Despite budget cuts, Garfield County libraries gain popularity
February 5, 2017
Why do you need the library anymore? You've got Google.
That's a query Jesse Henning hears often — and he's quick to refute it. Henning, executive director of the Garfield County Public Library District, said libraries have evolved with the times.
"We're not just the gatekeepers to information anymore," he said. "Libraries and library staff are becoming information navigators. We have this huge deluge of information that's hitting us all the time, and sifting through what is fact and what is fictional, what is vetted and what is spurious — that's the service we offer."
The district has made headlines for recent budget cuts, which led to a reduction of staff and hours. But as the library prepares to enter a strategic planning process, Henning reviews the many services the library offers and the increased usage of many of those services.
The library's projected 2017 revenue is 35 percent lower than in 2008, Henning said, but usage has increased significantly. Data for 2016 isn't yet available, as the library is in the process of tabulating it. However, in a December letter, the library board cited a 93 percent increase in materials checked out and an increase of nearly 350,000 visitors in the 10 years since the district's creation.
"We've been doing so much more with so much less," Henning said. "We're trying everything we can to be sure we can serve folks."
Although 2016 figures aren't yet available, Henning pointed to several specific areas of growth.
The district registered nearly 6,500 new library card holders in 2016. That means just fewer than 58,000 cards are currently in circulation — a figure that nearly matches the U.S. Census Bureau's 2016 population estimate for the county of 58,095.
Henning is quick to note that doesn't mean everyone in the county has a library card; thanks to consortiums, people outside the area are also able to take advantage of Garfield County resources. But Henning views it as a positive indicator of the library's use.
The Jan. 5 board meeting packet included data through November 2016 for a number of library services, and compared that information to the previous year to date, with several areas seeing significant increases.
Meeting room usage was up 16.59 percent in the first 11 months of 2016. Each Garfield County library offers community space. Nonprofit groups are able to reserve space for free, based on availability, and for-profit businesses are charged a nominal fee.
"The library's really been able to act as an incubator for democracy," Henning said. "One hour we'll have people that are writing postcards to their senators telling them to reject Trump Cabinet nominees, and then in the next hour we'll have people coming in who are writing thank-you letters to President Trump. We're a place where people can come in and do the work of democracy."
That's in keeping with national trends; the American Library Association notes libraries are neutral gathering places where community members can discuss issues. The organization cites unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown's shooting.
"Protests divided residents and caused schools and city services to shut down — but the Ferguson Municipal Public Library stayed open, providing a much-needed safe haven for the community and served as an ad hoc school," ALA noted in its 2015 State of America's Libraries report.
Likewise, Henning said Garfield County libraries provide a valuable service to their communities, with branches in Glenwood Springs, Rifle, Carbondale, Parachute, Silt and New Castle.
"We want to hold our government officials accountable, as well, and we want to help you do that," Henning said. The library staff can help visitors research topics of interest before contacting representatives. "We exist to create an informed citizenry."
The library is preparing for its strategic planning process. A top priority, Henning said, is examining how the library can contribute to the region's economic development.
"There's a part of it that's very self-interested: When property values go up, our revenues come up. When businesses sell things, part of that comes back to us," he said.
On the website www.shopgarfieldcounty.com, which is part of the library-led Shop Local partnership, charts detail how the county's sales tax is distributed. A quarter of the 1 percent tax funds the county's six libraries.
Henning said the library district intends to become more involved with local businesses by helping owners find business resources and gather information that will inform their business plans.
"Nearly everybody I've met that's involved in community organizations here in Garfield County wants this to be a better place. We live where people vacation. We love this place and want it to be great."
Those resources aren't limited to the books on the shelves or the subscriptions held by the library district. Garfield County library users have access to collections across the state, as well as items from other libraries in the lower 48 United States. That includes items from academic collections.
Those sorts of books are often expensive, Henning noted, and not widely circulated within public libraries. Through these relationships, users are able to get those materials within three to five business days.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
Visit the library.
"If you're a lifer library user, introduce your friends, introduce your family, introduce everyone you know to our library here in Garfield County," Henning said.
You can also make a financial difference: Garfield County Public Library Foundation accepts donations, memorial gifts and planned giving.
Or donate your gently used books to the library — and buy new-to-you reads. A 50-cent paperback may not seem like a significant purchase, but consider this: Henning said library book sales generated $80,000 last year.