask residents to weigh library district (Shay Castle for The Denver Post)
- 09/06/18 - [Opinion] Budget already stretched as far as it will go (Boulder LIbrary Commission Members in The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 07/24/18 - Facing funding woes, Boulder library pushes for special tax district as council pushes back (Shay Castle for The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 01/24/18 - Boulder Public Library ‘stretched to our capacity,’ facing uncertain future (Alex Burness for The Boulder Daily Camera)
- 11/28/17 - Boulder ponders difficult choices as it attempts to free up library funding (Alex Burness for The Boulder Daily Camera)
Will you join our team of volunteers and help secure our community library's future? Where you can help:
- Reach out to your friends, neighbors, and network to ask them to support sustainable funding for our Boulder Public Library.
- Host a house party to help spread the word and raise funds for the election campaign.
- Become part of our communications team: develop messaging and outreach plans, spread the word through social media, be a point person for news outlets.
Enter your info here to be added to our volunteer list for one or more roles. You can also email us at [email protected] with questions or other ideas for how you might help.
BECAUSE IT'S THE LIBRARY BOULDER DESERVESBecome a volunteer
We are the Boulder Library Champions!
The Boulder Library Champions is a grassroots group of community volunteers who have come together in support of our Boulder Public Library and our community's vision for its future.
We are working to secure sustainable funding for our library.
Our Boulder Public Library is beloved for its excellent service, innovative offerings and commitment to the Boulder community. With over 1 million visitors in 2018, our Boulder Public Library's popularity continues to grow by leaps and bounds.
Unfortunately, funding and staff have not grown to meet the demand for existing and new library services.
By creating a library district, our Boulder Public Library would be funded through a dedicated property tax rather than competing with other city departments every single year. This would provide reliable, predictable funding and the ability to confidently plan for the future to create even better library programs and services for our community. Library districts are now the most common form of governance and funding for Colorado libraries.
View a fact sheet developed by our library at Funding Our Library Future
Why we are advocating for creation of the Boulder Public Library District.
Analysis shows that while most households in Boulder have library cards, nearly 40,000 cardholders live outside the Boulder city limits. No other library system of Boulder’s size has a similar, disproportionate number of cardholders living outside the library’s boundaries. This map illustrates where patrons live relative to the proposed district boundaries.
With a library district, we can better match the patron base to the funding base, offering the most equitable, reliable and accountable approach to funding. Every other library in Colorado similar to Boulder in size and patron base is now a library district.
A single purpose library district enhances taxpayer accountability because its leadership is focused solely on the library. The library’s community assets remain in service to the community, directly maintained and invested in by the district at the direction of the library Board of Trustees. The Trustees would be appointed by City Council and the County Commissioners, providing a degree of ongoing control over library decision making by our elected officials. This map shows the proposed library district boundaries, with precinct numbers and boundaries.
The Boulder Daily Camera's editorial board explains why a library district makes sense for Boulder in its endorsement: Create a district for Boulder Public Library
View a panel discussion about Fort Collins' experience with its library district, and the experience of other Colorado library districts at Funding Our Library Future: Panel Discussion
For Boulder Library Champions' detailed explanation of our library's funding needs and why a district is the best solution, see Our Library's Funding Needs.
Forming a library district can help address looming shortfalls in the Boulder City budget.
The City budget is overstretched. Costs to deliver programs and services have been rising faster than revenue growth for more than 15 years. Every two years, a new Council is elected and new priorities are set, resulting in additional initiatives and new programs that add to the budget stress. The City now has a long list of unfunded needs, many in core programs - basic services and programs that citizens rely on and which are at the heart of Boulder’s quality of life.
Forming a library district would free up $10 million in annual operating + $14-17 million in one time capital expenses from General Fund revenues that can be used for other priority needs - like fire/emergency response, transportation, housing and arts. If the library district contracts with the city for administrative services, the city would receive up to $3.4M/year in additional revenue.
BECAUSE IT'S THE LIBRARY BOULDER DESERVES
Boulder Library Champions are campaigning now to add this issue to the 2021 election ballot.