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

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:

Written by Shirley Amore on June 13, 2011


Anonymous on June 15, 2011


The ignoble Vincent Carroll is one reason that the Post's circulation is down; may Rightwing propagandists of his ilk all get their well-deserved due. Between his Post editorial page and the reprehensible Denver Daily News, the elites of this country try to convince us that education must be severely cut, libraries should be closed and the peasant class should be illiterate. Revolution is not just a word -- it is a necessity.

nick domenici on June 16, 2011


1.) Up the library district.

2.) I'm afraid to wrap dead fish in the denver post, let alone read it.

Anonymous on June 17, 2011


You'd think those who decide the budget would see the value in investing more in ebooks for library patrons. While the publishers involved with the agency model are limiting the availability of their ebooks to libraries, the ebooks that are available for purchase by libraries require much less human labor in the borrowing/lending process. There's no physical book to tag with a (radio?) id, no physical book that has to be repeatedly driven across the metro area and scanned at every step of the way. They're just files that patrons can request online and download when they're available, and that 'return' themselves (expire and become available again) when the loan period ends. All automated.

Also, with the growing popularity of ebook readers (I'm a new e-reader user, myself, who just finished her first library-borrowed ebook), it makes a lot more sense to expand the library's epub collection than to expand the physical building hours. As long as the hours are varied enough that people with different schedules can make it in to a library for an event, or for hard-copy materials, the buildings don't need to be open quite as much as they used to.



As the popularity of ereaders and digital materials grow, DPL is indeed expanding their selection of ebooks and audio ebooks. We do see this as an investment in the future even though currently, ebooks and audio ebooks are less than 3% of our total usage, a number we keep a close eye on. 

As stated in Shirley's blog post, last year the Denver Public Library had 4 million visitors and circulated 9 million items. The increase in the popularity of ebooks simply means that we must provide this format in addition to the physical books which many of our customers are still using.

Additionally, the need for the physical library locations is actually growing because of the varied reasons people use their public library, other than checking out books. Our customers use Central and the branches for access to computers to search for jobs and write/print their resumes. They rely our physical locations for computer skill training, community meeting spaces, English-language classes, after-school programs, early literacy programs, and even come to us to learn how to use their new gadgets, such as ereaders.

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 as libraries change to meet the needs of the public, they are so much more than just places to hold/lend books.

Thanks for your comments and ideas -- we are thrilled that you are enjoying your new ereader!


Suzanne on June 18, 2011


I completely support the formation of a library district to protect our branch libraries. Our family visits our local branch at least once a week, sometimes more. What needs to be recognized is that not only does the library provide a valuable service with the books (both paper and ebooks), it also provides a variety of other services. Our children routinely use the web page to place holds which are than picked up at our local branch. They enjoy browing the collection in person which we all agree is more fun than browsing the collection on the web page. Our branch has friendly staff who readily recommend books and help us locate items. The reference librarians are very warm and professional in helping us find items for school research projects. Our branch also has a number of computers that always seem to be in use by patrons. Finally, our local branch is a vibrant part of our community where meetings and activities frequently take place. This is the safe place where children can spend their time in an enjoyable and positive manner while also learning and reading. These varied services are what make a the physical presence of the library through the branches so vital. Should our branch close under the current budget crisis, our family would have the economic means to drive to whatever branch would be open nearest to us. However, I worry what would happen for children from families that do not have the gas money to pursue frequent visits to what would become their nearest branch library. I also worry that with further limited hours it will become too constricting for frequent branch library visits. Children need plentiful access to free books. I hope others will give their support to the proposal to form a library district.

Rene Rosechild on June 19, 2011


A great library is an important part of the great city Denver can be. I think a separate district is a sound way to keep Denver's library one of the best in the country. Is there any way we patrons can help make this a reality?


Thanks for your support Rene. We encourage everyone to contact their elected officials and neighborhood groups and share how important the Library is to them, their families, their neighbors and our City. Additionally, if you want to be put on the mailing list to receive more information about the budget issue and how you can help, the Library's Friends Foundation is compiling a list, please email us at


Anonymous on June 20, 2011


I relocated to Denver after a nationwide search of a place to live. One of my criteria was a great public library and Denver has that.

I use the library more than ever. Books have become too expensive to buy and so I use the library.

Marcus on June 20, 2011


Oh great, so basically you want to ask voters to create the equivalent of another RTD District. If you notice, RTD is constantly going to the voters for more taxes. It never stops! Stop using the words "mill levy". They are taxes not matter what you call them. In most cases, they are just added to my already over-inflated property taxes.

Folks, basically if you give the go-ahead for this library district, and subsequent increases in your property taxes, do you really think that will be enough? No, just like RTD, they will constantly be asking for more taxes, so they can build new library branches or "improve services", whatever. Once people get addicted to taxing, it's hard to break the habit. And, whether you use the library or not, you will be paying those taxes. I already pay a "mill levy" (tax) for two different library districts, both of which I don't use. Add to that the ever-increasing sales tax rates across the different cities, counties, locales, etc, things are just out of control. I'm a proponent of DPL. I think it is a great library system. But, there has to be other alternatives than just "more taxes, more taxes", such as use-based fees up to a maximum amount per year. Those that use the library system the most, pay the most. I don't hear this option talked about. Why not?


Marcus, our library district in Douglas County was formed in 1990. In 1996, facing rapid growth, we went back to the voters. After that, we didn't come back again till 2007. So sure, once any organization gets formed, it might indeed decide to ASK for more money. But it's hardly as often as a price increase in the cost of eggs, or cable access, Starbucks coffee. And the public gets to say no!

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