I found things I hadn’t expected on every floor of the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. So much so, I might just check out all the branches of the Denver Public Library to see how they differ.

First of all, two bronze and mosaic reliefs grace the front of the building at 25th and Welton (on light rail). They were designed by Thomas Jay Warren and cast at Fedde Bronze Works on 38th Avenue in the Park Hill neighborhood.African American Research Library Mural Denver May 2009

When I walked around the first floor, which the website calls a “full-service branch library,” I was struck by how small it seemed. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare a branch library to the Mamie Dowd Eisenhower Library in Broomfield, which serves a city and county and has more than 144,000 books. The library in Five Points has 32,000 items total in its main collection.

But the main floor was busy, with people checking out the magazines, DVDs, and CDs, many of which were in Spanish (e.g., Crónica del Holocausto), and using the computers. The fiction collection featured books with African American characters.

I searched for an urban fantasy series I read earlier this year, the Negotiator series by C. E. Murphy. It was a literary series featuring a lawyer in New York City who just happens to end up representing dragons, gargoyles, and vampires as they struggle to survive in the modern world. This character, Margrit Knight, also happens to be black, but I noticed the picture on the front cover makes her look more white than not. It reminded me of debates in the publishing world about how putting black people on the cover of a novel means it won’t sell.

I didn’t find the C. E. Murphy books on the shelves, but they might be in the catalog. I didn’t look.

The hallway that leads to the main collection holds several tall glass cases celebrating Barack Obama’s election to the presidency. As I checked out all the election swag, I wished I’d bought some of the T-shirts I saw during the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. They would be conversation pieces in later years. There were dolls and comic books and buttons and newspapers from around the world, including USA Today: “America Makes History: Obama Wins.” Reading those papers still gives me a thrill and makes me sad at the same time: I’m happy that we have a black president, but I can’t wait for a woman president.African American Research Library Main hallways  Denver Sep 2009

On the second floor, in the collection archives and research library, I found this book: Black Women for Beginners by S. Pearl Sharp. One thing among many I learned from the book: In the 1860s, Mary Ellen Pleasant sued San Francisco for removing her from a streetcar and won. Thereafter, streetcars were integrated.

I could probably spend the rest of my life going from libraries to coffeehouses to chocolatiers and back. My sixth-grade class prophesied I would rewrite the English lexicon, and although I didn’t quite get there, I did copyedit for local presses for more than a decade. That’s close enough to make me shiver.

What’s your favorite thing about your local library?

Leave A Comment

  1. Michele Harvey September 15, 2009 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    Que rico! I enjoyed reading your article about the Blair-Caldwell
    African American Research Library, which I didn’t know existed. I agree about the Obama campaign tee-shirts. I have an uncle who has been colleting campaign buttons for many years and it has become both a lucrative and interesting hobby. Has it once again become politically correct to use the term “black” rather than African American? I see it frequently used in your article. Thanks

  2. Todd Bradley September 15, 2009 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    My favorite thing about the local library is the internet access.
    .-= Todd Bradley´s last blog ..just got back from Louisiana – 8 month ear checkup =-.

  3. Beth September 15, 2009 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    Michele, I’ve always used both since people started using African American, whenever that was. I find the latter to be something of a mouthful, so I use “black” sometimes just to vary things. Thanks for commenting!

    Todd, as far as I could tell, there was WiFi there, but I didn’t take my computer.
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..Denver Museums: Hidden in a Library, Part I =-.

  4. Mary September 18, 2009 at 9:16 pm - Reply

    Every branch of the Denver public library I have been to is a treasure. I have been so impressed and actually take most of my guests to the main branch, because I consider it such a treat. I ‘ll have to check out this one next.
    .-= Mary´s last blog ..Breakin’ the law, breakin’ the law =-.