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

Rest assured, we do understand your concern over how we maintain the Library's collection. We don’t take these decisions lightly. We use our Collection Development Policy as a guide as we strive to maintain a collection that is relevant and well used by our customers. In part, the policy states "The Library’s collection is a living, changing entity. As items are added, others are reviewed for their ongoing value and may be withdrawn from the collection." Libraries everywhere struggle with defining the scope of what they collect and keeping their collections current and relevant, while still providing access to more specialized content. Because of changes in our budget and the community over the years, we stopped collecting items in Italian (as well as several other languages) years ago. Rather than maintain a static collection that was not well used, a decision was made to withdraw the items. One of the ways we can continue to provide access to this type of content is with our Interlibrary Loan service. We use this service to share resources with libraries around the state and the country whose collections may have a different scope than ours.

I LOVE the library

I would support the proposed library district idea and would certainly vote for it if it were on the ballot. Will it be on the ballot this November?

It is too soon for us to know if the library district will be on the November 2011 ballot, as this is something the new Mayor and City Council will need to decide. We do however appreciate your support and will keep the public posted as this issue develops.

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