Municipal vs district libraries

Opponents to our campaign who state that a library district will result in "giving over control" to an appointed board may benefit from looking to any other library system in the state, regardless of whether it's a district, a school library, a City library, County library, or metropolitan library, and they will find libraries of every shape, size, and location are run by appointed boards who are overseen by local elected entities like City Councils or County Commissions. In part, this is designed to serve as a buffer against political officeholders with ideological agendas who seek to ban books and restrict public access to information.

The Boulder Public Library is currently managed (its policies, budget appropriations, and programs) by an appointed commission. The Colorado State Library compares governance of municipal vs district libraries, and here is what they show: 

MUNICIPAL LIBRARY  Library board responsibility and decision making authority is often unclear.  Municipality appropriates funding.  Library board has decision-making authority only in areas authorized by the municipality. Staff members are employees of the city.  The city’s wage, benefit, and personnel policies apply. Buildings and equipment are leased or owned by the municipality. Buildings and grounds are maintained and repaired by the municipality. The municipal attorney’s office provides legal assistance to the library. Library and board insurance is covered by the municipality.


LIBRARY DISTRICT  The library board’s powers and duties are specified in the “Library Law” CRA 24-90-109.  The library board appropriates its funding and has full governing and decision making authority for the library. Staff member are employees of the library district.  The board sets policies and compensation.  The board may secure staff benefits itself, or contract with the county or another entity for staff benefits. Library board typically leases or owns its building(s) and is responsible for the maintenance, repairs and insurance (sometimes leases.) Library district maintains and repairs building on its own or by contract. The library board contracts for legal assistance. The library board must obtain its own board and liability insurance.Boulder Public Library is currently municipally run. One big difference between the two is that in a library district, the board's power and duties are specific in Library Law, whereas in the municipal system such as what our library currently operates, decision-making is limited, and authority is unclear. In both cases, assets, equipment, and buildings can be leased.

MUNICIPAL LIBRARY  Least amount of autonomy.  If the municipality is “home rule,” the municipal charter generally calls for an advisory library board. Funding comes most often from municipal general funds (sales tax) and can fluctuate year to year based on other needs of government. Funding comes from taxes raised by the municipality.  Sales tax is often the principal source. Increases in the library budget allocation are determined by the municipal government. TABOR limits apply to the city who then decides how to apply it to departments.  The library is usually a municipal department. Library board may request to be on the ballot for capital or other needs. Upon request, county must place question on ballot.


LIBRARY DISTRICT  Highest degree of autonomy.  Library district are political subdivisions of the state.  Colorado statutes apply. Funding comes from a set mill levy passed by the voters.  The mill levy fluctuates as property values rise and fall. Property tax is the principal source of funding; although, as a separate taxing entity, library districts are entitled to a portion of specific ownership taxes (CSOTs) collected by the county. The library board adopts and appropriates its own budget. The Colorado Court of Appeals has found that TABOR limits apply to the library district budget directly. Upon request, county must place a question on the ballot.

As you can see from further comparison above, in a municipal setting, funding "can fluctuate from year to year based on other needs of government". 

For more information on Colorado Library Law, please visit Library Laws, Policies, and Standards >>



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 Read ballot issue 6C language here here: