Library District 101

The Library District Explained

What is a Library District?

A library district is a separate, independent agency with dedicated property tax revenue that is approved by voters. Library districts are governed by library boards appointed by City Council. The Denver Public Library Commission believes separating the Denver Public Library from the City and receiving independent funding through a library district is a viable option for ensuring the long-term success of the Library and the community.

How is a Library District Funded?

The library district would be funded with a property tax on residential and commercial property. The Library would need to receive about $38 million a year to fund the Central Library and 23 branches at acceptable service standards set forth by the Commission in the white paper dated April 20, 2011. The owner of a $200,000 home would have to pay approximately an additional $53.01 to $58.24 per year to fund the district.

Why Would Denver Want to Form a Library District?

To date, over fifty libraries in Colorado have established funding through a library district, and have shown the advantages of this arrangement. Library districts tend to be better funded and thus are better able to provide exceptional library services to the community. They also are more likely to ensure long-term success and sustainability than libraries operating under government entities.

Here's how:

  • A library district allows a library to focus solely on providing library services. An independent library district is a single purpose district. There is no competition with other services for library funding. The library can focus on fulfilling its mission — as mandated by the State of Colorado — to provide equal access to information to all. Libraries are built on the foundational values of democracy, and they need to be able to focus on providing exceptional library services without the distractions of political pressures or other competing agendas.
  • A library district creates a direct relationship between the library and the taxpayers. In an independent library district, the level of library funding is set by a vote of the people. This makes the library directly accountable to the people it serves and encourages efficiency and transparency.
  • A library district allows libraries to plan effectively. A library district is funded through voter-approved property taxes. Property taxes are more stable and more predictable than sales taxes. Because revenue in a particular year is based on assessed property values from two to three years earlier, there is time to prepare for any impending decline. There is also no "use it or lose it" restrictions. This allows library districts to count on a stable level of funding, engage in long-term planning and build financial reserves in anticipation of future needs.
  • A library district allows libraries to provide better service. Research shows that per capita support for libraries with voter-supported funding tends to be higher than per capita support for libraries that depend on direct appropriations from other entities. In addition, library districts can often obtain key support services at a lower cost than large government entities. As a result, library districts tend to be better funded and better able to support enhanced library services and higher usage levels than other libraries.

What Are the Disadvantages of a Library District?

  • There would be a tax increase to all Denver property owners.
  • The Library would incur some costs currently covered by the City including utilities, Internet and network access, and legal services.

Library District vs. a Dedicated Revenue/Remain City Agency

  • The cost to the public would be the same for either option, as both are funded by a voter-approved mill levy (approx. $56/year on a $200,000 home).
  • Governance: a library district is governed by Trustees appointed by the City Council, and with the dedicated mill levy, it would continue to be governed by a Library Commission appointed by the Mayor.
  • With a library district:
    • There would be less red tape — which would allow DPL to meet the public’s needs in a more timely and efficient manner.
    • There would be no threat of the Library’s funds being reallocated for other City purposes.
    • The Library would be able to focus solely on providing library services.

Other Facts


Colorado Public Libraries: District vs. Non-DistrictBecoming a district makes the library directly accountable to the people it serves and encourages efficiency and transparency. The Library Research Service of the Colorado State Library has conducted a study that shows library districts outperform city libraries on several key measures such as circulation, visits, and program attendance because of this accountability to the public and because of the consistent funding stream.

The goal of exploring a library district is to better serve the community by having a guaranteed funding source to keep all branches open and staffed with relevant programs and materials.

Read the full study: Fast Facts – Recent Statistics from the Library Research Service, June 2008 (printable PDF).

Mill Levy vs. District

Under both scenarios:

  • Denver residents would vote on a dedicated mill levy (approximately $55 per year for a $200,000 home)
  • All Library branches would be open at least 40 hours per week; Central would be open at least 56 hours per week
  • Materials and technology budgets would increase, allowing for more books, movies, music, databases and improvements to computers and software
  • An Intergovernmental Agreement would be created outlining restrictions of funds, the roles of City Council and the Mayor in relation to the Library, and ownership of Library buildings and assets
  • A more sustainable source of funding would allow for long-range planning and a more consistent service level from year to year
  • Eliminating the Library from the City’s General Fund would allow the City to reallocate approximately $35M
  • Unspent Library funds could be carried over from year to year (not “use it or lose it”)
Dedicated Mill Levy
Library District
  • Some costs could still be covered by the City including utilities, insurance, legal fees, fleet maintenance
  • Additional revenue would come from specific ownership taxes
  • Greater direct fiscal accountability to taxpayers – tax bill shows exactly how much money goes to Library District
  • Library remains in city governance structure (Mayor appoints eight- member Library Commission)
  • No change to City Charter
  • Library assets remain in City “portfolio”
  • Risk of future Mayor/City Council violating terms, difficult for City residents to dispute violations
  • Accountability shared between Mayor, City Council and Library Commission
  • Library becomes a separate district, based on Colorado State Law
  • City Council appoints Library Board
  • Change to City Charter
  • Board focused on the Library, no competing interests
  • Autonomy and independence in decision making
  • Denver residents hold Library Board directly accountable
Other Considerations
  • Library still competes with other City Agencies for technology projects, purchasing, legal, facility maintenance
  • City bureaucracy makes it cumbersome to do business
  • Don’t get full value for mill levy if tied to City bureaucracy
  • Library employees remain under City benefit, pay structure
  • Need approval of Mayor/City Council before any future vote for funding increase can go on the ballot
  • Other City agencies/departments can set rates for providing services to DPL without a competitive process
  • Less autonomy to make decisions based on best practices for the Library
  • Technology issues make it difficult to fully integrate into City procedures for contracts, purchasing, communications
  • There are new costs such as building insurance, facilities maintenance, legal fees, audit fees, personnel administration and technology management
  • Must adhere to state budget regulations and tax limitations (learn a new set of rules)
  • Funding increases depend on election campaigns
  • The transition year is difficult, requiring a large board and staff commitment – setting policy, legal advice, staff benefits, education for board, staff and public
  • Library can negotiate programs/rates for employee benefits
  • Library can respond to community needs and trends in a more timely fashion
  • If things go wrong, there’s nobody to blame but yourself
Mill Levy vs. District (printable PDF format).

2012 Average Number of Weekly Service Hours Per Outlet Comparison

Service Hours Comparison

2012 Average Number of Weekly Service Hours Per Outlet Comparison (printable PDF format).

Materials from the Library District Workshop - June 7, 2011

Library District Basics (printable PDF format), presented by Eloise May, Executive Director, Arapahoe Library District

How a City Becomes a Library District (printable PDF format), presented by Jacqueline Murphy, Seter & Vander Wall, P.C.

Denver Public Library Sustainable Funding Report - January 12, 2012

View the sustainable funding report (printable PDF format) from the meeting held at the Central Library that included City leaders, business owners and community members.