From the Opinion Panel: Forming a Library District

Elected officials will soon vote to form a library district, but its survival is ultimately up to the voters. What factors are you weighing ahead of the November vote? What questions are still unanswered for you?

The Carnegie Library near downtown Boulder (photo via Eric Budd)

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Ambika Kamath: Let’s vote to stabilize a beloved community institution

I moved to Boulder about six months ago, and the single place that I have spent the most time in since my move here (aside from my home, workplace, and the grocery store) has been the main branch of the Boulder Public Library. In my first weeks here, when looking for a place off-campus for us to meet, a new colleague suggested the SEEDS Library café. It was, as she put it, the place where she felt the most connected to the community in Boulder, where Boulder began to feel like a real place to her.

I’ve returned to the library often in subsequent weeks — to peruse the displays in the atrium showcasing local artists and profiling local farmers, to pick up some free seeds of locally adapted plants, to visit the café, on multiple occasions, for delicious soup and people-watching par excellence, and of course to borrow all manner of books. Some of my favorite reads in the past year have been the staff picks at the library.

In times like these, where each day seems to bring with it new instability and often unwelcome surprise, the community-building institutions in our lives become so much more important. We have a chance to bring financial stability to this beloved public good in our town by voting to create a new library district.

We have the chance to broaden the base of people who support the library through their taxes and are therefore invested in the library’s continued resilience and growth. The Library District will further allow library services to serve more people around Boulder, instigating a positive feedback loop. 

A vast majority of people in and around this town believe that the library is “important to the vitality of Boulder.” I hope we vote in a way that demonstrates our commitment to these words.

Ambika Kamath is a biologist, writer, and union organizer who moved to Boulder in 2021. More about Ambika.

Mike Chiropolos: A modest counter-proposal

Why do we need a library district in Boulder Valley? We don’t.

With tongue in cheek, here’s eight righteous reasons why voters should #DenyTheDistrict:

First, we have the internet: e-books, online papers, e-magazines and streaming movies. Anything a library offers, the internet does better. On demand, no waitlists.

Second, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution establish the right for private businesses to make a killing. If they don’t: no matter, they should. The business of America is business. Amazon was founded as an online bookseller. Look at it now! Jeff “Space Cowboy” Bezos needs more of our money, poor guy. Libraries are free.

Third, libraries stock books with dangerous content including ideas that could threaten the status quo. Reading educates and informs. If we want an unhealthy democracy, we will oppose libraries.

Libraries offer newspapers and magazines with opinions I disagree with. They stock books written by people from diverse backgrounds, and by people of faiths we might disagree with or, worse yet, people without any faith at all.

Fourth, the only book anyone needs is the Bible. We should invest the savings from the library district in providing bibles to all citizens. What if you’re not staying at a hotel, and you want to read Ecclesiastes?

Fifth, libraries have books about “science” that depart from Biblical teachings and the American Way. Dinosaur books for children! Books on evolution and the universe which don’t square with the Garden of Eden!! Books that explain “climate science”!!! This threatens the status quo and Big Oil.

Sixth, libraries offer meeting rooms for public use. These may have been used by clean energy campaigners, homeless advocates, the League of Women’s Voters, the NAACP, the NRA, anti-war activists, Ukrainian sympathizers, and other “special interests.” Funding the district will encourage the continued use of taxpayer-funded facilities to spread dangerous ideas and foment unrest.

Seventh, what about libraries and librarians that did something somebody might have disagreed with that you read about on the internet? Whether it actually happened or not, it could. There’s one way to make sure that doesn’t happen here again. If it ever did.  

Eighth, attentive readers are wondering what to do about all the books and shelves in existing libraries. Boulder Valley can light the way to a Brave New World with a community bonfire. To be safe, we’ll burn all the books.

Voters should deny funding to the proposed district – and follow this year’s ballot measure with a proposal to abolish publicly funded libraries entirely. 

Knowledge and ideas are dangerous. Let’s nip democracy and the district in the bud!

Mike Chiropolos lives in Boulder where he raised two sons and spends time thinking about conservation and community. He nominates Cheyenne Autumn by Mari Sandoz for a future “One Book One Boulder Valley” selection. More about Mike.

Claudia Hanson Thiem: I’m all in for a library district

I support the proposed library district and have been attending meetings of the Boulder Library Champions – the group campaigning for its formation – since late last year.

As a restless intellect and cost-conscious parent of voracious readers, I’m a natural fan of libraries. They directly enrich my life, providing challenges and comforts in equal measure. But I’ve also become a library advocate because of their role in building strong and equitable communities. More than any other institution I know, libraries practice inclusion and encourage connection. It’s in their DNA.

My early ‘yes’ on the proposed district comes from a desire to put the Boulder Public Library on stable financial footing, and to give it a fighting chance to achieve the goals in its city-approved Master Plan.

Boulder’s library is immensely popular, but that’s rarely apparent in city budgets. Funding has been largely stagnant for two decades, even as usage has soared. And after a promise to finally address longstanding shortfalls – district advocates withdrew a 2019 ballot measure at City Council’s request – the library absorbed the largest cuts of any department during the pandemic. They have not yet been restored.

Meanwhile, the mismatch between service area and tax base is a structural problem that even a generous City Council can’t solve. According to the State of Colorado’s Library Research Service, more than thirty percent of cardholders lived outside of Boulder city limits in 2020. Today’s library is a regional resource, and needs regional support.

As I look forward to a November vote, my questions aren’t about how a library district will work. With districts already operating in 57 communities across Colorado, we’re not reinventing the wheel. Instead, I’ll be asking if skeptics – at least those who claim to value libraries – have an equitable alternative. At present, both city and county residents are receiving limited services, and I hope they’ll find common cause in a district solution.

Claudia Hanson Thiem lives and parents in Boulder, and breathes city politics through work with Boulder Progressives, Boulder Library Champions, and the Boulder Housing Network. More about Claudia.

Letters from the editor: Library district


Boulder Beat Opinion Panel members are writing in their own capacity. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of Boulder Beat.

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