Special Collections and Archives, Denver Public Library

Public is our library’s middle name. Accessibility to collections remains the focus of our services. When John Cotton Dana became our first City Librarian in 1889, he advocated open stacks for patrons, making him a maverick amongst American librarians. By 1935, when Malcolm Glenn Wyer, Denver’s fifth City Librarian, founded the Western History collection at the suggestion of novelist Willa Cather, the Denver Public Library had become a significant repository in the sparsely populated Rocky Mountain West. Sixty years later, when a 1995 merger with an even older department established the current Western History and Genealogy Department, we were already well-established and widely renowned as one of the foremost special collections in the West. The addition of the collections, including artifacts, at Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, with its focus on the history of African Americans in the West furthered that mission. Together these two repositories make up the Special Collections and Archives Department which provides access to unique materials from a variety of collections.

Central Library

In designing Denver’s Central Library, which opened in 1995, the architect Michael Graves included a sculpture made from the reclaimed beams of a Western sawmill to be installed in the center of the Special Collections and Archives unit there. With enormous beams rising dozens of feet above the floor, held together with wooden pegs, the work dubbed “Symbol of the West” dominates the 5th floor circular Reading Room. It is a dramatic setting that has hosted school tours, exhibits, rare book auctions, mayoral press conferences, receptions, and other civic events. Visitors invariably turn their eyes up as they enter, marveling at the Graves sculpture, a work variously described as an oil derrick, a teepee without its cover, a mine headframe, a bridge trestle, or a grain silo. Researchers from various walks of life, each with a different objective and interest, work at tables arranged around the room. Elementary, middle, and high school students, local art collectors, homeowners and preservationists, genealogists, casual historians, and tourists come to view our resources, to gaze out on the front range from Denver to Pikes Peak. Librarians, archivists, and staff offer individualized help and collections expertise for all researchers and visitors. For many Denverites, the Central Library is the cultural life of the Mile High City.

Today, the Special Collections and Archives Department’s  public area encompasses the entire fifth floor of the Central Library. Situated on the southern edge of the historic Denver Civic Center district, the Central Library is located within blocks of the Colorado State Historical Society and Colorado History Museum, the Colorado State Archives, and the Denver Art Museum. 

Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library

Before leaving office in 2003, Denver’s Mayor Wellington Webb facilitated the construction of the Blair-Caldwell Branch Library in the historic Five Points neighborhood. In addition to its circulating collection, the branch contains a museum and a research collection devoted to the African American experience in Colorado and throughout the Rocky Mountain West. Within just a few years, the Blair-Caldwell staff acquired several hundred manuscript collections, including the papers of Mayor Webb and other civic and political leaders, as well as an array of papers and photographs from local African American businesses, churches, schools, and social organizations. Read more.

10th Mountain Division Resource Center
Building And Neighborhood History
Conservation Collection
The Douglas Collection of Fine Printing
Genealogy Collection
Western Art Collection
Western History Collection