The Denver Public Library last month reopened nine locations to the public nearly a year after closing its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as of April 13 has reopened most of its remaining branch libraries. As one of the last public spaces where anybody from any background can feel welcome without buying anything, libraries were sorely missed during their closure.
The announcement of Denver Public Library’s phased reopening was met with overwhelming excitement from the public eager to return to our public spaces to browse our shelves, access services, and reconnect with our staff. It’s become even more obvious over the last year that libraries benefit all and are essential to communities.
As the country begins to reopen, libraries will play an important role in helping their local communities recover from the pandemic. This is why now is the time to take action in support of the Build America’s Libraries Act, now being considered in Congress.
The legislation would fund upgrades to the nation’s library infrastructure to address challenges such as natural disasters, COVID-19, broadband capacity, environmental hazards, and accessibility barriers. This groundbreaking legislation would bring federal funding to pave the way for new and improved library facilities in underserved communities.
The measure would help Denver realize the vision of our 2017 Facilities Master Plan. We currently need to expand library service in Denver neighborhoods like Globeville and Westwood that lack access.
If the federal measure is passed, Denver would have the opportunity to apply for this funding and provide these communities with services like out-of-school learning, services to immigrants and refugees, computer and internet access and so much more.
Libraries like Denver Public Library worked hard to ensure that our customers have been able to stay connected with us and access needed resources during the pandemic even when our buildings were closed to the public.
Soon after our closure, our customers were able to participate in virtual programs for all ages and interests. Keeping in mind those without access to the internet, our team also established a phone line for customers to call in, connect with us and gain access to what they were searching for.
Throughout the pandemic, our outreach team connected with community members experiencing homelessness who required critical resources and also began distributing water and personal care kits. To date our outreach team has given out more than 70,000 books.
The Denver Public Library’s vision is a strong community where everyone thrives. Our facilities are a huge part of fulfilling this vision — bringing people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with each other, as well as with the services and resources that build educational and economic opportunities. We saw this clearly when we opened the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Branch Library in 2015 and 3,000 people turned out for its grand opening.
Our investments made it possible to expand technology access, provide space for community meetings, and offer programming that supports underserved populations.
We know 2021 will continue to be challenging. Despite budget constraints, limited resources, and limited staffing, the library will continue providing access for vulnerable community members who have been the hardest hit by the pandemic through resources such as job search assistance, technology checkouts, providing support for small businesses, and providing resources and tools for educators and students.
As we look toward pandemic recovery, libraries will remain essential, even as they begin to look a little different as we work to keep customers and staff safe with COVID-19 protocols in place while providing services. Communities across the country, including Denver, would benefit from the Build America’s Libraries Act.
We invite our community to join us in advocating for the Build America’s Libraries Act by asking our senators and representatives to support this important legislation.
Michelle Jeske is the Denver city librarian.
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