In May we will be celebrating two major milestones in Denver Public Library's history — the groundbreaking for the new branch library at Stapleton and the completed renovations of the Central Library.
I often find myself explaining how the Library has managed to renovate many of our locations, open a new branch at Green Valley Ranch, and plans to build two more branches in Stapleton and in West Denver as we are facing the possibility of closing branches to meet our 2012 budget reduction target.
The majority of the money for the renovations and new buildings comes from the Better Denver Bond program, passed by voters in 2007. The bond provided $56 million to fund necessary upgrades and improvements to existing Library locations and to build three new branches in areas currently under-served by DPL: Green Valley Ranch, Stapleton, and West Denver. The money allocated by the bond can only be used for the purpose the voters intended and cannot be used to fund operations. We received an additional $383,000 from a federal stimulus grant to expand technology access and training at the Central Library and six branch locations. The Broadband Technology Opportunity Fund (BTOP) grant is providing critical access to computers and technology for many who come to the Library to search for a job, update their resumes, apply for a job online or improve their computer skills to meet the demands of a rapidly changing world.
In 2007, no one was anticipating the economic downturn we've had to face. The millions of dollars from the Bond have served as a "mini stimulus" to the Denver economy. Local architects, construction companies, interior designers and trade workers have been employed by Library and other City bond projects. The improvements to our buildings have increased our energy efficiency — saving money and environmental costs over the long run. We have also been able to upgrade our automated technology allowing for greater staff efficiencies and reducing repetitive motion injuries. We have realized some savings in our operations budgets over the past two years as branches were closed for renovations. The temporary closures enabled us to reassign staff to locations with vacant positions.
We are proud of our tradition of innovation and want to celebrate that. During this time of budget cuts and financial insecurity, we continue to look toward the future, to serve the growing needs of the public as best we can. We are very fortunate to have received both the Better Denver Bond funds, and BTOP grant to do so. So many people in our community count on our computers and internet connection for seeking employment, conducting business, expanding education, and connecting with friends and family. This funding has ultimately allowed us to better serve you during this critical time. In fact, in a recent survey we conducted, almost 40% of computer users cited that they were using the computer for job search related business. Now that's amazing!
Together, we are building a knowledgeable, productive workforce and fostering economic development.
Why not put the building of the remaining 2 libraries on hold and go to the voters requesting that the remaining bond be converted for use for general funding. Nobody is going to go hungry if those 2 libraries are not built at this time. Voters will be more likely to support DPL at the voting booth if there is a little give and take. If it's all about raising my property taxes, good luck. You have to remember that only a small percentage of the public actually uses the library system on a regular basis - i.e. why expect them to support with their hard-earned money something they don't use? Yes, that may be a short-sighted attitude, but there will be many that have that attitude; especially in the economic environment we're in today.
It seems like a long time ago, though it has been only four years, since the election in 2007 (before the economic downturn, remember?) when generous Denver voters approved the $550M Better Denver Bond Program.
The Denver Public Library received a share of that money to augment the $30M it continues to receive each year from the City's General Fund. The Better Denver money was enough to build three NEW branch libraries--at Stapleton, in West Denver, and the recently opened Green Valley Ranch branch library. The Library also spent some of that money on a new, different, self-checkout system using RFID technology, to replace the slightly-less-new self-checkout system that read barcodes. In addition, the Bond Program funding covered the cost of infrastructure repair and refurbishment of the Central Library and all 22 branch libraries.
And now City Librarian Shirley Amore wants to close "between 7 and 12 " branch libraries--those recently refurbished branch libraries!--to cover a proposed 8% cut to the Library's $30.9M budget for 2012.
She's just thinking about service, she says.
Library patrons endured the implementation of a new library catalog which disrupted service from December 2010 and led to a closure of the library for a week in January/February of this year.
Polaris, DPL's new integrated library catalog, doesn't integrate with the Prospector unified catalog, so Denver Public Library patrons are now denied direct access to the 30 million books, journals, CDs, DVDs and other materials previously available from library collections across the state.
Denver's Office of Budget and Management projects a budget deficit of $100M and asks the Library to absorb their fair share of budget cuts that will affect every entity that relies on the General Fund. Denver is a Community, true enough, and we share revenue and cuts as they happen.
The Library Commission and the City Librarian have something else in mind. What they would quite like, they say, in their Library Commission White Paper, would be an additional revenue stream from cash strapped Denver taxpayers. "Make us a Special Library District with the power to tax" or, perhaps, "another teensy mill levy that would raise your property tax just ever so slightly." (You know, the property tax on your property that continues to decline in value in this New Normal economy.)
Do it, they say, call your elected officials today, or you'll force our hand, and we will close between seven and twelve branch libraries to preserve service.
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