Just Friends?

There isn’t a more polite group of people than the members of the various DC Public Library Friends groups. Their outrage at the systematic neglect that has turned DCPL into a broken-down wreck has been characterized — at its fiercest – by striking eloquence and silent anger.

Thus when the President of the Board of Library Trustees, John W. Hill, opened the “public” portion of the August 9 Trustees meeting by announcing that the President of the Federation of Friends, Richard Huffine, would not be sitting at the board table with them — a slap in the face heard ‘round the room — the Friends seemed to take the insult quietly.

Why would the Board of Trustees want to alienate the Friends publicly? This meeting was an important opportunity to introduce the new library Chief. Why not just let her show her chops (which she did), instead of sowing disharmony and resentment at a time when all systems appear go for the launch of the long awaited library Turnaround?

It felt like a PR fiasco, except that the Trustees knew they could count on the civilized politesse of the Friends — who prefer not to fight in public, who do not go running to the press, who came prepared to listen, and who were nearly all committed to giving the new Chief “some time,” even after decades of waiting and advocating for change. The Trustees would have known this had they asked.

One library industry commentator speculated that the Library Trustees, having finally installed the nationally recognized talent they wanted for a new Chief, backed by the power of the Federal City Council, and led by a Mayor who has chosen to involve himself at a detailed level, have simply begun to flex their muscles. “You can hear the steamroller idling,” the commentator said.

For a group as powerful as the Trustees now appears to be, the dismissal of annoying Friends — who quibble about the legality of meetings conducted behind closed doors or who cavil about cataloguing and core collections — may not even register as the affront it was. And, in fact, the Board of Trustees may have meaningful reasons for distancing itself formally from the Friends Federation. Yet

announcing the decision without discussion was simply rude, especially in front of a roomful of staff, many newly hired, who can have no doubt of the low esteem in which Library officials hold the elected representatives of the Friends.

In the end, the Friends did not stand down. Martin Carmody, Vice President of the Friends of Northeast Library and Treasurer of the Federation of Friends, dealt the Trustees a deft response, riffing on the word "friends” and cautioning that friends will “differ."

More will be heard from these most decent of the decent. Library supporters should run out to their

local library now and join the Friends group there. There is not a nobler crowd and all voices are needed in the coming period of library “transformation.”

Readers can also link to their library’s Friends group at the Federation of Friends site: www.dclibraryfriends.org

Million Dollar Baby, Good Opening

At the Board of Trustees Meeting last night, long awaited new Library "Chief" Ginnie Cooper announced that Sunday hours would begin in October, as originally requested by Councilmember Kathy Patterson. Patterson had pushed for the money to keep libraries open on weekends, in response to requests by citizens at last winter’s library "listening sessions."

Earlier this month, the Washington Post had reported Cooper promising Sunday hours would begin in January 2007. That apparently was stale news.

Having chided Cooper here (Million Dollar Baby, Welcome) in response to the Post report, we now send kudos for her stated determination to carry out the expansion of hours as originally intended. Given the past history of failure to carry things out as promised here at DCPL, it is good to have the new Chief agreeing to meet a deadline outlined before her arrival. October is not far off and if Cooper can deliver Sundays on time, she will have officially started the Turnaround.

August Board of Trustees Meeting Date

Attend this Public Event

Board of Library Trustees Meeting Wednesday August 9th at 6 pm Chevy Chase Branch Library 5625 Connecticut Avenue, NW

directions www.dc.library.org/branches

Speak Out

These monthly meetings of the Library Trustees are an opportunity to add your voice to the call for a well-run and responsive library system for the citizens of the District of Columbia.

For further information, contact:

Robin Diener, DC Library Renaissance Project

c/o CSRL

P.O.Box 19367

Washington, DC 20036


Million Dollar Baby, Welcome

All eyes are on new Library Director Ginnie Cooper, handpicked by the Board of Library Trustees to oversee the “transformation” of our library system in exchange for a million dollars over five years – a bargain, given the disastrous state of the DC Public Library.

Cooper spent her first week visiting branch libraries where she was heard to comment on the clutter. That’s an accurate observation even in the tidiest branches. It owes, at least in part, to a small thing: the lack of consistent signage – something librarians and library patrons have requested for years – and a simple enough fix.

Problems at DCPL certainly go deeper than signs, but Cooper would be right to focus on superficial improvements that can be carried out quickly — both because they would be immediately visible, and because people have asked for them specifically. Library users who particpated in last winter’s “listening sessions” asked DCPL to focus on the basics. Simple cleanliness and good lighting were mentioned repeatedly, as well as things like security and working systems which, understandably, will take longer to implement.

But another easy-to-implement request was for longer hours.

Education and Libraries Committee Chair Kathy Patterson heard that loud and clear. She worked with DCPL and the Library Trustees to find and approve the necessary funding to open libraries on Sundays starting this fall. Hence, Marc Fisher’s column today reporting that Ginnie Cooper told him she “pledges to have all branches open on Sundays by January” comes as a disappointment.

In DC, we have a long acquaintance with obfuscation, postponement, and other tactics of delay. The Board of Library Trustees has elevated — to an art — the serving up of broken promises as gifts. We don’t need spin that “pledges” to achieve what we were already promised for an earlier timeframe. Ginnie Cooper, please, bring us a fresh approach – something more along the lines of what bookstores do, since Fisher quoted that as part of your strategy — deliver what we’re paying for.

The person who pulls off the transformation of DCPL will deserve every penny of a million bucks, but that transformation should start this fall with the keeping of a simple promise – to extend library hours to Sundays.