Dana Richardson retired this spring after 25 years at the Smiley Branch Library on 46th Avenue, known as “Mr. Dana” by the thousands of kids that walked through the library doors over the years. His career has been marked by a love of people as well as music.
As a kid, a passion for music started early when he withdrew the entire $20 in his savings account to buy a $19 ukulele and a $1 music book. His career started in childhood education, but quickly turned back to music where he played in a jug band in California. When the band broke up, he moved out to Colorado to follow a fellow bandmate.
He spent the first 20 years of his career in the Jefferson County libraries. When a senior librarian job opened up at a Jeffco Library, he thought he should get some practice for an interview. So he went to do a “practice” interview at Smiley Library in Denver, which turned into a job as the head librarian.
Dana said that “Getting the job was the best day in my career. It was a little overwhelming. I had worked in libraries. Never been in charge. Fortunately the people that came through those doors were very kind and supportive. They loved the libraries, and if I was in the libraries they loved me too.”
And North Denver loved Dana. Long time resident JoJo Rodriguez was one of many that felt Dana was incredibly welcoming and brought a sense of positivity to going to the library with her two sons. “He took an interest in everyone from children to adults, was generous with his time to all patrons young and old, and was always smiling or laughing, which brightens any room and can’t help but bring a smile to your own face.”
The Tuesday baby and toddler storytimes led by Dana incorporating sing alongs with his banjo ukulele became legendary in Northwest Denver. Andrea Ollom, a mom who often took her son, “used to describe him as a skinny Santa Clause with a Hawaiian Shirt. The best free ticket in the neighborhood for moms, babies, and toddlers. There were a couple times when the fire department came because too many people showed up, because so many kids wanted to be there.”
Dana was known to let the kids grab his banjo ukulele and often interrupt the flow of story time. When pressed why, he said that “Children are real. I love their (lack of) inhibitions. If they are joyful, there is something about it. They bring passion for life, and a love of excitement. They don’t have expectations. That is why I did story time. I wanted to surprise them and they were always surprising me. I couldn’t dampen that. That was my downfall as a storytime person, I just couldn’t say no. A lot of people base their story time around ‘don’t.’ I don’t believe in don’t. There is always a better way to do things than not enjoying what people are bringing to the environment. These kids would bring such wonder and joy. I got infected by that. It was the best experience of my life.”
Asked how he recommends people look at reading and finding good books now that he is retired, he had one word. “Passion. Follow it. Read about other people that have passions like yours. That’s why I love biographies. You read about people and their passion and what they are passionate about. People tell you about things you’ve never heard of. You never know where your next passion might be.” Dana’s favorites are about John Muir, “Protector of the Wilderness” and Pete Seeger, his inspiration for playing the 5 string banjo.
In terms of plans for what is next, Dana hopes to get through this pandemic and be able to play music with his friends on Friday nights. “We haven’t been able to do music since March 12th. That is truly a passion of mine. I’m not a musician when I’m by myself. I sing harmony, I never sing lead. When you sing harmony, you can go anywhere you want. I love the freedom.”
Indeed, Dana has been bringing harmony to the Smiley Branch Library for 25 years. You can find Dana’s farewell letter to NW Denver on the Smiley Library Facebook page.