A Denver Public Library Branch Turned Into a Tattoo Shop

Librarian Melissa Dewitt gets her first tattoo.
Librarian Melissa Dewitt gets her first tattoo. Sherry Spitsnaugle
Here's a list of things you can access through the Denver Public Library: Books and research assistance. Audio-books and e-book lending platforms. Computers and Internet access. Storytimes and classes for children. Passes to museums. A makers' space. A 3-D printer (no, it doesn't print guns). A free movie-streaming service. And this past weekend: tattoos.


“We’re always looking for new ways to expose the library,” City Librarian Michelle Jeske said, standing in the middle of the bustling Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Branch Library on Sunday, August 5. In a nearby room, six artists from Certified Tattoo had set up shop for Books & Ink – where bookworms and library customers could get literary inspired tattoos. The event was a fundraiser for the Denver Public Library Friends Foundation.

“I grew up going to Denver Public Library as a youngster,” said Nando Mondragon, owner of Certified Tattoo and a Denver native, at the arty pop-up. As a kid, he favored his neighborhood Athmar branch and the Central branch. “I want to give back to the community that I love.”

Librarians hatched the idea for a tattooing event after the success of the Books for Tattoos program, in which librarians offered book recommendations based on patrons’ tattoos. “It was super-popular,” notes librarian Hana Zittel. “We gave over 600 original recommendations.”

Annie Kemmerling, the manager of innovation and strategy for the system (and a librarian, to boot), thought it would be fun to join the library and tattoos in a more hands-on way. She contacted Mondragon, who was coincidentally searching for a community fundraiser that his shop could support. He helped expand the idea into an event at which about 120 people got 150 tattoos.

“We want to be out here doing stuff in the community,” he said. “But selfishly, I want to change people’s hearts and minds on tattoos.”

The crowd in the designated waiting area wasn’t too different from a regular group of weekend library-goers; lots of people read or talked quietly with friends. In the middle of the room, a small group played a game of seemingly friendly, competitive Scrabble.

But every so often, someone would hear their name called and cheer.

click to enlarge Library patrons await their tattoos during Books & Ink at the Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez Branch Library on Sunday, August 5. - SHERRY SPITSNAUGLE
Library patrons await their tattoos during Books & Ink at the Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez Branch Library on Sunday, August 5.
Sherry Spitsnaugle
Hillary Baker and Jordan Walter applauded when their friend was called up to get her first tattoo. The pair of best friends chatted giddily and finished each other's sentences. Baker, 37, is an Aurora resident. When she heard about Books & Ink, she knew she had to bring Walter, 33, who lives in Cheyenne.

“I dragged his ass down here,” she said. “He’s my bestie and a tattoo junkie.”

The pair decided to get matching “Still I Rise” tattoos, inspired by the Maya Angelou poem.

“It means a lot,” Baker said. She’s had a tough year: Her husband was laid off, and they have four children.

For Walter, the tattoo gives him the daily encouragement he needs as a gay man living in Wyoming.

“It’s hard,” he said. “But I will go above.”

And, of course, the matching tattoos are testament to their affection for each other — and the library.

“I love reading; I love the library,” Walter said.

The event made its mark in part because DPL and Certified Tattoo both have considerable followings, Kemmerling says. But she also suspects that tattoos and libraries go hand in hand:

“Behind every tattoo is a story,” she says. “We’re helping give people a good story.”
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