Denver Central Library to receive significant upgrades

Teen library, cafe and bookstore among new additions in first renovation in 25 years

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There’s a whole lot to see and do in the downtown Denver area, but one of the hottest spots might come as a surprise – the Denver Public Library’s Central Library.

Located at 10 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, the library receives about 2,800 visitors daily. And for the first time in about 25 years, it’s going to receive a significant update.

“We will be creating a large programming space, to accommodate author talks, community meetings, focus groups and much, much more,” explained Rachel Fewell, library administrator at the Central Library. “We’re excited to add an outdoor play space for children and families. We’ll be moving the children’s library and adding a new teen library.”

The majority of the renovations will be on the first floor, and will also include maintenance projects like new elevators and bathrooms.

Staff began studying the needs of the building in the summer of 2016, which led to the development of the 2017-2027 Facilities Plan, Fewell said.

In 2017, voters approved Measure 2E with about 70% in favor, which provides $38 million of the necessary $50 million for the project. The funds will come from the taxpayer-funded Elevate Denver Bond. The additional funds needed will come from a capital campaign led by the Denver Public Library Friends Foundation.

“Libraries look different now than they did 25 years ago, and with the wear and tear and the evolution of libraries, the time is now,” Fewell added. “This summer, we hosted a couple of public meetings to gather feedback and ideas from the community. This feedback is being incorporated into the design.”

More than a library

One of the things that makes the Central Library so important, according to Fewell, is that it is a focal point for literacy, learning and culture and welcomes people from all walks of life within. To that end, the library offers more than the typical services.

The fifth floor his home to the Western History and Genealogy department, one of the most significant collections of Western Americana in the country, according to Rachel Vagts, department manager.

“For more than 100 years, the library’s Western History and Genealogy Department has helped preserve materials telling the story of the American West,” she explained. “This important resource teaches others about the rich and diverse history of Colorado and the West and how it relates to their lives.”

The department is open for the same hours as the library and the general public is welcome to come and ask questions of researchers and work with genealogy staff to research and discover their own heritage.

“Our collection also includes books, magazines, archival collections and a fantastic collection of Western art,” Vagts said. “In addition, we have dozens of programs, lectures, workshops for customers to learn more about studying their family’s genealogy and ancestry.”

For something more modern, the location is one of five that hosts an ideaLab community makerspace. In the lab, customers can do everything from using 3D printers to sewing machines to create, or using software to make digital art, video games and more. There are even recording studios.

“We are very proud of the fact that we have developed an inclusive, equitable environment where everyone can experiment and learn through doing and find their creative outlet,” said Ashley Kazyaka, project coordinator of the Community Technology Center. “The purpose of the lab is to build community, learn through making, and enable everyone to succeed by having tools and technology available for anyone to use.”

The lab started as a teen-specific space, but became all ages in 2017. The idea is that anyone can be creative and learn something new when the technology is freely available.

“There are very few spaces where people can use tools or be creative for free, and even fewer that anyone can just walk in and start learning,” Kazyaka said. “Libraries have always been spaces where people can choose what they want to learn, and makerspaces are simply a form of hands-on learning.”

For those struggling in the here and now, the library is also home to a community resource team, which works with people experiencing challenges or are in need of resources. There are about four social workers and six peer navigators who work to connect clients with referrals to resources such as housing, mental health support, substance use services, medical care and food resources.

“Large urban libraries, such as the Denver Public Library system, attract a diverse range of customers,” Fewell said. “Some of those customers, homeless or not, face adverse life challenges. We strive to eliminate barriers to service for everyone.”

A timeline of change

As this is the largest renovation to Central since the Michael Graves expansion in 1995, there is still a lot to do to prepare for construction to begin. Staff are meeting weekly with the design team (made up of library staff, architects and a project manager from Denver Public Works) with the aim of hosting more public meetings this autumn to share designs and collect input.

Construction will begin in 2020 and is expected to last until around 2024, with the library remaining open as work gets underway.

Fewell is hopeful that the renovations will create a more open and welcoming space for the library’s customers.

“With additional meeting spaces and areas where customers can work, either independently or in a group, individuals will feel more part of the community,” he said. “With the renovations to the children’s and teen areas, we will also create a more functioning, fun and inviting space for families. We envision that our new building will be a vital, vibrant community hub.”

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