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Guest opinion: Aaron Brockett and Junie Joseph: A district will secure the future for Boulder’s public library

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By Aaron Brockett and Junie Joseph

Libraries are a thread that connects all of us to the community and the world. Each of us has had our own rich journey through them. For Mayor Brockett, the books in the library were a way to learn about the world beyond his small town. For Councilmember Joseph, the library was a way to learn about the American experience as a recent immigrant. And we know that for many others, libraries provide an opportunity to journey beyond the limits of their daily lives and circumstances.

As community leaders committed to education and equity, we want the best future for Boulder’s public library. And we agree with the multiple commissions and working groups who’ve studied the issue in recent years that the best way to secure that future is through a library district.

Through our work on city budgets, we know that our public library is falling behind. Despite growing wealth and population in our community, library funding has remained stagnant for years, and the loss of sales tax revenues during the pandemic forced painful cuts to services and programs. Because of the limitations on the city’s General Fund, we’ve been unable to support our library when we need it the most.

Meanwhile, a large number of library patrons — nearly a third! — live outside of Boulder’s city limits. The library’s service area and the funding base don’t match, making it even more difficult to meet community demand.

A library district — which is on the ballot this November — would create a regional library system, both funded by and responsible to a broader base of library users. Its projected annual budget of $18.78 million would constitute a 20% increase in library system spending. That’s enough to restore hours, staff and programming, address maintenance backlogs, and to add a new branch library in Gunbarrel. And this budget — based on property taxes rather than sales taxes — would be more stable in the face of economic swings.

We often hear that having a municipal library is a point of pride in Boulder, and we too love our long history of civic investment in our libraries. But we also recognize that the best public libraries evolve to meet their communities’ needs.

Many of our peer cities on the Front Range are now part of library districts. In fact, the majority of Colorado library users are now served by districts. From Fort Collins to Adams County to Colorado Springs, there are many successful models to follow. And Colorado’s nationally-recognized Library Law requires a high level of transparency and accountability from these single-purpose districts, from twice-yearly financial reports to oversight of appointed trustees.

Another major benefit of a library district is that it relieves pressure on the city’s overburdened General Fund (the 45% of Boulder’s budget that is not committed to specific departments and programs). As members of the City Council, we are committed to having a robust and public conversation about how to invest the up to $10 million in funding that may become available.Securing our library’s future gives us a rare opportunity to invest in critical needs. This could include fire mitigation, improved emergency response times, human services, or climate resilience, to name just a few.

Libraries are an essential part of our shared future. They preserve our history and share our cultures. They teach our children to read. They provide equitable access to the internet, books, equipment and programming to those who can’t afford it. They help immigrants learn English and pass their citizenship exams. They help adults earn their GED. They provide a safe space for seniors and families to gather and socialize.

As elected officials, we’re challenged every day to find the most effective and equitable ways to support our community’s values. A Boulder Public Library District is an easy choice, and the best way to ensure our libraries remain accessible and strong for generations to come.

Aaron Brockett is the mayor of Boulder. Junie Joseph is a Boulder city councilmember and candidate for state representative. Both are writing in their personal capacities.

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