Should Denver Public Library Rename the Ross-Barnum Branch Library?

In the last few years, the Denver Public Library executed a research plan that involved the evaluation of library location names and the history behind the namesakes. The research unveiled a troubled past with the Barnum portion of the Ross-Barnum Branch Library’s name and found that it does not align with the library’s own values. The branch is situated on the west side of Denver and has been a community hub in the Barnum neighborhood since 1954. Denver Public Library now seeks to engage the community to determine if the name should be changed or remain the same. This page will continuously be updated with new information as it comes.

A picture of the Ross-Barnum Branch Library building that shows the library name. You can also see a structure in the form of a bear that is created from recycled materials. It sits in front of the library building.

Why are we seeking community feedback on this?

In 2020, the murder of George Floyd began a social justice movement that would leave individuals and businesses grappling with how to address systemic racism. As people marched all over the world pushing for change we also saw images of historical statues coming down in an effort to demonstrate how deeply rooted racism is in our history. This chain of events led Denver Public Library City Librarian Michelle Jeske to examine our own organization which has been in place for over 125 years. Our Special Collections and Archives department launched into our own history and researched the individuals who have libraries named after them to understand their past and contributions to the community.

In that research, the Ross-Barnum name raised a red flag. Half of the branch is named after  P.T. Barnum who has a complicated past that didn’t support the library’s existing core values. DPL librarians found the following:

The Barnum half of the branch name is named for PT Barnum who once owned a large tract of land in the neighborhood. Though Barnum visited Denver on at least four occasions, he never lived in the neighborhood or really had much to do with it.

During his rise to fame, Barnum “leased” an African-American woman who was displayed for paying customers. He is also known to have similarly exploited other people of color in what was then known as “freak shows”.

Though he claimed to have owned and “whipped” enslaved people in the American South, while expressing remorse for those same actions - there is no proof that he ever owned enslaved people in the American South or anywhere else. (Source: P.T. Barnum Isn’t the Hero the “Greatest Showman” Wants You to Think, Smithsonian Magazine, December 22, 2017)

During the uprise in social justice efforts, Mayor Michael B. Hancock gathered a group of city staff members to examine names and statues across the City that proved to be problematic. City assets in the neighborhood of Barnum were reviewed. The group acknowledged Mr. Barnum’s history and that the neighborhood was developed not necessarily in honor of Mr. Barnum or his history but more as a neighborhood name.

Denver Public Library and Councilwoman Jamie Torres discussed the outcome of this group’s work and a decision was made to engage the community in a conversation to determine if the name should be changed or remain the same.

To learn more about the library's decision to engage with the community, check out the following brief video.


How was community feedback collected?

We began engaging with the Barnum community in April of this year by reaching out to local neighborhood partners. In May, we held a virtual community conversation to hear from the community and launched our online survey. We promoted the survey through social media and flyering the neighborhood. We also offered a paper survey at the Ross-Barnum Branch Library. Our survey closed on June 30. We encouraged anyone in Barnum and surrounding neighborhoods to share their voice. We are currently analyzing the results of the survey and the feedback we've received from the community with Councilwoman Jamie Torres and her team. Stay tuned for more information. If you have any questions, email us at

Community Feedback Results 
The Ross-Barnum Renaming Survey, which was offered in both paper and online form, was available in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The survey was circulated throughout the Barnum neighborhood through social media, virtual conversations, door-to-door flyers, in-person events, partner networks, and word of mouth. In total, DPL received 462 community responses. Of those responses, 65% of survey takers said they were highly likely or likely to support a name change of the branch. This information and other data was taken to the Denver Public Library's Commission for review and voting. 

At the August 2023 Commission Meeting, the commissioners voted to move forward with a name change based on these findings. The renaming process will begin in 2024. We will continue to keep this page updated with next steps, so please stay tuned.