More people use Durango Public Library than any other regional or resort library in Colorado, despite having fewer employees per 1,000 visitors and lower local revenue per capita, according to state records.
About 423,000 people visited the library in 2017, according to the most recent data collected by the state Library Research Service. Durango’s library sees at least 200,000 more visitors each year than the average of 15 other libraries of similar size around the state.
East Routt Library District in Steamboat Springs, with the second highest visit-rate in 2017, saw about 345,000 visits that year; Clear Creek County Library District had the fewest visits in 2017 with about 78,000. Visitor counts for similar libraries for 2017 include Cortez Public Library with about 163,000 visits, Gunnison County Public Library with 149,000 visits and Summit County Library with about 207,000 visits.
Durango Public Library had the lowest per-capita revenue of the 16 regional and resort libraries, with less than one-third the average per-capita revenue of those surveyed in 2017.
The library also had fewer staff per 1,000 people served than any other regional or resort library, with about one staff member per 2,000 visitors. The average staffing levels for regional and resort libraries is 1.26 per 1,000 people, state records show.
Library Director Sandy Irwin said high-level administrative employees have been spending hours on the public service desk away from regular duties. The facilities manager fielded about 900 phone calls last year requesting to reserve a library room when he could have been looking for things to fix, Irwin said. But library staff do their best to assure minimal impact to the public experience, she said.
“Everybody who works here works really hard behind the scenes,” Irwin said. “Sometimes we need to look at email, patrons will notice things like that, but it’s us trying to do our work in an efficient way.”
Durango Public Library needs at least three new employees to meet the goals it has for staffing: for high-level employees to spend little to no time on public service desks, for exclusive management of facilities and maintenance, and to help the library plan for and invest in community needs, according to a 2019 Library Advisory Board report to Durango City Council.
The Durango Public Library moved in December 2008 from the Carnegie Building at the intersection of 12th Street and East Second Avenue to its current, larger location on East Third Avenue, Irwin said. The library lost two employees in the wake of the Great Recession in 2009 and has yet to rehire those positions, she said.
“Indeed, this new, larger library processes far more visits, circulation and meetings than its predecessor but with fewer staff,” Irwin wrote on behalf of the Library Advisory Board in the report to City Council. “We conclude this is not sustainable with expected population growth in the city and the county.”
Getting more staff would give the library the resources and time it needs to better invest in community interests and innovations in library sciences, she said. The fewer hours high-level staff have to spend on the service desk, the more time they have to connect with local schools or retirement homes, Irwin said. It might also give the library latitude to stay open later on weekdays and reopen on Sundays.
“Nationally, for the first time, circulation statistics have been going down and ours haven’t,” Irwin said. “Our collection use is up. But we haven’t increased material handling staffing for shelving materials. We’re looking at thousands of materials every day, and we all chip in.”
Adding three employees could cost the city about $193,000 each year, according to a report to City Council. To stay open late on weekdays and to reopen on Sundays, the library would need an additional $231,000.
“City Council needs to give direction. There are a variety of staffing things that will be looked at,” Irwin said of citywide staffing. “Once they come up with goals and figure out what’s important, then that translates into a budget, then you see what City Council is hoping for. Really, it is up to City Council and finances.”