Green Valley Ranch library: Denver opens impressive new facility despite staffing crunch

Amid ribbon-cutting and speeches, balloon hats and live raptors, the Denver Public Library held a grand opening for its newest addition Saturday: the Green Valley Ranch Branch Library. The $11.4 million project, paid for out of bond funds authorized four years ago, arrives at a time when DPL and other city agencies are struggling with budget cuts and furloughs.

Green Valley is the first to open of three new branch libraries planned under the Better Denver Bond Program, which also provided funds for makeovers of several existing libraries, a new greenhouse at Botanic Gardens, a state-of-the-art police crime lab, and many other projects. (Still to come: a Stapleton library and one in west Denver.) But the bond money only covers capital construction costs. Since the recession hit, DPL and other recipients of the voters' largesse have had to juggle personnel and rein in other expenditures to staff the new facilities.

"It's been a challenge," says DPL spokeswoman Jen Morris. "When we reduced hours across the system, this was one of the factors taken into consideration."

Judging from the crowds that turned out for the Saturday opening celebration, the new branch is a welcome addition just the same. It's located about eight miles south of Denver International Airport, in the city's most eastern housing development, an area underservered by the hard-hit libraries of surrounding Aurora. One look at the bright, airy new branch, well-stocked with books, movies and music, and locals were lining up for Denver library cards.

The 26,000-square-foot, energy-efficient building has an aviation theme, from its undulating ceiling panels to propeller-shaped benches to a real cockpit, donated by the United Airlines Training Facility, that kids can fool around in. It boasts high-tech self-checkout machines, fifty public computers, wi-fi, a fireplace, a xeriscaped garden, a community room and a generally child-friendly atmosphere.

Coolest feature of all: an interactive piece of multimedia by artist Erik Carlson that hovers over the stacks, flashing quotes from the library's collection mixed with still images and film clips. The work responds to customer catalog search terms by making various word and image associations, providing a sort of running commentary about the art and information people are seeking out at the time.

Check out the examples of the piece in action below:

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
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