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.
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. 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. 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.
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!
- 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.
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.
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.