The History of the Denver Public Library

The Denver Public Library, one of the jewels of Denver's Civic Center, is both a valuable resource and a stop-on-the-tour for Denver, the State of Colorado, and the entire world. Since Denver's early days, the Denver Public Library, in all of its many forms, has provided a focal point for literacy, learning and culture, always based on a model of democratic public access. 

As early as 1886, fledgling libraries in Denver began gathering force, finally blossoming as a result of the largesse of an industrialist. In 1910, the city opened a Central Library building of its own, an elegant Greek temple design funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and located in downtown's Civic Center Park. Between 1913 and 1920, Carnegie also underwrote construction of the city's first eight branch libraries. They would serve a growing city that had previously relied on traveling trunks of books, and begin the tradition of the Library expressing its civic role through architectural excellence.

The "Old Main" library in Civic Center Park served downtown Denver for 45 years, until the City commissioned the firm of Fisher and Fisher/Burnham Hoyt to design a new Central Library at the corner of Broadway and 14th Avenue. Opened in 1956, the new structure provided more than twice the space of the Carnegie building, but was expected to meet Denver Public Library's needs for only a decade. Denver experienced explosive growth between the 1950s and the 1970s. A string of new branch libraries opened to serve sprawling neighborhoods to the southeast and southwest. Among them were the four Ross branches, Ross-Broadway (1951), Ross-Barnum (1954), Ross-University Hills (1962), and Ross-Cherry Creek (1962), funded by a $100,000 bequest from Denver real estate investor and Library Commissioner Frederick Ross. The Frederick R. Ross Trust Fund was invested in ways that are still providing financial assistance to the Denver Public Library.

By the late 1980s, Library collections had outgrown the Central Library and most branch libraries. Three-quarters of Central Library materials were stored in basements and warehouses. Moreover, aging buildings weren't adaptable to the flowering technology of the Information Age. In 1990, an overwhelming 75 percent of the city's voters approved a $91.6 million bond issue to build a new Central Library and renovate, expand or build new branch library buildings. A 540,000 square-foot Central Library, the awesome design of world-renowned Michael Graves and the Denver firm of Klipp Colussy Jenks DuBois, opened in 1995. Branch improvements were also completed by 1995.

In 2007, Denver voters supported a bond issue that enabled the Denver Public Library to build three new branch libraries in newly developed and underserved areas of the city, including Green Valley Ranch, Stapleton, and West Denver. This funding has also provided the means to make much needed infrastructure repairs to existing Library facilities. Find out more about Better Denver Bond projects at the Denver Public Library.