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Book 'em, Denver

Octavio Diaz

As any mother of a library-going three-year-old will tell you, returning 21 thin picture books on time every three weeks is easier said than done. There's always at least one shoved under the bed, to be found days -- or months -- later, unread and buried in dust bunnies. But at the Denver Public Library, they understand.

"We always waive fines for children at the beginning of the summer, because we want them in for summer reading," says library spokeswoman Pat Hodapp. "And second, we just want the books back so others can use them." And, she adds, that's just the kind of people-friendly attitude that helped the DPL earn its numero-uno status in the nation this year, from the prestigious Hennen's American Public Library Rating system.

"We are a library that is used," Hodapp enthuses. "We used to call it the Cheers effect, especially at the branches: You know, it's a friendly place to go where people will happily answer your questions and are genuinely glad to see you. We find ways to say yes, and that permeates everybody's attitude. We don't just put up a reference desk -- we say, "Ask us."

To celebrate its top ranking, the DPL is not only hosting a citywide party this Saturday at the main library and most branches, it will also kick off its annual Amnesty Week, an entire week during which all returns will be fine-free. "I always hope someone will come in with a book from 125 years ago, telling us, 'Grandma said be sure and return this for me, honey...,'" Hodapp says.

But for her, the bottom line is: "We want to thank our customers. If they didn't use us, we wouldn't be number one." And even a three-year-old understands that.


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