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Attendance at the premier annual fundraising event for the Denver Public Library was down this year, a sign that tension between the library administration and the Friends of the DPL may be costing the library support.

Normally, much of Denver's high society turns out for the gala event, but just 600 people attended the Booklover's Ball on November 15 -- a drop from the 920 who showed up last year. But it wasn't just the room that was emptier than usual; the coffers were, too. The evening of dinner and dancing raised $205,000 for the library, a decline from last year's haul of $325,000.

For many years, the Friends Foundation was one of the most prominent charities in Denver, and it ran the ball and the library's annual book sale. However, both events are now being organized by library staff, since City Librarian Rick Ashton decided earlier this year that the change would make fundraising efforts more cost-effective.

Many Friends members saw the move as a way for Ashton to consolidate his power. Bitter about what they perceived to be a library takeover of fundraisers they had spent years developing, dozens of members have given up their involvement with the DPL ("Checked Out," Aug. 7, 2003). Today the organization's role has been reduced to supervising the $4 million endowment the group built up over decades of work. Even their store in the Central Library has shut down and now houses the facility's DVD and CD collection.

"People stayed away from the ball because they're angry over what happened to the Friends," says one longtime library supporter who asked not to be named.

In July, Ashton spoke at a cocktail party for supporters of the library and told them the ball was crucial to the DPL because of budget cuts that have reduced its funding by $5 million and forced a 40 percent slash in acquisitions. Mayor John Hickenlooper and his wife, Helen Thorpe, as well as Denver oilman Bruce Benson and his wife, Marcy, who serves on the library commission, all showed up to give the library their support. Others in attendance at the ball included library commissioners Landri Taylor and Ann Kirchof, as well as city councilmen Charlie Brown and Michael Hancock.

The theme of the ball was "Black & White & Read All Over," and guests enjoyed a photo exhibition of historic Denver balls and galas, all drawn from the library's collection.

Even though attendance was down, library spokeswoman Celeste Jackson insists the DPL is still happy with the outcome.

"We were pleased with the turnout," she says.

The money raised at the ball will be used to buy 15,000 non-fiction books for children and teens.


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