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: denverlibrary.org/budget

Written by Shirley Amore on June 13, 2011

Comments

Comment

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.

Comment

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.

Comment

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.

Kathy on June 24, 2011

Comment

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.

Kathy
DPL Docent

Post on June 27, 2011

Comment

Amazing! Mr. Carroll is a little out of touch. This is a recession--and "free" activities are desperately needed. Sure we pay via taxes--but those go up every year regardless and I'd rather see them paying for stuff I use! We had to cut out things like cable TV, trips to the movie theater, and most outings--but we can still get books to read while we unwind in bed and picture/kids books to read with the kids, old classics and new release movies to watch for at home date nights, even PBS & Nick Jr cartoons on DVD for our preschooler. We can attend library story times and events for the cost of transportation -- a big help to our family budget. NO MORE LIBRARY CUTBACKS! KEEP DPL FUNDED!

Post on June 27, 2011

Comment

Amazing! Mr. Carroll is a little out of touch. This is a recession--and "free" activities are desperately needed. Sure we pay via taxes--but those go up every year regardless and I'd rather see them paying for stuff I use! We had to cut out things like cable TV, trips to the movie theater, and most outings--but we can still get books to read while we unwind in bed and picture/kids books to read with the kids, old classics and new release movies to watch for at home date nights, even PBS & Nick Jr cartoons on DVD for our preschooler. We can attend library story times and events for the cost of transportation -- a big help to our family budget. NO MORE LIBRARY CUTBACKS! KEEP DPL FUNDED!

Anonymous on July 5, 2011

Comment

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

Neil Slade on July 10, 2011

Comment

Anyone who has followed Vincent Carrol's comments in the Denver Post for any length of time already knows that he frequently makes idiotic comments, half-baked observations, and un-substantiated assertions- and that is his usual fare.

His stupid comments about the library come as no surprise at all. That's about all he is capable of any more.

Unless I am desiring to be annoyed, I avoid his column like the plague.

Virginia on July 11, 2011

Comment

Let's see - last year DPL circulated 9 million items.

Last year, The Denver Post's M-F print circulation declined by 9.12% to 309,863. Sunday circ dropped 4.46% to 472,664.

So whose customer base is facing drastic erosion?

It's only a matter of time before Vincent Carroll's unhelpful and unfactual forum disappears, forever. He's been taking these potshots at DPL for years and years, wasting a great deal of the respective City Librarians' time in the process as they dutifully set the record straight, again and again.

The above statistics prove that people continue to value excellence in content.

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