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:


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.

DPL Docent

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?

I think this is one of the central issues: Does one see things like RTD, public schools, libraries, parks, etc as something that the commonwealth owns and maintains or should be services that are wholly paid for by the users of those institutions. Personally I think that these sort of things are what make living in a place like Denver so great, and I think that many of them would disappear if they were strictly user funded. And the people who need them most, like children, people looking for work (library use goes up during times of high unemployment) may lose access to them.

I will continue to advocate for reasonable funding for these sort of services. Well spent taxes (I am aware not all are) are part of the way we pay for a great city. I am proud to do so and in general feel that service I get are well worth it.

Let's talk about how the private sector and NOT the public sector got us into the national financial mess we're in right now. Try to remember the last time the library asked for a BAILOUT like many of the financial institutions of our day. Sure, public institutions ask for increases in funding because the cost of resources continues to rise, just the like the cost of our food, our fuel, and our precious natural resources. Public service organizations and government are no exception to this rule, and if we want any public library at all, we have to be willing to fund it adequately.

Those that use the library the most, pay the most? Wow, how absurd. So, those who have the fewest financial resources to buy the books they want still must pay to use the *public* library?

Those of us who are well informed know that American libraries are unique in the sense that they uphold the ideal that ALL have EQUAL AND EQUITABLE access to information, regardless of income or the ability to pay for those resources. Taxes pay for the things we all use. Get over it.

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!

Hi Marcus,  thank you for you concern.  We wanted to point out that in general, library districts do not have the tendency to go back to the voters to increase taxes on a frequent basis. In addition to the response posted by the Douglas County Library, the Arapahoe Library District (ALD), among many others is another good example. ALD was formed in 1966 and in the 45 years, they went to the voters to raise the mill levy/tax only three times: 1986, 1995, and 2003.   

TABOR would require us to go to the voters when/if we needed more money. However, there are a number of practical constraints that would keep the library from doing this too often.  The primary difference between DPL and RTD is that RTD is financing a large capital project over a number of years, with many unpredictable cost factors in play.  DPL is asking for operating dollars, which are much more predictable. Additionally, property taxes don't fluctuate as much, which would allow us to plan ahead over the years and save money to get through recessions, etc.

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.

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


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.

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