Our library needs sustainable, stable, reliable funding
This piece appeared in Boulder Weekly on October 6, 2022.
We all know that Pearl Street and the Flatirons are icons of our city. These locations serve as a welcoming pad for thousands of tourists each year, but for locals, the library is where you find the heart of Boulder. It is truly one of the perks of living in this city, and, in particular, its makerspace, BLDG61, is truly special among all it offers. However, declining sales tax receipts, bouncing budgets, and staffing cuts have limited the opportunities it is able to offer the community.
When it opened in 2016, many people were not sure what role a makerspace should/could play in a public library. Many asked if it was the library’s role to provide maker-based education. Thanks to the vision of the library director, his staff and support from the Boulder Library Foundation, BLDG61 was launched and quickly became one of the most popular library resources. Now only a few years later, cities across our state have followed suit. This model of hands-on education has become a norm, and for many cities, Boulder was the model to follow. This type of progressive programming requires sustained support. Sadly, bouncing budgets and staffing cuts have limited the hours of operation and growth of BLDG61.
When my husband and I moved to Boulder in 2015 for jobs at CU, I only had a few friends in Colorado. While the school provided me with a new community, finding my place in the city was difficult. I describe myself as an indoor cat in a city of mountain dogs. Boulder was the third place I moved to in less than 10 years. I wanted to put down roots, but it was tough to find my people here. In February 2016, as the makerspace was about to open, I ran into a library employee and we started talking about a project I was part of in California called the Sewing Rebellion. She asked me if I’d like to bring it to Boulder and host it in the makerspace. I said yes and before I knew it I’d found my people.
The Colorado Sewing Rebellion was popular and attracted 20-50 participants every month from spring 2016 to fall 2019. With the help of library staff, I would teach people to mend their clothes, follow patterns, design Halloween costumes and tailor garments to their sizes. We created accessories from leftover streetlight banners, collaborated with community artists and even hosted a popular workshop that showed people how to put pockets into dresses and skirts. Like many of the programs BLDG61 offers, it hasn’t returned since 2019 due to a decrease in budget, staff size and limited hours of operation.
Today, if you walk into the makerspace during its open hours (three days a week), you will see the 3D printers and laser cutters humming along as expected. You will also see small business owners embroidering T-shirts, people mending their clothes, parents working with children on class projects, and staff teaching people to use complex software. The BLDG61 staff creates a welcoming learning environment that, as a professor at CU, I model my own classrooms after. You can’t just put a laser cutter with a manual in a room and hope people will figure it out. The staff must be composed of people who possess a broad range of educational and technical skills. The library’s current dependence on sales tax has made long-time programming, promoting current staff and the creation of new positions much more difficult. A library district will allow long-term planning and a more stable place for people to build community, work and learn.
Even without my deep ties to BLDG61, I would support the creation of a Library District by voting yes on 6C. This is an opportunity for our city to invest in its future and those who will create it. Voting yes on 6C will improve Boulder and support our creative, marginalized and entrepreneurial neighbors. We cannot be a society that thinks about our city as just a place to lay our heads, buy stuff and go out to dinner. We are not a bedroom community, we are not just a tourist destination. We are a city of innovation and creativity. As a community, we share a set of progressive values that are reflected in the library, its programs and its patrons. Our library needs sustainable, stable and reliable funding, so please vote yes on 6C.
Steven Frost (they/them) is an assistant professor in the Department of Media Studies at CU Boulder and faculty director of the B2 Center for Media, Arts, and Performance. Their research focuses on textiles, queer studies, pop culture, and community development. They serve on the Boulder Library Commission and Library Foundation. Frost is co-founder of the Experimental Weaving Residency, Slay the Runway and Colorado Sewing Rebellion.
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