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:


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!


1.) Up the library district.

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

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.

I would love to see the library become a district, especially if it would improve the number of hours the libraries are open. I grew up in suburban Chicago and took it for granted that the public library was open 12 hours a weekday and 9-5 on the weekends; it's been an adjustment to have to check the website every time I want to go to the library to see if my branch is open. If I have to pay a dollar a week to ensure more reliable service, it's worth it to me.

Thanks to all the librarians for their service and professional commitment - I know the ups and downs are difficult for the staff even more than for the patrons.


 Hi Hugo,

Thank you for your interest. We know the library district is a new concept for many and there is a lot of information to learn.  In a nutshell, a library district is a separate library system which is NOT funded by the City, rather by a separate dedicated source of income, such as a voter-approved mill levy on property tax. A library district is not an agency of the City. It is a political subdivision of the State, and is governed by five to seven trustees who are appointed by the City Council. 

We have posted detailed information about library districts on our site, including the pros/cons and how it differs from our current status as a City agency.

Please let us know if you need further clarification, we are happy to answer any of your questions.

I am 27 years old, I shut off my television 6 years ago and recently took the plunge and dropped internet in my house. THEN, I discovered the central library! It's wonderful! I have read more books in the last month than in the last 5 years. Many of the movies I used to rent are there for free too!! Whoever declared the library as eroding might possibly have an eroding brain.. Go to the library!!!

I use the Denver Public library services all the time, and strongly support it (including through donations).

So I am of two minds about this article: one the one hand, I welcome the clear statement that the library is an essential service that should be defended and strengthened; on the other hand, the library has taken recently some actions that make a mokery of the words "world-class library". I am referring to the recent decision to get rid of many language collections (and chiefly, among them, the collection of Italian books): you cannot claim to be a "world-class library" if you do not have on your shelves Dante and Boccaccio, Pascoli and Alfieri, Calvino and Levi in the original.

In this time of budget constraints, I could certainly understand a decision not to purchase any longer for the time being new books in several languages... even including Italian. But why getting rid of the books you already had? I found (and rescued) several of them from the tables of the annual sale. They all showed they had been checked out may times, but were still in good conditions and able to be lent many more times.

The availability of the best literature in many languages is a corenerstone of culture; its purge from the shelves of the Denver Public Library is a crime against culture and, in my opinion, a truly barbaric act.

And FYI - many classic works in their original languages are currently located in the Literature area (the Dewey 800s) where books include the text in both the original language and also in English. Some of the authors you mentioned have works located there.

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