Message from the City Librarian: Library’s Customer Base is Far from Eroding

Denver Public Library

In a recent Denver Post article by Vincent Carroll, he states, “… does it really make sense to relieve the city's budget woes by creating a permanent funding stream for the one service whose customer base is facing potentially drastic erosion? Before any tax reaches the ballot, let someone make that case.”

As you can imagine, I have a very strong opinion about this. Libraries have been adapting to the world around them for the past century, and the surge of the digital age is no different. Libraries provide essential services to the public such as computer access and training, job-search assistance, literacy programs, and access to thousands of print and digital materials. They serve as the cornerstone of their community and are a key link in developing a knowledgeable, productive workforce and fostering economic development.

The increase in the use of eBooks does not mean that the library’s customer base is eroding, as Carroll’s article suggests. It means that libraries must offer this popular format in addition to the physical books which many are still using, and adapt to the changing needs of the public as they have for decades.

In 2010, the Denver Public Library welcomed over 4 million visitors, circulated 9 million items, and had 40 million online transactions -- hardly a sign of becoming obsolete. In fact, libraries across the country are seeing an increase in usage, not a decrease, especially in times of recession. According to a study by the American Library Association, over two thirds of Americans have a library card and visit a library 1.4 billion times a year. Every day, 300,000 Americans seek job-related help at a public library. It’s quite evident that libraries are not just places to hold books.

There has been an age-old debate over what the library of the future looks like. As long as there is a need for free and equal access to information – libraries will be around and will continue to adapt to the needs of the public.

In 1889, John Cotton Dana, DPL’s first city librarian, had the vision of making the Library “a center of public happiness.” He was a pioneer – bringing resources and services to the people. His main objective was to make the library relevant to the daily lives of the citizens, an objective that is still at the core of the Library’s mission.

But to prepare for the future needs of our community, the Denver Public Library must address a fundamental challenge in how it is funded. The Library, funded by the City of Denver’s General Fund has undergone major budget cuts for the past several years. This has led to drastic reductions in service hours, staff levels and purchase of new materials. With the impending cuts to the 2012 budget, our world-class library is in serious jeopardy.

The Denver Public Library is at a crossroads. We cannot continue to be at the mercy of the unpredictable ups and downs of the City’s budget. We need a long-term sustainable funding solution. Forming a library district has been viewed by communities across the state as the best form of governance for delivering consistently high-quality library service. A modest mill levy increase (about $56 per year on a $200,000 home) would make a tremendous difference in how we can provide service. All library locations would be open at least 40 hours per week, instead of the current 32. We would be able to provide the materials, technology and programs that our customers want and need. Most importantly, we’d be able to plan for our future without the constant threat of unknown budget cuts from year to year.

For more information about DPL’s budget situation and library districts visit: denverlibrary.org/budget

Comments

For more than 2 years I have lived on one third of my normal income and I don't see any changes coming. I was forced to discontinued cable and all other entertainment because of cost. I re-discovered the library and use it's services constantly. From this resource, I have learned to craft, cook, sew and garden etc. in order to become more self sustaining. I am able to read wonderful books and watch DVD's that not only teach but transport me to other worlds. This is the only entertainment at my disposal during this difficult time and I, for one am grateful to the Library System and it's employees for providing this great service. I know many others are in the same situation and it would be a crime to take this service away.

Vincent Carroll's comments were not very fact based or intelligent, especially from someone who has made his living with the written word. Mike Rosen said on his radio show that libraries will not be needed in the not too distant future and they will be museums. These types of comments are ridiculous from people who think our tax dollars shouldn’t be used for anything except maybe wars. The internet certainly has its place, I work on the internet. Ebooks have their place, but neither will ever replace having an actual book, fiction or non-fiction. It is a shame that the Denver Public Library system was once #1 or #2 in the country and is now way down the list. It needs to become the top library in the country again. And selling many of your books is not the way to do it DPL.

Thank you for your comments, and YES we agree-- we would like to be the #1 library once again, as we are currently ranked #4 in the county in our category by the HAPLR index.

In regard to your last comment, we did want to point out that there is a life cycle for books, and one way we make room for newer titles is by taking older books and those no longer used by our customers, out of circulation. If we didn’t do this, we simply would not have enough shelf space to keep adding books. Most of these materials are sold at our Annual Used Book Sale, which directly benefits DPL's Collections Department. The actual number of books in circulation year-over-year slightly varies because of budget fluctuations, however is typically at about 1.5 million, excluding reference items. Note, the total number of items in our collection was about 2.3 million last year –details can be found here:http://www.denverlibrary.org/content/facts-figures

Thanks again, we appreciate your support!

Let's see - last year DPL circulated 9 million items.

Last year, The Denver Post's M-F print circulation declined by 9.12% to 309,863. Sunday circ dropped 4.46% to 472,664.

So whose customer base is facing drastic erosion?

It's only a matter of time before Vincent Carroll's unhelpful and unfactual forum disappears, forever. He's been taking these potshots at DPL for years and years, wasting a great deal of the respective City Librarians' time in the process as they dutifully set the record straight, again and again.

The above statistics prove that people continue to value excellence in content.

Great points Virginia.

Anyone who has followed Vincent Carrol's comments in the Denver Post for any length of time already knows that he frequently makes idiotic comments, half-baked observations, and un-substantiated assertions- and that is his usual fare.

His stupid comments about the library come as no surprise at all. That's about all he is capable of any more.

Unless I am desiring to be annoyed, I avoid his column like the plague.

Statement by Christiane Citron at Meeting of the
Denver Public Library Commission, June 15, 2011

You’ve had poll after poll tell you that Denver voters love and value our branch library system. Some branches are especially beloved ‘mom and pop’ operations and are no less loved for being small by their often low-income users because they may not be as “efficient” as you would wish. Much of your rhetoric seems to forget that the library is not a superstore.
The library provides a service to the public, rather than a product. It provides access and should not be measured by standards of productivity or efficiency of a factory. Your ‘product’ is the access itself. Some were donated in perpetuity by Andrew Carnegie in a sacred trust intended to insure access to the poor (and are designated historic landmarks, a mark of the City of Denver’s esteem for their importance). For example, many of the people who rely on Byers Library (a Carnegie Library and designated historic landmark) are mobility limited, children, elderly and poor. I challenge each of you to come to Byers any time and see children filling the space, using the six computers. When we met there the last two times, there was not enough space for us to meet at a table because library users were filling the tables.
I refer you to this book, Carnegie Libraries Across America—A Public Legacy by Theodore Jones, which ironically is not in the DPL collection. [I held up the book to display it] I got this book from the Auraria library. I would like to hope this omission does not reflect your disregard for the Carnegie libraries still within the DPL system.
However, faced with limitation of funding, you have voted to proceed with a plan that you may close seven to twelve branches. City wide neighborhood groups have objected to this. At the same time you’ve begun an expensive PR campaign and seem to be recruiting city employees to lobby voters on a ballot issue that they should remove this system of public assets treasured in a public trust from out of city government accountability and make you an independent entity.
Many of us are dismayed that you are moving in the wrong direction, of less potential community role in decision-making. Our branch system and our publicly owned real estate should not be up for grabs, especially at a time when you’ve been working toward passing a new de-accessioning policy. We want more public participation in library decision-making, not less. We think you should make decision-making after community input, not the other way around as you have been doing with community meetings as window-dressing after the fact. Because of this pattern, trust issues have developed, which are compounded when community advocates ask to see library meeting material and are told that they have to make formal open records requests.

CHRISTIANE H. CITRON
Library Volunteer and Advocate

Amazing! Mr. Carroll is a little out of touch. This is a recession--and "free" activities are desperately needed. Sure we pay via taxes--but those go up every year regardless and I'd rather see them paying for stuff I use! We had to cut out things like cable TV, trips to the movie theater, and most outings--but we can still get books to read while we unwind in bed and picture/kids books to read with the kids, old classics and new release movies to watch for at home date nights, even PBS & Nick Jr cartoons on DVD for our preschooler. We can attend library story times and events for the cost of transportation -- a big help to our family budget. NO MORE LIBRARY CUTBACKS! KEEP DPL FUNDED!

Amazing! Mr. Carroll is a little out of touch. This is a recession--and "free" activities are desperately needed. Sure we pay via taxes--but those go up every year regardless and I'd rather see them paying for stuff I use! We had to cut out things like cable TV, trips to the movie theater, and most outings--but we can still get books to read while we unwind in bed and picture/kids books to read with the kids, old classics and new release movies to watch for at home date nights, even PBS & Nick Jr cartoons on DVD for our preschooler. We can attend library story times and events for the cost of transportation -- a big help to our family budget. NO MORE LIBRARY CUTBACKS! KEEP DPL FUNDED!

Excellent article, Shirley. It is clear to me that Vince Carroll did not perform any real research on the DPL, but was "shooting from the hip" as usual. I agree with other respondents that a library district will be the best entity for maintaining and delivering high-quality library service. Of course, libraries are changing to respond to constantly changing needs of their patrons. Who would have guessed 20 years ago that library docents would be giving computer lessons! The E-Book collection has greatly expanded and by the end of the year, finally, Amazon will modify the Kindle software so that Kindle owners will be able to check out and read library books on their readers!

The clientele and the need exist and continue to grow. Let's be sure our library system has them means to support both.

Kathy
DPL Docent

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