The Denver Public Library provides 50 percent more services to Colorado residents than it gets paid for by the state education department, yet the state is recommending only a 5 percent budget increase for Denver libraries next year.
Denver can do little to rectify the budget problem, city library officials said.
While the city's lobbyist at the legislature says Denver should consider barring its doors to outside residents, City Librarian Rick Ashton said a similar move in 1981 was a public relations disaster that the library can't afford to suffer again.
The education department, which oversees state library services, has requested only $1 million in compensation for Denver's library system for 1990-91, despite an authoritative study showing that Denver provides services worth at least $1.5 million.
The request for Denver is only $52,000 more than the previous year.
The department didn't think it could persuade the Joint Budget Committee to bring Denver's budget up to $1.5 million all in one year, so it decided to spread the increases over the next five years, said State Librarian Nancy Bolt.
But the $52,000 increase for next year will barely keep up with inflation, let alone bring the budget up to Denver's true costs, Ashton said.
"Our costs go up 5 percent a year, so we're not gaining anything," he said.
Under the state system, Denver's Central Library acts as a backup reference center for all libraries in the state, providing book and document loans, answers to reference queries and walk-in service to non-Denver residents working on research projects.
Use of the Central Library by non-Denver residents is growing rapidly, reflecting an overall increase in library growth. Walk-in visits by nonresidents will reach 146,500 next year, up from 136,900 this year; telephone queries will climb to 76,500 from 72,100.
The 5 percent increase for Denver next year is unacceptable, especially since the state's own study showed that Denver deserves a 50 percent increase, said Cliff Dodge, a former legislator who now lobbies for Denver on Capitol Hill.
If the state isn't willing to pay Denver its costs, perhaps the city should reconsider its role in the state library system, he said.
"Maybe that's an area where Denver shouldn't be subsidizing everyone else." But Ashton said Denver tried locking out nonresidents in 1981, with disastrous consequences. The public blamed the Denver library for the problem, not the legislature, and the outcry was overwhelming.
"That's not something I care to revisit," he said.
Denver shouldn't feel slighted by the state, Bolt said. The budget requests are based partly on political realities that also have left the state's regional library system in the red.
The regional system, which hires librarians to coordinate training and consulting for smaller libraries, needs $2.4 million to cover costs next year. The department has requested only $1.7 million. Bolt said.
"It has been very difficult to get money out of the legislature; we were trying to find a way that would get us to full funding over time," she said.
Meanwhile, the Denver library will continue to provide services to the entire state with a stretched-thin staff, a resigned Ashton said. The state's budget problems are nothing new to the Denver Central Library.
"We have not got what we're looking for for a long time."