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Meet a Westside Pioneer!
Old Colorado City Carnegie Library

Dignitaries cut the ribbon Nov. 17, 2007, to formally reopen the Old Colorado City Carnegie Library after the renovation that had been timed for the 100-year anniversary of the building's 1904 construction.
Westside Pioneer file photo
       (Editor's note: In honor of the Old Colorado City Carnegie Library's 110th anniversary Dec. 7, library branch assistant David Rasmussen “translated” the building's historical perspectives using the Westside Pioneer's question/answer format for its Meet a Westside Pioneer feature.)

       What kind of career have you had?
       For 110 years, since my official opening on Dec. 7, 1904, I've been the information center for Old Colorado City and the surrounding neighborhoods. Starting with an independent collection of about 1,000 books, over the years I've grown to be a community library of the Pikes Peak Library District, providing customers access to (in 2013) 1,193,039 items, including roughly 80,000 electronic materials. But above and beyond offering library services, I've been a community center; a haven for residents of all ages, backgrounds, financial status, and interests; and a symbol of everyone's right to access information for the purpose of self-enrichment and betterment. And best of all: no retirement in sight!

       Can you tell us about your marriage?
       Closest thing would have been the merger with the Colorado Springs library
A gathering of library leaders inside the Old Colorado City in 2012 shows (from left) then-Pikes Peak Library District Executive Director Paula Miller, past OCC manager Julianne Rist, current manager Jocelyne Sansing, long- time OCC branch assistant Dustie Flynn and past manager Betsy Evans.
Courtesy of Old Colorado City Library
system back in 1917, the year of annexation. Colorado City sold me for $1. But I didn't mind, and it's been happily-ever-after ever since.

       Did you have children?
       More like younger siblings than kids. Back in the old days, one library per community was enough. But I like to think after annexation, the Westside and the rest of Colorado Springs realized what an advantage it is to have a small neighborhood library along with the big downtown facility. So in a way, many of the community libraries in El Paso County have followed my lead.

       Can you tell us about your grandparents/parents?
       Yes, I can. Before I came along, the good citizens of Colorado City - and by good I mean the Women's Christian Temperance Union - decided a public library would be a great benefit to the community. So they set up the Woods Free Library, initially at what is now 2411½ W. Colorado Ave., which moved briefly to the Templeton Building on the corner of 25th and Colorado. Of course these “parents” were grateful when the $10,000 from Andrew Carnegie came through for the new building in 1904, but there were squabbles about who would administer it. Nothing, then or now, was ever worked out without much heated discussion. I
After the ribbon-cutting Nov. 17, 2007, to formally reopen the Old Colorado City Carnegie Library after its renovation, two youngsters tried out the new public-access computers.
Westside Pioneer file photo
guess, in a way, Andrew Carnegie would have been a stepfather. He gave the money on the condition that the local citizens would commit to annual upkeep and staffing. The city appropriated an annual fee of $1,000 for the maintenance of the library and its services. And architect George M. Bryson designed me back in 1904.

       What are your best memories of growing up on the Westside?
       I had some great library managers looking out for me and the community: currently Jocelyne Sansing, but before her Julianne Rist, Betsy Evans, Eunice Watson and 21 others. (See the chart on this page.) I remember some major changes in more recent years. There was a remodel in 1980 that moved the service desk from the central area to the east side. The same project opened a skylight that had been boarded up for years. Then, in 1994, the adjacent lot to the west was bought and turned into parking. That was a great improvement. But best of all, in 2007, I went through a major restoration that structurally as well as aesthetically returned me to my original glory - with few improvements thrown in, such as a lift and ADA-accessible restrooms and meeting room.

       What is gone from the Westside now that you wish had stayed?
       In my case, there used to be a lot more reading space. Shelves fill areas that used to be chairs and tables for reading and research. Of course it's wonderful to have more materials to browse, but probably the chief request these days is “more places to sit.”

In a 1928 photo, Helen Ellinwood, the Old Colorado City Library manager from 1920 to 1929, is shown with an assistant at the front desk.
Courtesy of Old Colorado City Library
       What has stayed that you wish had gone?

       Again, in my case, great decisions have been made all along the way. There's an old coal chute in the basement. Thank goodness those days are gone. Some other things that caused issues for me in the past have gotten better. While the stairs in front are an obstacle for many, it's great they have been restored, and ADA access is accommodated by the west-entrance ramp and inside lift. The original grass has been replaced with new landscapes throughout the 110 years, and now it is a xeric, beautiful collection of low maintenance and resilient perennials. Beautiful hardwood floors were discovered under the carpet during the remodel and have been refurbished. And my own favorite: Back in the '60s and '70s when many old buildings replaced their hung sash windows, I got to keep mine (and they've since been repaired and restored). They let so much light into the building that sometimes it's a problem. And they can still be opened to let fresh air in when the weather is nice.

       How about the way things have changed?
       Great question! To some extent, libraries have always filled the role of preserving the past, and many people see me primarily as an archive and not a trend-setter. Sure, I'm a beautiful old building, and can tell you fascinating things about the good old days - and they were good. But I'm not here just so patrons can reminisce. Carnegie believed libraries were a means of improving oneself and creating a better future. Throughout my history, I've gone from providing access
This was how the reading room in the Old Colorado City Library looked in the 1970s.
Courtesy of Old Colorado City Library
to the latest reference publications to guiding people to online resources and databases and, most recently, to downloadable apps. From Audubon's illustrated books and World Atlases, to VHS tapes, to today's DVDs and livestream videos, I've opened people's eyes to graphic arts. For a time in the '80s, patrons could even check out framed works of art! Tape recordings led to LPs, to cassette tapes and to the current CD music and audiobooks on CD. Which one of these wasn't an innovative technology opening a whole new world of music and the spoken word to our community? And now, in the booming information age of computers and the Internet, I find I've been on the right track all along and I'm more needed than ever. How people access information is more critical than ever. And now that there is access, what are people going to do with it? The district's 21st Century Library will break through obstacles and enable creativity and productivity on a scale never before imagined. And to think it starts here, in a local brick building constructed 110 years ago for $10,000!

The chart shows the names of the Old Colorado City Library's head librarians/managers over the past 110 years.
Courtesy of Old Colorado City Library
       Overall, is the Westside better or worse than when you were a kid here?

       Trick question, right? The Westside has always been great, and if you don't think so you need to visit the library. Sure, there have been and still are hard times. Before the annexation, the glory days of Cripple Creek gold gave way to Colorado City's controversy of Wet versus Dry. The Depression and the war years would have been impossible if not for the sense of community here. And when urban renewal threatened the rich past of this historic neighborhood, didn't the local citizens rally to save it - but not without blood, sweat, tears and ongoing hard work and commitment? But these conflicts are the stuff of life, and if people see anything in my 110 years of staring over their shoulders, I hope they see that this life is complex, not simple. It's good and ill, woven together. That's why my collection of materials is as diverse as possible, offering all viewpoints as well as insights into conditions identical to and sometimes totally dissimilar from what we imagine ours to be. But we look back mostly to gain our balance. And we read, study and engage in the present to set our sights forward. “What will the future be like?” is a more important question. Come see me and let's figure it out together.

(Posted 12/1/14, updated 12/3/14; Opinions: Meet a Westside Pioneer)

“Meet a Westside Pioneer” interviews people (usually) who have lived all or most of their lives on the Colorado Springs Westside. If you know someone who meets that criteria, please give us a call at 471-6776.

Would you like to respond to this feature? The Westside Pioneer welcomes letters at editor@westsidepioneer.com. (Click here for letter-writing criteria.)