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When the COVID-19 pandemic descended on Colorado in March 2020, the Denver Public Library (DPL) was forced to close its central branch near the State Capitol. Instead of just letting the space sit empty, however, DPL used the time without guests to renovate the building, including the beloved Children’s Library on the first floor.
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“We’ve been closed to children and families since the beginning of the pandemic,” Rachel Fewell, the central library administrator for DPL, says. “That’s a huge and significant loss for families who live downtown and depend on this space to let their kids run.”
Although the central branch reopened last summer with limited hours, the first-floor kids’ space had remained closed. That all changed on April 24, when the downtown location welcomed visitors to its reimagined Children’s Library for the first time. The new area covers 10,000 square feet and features a collection of more than 50,000 physical print and media materials.
The DPL team developed the new Children’s Library for kids (infants all the way up to fifth graders) to play, learn, and explore. A hanging installation that resembles a blue river (and also functions as a light fixture) hangs above the space, guiding guests through aisles of lowered kid-friendly bookshelves, a dedicated playroom for infants, nine desktop computers, four iPads, a “project room” stocked with materials for arts and crafts, games, toys, and more.
Other design elements are meant to highlight aspects of life in downtown Denver, like several “crosswalks” between bookshelves and a laminated map of the Mile High City on the project room floor. “I really want kids to feel comfortable and see themselves in the space,” Fewell says.
Programming for the space, Fewell says, will evolve as families and visitors use and interact with the new library. For now, the llibrary staff will be hosting a storytime at least two times a week (the schedule can be found here).
Since the start of the pandemic, the entire Denver Public Library system, which includes 10 separate branches, has undergone $69.3 million of renovations. Most of that money came from the $973 million Elevate Denver Bond package that was approved by Mile High City voters in 2017. Funds for the construction also came from the Denver Public Library Friends Foundation.
The new Children’s Library will be open during the same hours as the central branch, Sunday through Thursday from 1 to 5 p.m. The limited hours are due to ongoing construction of the elevator system and other spaces in the main building. The work is expected to be finished in 2023.
Despite the limited hours, the staff can’t wait to finally share the space again. “We are excited to get back to connecting with families,” Fewell says. “To provide this destination space for people to come while they’re downtown.”