In response to articles about the release of an RFQ for architects to renovate MLK, assertions have been made that we oppose renovations to libraries. Honestly? No one has done more to advocate for libraries in DC than the DC Library Renaissance Project and the District Dynamos. And we have succeeded.
We led the effort to save MLK in 2006;
We led the effort to fund neighborhood library rebuilding (17 new libraries to date);
We led the effort to keep MLK library open on Sundays when Mayor Gray threatened to close it 2011;
We led the effort to get library hours increased at all branches (begins Oct 1).
For the last seven years, we have also testified to the need for a Citizens Task Force on the MLK Library. There have been 5 chairs of DC Council Library Committee during that time (Patterson, Thomas, Bowser, Wells and Catania). We are the constant representative of the public interest in DC’s public libraries.
What we do oppose:
Undervaluation of the most valuable public land in the city (West End Library and parcels) in order to sell it at bargain rates to developer contributor friends of Jack Evans, Tommy Wells, Tony Williams and the rest of the bunch over at the Federal City Council;
Violation of Inclusionary Zoning (of Affordable Housing) Law to do so;
Privatization of the central public library of DC.
No other capital city in the world is privatizing its central library or proposing to replace it with a smaller one. Nor is there any economic imperative for DC to do so. To the contrary, the Urban Land Institute found DC to be the most financially secure city in the US, in its 2011 study commissioned by the DC Library Trustees.
Everyone wants a great central library for DC. It’s not necessary to give anything away or sell out to private interests in order to make the best municipal library in the world.
We already have a structurally sound historic building purpose designed by an iconic architect. We have plenty of money to renovate it into a leading edge 21st century facility. Make it bigger and better, but keep it public.
Add the two stories that were originally intended by architect Mies van der Rohe. Put in the DC Archives (it comes with $42 million in the capital budget but has no location). Put in a performance hall and rehearsal rooms, put in a community college, put in a roof garden, put in a book spiral, put in daycare for library users. There are myriad public, educational uses that could be centered at 901 G Street, NW.
When there are so many possibilities, why are we entertaining the same tired idea that private interests can do it better? And by the way, is there a District leader that can put this partnership into a coherent proposal for DC residents to consider? The library belongs to everyone, and the central library is the most important and most used public building we have. The privatization issue is one citizens must decide.
It would be nice if District leaders would ask the residents and library users of the District what they want. Doubtful that it would be a smaller central library, without parking, buried under eight floors of grade A office space.