In May, 1938, the library began as a private subscription library in two rooms provided by the City of Aspen in the Wheeler Opera House. The librarian’s salary was paid by WPA (Works Progress Administration) funds. On November 5, 1940, an election passed for a tax to be levied to support “a free County library.”
In 1966 the Pitkin County library moved to a new building at 120 East Main Street between the Sardy House and the Aspen Clinic. The building, designed by Fritz Benedict, cost $180,000. A federal grant paid $82,000. The remainder was raised through donations. Walter Cronkite dedicated the 8,152 square foot building.
In 1982 an election passed to increase the library’s mill levy with the promise that the library would save money for a new building. This promise was fulfilled in 1991 when the present building opened. The building and furnishings cost about $4,600,000, and sources for the needed money were:
$2,300,000 saved tax revenues
$80,000 federal grant
$825,000 sale of the old building
$800,000 loan from the County
When the library moved in 1991, the space increased to twenty thousand square feet. The new building contains thirty thousand square feet, but one-third was only roughed in at its dedication with the idea that an internal expansion would take place at a later date.
In 2001 the library completed this internal expansion when the mezzanine and a storage area in the lower level were finished off. The entire building was re-carpeted and repainted as well. All but $246,900 of this $2,197,009 project was paid for from funds donated to the library.
Between 1997 and 1999 the library received a bequest from the estate of Alice Price of $2,812,039 and a $947,893 bequest from the estate of Doris Denker. These unrestricted gifts together totaled $3,759,932. The County Retirement Board invests these funds on the library’s behalf. The Library Board, appointed by the Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners, is committed to preserving this privately endowed building fund to defray the cost of expanding the library, within the next decade, to the east over the footprint set aside for that purpose when the building was first constructed.
The library collection holds 102,000 books, 4,600 audio books, 22,100 music CD’s and LP’s, and 6,200 DVD’s and videos. The library subscribes to 250 magazines and newspapers and to 20 databases that can be accessed either within the library or remotely by using a library card number.