In June 1889, City Librarian John Cotton Dana established Denver's first public library in a wing of Denver High School. He referred to it as a "center of public happiness." In 1910, the city opened a Central Library building of its own, an elegant Greek temple design funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and located in downtown's Civic Center Park. Between 1913 and 1920, Carnegie also underwrote construction of the city's first eight branch libraries. They would serve a growing city that had previously relied on traveling trunks of books.
The "Old Main" library in Civic Center Park served downtown Denver for 45 years, until the City commissioned the firm of Fisher and Fisher/Burnham Hoyt to design a new Central Library at the corner of Broadway and 14th Avenue. Opened in 1956, the new structure provided more than twice the space of the Carnegie building, but was expected to meet Denver Public Library's needs for only a decade. Denver experienced explosive growth between the 1950s and the 1970s. A string of new branch libraries opened to serve sprawling neighborhoods to the southeast and southwest. Among them were the four Ross branches, funded by the estate of Denver real estate investor Frederick Ross.
By the late 1980s, Library collections had outgrown the Central Library and most branch libraries. Three-quarters of Central Library materials were stored in basements and warehouses. Moreover, aging buildings weren't adaptable to the flowering technology of the Information Age. In 1990, an overwhelming 75 percent of the city's voters approved a $91.6 million bond issue to build a new Central Library and renovate, expand or build new branch library buildings. A 540,000 square-foot Central Library, the awesome design of world-renowned Michael Graves and the Denver firm of Klipp Colussy Jenks DuBois, opened in 1995. Branch improvements were also completed by 1995.
In 2007 Denver voters supported a bond issue that is enabling Denver Public Library to build three new branch libraries in newly developed and underserved areas of the city including: Green Valley Ranch, Central Park, and West Denver. This funding has also provided the means to make much needed infrastructure repairs to existing Library facilities.
In November 2017, Denver voters overwhelmingly approved measure 2E, which provides $69.3 million to renovate the Denver Central Library and 10 branch libraries as part of the Elevate Denver Bond program. For renovation updates please visit, denverlibrary.org/elevate