Dr. Tom Noel
Central Library’s hidden gem, a generous bequest gift, and a “feline friend” in Western History... These are just a few elements of Dr. Tom Noel’s deep connection to Denver Public Library. In a recent conversation with Director of Philanthropy Marshall Wallach, Tom opened up about DPL’s impact on his career, the evolving role of public libraries in society, and why he and his wife Vi were moved to include DPL in their estate plans.
MW: I’m sure our readers would love to hear your “library story” Tom! What are some of your first memories of DPL, and how has the institution helped you in your career?
TN: Funny enough, one of my earliest memories of DPL dates back to the 1960s when I snuck a stray kitten into the Western History Reading Room! I found her out by the front entrance and couldn’t bear to leave her there in the rain. Sure enough, as I’m studying, the kitten slipped out of my book bag and started roaming around the 5th floor. After a thorough search, I couldn’t find her but figured one of the librarians would. It probably speaks to my view of libraries as “living places…” Surely, a living animal could belong there, too (laughter)!
More seriously, though, I’ve been a card-carrying member for years, a guest lecturer, and served on many committees - including the Acquisitions Committee, Western History Council, and Friends Foundation Board. In my professional career, DPL has been a wonderful resource. This was especially true for my first book, which captures the history of my current neighborhood in East Denver. I’d always wondered what it looked like before all of the modern homes, strip malls, etc. The DPL librarians took me up to Western History and pointed me to the Willis Farm & Ranch map from the 1880s, which showed all the homesteads and farms that existed beforehand. It’s amazing how powerful that one resource was in my research, and I have DPL to thank for that!
MW: Given your involvement here in many capacities, you have a unique perspective on DPL’s evolution. In your opinion, in what ways has the institution grown for the better to serve its communities?
TN: I think DPL has struck a wonderful balance between honoring the past and evolving to better meet its customers’ needs. Perhaps the biggest change in the Western History department has been the digitization of its collections. The department was quite innovative in this regard at the start of the process; not even the Library of Congress had such an extensive, free collection of photos at the time. I’m very proud of what the department has accomplished in this area. At the same time, in regards to honoring the past, their preservation of the card catalogs brings me joy! These collections contain important history and being able to flip through them by hand is a unique experience for the customers.
Furthermore, one of the institution’s “hidden gems” is its western art collection. I feel it’s sometimes overlooked given that the Denver Art Museum is right next door, but it really has grown into something special. Additionally, DPL has given a voice to local artists and cultural organizations with their rotating exhibits. For example, I loved the special exhibit celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Sisters of Loretto, along with the exhibit showcasing works of the photographer Roger Whitaker. This is yet another example of DPL ensuring that the city and state’s histories are captured and celebrated.
MW: I’m also curious to hear your vision for what lies in the future for DPL? In what ways do you see its role in society evolving in the years to come?
TN: I think one change we’re witnessing now is its growing role as a social service to Denverites. As a truly democratic institution, it makes sense that our role is expanding in this regard; we don’t turn anyone away and, for that reason, we are sought after by many as a place of comfort. As we move into a recession, the library’s free programs & services will be in more demand than ever before. Whether someone needs help looking for a job, learning a new professional skill, or simply understanding where they can find a hot meal for the day, DPL can, and should, help them.
MW: Well, your passion for and belief in DPL’s mission is palpable! I think it’s also evident in your and Vi’s decision to include DPL in your estate plans. Tell me more about how you two came to this decision.
TN: Well, there are a lot of worthy organizations out there - many of which we currently support - but in thinking about which institutions we wanted to prioritize philanthropically, DPL came up for many reasons. First, given its long history and consistent dedication to serving its communities, we’re confident it will stay true to this mission long after we’re gone. We also know that our collections will not only be in good hands, but will be processed and made available to customers quickly. Just as important, as we’ve discussed, it’s an institution that reaches everyone. It doesn’t discriminate in any capacity and strives to be a resource for all. I can’t think of a better mission to support.
MW: Having just gone through a gift planning process, is there any advice you would pass along to our readers who are considering planned gifts of their own?
TN: I would advise prospective donors to consider the Friends Foundation and DPL as total partners in the process! The level of service was exceptional. We worked closely with DPL to review our collections and determine how they would ultimately be transferred, processed, and made available to customers. It was a highly collaborative process and made us feel great about the commitment.
If you are interested in including the library in your estate plans (or have already done so), the Friends Foundation would love to hear from you! Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://www.dplfriends.org/how-to-help/ways_to_donate/planned-giving.html.