Surrounded on both sides by shelves of books with titles familiar and obscure, retired reading teacher Colleen Sawyer feels the warm glow of literature. Sawyer volunteers at Broomfield’s Mamie Doud Eisenhower Public Library, making sure each title is properly aligned with its neighbor and no printed work is out of place.
“I couldn’t ask of a better place to spend my days,” Sawyer said. “I have always loved to read and like to get more people to read.”
“But it’s not just the books,” Sawyer said. “This library is also a center of our community. We are very proud of our library and the mayor and the city work hard to make sure it remains important.”
Sawyer beams at Mamie Doud’s latest “get” for this year’s One Book One Broomfield program: Author David Grann will be in town Thursday at 7 p.m. to discuss his bestseller “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” at the Broomfield Auditorium, 3 Community Park Road. Seating at the free event is first come, first served.
The shared read and events surrounding it are part of Broomfield’s program to cultivate a sense of community by reading the same book at the same time. It’s an enduring concept that dates at least to 2004 in Colorado, when then-mayor John Hickenlooper selected “Peace Like a River” as the one book Denverites should read, and has been carried on since by towns and cities and university campuses even as the mere act of reading has taken on a heightened political tinge.
Grann, in his bestseller, recounts how members of Oklahoma’s Osage Nation were murdered over their ownership of oil leases. The 2017 book is now an Oscar-mentioned movie directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese and featuring Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio.
The book is the subject of a massive waitlist at Mamie Doud and has sparked interest in Grann’s latest work — “The Wager,” Sawyer said. She still can’t believe Grann will be in Broomfield to talk in person about his book.
“It’s pretty cool,” Sawyer said. “I know the library board worked hard to get him. And I think they were able to get him before he got real famous.”
Communities read books selected by community
The One Book One Broomfield committee — which includes the mayor, a city council member, community members, library staff, representatives from the Library Board and Broomfield Library Friends — picked “Killers of the Flower Moon” as one of three finalists for this year’s shared read, Katherine Skeels, collection and systems librarian, said via email. The One Book One Broomfield committee reads and evaluates titles over six months or so before arriving at the three finalists.
Broomfield residents voted on the books in March 2023 and “Killers” got 60% of the vote, Skeels said. Prior to the vote, library staff reached out to each of the top three authors to make sure they would be available to come to Broomfield, she said.
“David Grann was willing to come even though it is right at the time of him also publicizing the movie,” Kathryn Lynip, Broomfield’s director library arts, history and extension, said via email.
Grann will earn about $13,000 for his appearance out of the $15,000 Broomfield sets aside for the One Book One Broomfield program, Lynip said.
Broomfield’s One Book program began in 2006 and like other cities and library districts in Colorado picks its own titles to celebrate, state library officials say. The state’s One Book Colorado effort gives away copies of the same title to each 4-year-old in the state via public libraries and Denver Preschool Program devices, according to the One Book program website. (No books are given away in Broomfield’s program.)
Denver’s One Book effort for adults ended in 2014, say Denver library officials, who cited lagging participation.
Other efforts to bring in authors to talk about their books have also stumbled in some communities in Colorado.
The High Plains Library District — which covers Weld County and parts of neighboring counties — has attempted several book-and-author-centric endeavors with mixed results, James Melena, the district’s community relations and marketing manager, said in an email.
Garth Stein, author of “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” was a keynote speaker at a district event a few years ago. The book was popular among residents but Stein only drew mediocre attendance, Melena said.
The district is considering reviving its ReadCon event, last held in 2015, or even a WriteCon event, to encourage people to meet favorite local writers. But nothing official has been confirmed for those events.
Authors who wrote about lighter themes — including LeVar Burton, Diana Gabaldon and Jodi Picoult — drew sold-out crowds for the district’s Signature Author series, Melena said. But books about heavier topics — including Garth Stein’s work on grief — were not big draws.
“I honestly couldn’t give you a great reason as to why these events got less and less traffic,” Melena said.
Meantime, attempts to get some books removed from the shelves at the High Plains District have gone up, he said.
This follows a trend nationally, according to the American Library Association. At least 136 “unique” book titles have been challenged across Colorado in the first eight months of 2023, the association said. That’s a 143% increase from 2022, when 56 books were challenged, according to the group.
In 2020, the High Plains District received one complaint about a book, in 2012 two complaints were filed and in 2023, the district has received three requests to date, Melena said. “Each time these requests have been made we have chosen not to remove the materials,” he said.
The three contested books this year were for a childrens’ book, a book for teens and a book for adults. The objection to the adult book was because the title had the F-word in it, even though only the first letter was shown. The other three letters were blurred out, Melena said.
Books to spark conversation
Library officials in the metro area say they try to pick titles that spark conversation and not division.
Boulder library officials are looking for a community title for 2025. This year’s book was “The Book of Joy,” which was read and shared among residents and book clubs and was the focus of 40 public programs, Emi Smith, spokeswoman for the Boulder Public Library said in an email.
“The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” was written by Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Tenzio Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and was published in 2016. The authors discuss the challenges of living a joyful life, according to Cornerstone Publishers.
The 2023 selection is typical of the type of books selected by library officials and community members, Smith said.
“A lot of times nonfiction books are selected that are based on specific events,” Smith said. The books, picked after an extensive public process, follow the goals of the library. “The library is a proponent of having discussions about things happening in the world.”
In September, the book “They Can’t Take Your Name” was celebrated in the Bemis Public Library in Littleton with a writing workshop and book club discussion that featured Denver author Robert Justice, library director Dennis Quinn said via email. The book involves a man wrongly convicted of murder who must depend on his daughter to clear his name and features Denver’s Five Points neighborhood.
The book fulfills at least two criteria for Littleton’s One Book program: Experience people and places that most local readers would not likely encounter and boost the profile of a local author, Quinn said.
“It was really important for us to select a work that highlights an unrepresented author and an unrepresented area,” Quinn said.
CORRECTION: The headline of this story was updated at Nov. 2, 2023, at 9:45 a.m. to correctly identify “Killers of the Flower Moon” as a nonfiction work.