Building Social Capital For All…For Free


Dele Johnson
December 11, 2020

This piece was submitted to Floodlight by the Denver Public Library Friends Foundation (DPLFF). 

Nicanor, Ricardo, and the Denver Foundation. These names converge in one place – Denver Public Library.

Nicanor’s story dates back to when he and his family (upon his father’s acceptance to an American university) moved to the U.S. from Argentina. His mom, a librarian back home, did not speak English and Nicanor was the de facto interpreter – a skill that would come full circle. Fast forward to Nicanor receiving a Masters in Library and Information Science from University of Denver, and now serving as the Manager of Cultural Inclusion for Denver Public Library. A large portion of his work is with Immigrant and Refugee Services which the library provides. Together, Nicanor and Virginia Vassar Aggrey (Plaza Program Manager of Neighborhood Services) serve as a key resource and lifeline to countless individuals from other countries seeking services.

Ricardo is one of the beneficiaries of the work of Nicanor and Virginia. Of Denver’s population, almost 20 percent are foreign-born (anyone who is not a U.S. citizen at birth, including those who become U.S. citizens through naturalization). Ricardo is one of them. He has participated in the Plaza program at the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez Branch Library. After emigrating from Mexico, Ricardo studied for a 100-question civics test that would accompany his interview to become a naturalized American citizen. Preparation support and mock exams offered by the library are among a list of opportunities provided by the program.

In addition to naturalization preparation services, the Denver Public Library’s Plaza program includes:

  • Materials, programs, and staff support in 15 languages including Spanish, Vietnamese, Somali, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Persian, and Kurdish
  • High-quality child educational and cultural activities during programs
  • English as a second language learning
  • Art and craft classes
  • Homework assistance
  • Job search support
  • Legal resources

Many individuals believe it is the City that funds programs like this and the library on the whole. On the contrary, donations from philanthropists – and in particular one fundholder at The Denver Foundation – have allowed programs like Immigrant and Refugee Services to continue and to thrive. The Denver Public Library Friends Foundation stewards such donations to ensure ongoing funding for these exceptional programs as well as general support for the library staff, services and space. Just recently, a gift was received that will fund Plaza programming through 2022.

The history of philanthropy runs deep with the Denver Public Library as Andrew Carnegie presented the city with a gift to fund its original “palace for the people” in 1910 (the current day McNichols Building). Fast forward one century, and one decade, and the Central Library is now beginning its first major renovation in 25 years. A Story Still to Tell is the $61 million dollar campaign (three-fifths covered by the 2017 bond issuance) to reimagine a new generation of the library, for generations of users. 

  • Among the re-envisioned areas is the Large Program Space, with a separate entrance opposite Civic Center Park’s amphitheater, that will host – among many other events – the City’s naturalization ceremony for new citizens.
  • Teen space is being reconfigured, along with the Children’s library, to be more inviting, secure, and functional for after school and young child programming. It provides a place to meet, to explore and to share.
  • A visionary Commons creates a “branch within a branch” concept where space is activated for visitors to re-energize, to engage in programs, and to experience pop-up performances from the library’s partnering agencies and non-profits.

More than 4,000,000 visitors a year make it to Denver Public Library:  the most utilized cultural facility in the city.  Even when the library closed its doors during Coronavirus, the library continued to provide immigrant programming in a remote and virtual manner. Even during the pandemic, numerous participants passed their citizenship exams! There has also been an increase in multiple services of the library during this pandemic time:

– eMedia Check-Outs have increased 18 percent over 2019.  This includes  Overdrive, Kanopy, RBDigital, and Volume e-platforms.
– More than 70,000 unique YouTube views for DPL’s online programming offerings occurred from mid-March to the end of June. The average number of weekly views is over 4,500.
– Ask Us (an online reference service) engagements increased 40% in the first weeks of closure and continued on a high trajectory.
-More than 12,000 eCard registrations have occurred since DPL buildings closed due to COVID-19. The average number of weekly registrations is 860, which is more than double the 2019 average of 400 per week.

The Denver Foundation is a natural partner with the library as many of its focus areas mirror the focus of the Denver Public Library where Denver residents:

  • Have the tools they need to transform information into knowledge and become engaged and informed community members.
  • Connect to resources to meet their basic human needs,¨ be self-sufficient and reach their goal.
  • Have access to a safe space where they are treated with dignity and respect and are supported in their pursuit of lifelong learning.

The Denver Public Library Friends Foundation (DPLFF) values its partnership with The Denver Foundation and its donor advised fundholders. DPLFF invites them to learn more about a Story Still to Tell campaign, the Immigrant and Refugee Services, or more by visiting www.dplfriends.org and www.denverlibrary.org