This guest opinion by BVSD boardmember and co-founder of EL PASO Richard Garcia first appeared in the Daily Camera on March 8, 2022
As a young person growing up in Monte Vista, my family didn’t have a lot of resources — especially to buy books. So I spent a lot of time in our small-town library. For me and my family, it was the only place we had that was a welcome environment, with wonderful reading materials and support to improve my literacy skills.
Today, the pandemic has opened many people’s eyes regarding the disparities that underserved families experience and the need to create a Boulder regional library district to provide stable funding for the critical community assets designed to address the issue.
Literacy is an essential learning skill that all children must have to succeed. Literacy gaps have widened, particularly with kids who were already behind during the pandemic. After a year of disrupted schooling and separation from peers, children need access to the literacy and STEAM programs, supplemental instruction, and reservations for tutoring space that our library normally provides.
Boulder’s libraries are poised to meet these challenges. There’s the Reading Buddies program, which pairs K-3 aged-children with college-aged students and above to improve their reading scores.There’s Book-Rich Environments, a partnership with Boulder Housing Partners to distribute free books to low-income families. There’s home delivery services to our seniors who can’t get to the library independently. More than half of the folks who participate in the BoulderReads program are English as a Second Language (ESL) students.
The Boulder Public Library is no different from my little library growing up, except that libraries today are doing essential work far beyond providing a place to get lost in a book: they’re bridging community gaps: gaps to wealth, gaps to language, gaps to learning, gaps to access.
Some programs that go beyond literacy include: The BLDG 61 apprenticeship program, a partnership with I Have a Dream Foundation to give students a budget for materials as well as a stipend to pursue their advanced technology ideas in the Makerspace.
The Student One program works with BVSD to give all 13,000 students in the Boulder region free access to databases and homework help through their student ID card. The Summer of Discovery isn’t just the library’s summer reading program: it also provides individual support for BVSD’s 700 students in summer school.
Then there’s the outreach that library staff have done in the Vista Village, Ponderosa, and Meadows mobile home parks, conducting weekly STEAM programming and storytimes. If those communities can’t easily get to the library, the library comes to them.
The North Boulder Library will have the first and only free community meeting space in the northern neighborhoods, located between the Meadows and Ponderosa mobile home parks.
In my seven years as a school board member and my involvement with Engaged Latino Parents Advancing Student Outcomes (ELPASO), I see the need that families have regarding access to the internet; our schools are doing a great job to assist, but they’re also limited with resources. In April 2020, the library got a grant to distribute over 400 free wifi routers with unlimited data to low-income families and seniors.
These last three examples above are especially important to think about. If our library is a bridge, then it is essential social infrastructure – to the internet, to learning programs, to spaces to meet and discuss. However, all of the programs I mentioned above are either limited by grant funding, or paused and reduced due to cuts made to the city budget over recent years. Eventually, depending on how we decide to move forward, we may lose even more.
That’s why I strongly support creating a Boulder-area library district. We must develop a funding structure for our library that provides a sustainable pathway for it to restart paused and halted programs, restore hours to branches, deepen outreach to serve the wider region and under-resourced groups, and to expand its partnerships with community organizations.
My local library opened up new possibilities for me as a kid who loved to read. But libraries today do so much more: They connect us, and our communities need that connection.
- Richard Garcia is a member of the Boulder Valley School District Board of Education.
As we get into gear for Boulder library ballot measure 6C to secure a stable funding future for our Boulder libraries, we’ll use this space to cover some of the details on the library district proposal that might be of interest to the public as this campaign moves ahead. Ballot issue 6C to fund our libraries will ensure that Boulder Public Library has long-term funding via a library district. We can't keep our libraries underfunded and closed. It's time to fund our libraries. Learn more at https://www.boulderlibrarychampions.org/. Read ballot issue 6C language here here: https://www.boulderlibrarychampions.org/ballot_language