During COVID-19, Libraries Provide Critical Public Services

While the City and County of Denver is under a Stay At Home Order to combat the spread of COVID-19, our incredible public servants continue to work and innovate. More than ever, libraries and cities are teaming to leverage our public assets to meet the needs of our diverse community during this crisis.

The difficult decision was made by City and library leadership to close Denver Public Library’s 26 locations on March 16 in response to COVID-19. Since that time, in partnership with City leaders, library staff have come together to enhance virtual services and provide new services and programming during the time of social distancing.

Bridging the digital divide

Though the buildings are closed, all library locations have kept their guest internet on to allow the community to access free wireless internet in a responsible socially distanced manner from outside the buildings. Prior to closing, the library checked out hotspots to customers to provide home internet access.

Additionally, for those community members who do not have access to the internet, the library has expanded phone service to connect with a librarian or social worker with questions, provided a dedicated phone line for children to call to hear a story or song in eight languages and added a dedicated phone line for adults to call to hear poetry or short stories in Spanish and English.

Getting materials into the hands of vulnerable communities

When library staff heard that Denver Public Schools students could not access books to support their online learning, they quickly formed a partnership with Denver Public Schools. With guidance from the Mayor’s Office around health and safety measures, the library’s outreach team is visiting the school district’s grab and go meal sites to provide developmentally appropriate books at no charge to Denver students several times a week.

We’ve teamed up with the Denver Public Library Friends Foundation to provide books and materials like games and puzzles to individuals experiencing homelessness in temporary shelters across the Denver area. Library employees are helping to staff one of our temporary shelters and exploring how we can expand services to vulnerable populations, including a new partnership in development with the Denver Housing Authority.

Protecting front-line workers

In collaboration with Make4COVID, Denver Public Library staff have produced 277 personal protective equipment (PPE) to date for healthcare workers using the library’s 3D printers while working remotely. The library also lent its sewing machines to the Colorado Sewing Coalition to produce masks for a variety of organizations. Library staff put their personal sewing machines to work when the Mayor’s Office announced a shortage of masks for essential City workers making 345 masks and the amount is growing.

Providing learning opportunities for all ages

Over 100 Denver Public Library staff members are working behind the scenes to develop and deliver virtual services.  The library’s popular storytimes have gone virtual and viral – librarians from across the city deliver three daily live YouTube storytimes in English and Spanish. For National Library Week, Denver kids enjoyed storytime with their mayor as a guest reader. Together, we brought the love of reading into homes.

The library’s online learning resources are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at no cost—including thousands of online courses newly added for library cardholders from Udemy.

Supporting small businesses

Denver Public Library’s librarians continue to hold virtual sessions through its BizBoost program – a popular service that provides research support to existing and aspiring small business owners and non-profit leaders. We know programs like BizBoost and services for job seekers will be critical for getting all of Denver back to work.

Connecting community

The library’s core value of connecting communities is even more essential today. Residents of all ages and backgrounds are participating in virtual book clubs, interactive and engaging social media content, online chat, and virtual programs. The library continues its work via its Plaza program –  tailored to meet the needs of immigrant, refugee, and asylee populations. Plaza participants continue to engage with library staff via online conversation groups and one-on-one appointments. Serving these communities has been a mayoral priority and we are proud to have a great partner in the library.

This work is vital for our community’s well-being, and we cannot afford to miss a step as we begin moving into the next stage of our recovery. Widespread revenue losses from COVID-19 are straining cities’ ability to maintain library funding. Throughout the nation, local governments provide 86% of public library funding, totaling $11.4 billion annually. In more than 4,800 cities, the public library is a city department; and in thousands of others, the city contributes financially or partners closely with the library.

To maintain crucial services, Congress must provide fiscal relief to libraries through the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, as one of the federal funding streams needed to help support city budgets. Fiscal stabilization is essential to fulfilling our promise to all the people of Denver in a time of great uncertainty. We can do it together.

About the Authors

Denver_Mayor_Michael_Hancock_-_2012-08-15_(portrait_crop)Michael B. Hancock is the Mayor of the City & County of Denver, Colorado.





Jeske, Michelle HeadshotMichelle Jeske is a City Librarian at the Denver Public Library.