Lessons from library districts

This past year, the Boulder Library Champions have been working hard to communicate to the public that the current Boulder Public Library system is wildly underfunded and has been for quite some time. The more we research this topic, the more convinced we are that a library district is the only way to help our library thrive.

We compared a few factors about our library to other libraries in Colorado of similar size. First, it is notable that the three other comparable libraries have formed districts. The three comparable districts based on number of cardholders are Poudre River Public Library District in Fort Collins, Pueblo City-County Library District in Pueblo, and Rangeview Library District in Adams County. 

A number of things are notable about our library system in Boulder when compared to these districts. First is the number of card holders as a percent of the population. This number is calculated by taking the number of registered library patrons divided by the city’s population. The first thing to note about this data is for the library districts, the number of registered patrons versus population has steadily increased between 2000 and 2016 at a rate of about 15%. Boulder Public Library, by comparison, has seen an increase in registered borrowers as a percentage of population three times that rate: a 47% increase since 2000. In 2016, registered borrowers compared to population was 131%, meaning that more people were card holders at the Boulder Public Library than made up the city’s population. There were an estimated 108,288 people in Boulder in 2016, and there were 140,607 card holders that year according to the IRS. Boulder Library stands out among the other three districts, as it is the only one that exceeded the city population in number of library card holders. 

This graph shows the number of registered borrowers for the four comparable libraries or districts. We did not have data for Boulder Public Library in 2000. Also, in 2000 Rangeview was a part of Adams County so the numbers are skewed. For the most part though, each library has experienced consistent growth in number of registered borrowers in the last 16 years. Other library districts have experienced growth in their number of registered borrowers, but at an average of 21%; Boulder Public Library in contrast, experienced a 69% increase. 

This chart shows the operating budget of the 4 libraries over the last 16 years. Although Boulder’s has increased, these increases have been incremental, and even less when adjusted for inflation. Also, by number of registered borrowers, our library ranks second, right behind Poudre River Public Library District. Despite this, our library is the lowest funded of the four. 

Another major outlier of the Boulder Public Library is the decrease in the number of full-time employees since 2000. Boulder Public Libraries’ full-time employees decreased by 17% since 2000; while  all three other comparable districts saw an increase. By 2016, these three other districts had the funding for 100 full time employees, while Boulder had only 75.5. That is a decrease from the 90 Boulder had in 2000…and since then, Boulder Library has seen at least 50,000 new registered borrowers.

Boulder Public Library has seen significant growth in the last 16 years. More people are card holders at the Boulder Public Library than live in Boulder. This helps explain why Boulder Public Library is struggling to keep up with demand and wear and tear maintenance. The library system is now bigger (patron-wise) than the actual city itself. Continuing to fund the Boulder Public Library through the city of Boulder’s general fund will result in more constraints as time goes on and as the population and patron base continues to grow. Boulder Library Champions hope that the information presented here reiterates why a district is needed: our library has gotten too big for the city to handle on its own. Boulder, let’s take the lead from Adams County, Fort Collins, and Pueblo -- we NEED a library district!