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GUEST COLUMN: Pikes Peak Library District offers community multiple services

By: John Spears and Kathleen Owings
April 2, 2018 Updated: April 2, 2018 at 9:51 pm
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A recent Gazette editorial posed the question, "What are modern libraries worth?" The value of libraries lies in the resources, expertise, and services they provide, and they are vital to the communities they serve. Pikes Peak Library District (PPLD) is one such library, and it has positively affected the lives of residents of El Paso County for over 50 years through its dedication and adherence to its mission statement: providing resources and opportunities that impact individual lives and build community.

Last year, nearly 3.3 million people visited a PPLD facility, 140,000 people attended a library program, 7.4 million items were checked out, and 445,000 reference questions were answered by PPLD's well-trained and knowledgeable staff. People do not have to come inside its walls to utilize these resources, as PPLD also provides instant access to eBooks, eAudiobooks, music, and movies through its CyberShelf. Almost 1.5 million checkouts occurred through this online portal last year, including downloads by military service members around the world. For those living in rural communities and people who reside in assisted-living facilities, PPLD brings these resources to them through its mobile libraries.

These are services that people expect from a library, but PPLD has evolved to meet the changing needs of the community. No longer just "a warehouse for books," PPLD is a center for creativity, with video production facilities, audio recording studios, and makerspaces. PPLD is a force for economic development, offering targeted assistance to the business and nonprofit communities and help for job seekers. PPLD is a place for continuous learning, providing tutoring, English as a Second Language and high school equivalency classes through its adult education programs, and an Educational Resource Center to meet the unique needs of home-schoolers. PPLD is a vital access point for technology and high-speed internet access to the many in our community that would otherwise be without. In short, PPLD enables people to produce works of art, get jobs, grow their businesses, further their education, and access books and technology they cannot afford on their own.

PPLD is a leading resource for early literacy. Research shows that reading 1,000 books before kindergarten is one of the most effective predictors of later academic success. At an average cost of $16-$18 per picture book, this would cost a family over $16,000. This is not affordable for most families, but they can borrow those books from the library at no cost.

PPLD provides all of this despite its relatively low level of funding when compared to other public libraries. Local revenue per capita (roughly the amount of property taxes collected per person to fund operations) for PPLD is $39.49, an amount that is lower than almost every other large library district in Colorado. For perspective, Douglas County Libraries' local revenue per capita is $69.68; Denver Public Library's figure is $63.42; and Pueblo City-County Library District's is $58.05. The amount of revenue PPLD takes in does not demonstrate a bloated budget, but it does show the care and prudence with which taxpayers' money is spent.

In an attempt to show the size of PPLD's budget, the editorial cited PPLD's property tax revenue in relation to that of Colorado Springs. Although accurate, this does not paint a full picture. While the library does receive more in property taxes than the city, that amount accounts for 84 percent of the $32 million in general fund revenue it dedicates to the 627,000 residents of El Paso County it serves. The city's property tax revenue, though, constitutes only 8 percent of its general fund revenue and an even smaller portion of the over half-a-billion dollars it spends annually to serve its 465,000 residents.

This is only a small sample of the many benefits available through PPLD, and there is something for everyone. PPLD is funded through your dollars, and it is important to us that they are spent in a manner that is meaningful to the community. We want to hear from you, and we invite you to visit our locations, explore our online resources, and talk to your friends and family about how the library has impacted the quality of their lives.

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John Spears is chief librarian and CEO of Pikes Peak Library District, Manitou Springs. Readers can contact him at: jspears@ppld.org. Kathleen E. Owings is president, Pikes Peak Library District Board of Trustees, principal and financial advisor, Westbilt Financial Group, Colorado Springs. Readers can contact her at: kowings@westbiltfinancial.com.

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