New Gonzales Library a Hit for West Colfax

The new Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales Branch Library provides an oasis of creativity in the West Colfax neighborhood. Visitation has been high since the colorful addition to Colfax Avenue opened in February.
The Gonzales branch has been hugely popular with the community since day one. For its grand opening the library had planned on an attendance of 1,000 to 1,200. More than 2,500 people showed up to celebrate the new branch.

"It makes us very proud to know that we hit the nail on the head with this one," says Chris Henning, marketing communications manager for the Denver Public Library system.

So far, the community's use of the Gonzales branch has exceeded expectations. Since opening in late February, the Gonzales branch has signed up more than 10,600 people for new library cards and averaged more than 3,600 visits per week.

The new library was named for the late Denver Chicano rights activist Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales. Gonzales founded the Escuela Tlatelolco, a charter school in northwest Denver that provides an alternative education for young Latinos. He is also well known for his poem I am Joaquin and for establishing the Crusade for Justice.

"There were certainly a huge number of people that were really interested in having the library named for Corky," says Henning, although the choice of name sparked some controversy. "Any time you name a public building in any state, in any town, there's going to be some controversy around it."

Henning believes some of the controversy surrounding the library's naming actually helped get the word out about the new library by generating more press coverage.

Before the Gonzales branch was constructed, the West Colfax neighborhood didn't have a convenient library branch. There were a few DPL branches within about two miles of the neighborhood, but that wasn't close enough for an area whose residents rely on public transport to get around.

Planning and learning with technology and designA large computer section makes up part of the new library.

Technology made getting community input for a new library easier than ever. Social media allowed for the community to offer direct input in the library planning process. By analyzing census data and marketing software, DPL could also anticipate what the neighborhood would need from its new library.

Those involved in the planning and design of the new library used market segmentation software to collect a mixture of demographic data and psychographic data to examine the West Colfax neighborhood. Library planners could examine each neighborhood down to the particular block -- even down to the building -- and determine what the needs and interests of residents might be.

This information was used to identify "deserts," the things people in an area don't have access to but want access to. This data helps with more than just the initial plans for the library building and services; it also helps the library plan programming and collections.

In the past, library branches found their niches over time. Now, libraries use both the data available on a community and the branch librarians, according to Henning, "are so in tune to the area it becomes second nature to them" to be able to predict what people in an area will want. "So it's a little bit of an art and a science."

Data on neighborhoods has become more sophisticated than ever. "This is the first time where we were able to use [data] from the very beginning, from planning through execution," says Henning.

The library was designed to suit the specific needs of the West Colfax neighborhood. The building, for example, has not one but two main entrances: one entrance faces the parking lot, and one faces the Colfax and Irving intersection for people arriving on foot or by public transport.

The children's section, community learning plaza and media section are all on the ground floor. This is intentional: The neighborhood is home to many families with young children, and demand for music and movies is also high. "We want them to have easy access to the material they want," says Edmund Ye Kiang, senior librarian at the Gonzales branch.

"We've heard nothing but positive comments about it," says Henning, referring to the colorful, thoughtful design by Denver-based Studiotrope Design Collective. "Building design has become, in big metropolitan areas, one of the biggest factors in drawing people in."

The new library brings more than book stacks to the neighborhood. DPL's Gonzales branch features bilingual storytimes, a community learning plaza and a music studio.

The community learning plaza is not just a space, it's also a series of programs for immigrants in the community. While parents attend community learning plaza programs, they can also easily keep an eye on their kids in the open children's area on the library's first floor.

"One of the great things about that program and this location specifically is that parents can attend . . . a conversation class, and their kids still have a place to go so they're close by," says Henning. "A lot of the purposeful design of this building was meant to maximize the space as much as possible."

A musical placeDPL's Gonzales branch features bilingual storytimes, a community learning plaza and a music studio.

The music studio opened in mid-April. "I think the interest level [in it] is high," says Ye Kiang. He believes as more people find out about the studio, it will become even more popular.

Over the course of one hour on a rainy Tuesday, the small music studio quickly filled up with community members. Sixteen people stopped by to investigate the studio and instruments: curious kids and parents, students from nearby Lake Middle School, and other young people living in the area.

Neighborhood resident David Heppel has been bringing his two children, eight-year-old Aliza and three-year-old Noam, to the Gonzales branch since the day it opened. Like most of the people who use the music studio, the Heppels discovered it when they happened to walk by it during a library visit. The family is looking forward to reserving time slots in the studio to play together.

So far mostly amateur musicians and those who are curious about the different instruments use the music studio. Librarian Will Smith thinks that once the studio is fully equipped for recording, it will see use by more serious amateurs -- and maybe even a few pro musicians.

Divine Adufu lives in the Overlook apartments near the Gonzales Library. He was walking through the library with two friends when he saw the music studio. Adufu had been looking for a place to teach his friend Theo Okine the keyboard, and realized he'd found the perfect spot.

The two young men hope to use the music studio as often as they can for keyboard lessons. "This is a perfect place," explains Adufu. "This is a place to help people."

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn. 
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Read more articles by Sarah Harvey.

Sarah Harvey is a Denver-based writer and editor. She is currently editor of the Denver VOICE.
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