Showcase: The Boulder Library Foundation

Library "friends groups" and foundations are important, long-established support entities that exist across the country to directly advocate for and supplement funding for local libraries, when funding gaps exist. They can take gifts and bequests from members of the public who want to support their local libraries. 

In Boulder, we have the Boulder Library Foundation, established in 1974 with a small bake sale: 

What is a library foundation or friends group? 

Library foundations/friends groups are entirely separate entities from the libraries they support. The American Library Association publishes information about how groups like foundations and friends can supplement library programming gaps. These groups have boards of trustees, governing documents, and reporting requirements. They typically accept small donations, bequests, private gifts, and grants from community members and other funders, or lead fundraising activities to fill in gaps to funding when library budgets can’t cover community need.

Although there is no formal reporting on how many friends and foundation groups exist, we believe that many — if not most — libraries of similar size to Boulder across the country have the benefit of such local entities. Due to fluctuation of private support, the assets of these groups vary widely. Denver Public Library Friends Foundation, established in 1964, has revenues of $6M, according to GuideStar. By contrast, Friends of Longmont Public Library, established in 1985, reported $25K in revenues in 2021. Boulder Library Foundation's revenue in 2020 was reported as $557K.

Boulder Library Foundation enhances the library's programs

Advocating for the library’s long-term prospects is the sole purpose of friends and foundation groups. This is true here in Boulder, too. Many of the public programs at Boulder Library are funded by Boulder Library Foundation grants. 

Among some of the notable programs that Boulder Library Foundations has funded, these stand out: 

But grant funding to meet public demand is not a stable model

We’re grateful to the Boulder Library Foundation for its nearly 50-year support of the library’s programs, and for its generous contribution to this campaign. While library friends and foundations fill the gaps for programming, long-term, stable operations funding – to make sure the library’s doors stay open and its programs can be staffed – is why we need a library district

We've spent lots of ink in recent years letting the public know just how dire the circumstances of the library's funding picture are. A recent review of services and offerings that the Boulder Public Library has had to reduce, limit, or simply not start was conducted in a previous blog post: "How's the library doing these days?"

Even with the steadfast, generous support from the Boulder Library Foundation, many of its most important achievements remain limited, reduced, or paused. Grants from the foundation cannot fix the long-term, chronic, and worsening budget gaps that have resulted in the decades-long underfunding of the library due to City budget decisions: 

  • Access to internet and computers remains limited, because Boulder libraries continue to have staffing shortages, leading to reduced hours of operation at all branches.
  • NoBo's corner library was forced to close on Monday through the summer this year due to shortages in the budget.
  • Social equity programs like Reading Buddies and Boulder Reads have reduced capacity because their staff positions have been terminated. The collection budget, which was already low relative to peer libraries, remains below its pre-pandemic level, even though patron demand remains high (especially for expensive electronic materials).
  • BLDG 61, the library's nationally recognized makerspace, is only open two days a week due to staff and budget cuts. 
  • Critical building and infrastructure maintenance remains unfunded

Forming a library district provides stable, public funding for a public resource

BLF co-president Alicia Gibb pointed out the precarious nature of relying on the foundation to support core library programming long-term in testimony before City Council in May of 2021 (emphasis ours): 

I was a library commissioner in the past, I’m now on the Boulder Library Foundation board as the president. I know the history of the library funding issues and shortfalls well. I hope you have all read our letter in support of the library district through resolution, the summary of which is that we know how incredibly thin the library is stretched in funding and staff, and we know how incredibly popular the library is with the Boulder public. The foundation continues to fund more and more as the city cuts and cuts from the library budget. This method of depending on the foundation to step in and give the taxpayers what they want is not financially sustainable.

Boulder Library Foundation has been a staunch supporter of the establishment of a library district, writing an open letter to Council in 2020 (emphasis ours)

Our board has come to the clear realization that providing our current level of funding for what is often very basic library programming is simply not sustainable for our organization. As such, we strongly support the work of the Library Champions and we are here today to challenge you, our elected officials, to thoroughly review their recommendations and let the public’s voice be heard at the ballot box.

For too long the City has deferred taking steps to adequately fund existing library programs. Now is the time to vote on a plan that fully funds library operations so that our Foundation can refocus on supporting the creative and innovative ideas that will help define our library for the next generation.

It's time to finally give Boulder Library a long-term, stable funding source, so that it can meet public demand with public, invested, dedicated dollars. Learn more about you can help here >>