History of Public Libraries in Fort Collins

Pictured above, from left to right, are the Free Reading Room at 238 Walnut Street, the Carnegie Library Reading Room circa 1920, and Carnegie Library at 200 Mathews shortly after it was built.

The library as an institution in Fort Collins dates from the late 19th century. In March of 1882, a community reading room was established in the rear of the Presbyterian Church (the Whitton Block). Another reading room opened at 238 Walnut Street next to the Volunteer Fire Department at City Hall. These were the first public library community services to exist in Fort Collins.

On December 19, 1899, a meeting was held at the church. About 50 citizens attended. The purpose was to form the Fort Collins Public Library and Reading Room Association and to open a reading room in the Welch Block, located the the northwest corner of College and Mountain Avenue.

The Welch reading room closed six months later due to C.R. Welch's need to "reclaim the rooms" he rented to the library. With no existing land or building of its own, the library was forced to rent rooms at various locations for several years.

On October 8, 1900, the City Council passed a resolution to make the Fort Collins Public Library and Reading Room a city library. It became the sixth public library in the state of Colorado. A levy of 1 mill tax was created for its support.

Mayor Baker accepted the transfer of the Library to the City on March 1, 1901. The first Board of Directors was appointed. Mrs. Jane T. Budrow was appointed as the town's librarian with a salary of $10 per month.

Carnegie Library

To not have a permanent home proved challenging. On June 16, 1902, Mrs. Donald A. McLean wrote a letter to philanthorpist Andrew Carnegie asking for money for a library building. A month later she gave the Board a letter that promised $10,000 from Andrew Carnegie with the condition that City Council provide an annual income of not less that $1,000 and furnish a suitable site for the building.

The City Council approved funding and site selection quickly became a top priority. On April 7, 1903, the Council announced that Lincoln Park (now named Library Park) would be the location of the new library building. On November 14, the cornerstone for the new public library building was laid.

Construction began. The facade was built of red sandstone from the quarry at Stout. Unfortunately, funds ran short. Mrs. McLean wrote another letter, and Mr. Carnegie provided an additional $2,500 for a total of $12,500.

The Library opened to the public at 200 Mathews Street on July 1, 1904. There were 2,770 books on hand. The first librarian was Elfreda Stebbins who worked there until 1931.

In 1937, the Library was awarded a Works Progress Administration (WPA) grant for an annex to the building. Work began immediately and on March 30, 1939, the dedication ceremony took place.

The project doubled the space of the library and allowed the construction of a community room / auditorium with a stage. This space established the library as a public forum and community gathering place which continues to be important roles of the Library to this day.

Fort Collins Friends of the Library, a non-profit organization, was established in 1939. Volunteers raised money to support existing resources, and became staunch advocates for the Library.

Bookmobiles

In the meantime, the Larimer County Library was established in 1937 to provide services to rural areas. Both the City and County libraries, governed by separate Boards, were housed in the Carnegie Library.

Funded as another WPA project in 1939, the Larimer County Bookmobile and its 4,000 books (with no library fines for overdue books) were a welcome sight. When the City and County libraries merged, the City took over the bookmobile.

The last bookmobile was purchased in 1962 for $18,000. The "Yeller Feller" visited nursing homes, rehabilition centers, and rural areas all over the county until 1981 when bookmobile service ended.

A New Library Building

Fort Collins grew quickly between 1950 and 1970. The population more than doubled to 60,000. There was an increasing demand for library services.

A citizen advocacy group, Designing Tomorrow Today (DTT), formed in December 1970. On January 4, 1973, the City Council adopted DTT's seven-year master plan, with voters approving a one percent sales tax increment to fund the plan. One of the capital projects in the master plan was a new library building.

There was disagreement regarding the site of the new library. On June 7, 1974, the Library Board officially recommended that "the proposed new library be located in Lincoln Park." The city manager, Robert L. Brunton, wrote in a memorandum to the council on December 9, that "City staff tends to support the location of the library at Washington Park."

Other sites were considered, including the Old Post Office and the Old City Dump. On December 12, after a two and a half hour public hearing, the City Council voted 4-3 to locate the new library at Washington Park.

Citizens reactions to the decision were overwhelming and opinions were expressed strongly and publicly for many weeks. It was finally decided that the issue must go to a ballot for the people to decide.

Constructed at 201 Peterson Street on the east side of Lincoln Park, the new Library was built around the Pioneer Museum. Books were transferred from the Carnegie Building to the new Library, and then artifacts were moved from the Pioneer Museum into Carnegie. Afterwards, the original Pioneer Museum at 219 Peterson Street, was demolished.

The Library opened in its new location on October 18, 1976. City Council officially changed the park name from Lincoln to Library Park at that time. With 33,500 square feet, the Library could accommodate 109,000 volumes and seat 124 patrons.

At first it was simply called the Fort Collins Public Library or City Library. It was the City's only public library for many years. Later, when additional branches joined the library system, this building became known as Main Library.

Mini Library

In 1995, Fort Collins Public Library struggled to serve a rapidly growing community. In June, a small storefront branch opened at 132 West Troutman Parkway. It was an instant success, but the "Mini Library" only provided a bandaid. Real needs for library services persisted.

During the same period, Front Range Community College (FRCC) was also straining to provide library services to their Larimer Campus in Fort Collins. A student body of 1,900 had only one librarian, part-time staff, and workstudy students. The idea of combining public library and campus resources was discussed.

Harmony Library

In 1996, the Colorado Legislature added funding into their budget to create a 19,000 square foot library on the Larimer campus. Funding did not allow for materials. While the College engaged an architectural firm to develop a plan for the college library, the director of the Fort Collins Public Library created a proposal for City funding to supplement construction and operation costs of a joint-use library.

The City and FRCC negotiated a joint-use agreement and secured funding. Construction began in 1997. The structure showcased energy-efficient technologies and design, using 40 percent less energy than a comparable new building. It included a state-of-the-art computer lab. On January 31, 1998, Harmony Library opened at 4616 S. Shields St. It is considered both an academic library and a public library.

The Mini Library's resources were transferred to Harmony Library and the storefront branch was closed.

During the time of Harmony Library's construction a municipal election was held on April 8, 1997, and voters approved a City resolution called "Building Community Choices." This created a 0.25% sales and use tax to be used for specified capital projects for the city. One project was $2,300,000 for "Land Acquisition and/or Initial Design for a New Library."

The City collected taxes and used the funding to acquire properties on the northwest corner of Laporte and Howes streets, including the former Poudre Creamery property. The original intent was to utilize the property as a location for a new main library, but as the City budget tightened, additional funds to complete the project were never acquired.

Poudre River Public Library District

A crisis was brewing by 2006. Three years of ongoing city budget cuts directly conflicted with a still-growing community need for library services. A citizens' initiative group called "Libraries-Yes!" worked to place a question on Larimer County's general election ballot for the formation of a regional library district. This would create a stable source of funding for public libraries through a 3-mill property tax. On November 7, 2006, county residents voted 62 percent in favor of creating and funding a library district encompassing a 1,780 square mile area within northern Larimer County.

Thus began a period of transition: separating the Library from the City of Fort Collins and creating an independent governmental entity. An all-volunteer Board of Trustees was appointed by both City and County officials to govern the new district. The first meeting of the board convened on March 7, 2007.

The seven-member board had a full agenda. Much of 2007 would be spent defining the obligations and responsibilities of the Library District, the City, and the County, as well as planning and implementing the transfer of finances, support, staff, contracts, and property.

There was extensive debate about what to name the district. The Library Board wished to create a distinct identity separate from the City. However, none of the suggested names seemed to fit. A temporary name was chosen, and in December 2007, the "Fort Collins Regional Library District" completed and signed an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Larimer County and the City of Fort Collins.

All parties agreed early on that library operations would continue through 2007 with funds already appropriated by the City for library use. The Library District would assume financial and contractual responsibility for its obligations and reimburse the City for support services. It would also create a reserves policy for emergencies and report annually to the City and County.

The City initially managed support services for accounting, payroll, human resources, risk management, purchasing, technology, and building facilities. The City and Library District agreed to begin separation. Both entities agreed that some services, such as existing technology and infrastructure, would continue to be shared "to provide the highest service and most value for citizens."

The IGA tasked the District with the preparation of a strategic plan which would evaluate how to best utilize City Library facilities and related properties to carry out its voter-mandated charge to provide library services.

One issue involved the Poudre Creamery Property, purchased with the Building Community Choices funds. The District decided that the property was not suitable as a site for a new library. Instead, the District proposed feasibility studies for expanding Main Library at its current site and trading "other City-owned property, specifically a portion of Library Park, as a substitute for the Creamery Property." Any expansion project would require voter approval at a later date.

In the meantime, the IGA detailed procedures to convey ownership of the existing Main Library and a portion of Library Park to the District. The Harmony Library building did not change hands, as it is owned and maintained by the community college. Two small buildings on Mountain and Howes which were used for Technical Services and the Friends of the Library continued to be leased from the City for one dollar each year.

Monetary funds under the stewardship of the City, and personal property such as books, furniture, and computers were also transferred to the Library District. Contractual rights and delegation of duties and liabilities were reassigned.

The IGA included a process to transfer all City Library employees from the City to the Library District. By December 15, 2007, the District expected to make offers of employment to all employees. Employees were required to resign their City positions, but remained employed by the City through December 30. At midnight on December 30, the City eliminated all library positions. On December 31, the Library District hired all former City Library employees and became responsible for the payment of salary and wages, benefits, taxes, workers compensation and unemployment insurance.

It was a very busy first year for the Library District.

The quest for an official name continued. In July 2008 the Library District asked the public for ideas. Citizens submitted 154 names. The list was then narrowed down to three. At a meeting on January 5, 2009, the Board of Trustees unanimously approved the permanent name of "Poudre River Public Library District."

Council Tree Library

One additional piece of the 2006 Libraries-Yes ballot issue included funding for a new southeast branch library in Fort Collins. The City and the Library District undertook the joint construction project, and on March 28, 2009, Council Tree Library opened at 2733 Council Tree Avenue. It became the third location of the Poudre River Public Library District.

Council Tree Library featured environmentally responsible construction. In 2009, the library gained the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum Certification for its commercial interiors design.

Old Town Library

In the fall of 2010, the Library District held a series of community meetings to obtain public input on the proposed expansion and remodel of Main Library.

The resulting project design included an interior remodel and a 6,000 square foot expansion that would be accomplished by building down from the library's second-floor overhangs. In order for the expansion to proceed, citizens would vote in the spring municipal election whether to modify a 1975 ordinance that limited the footprint of buildings in Library Park to five percent of the total park area.

On April 5, 2011, voters approved the remodel and expansion of Main Library. The official groundbreaking event was held November 11.

Initial construction on the remodel began. Staff were temporarily relocated and the Main Library was closed for six weeks for major infrastructure changes.

On December 12, the Board unanimously approved $200,000 for the installation of an Automated Materials Handling System (AMH) to check in returned library items and sort them into appropriate bins for re-shelving.

Dubbed "Rosie", the AMH system began operation in March 2012. After one month of use it was reported that Rosie was responsible for checking in 92% of the items that were returned to Main Library. Books were being returned to the shelves and becoming available more quickly than ever before.

Later that spring, outreach efforts asked the community what the "new" remodeled library should be named. Almost 500 responses were received, and on May 14 the Library Board of Trustees officially decided to rename the library at 201 Peterson Street, "Old Town Library."

Webster House Administrative Center

As part of the remodel and expansion project, the Library District purchased two-thirds of the Historic Webster House at 301 E. Olive Street. The Wilkins Trust owned the other one-third and allowed the Library District to occupy the whole facility lease-free for three years.

On November 24, 2011, administrative and technical staff previously housed at Old Town Library were relocated to the newly created Webster House Administrative Center. The move provided an additional 3,000 square feet of interior space at Old Town Library for comfortable seating and study rooms for the public.

On May 11, 2015, the Library Board of Trustees voted 6-0 to authorize the purchase of the final third of the property for the amount of $417,333.38. The total cost for Webster House was $1,252,500.


In December, 2015, a second automated materials handler, 'Otto' was installed at Council Tree Library.

In November of 2016, Poudre River Public Library District celebrated its tenth anniversary.


References

Dornseif, Karen A. "Joint-Use Libraries: Balancing Autonomy and Cooperation." Pages 103-115. Oct 10, 2008.
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J121v15n01_08

Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce. "Fort Collins, Colorado - A City of Achievements and Opportunities." 1905.
http://database.history.fcgov.com/cdm/ref/collection/rb/id/9163

Fort Collins History Connection. 2017.
http://database.history.fcgov.com/cdm/search/searchterm/library

Fort Collins Regional Library District. "Board of Trustees Bylaws." Jan 7, 2008.
www.poudrelibraries.org/board/pdf/bylaws.pdf

Fort Collins Regional Library District. "Intergovernmental Agreement among Fort Collins Regional Library District, City of Fort Collins, Colorado, and the County of Larimer Colorado." Dec 18, 2007.
www.poudrelibraries.org/about/pdf/iga-final.pdf

Fort Collins Public Library and Free Reading Room. "Bulletin of the Fort Collins Public Library and Free Reading Room." 1907. Digitized by Google.
https://books.google.com/books?id=VvlCAQAAMAAJ

Helburg, Jean, compiler. "An Anecdotal History of the Parks and Recreation Department: Fort Collins."
https://www.fcgov.com/recreation/pdf/anecdotal_history.pdf?1458679483

Lord, Ursula. Fort Collins Public Library and Pioneer Museum at Lincoln Park. Fort Collins, Colorado, Old Army Press, 1976.

Poudre River Public Library District. "Board of Trustees Meetings." 2007-
www.poudrelibraries.org/board/meetings

Poudre River Public Library District. "Financial Information." 2007-
www.poudrelibraries.org/about/budget.php

Poudre River Public Library District. "Plans and Reports." 2007-
www.poudrelibraries.org/about/plans.php

Sundberg, Wayne C. "FORT COLLINS AT 150: A Sesquicentennial History." A publication of Visit Fort Collins in cooperation with the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of Fort Collins. First Edition. San Antonio, Texas, HPNbooks, 2014.

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