Most of us use our public libraries, but aren’t sure how they are structured or funded. We have expectations of libraries. For example, we want certain materials, questions answered, professional programs, internet access, literacy-based children’s programs. But, we are usually unclear about how these services are funded.
In Colorado, libraries are under the umbrella of C.R.S. 24-90-101 or “library law.” The law identifies four funding structures for libraries – town/city, county, district and regional library authorities. Colorado has more than 250 libraries, and more than half of the libraries are districts.
In La Plata County, we use two structures – a town/city library and a library district. Durango Public Library is a town/city library. The library is a department of the city and has an advisory board. Durango is partially funded by a joint sales tax collected by the county and shared by all county municipalities.
Ignacio Community Library and Pine River Library in Bayfield are library districts. A library district is an independent, quasi-governmental agency that raises revenue through property taxes, similar to special districts, like fire districts, and has a governing board.
Although special districts are regulated by C.R.S. 32, libraries are regulated by C.R.S. 24. Ignacio and Pine River libraries follow the respective school district boundaries to raise revenue. In Bayfield, the tax levy is 2.5 mills, which brings in $77.69 per capita. In Ignacio, the tax levy is 1.5 mills, which brings in $115.51 per capita.
Additional taxes, e.g., specific ownership tax, contribute to library revenues. Pine River Library and Ignacio Community Library, like La Plata County, have suffered from the cut in property tax revenue from the pullback of oil and gas revenues. In the case of Pine River Library, we have lost more than $160,000 in revenue in the last two years.
The question arises as to which structure is better for funding libraries, and the answer is complicated. I remember when I was on the steering committee for a new public library in Durango during the early 2000s. The committee studied whether or not to change Durango Public Library’s structure from a town/city library to a district library. At the time, the library director was adamant about remaining part of the city of Durango, and for good reason. Her job to run a library was significant enough without additional responsibilities of maintenance, snow removal, human resources, custodial duties, etc.
In a district, all aspects of running the facility are part of the director’s and ultimately the board’s responsibility.
Sometimes, I spend my days on tasks related to anything but the library. That said, by nature, library districts usually have more stable funding than other types of public libraries and enjoy a greater freedom in their choices.
In a way, every person we serve in our libraries is our city council person!
Shelley Walchak is director at Pine River Library.