The role of a public library

It once was the case that the public library was the place you visited only to check out books. You selected them, showed the librarian your library card, a record was kept, and a due-date was hand-stamped on a card in that little "pocket" on the inside cover of each book. It was all done on a relatively small scale. But that procedure has changed, as has Boulder Public Library (BPL).

First the stats. Between 2014-2018, visits to BPL increased by 8%; new cardholders were up by 20%; check-outs were up by 32%; program attendance was up by 63%; and amazingly, participation in the BPL Summer Reading Program was up by 598%!

In 2016, BPL was selected by the Colorado Association of Libraries as THE Library of the Year for the entire state of Colorado. During 2017, there were just under ONE MILLION in-person visits to all branches of BPL. This is an average of 2,800 visits per day; only OSMP and the Pearl Street Mall have more. 

In that same year, 12,000 new library cards were issued; patrons checked out 1,500,000 items, in all formats; and BPL offered 3,100 programs, for over 80,000 participants.

How else has BPL changed? According to the 2018 Master Plan, during 2017:

  • The Homebound Delivery Program assisted 90 seniors in the Boulder community.

  • BoulderReads! served 140 children and adult learners.

  • The BPL art gallery hosted 11 art exhibits and 1,500 people attended movies shown as part of the BPL Film Program.

  • More than 7,500 people attend concerts, music workshops, lectures, and other events in the Canyon Theatre.

  • 770 volunteers contributed over 18,000 hours of work to assist with BPL's many programs. This is the equivalent of nine full-time employees and accounts for 12% of BPL's annual work hours at the equivalent of $475,770 salary.

Other features and updates of note include:

  • An official Teen Space, dedicated to teenagers, plus many children's programs.

  • Technology programs, including STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) and Computer Science and Education (CSEd) week.

  • Seeds Café spanning Boulder Creek, and a fully-equipped MakerSpace called BLDG 61, which has hosted 45,000 participants and is booked for months in advance.

  • Shelvers became known as Material Handlers, and a new Automatic Materials Handling System located in the basement at BPL Main began in 2013; its goal is to have all returned items back on the shelf within 24 hours.

  • A 2012 taxpayer-approved $4.5 million renovation of BPL Main was completed in April of 2015. The renovation consisted of a complete remake of the interior, moving some departments to different locations, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags placed in EVERY BPL item, and the creation of six meeting rooms.

As you can see, this is all a long way from visiting your local public library just to check out some books! The public library, with all its offerings and programs, has become a vital, popular, and successful community center. BPL has established partnerships with various organizations in Boulder, and it offers opportunities for literacy, lifelong learning, business and social meetings, cultural experiences, creativity, job-seeking, and open free access to all library materials.

In other words, the role of a public library is to improve and enhance the quality of life in the community it serves. And with all of the above, BPL has been very successful in achieving this important and cherished goal.