The map above shows the locations of all 26 Denver Public Library locations, from the grand building on Broadway to the teeny Westwood branch on South Lowell Boulevard.
The circles we put around them — which in the real world would be the one-mile radius around each — touch all but five neighborhoods in Denver, though some just barely make it. No residents of Southmoor Park, Indian Creek, Marston or Chaffee Park live within a mile of free books. Many residents of Cheesman Park, East Colfax, Montbello, Central Park and Hampden South are in the same boat.
Michelle Jeske, DPL’s City Librarian (essentially the system’s executive director with an “ancient title”), told us she’s well aware of where gaps exist, since DPL conjures up maps like this internally. It’s her job to steer the city into a future with better access to information. But Jeske doesn’t have a budget to build new libraries, so she spends time finding new ways to grow the system and seeding ideas in Denver’s halls of power.
“There absolutely is a need to expand our services,” she told us. “I feel like there are some really creative ways to get there.”
DPL must compete with everyone else vying for property in Denver’s hot market. Buying new land is expensive, especially since libraries tend to need larger lots. (The city’s parks department, by the way, faces similar challenges as it tries to grow more green space in town.)
“Funding is, by far, the biggest challenge – with or without the high cost of real estate,” Jeske said. “In some of the neighborhoods we want to be in, there’s not even good-sized lots for a reasonable-sized library.”
This is a problem for library systems across the country, she added. Her peers who lead systems in places like New York and San Francisco have had to think outside of the box in the last decade, leaning on partnerships to close access gaps.
One idea she’s excited about: pairing new libraries with new affordable housing projects. Books, movies and computers could occupy the entire first floor of an apartment building, a concept that Chicago officials have touted in recent years.
Jeske said she’s been working to “socialize” this configuration with Denver officials, and she’s spoken to City Council about it. She’s also taking meetings with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, mostly to understand what a developer might need to make such an idea happen.
Recreation centers may be another option for this kind of “co-location,” she said. DPL’s Westwood branch, the smallest of them all, is due for some major upgrades. The city did consider adding book space to the rec center planned for Morrison Road, but they ended up scrapping the idea.
The Westwood project is still in its early stages. But another project, which will plant a library at the RiNo Art Park off Brighton Boulevard, is moving closer to reality. That project is the outcome of a partnership between the city and the RiNo Art District, which is redeveloping an old police substation and will manage the building.
The library’s Master Plan has identified Globeville as another priority for a new space. The report acknowledges DPL’s Bookmobile stops in the neighborhood a few times a week, but it says residents want something more permanent.
The plan lays out some pretty lofty goals for the project there: “5,000 square feet in a centrally-located, accessible, modern facility” that could be home to “a vibrant, active educational and cultural community center” and a kitchen classroom for “Denver’s first culinary literacy center.” DPL is looking for partnerships, the report goes on to say, though investment is listed as “TBD.”
Jeske said the space between Montbello and Green Valley Ranch’s libraries is another area she’d like to see expansion. But she’ll have to wait for the city to approve money for that kind of growth. While she said DPL was “lucky” to be included in the 2017 GO Bond package, all of that money is earmarked to renovate existing libraries, some of which are 100 years old.
Correction: This story was updated to reflect that DPL is no longer considering co-locating a library at the future recreation center in Westwood.