I recently read the history of the Boulder library and was inspired by the hard work and perseverance of those early champions - Boulder citizen voters, Library board, and later the Library commission, and the Boulder Library Foundation. These leaders directly had a hand in creating the institution that we know and love. History illustrates that the debate of the future of the Boulder library has been happening for decades. We are once again at a point where we need citizen’s, Library Champions, the City Council, Library governance, and the Library Commission to work together to create a future for the library that we can be proud of.
Library Champion, Joni Teter has taken a deep dive into the history of the library’s physical assets, here is a link to the full document. Following are some of the points that resonated with me, that encapsulate the history of Boulder citizens participation in the governance, fund raising, and avocation that shaped our library.
- Boulder Public library’s history starts in 1869 with the formation of a collection reading rooms around the city, operated by various groups funded by various private donations and occasional City donations. In 1903, after five years of unsuccessful attempts to persuade the city to build a public library, the Library Board obtained a pledge from Andrew Carnegie to construct a library building. The $15,000 grant was dependent on the City supplying operating funds and providing a suitable site.
- The .333 mills in property tax, which is still in place today, to fund the operating costs for the library, was allocated in 1904. In the hopes of avoiding land costs, the city offered to build the library next to the jail. Thankfully, this site was rejected by Carnegie. The current site on Pine street was purchased in 1905 for $2,750. Three years later, the new public library opened.
- The Carnegie library served the community for 54 years, but the council and Library Commission, which was formed in 1918, spent many years wrangling over the facility maintenance costs and the location of the new library, which was determined necessary to serve the growing Boulder population.
- Following the 1959 bond of $450,000, which passed by 62% and was initiated by the Library Commission and supplemented by community gifts. In 1961 the new library building, at 9th and Canyon, was ready for use. In 1979, the Council approved use of the Carnegie building as a local history archive. But after years of facility maintenance neglect and the building being used for gymnastics class by Boulder Parks and Rec, significant renovation was needed. The end cost was about $340,000, which was paid for entirely through grants and community contributions. The fund-raising campaign was organized and run by the library and the Boulder Library Foundation, a 501(c)(3), which was started in 1974 to support the Library.
- In 1968 the city contributed $19,700 of the $109,360 needed to buy the land and construct the George Reynolds branch library in South Boulder. Community donations and grants provided the remaining $90,000 needed for the project.
- In 1974 a 14,680 square foot two-story addition was built on the south side of the Boulder Creek, connected to the North Wing of the Main branch by a bridge that now houses Seeds Cafe. The addition included a children’s library, media center, the public access television studio, and public meeting space. The cost was $795,000, paid for with $555,000 from a bond election initiated jointly by the Library Commission and the city.
- In 1987, after a months-long battle between the Council and the Library Commission, a .38% sales tax increase with a $14 million bond 63% of voters approved. Projects listed on the ballot issue included expansion of the Main library; renovations and expansion of the Reynolds Branch; interior construction costs for the new Meadows Branch; and operational funding to restore library hours and buy more books. Funding for a Gunbarrel branch was dropped during negotiations with the Council prior to the vote.
- 1987 also saw another library related battle, the Loftus-Coburn Development proposed a major renovation of the Thunderbird shopping Center, now known as Meadows shopping Center. After neighborhood opposition threatened to derail the project, the developer proposed to donate and the east Boulder branch as a part of the design. The Meadows Branch library opened in 1988, the library spent $675,700 to build out the interior space, paid for by the 1987 bond measure.
- In 1988 a fight over the location of the Main library expansion divided the community. On one side, the city manager, library director and Library Commission wanted to create a second “main library” at the then vacant Watts Hardy Dairy site. On the other side, the Planning Department, Planning Board and downtown businesses wanted the Main library to be expanded downtown. When the council voted 6 to 3 to accept the Watts Hardy proposal, a citizens group formed and successfully petitioned for a ballot measure to keep the expansion downtown, the community voted by 58% in agreement. The Main expansion was completed in 1992.
- The 570 square foot NoBo Corner library opened as a pilot project in March 2014. Boulder Housing Partners leased the space to the library for $1 per year for 5 years. The new NoBo Branch library is planned for a site at Violet and Broadway. The land was donated to the community for use as a library in 1998. The new branch is expected to open in 2022 and will be paid for in part by the 2017 Community Culture and Safety Tax, community donations, and an additional $700,000 from the City Council.
- In 2015 the Main Library was fully reopened after extensive renovation. The $4.9 million project was primarily funded by the voter-approved 2011 Capital Improvement Bond. BLDG 61, also known as the Maker’s Space, opened in 2016, funded by a $250,000 grant from the Boulder Library Foundation
The history of the formation, maintenance, and expansion of the library is deeply rooted in the perseverance of the Boulder community and this is what we need now. Passionate advocates to speak up, support, and vote for the library - and secure sustainable funding for the future of this beloved space.