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Patrons brace for week-long closure of Denver libraries

At least twice a week, James Austin visits the Denver Public Library’s main downtown branch to check out a book, peruse the stacks, browse in the map room — he’s avid about cartography — and in general find some peace and quiet.

So when the library closes Thursday for a week-long, system-wide computer upgrade, the retiree will be somewhat adrift, if only until the Feb. 3 reopening.

“I’ve joked with my wife that I won’t know what to do with myself,” Austin said on a recent snowy afternoon. “It’s just a week, but I’ll still miss coming in. The library is such a part of my routine.”

Austin is not alone in his sentiments.

Each week, the Denver Public Library system gets 78,000 visitors, according to DPL statistics. About one-third of those visitors go to the Central Library, at 10 W. 14th Avenue Parkway; the rest patronize the 22 branch locations.

In any given week, about 15,000 items — books, videos and the like — are in circulation. That’s a lot of use. And it speaks to how we live in a city of readers and to ideas of self- improvement rooted in the very heart of the American experience.

For a library is far more than just a place to borrow books.

Job hunters use the computers to seek work. Kids get a head start on reading in the children’s books sections and outreach programs.

Historians and genealogists use the library for research, notably at the Central Library and Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library, in Five Points. The library hosts art and photo exhibitions, and the occasional meeting of world leaders, witness the Denver Summit of the Eight in 1997. For the less fortunate, it provides a respite from the cold and stress of the streets.

And once a year, at the Booklovers Ball fundraising gala, the Central Library is transformed into a swank dining hall and dance floor for the tuxedo-and-gown set, complete with martini bars.

Not bad for an institution founded in 1889 in a wing of Denver High School with just a few trunkfuls of books.

“One of our main goals is improving people’s lives by allowing them to acquire the resources and skills needed to prosper and contribute to Denver’s economy,” said City Librarian Shirley Amore. In addition, it provides the forum “where people’s lives can be enriched by reading, learning and engaging in experiences here that make Denver a better place to live.”

Maria Fernández uses the library to enhance her English skills, hoping to get a better job.

“I studied here for my citizenship exam, reading history books and learning about the Constitution,” said Fernández, who grew up in Mexico City. “I drop in once every couple of weeks, get a book, sit down and read.

“I like how it’s quiet, and I can concentrate,” she said. With three children, she added with a laugh, it’s a luxury she doesn’t always get at home.

This notion of self-improvement was one of the bedrock ideas in the creation of American lending libraries. The first was created by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia in 1731.

Andrew Carnegie, a 19th-century Scottish immigrant who bootstrapped himself into one of America’s richest industrialists, furthered this concept. He funded construction of hundreds of libraries across the country, including Denver’s original central library and its first eight branches.

John Cleveland began using the Central Library regularly two years ago, when he lost his job as a systems analyst.

“Cutting back on expenses, it wasn’t long before my Internet connection was gone and my purchase of books halted,” he said.

Cleveland discovered that the library provided free Wi-Fi service, which was a boon.

“I found a quiet corner — there are hundreds of these — and could stay online for hours,” he said. “It was a real lifeline.”

Cleveland recently found a job, so he’s back in the 40-hour workweek. But he’s not giving up the library.

“I am now hooked on using the library’s regular services,” he said. “I keep track of my readings and in the last year I have checked out over 150 books ranging from classics like ‘The Virginian’ to current best sellers like ‘All the Devils Are Here,’ ” an account of the 2008 Wall Street meltdown that indirectly cost him his job.

Although Cleveland understands the need for the computer upgrade, he’ll miss the library during its closure.

“Being down a week will be a huge inconvenience for many of us,” he said. “It’s a great institution.”

William Porter: 303-954-1877 or [email protected]

Denver library closure details

Here are a few things you’ll need to know about the Denver Public Library’s systemwide closure from Thursday through Feb. 2, while a new Polaris computer system is installed. The library reopens Feb. 3.

• No items will be due between Thursday and Feb. 14. Please do not return any items during the one-week closure.

• During the closure, patrons can access downloadable media and research databases, but the online catalog will be unavailable.

• The new system will offer improved My Account functions, the option to retain reading history and personal lists and receive text notifications.

• DPL will offer classes to those who want to learn more about the Polaris system. It will also have video tutorials online at

-William Porter

Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.


  1. I don’t see why they have to close the doors for a week. They are upgrading computers, so we can’t check out books. Fine. But why can’t we still hang out and read the books there? 🙂

  2. You don’t know what you have until it is gone. Hopefully this will give people some food for thought the next time funding for anything library-related comes up. I have always believed libraries to be one of our most underrated free resources.

  3. It seems likely that they’re upgrading their whole server and all the programs on it. They’ve switched over what they could, but now they’ve got to totally change over and any decent IT person will tell you nothing ever goes smoothly! They’re doing it right by closing down for a week — they’re trying to make sure that everything works smoothly before patrons get in so books really get checked out to the right person with the correct due date and all that hoopla. To make sure it works right, they need time to test.

    One week is nothing to make sure such a large institution makes it’s way to the modern age (I remember hearing DPL’s backend of it’s computer system is Fortran or Cobolt or something ridiculously ancient — that’s why they absolutely have to shut down) to serve us better!

    To address why they’re just not open so people can read books, that’s because the city of Denver as decreed 5 forlough days — DPL’s forlough days are this week! There will be no surprise closure of the library due to a furlough day for the rest of this year!!

  4. According to DPL, both the checkout system and the online catalog will be out of service. The Western History Collection of maps and photographs will be up and running.

    Bonus for folks with stuff already checked out: it won’t be due until February 14th.

  5. They’ve also put a freeze on placing holds until February. It’s all database/puterware related.

  6. mm, hopefully the upgrade goes well. Some of the computers that they have in there are messed up pretty bad. I wonder if they have an old-school library catalog just in case. They could use a few more library catalog computers in there… maybe a more effective way to search for books within their database…something more like our domestic internet search engines.

  7. You can borrow books from other systems through Inter-Library Loan (ILL) but it is not true that you cannot be a member of libraries beyond your library district!
    I would like to introduce to you Colorado Libraries Collaborate (formerly known as the Colorado Library Card):
    You still need to be a resident of Colorado and you should have a home library (I mean a library you go to all the time in your area of residence, not a library in your home, though I suspect many of us have those, too) but here’s the idea-
    From the site:
    Our library patrons need to understand that under this program, their library card issued by their local library is NOT a universal card, good at libraries across the State.

    In order to avail themselves of the Program, they must complete a registration form at each of the libraries or library systems they wish to use. Once they register, they are entered into that library system’s list of patrons and may, in some instances, receive a separate card for that library or a bar code that can be affixed to their existing library card.

    It is definitely possible to use other libraries in the state*. Even better, if you check an item out from one library system (like Douglas County), you can return it to a different system (like Denver) and it will get back home! Pretty neat, huh?

    I applaud your love of your home library; I wish all neighborhoods had active and devoted library users! However, I would also like to invite you to visit our libraries some time (Douglas County Libraries) or any of the other libraries in districts in your area. Explore and have fun! Make note of your favorite library branches and visit them whenever you can! We all welcome you.

    *Please note: Due to budget constraints, many library systems have had to cut back on the amount of services they offer non-residents. However, I do not believe any of the participating CLC libraries have removed themselves from the fun and should all be allowing some services to non-residents. Check with the individual library to find out what they offer.

  8. I have a Denver Public Library card, and nowadays I get most of my non-DPL books through the Prospector system, but I do have a bar code label on the back of my DPL card that permits me to use the Aurora Public Library. I assume the other library systems have the same kind of thing.

    I just checked my account and it appears that they have automatically renewed everything I have out to a due date of February 15. They didn’t all have the same due date before, and I haven’t renewed anything recently.

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