Calling All Book Clubs and Reading Groups

The Literary Friends of the Library and the Friends Groups at branch libraries have joined forces to sponsor eight literary events in April and May as part of DC’s BIG READ.

The BIG READ is a month-long, citywide series of events centered

on one classic novel. The concept originated at Seattle Public Library in 1998 as

“If All of Seattle Read the Same

Book," and was later promoted by the Library of Congress Center for the

Book as “One Book, OneCity.”

After a 2004 study, Reading at Risk,found that reading for leisure was declining even among

literate Americans, the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, poet Dana

Gioia, adopted the popular idea for the NEA, which this year will provide

funding for more than 80 US cities and towns to hold BIG READ’s.

The DC Humanities

Council, recipient of an NEA grant to develop the series for DC, chose Their

Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston — an important writer of

the Harlem Renaissance who lived part of her life in DC.

Each event will feature readings or a speaker, followed by a discussion, and end with sharing experiences about reading groups. Book clubs and reading groups are a special focus of the series which will highlight the role libraries can play in supporting those groups. Individual members as well as whole groups are encouraged to attend.

Friends of the Library events are as follows:

Date Library Featuring
Wed April 25 at 6:30 pm Northeast Branch 330 7th Street, NE at Maryland Ave Pontheola MAck Abernathy and the Reverend Paul Abernathy
Wed May 2 at 6:30 pm Woodridge Branch 1801 Hamlin Street, NE at Rhode Island Ave Actress/playwright Joy Jones
Sun May 6 at 2 pm Petworth Branch 4200 Kansas Ave, NW at Georgia and Upshur
Mon May 7 at 6:30 pm Mt. Pleasant Branch Author Gayle Wald and Jennifer James

Signs of Life Unheralded

A couple of Wednesdays ago, amid sunlight and freshly planted pansies, DC Public Library marked the grand opening of an “interim” library facility in Anacostia. The Mayor and Council Chairman were in attendance, as were many school children, happy about the field trip. But Committee Chair Harry Thomas was absent, as was most of the press. Wouldn’t DCPL want as many people as possible to know that, at long last, bookworms have reappeared in the library park on Good Hope Road?

New Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper told me she was “disappointed with the media coverage,” but in the eight months that she’s been here, Ginnie Cooper has proven she knows how to get things done. So what gives?

Could it be Library Trustees don’t want any more attention drawn to the fact that the community in Anacostia has been without its branch for more than two years, as have those in Benning and Shaw? (A storefront interim library in Tenley had an intentionally unpublicized “soft” opening in late November, to allow staff to work out the kinks, a mere 23 months after that neighborhood’s library closed.) If Library Trustees had proceeded to rebuild four libraries as originally planned when they allowed them to be closed in December 2004, new full service libraries would be opening now. And had the bookmobiles intended to provide interim services been delivered as promised more than two years ago, these expensive interims would not have been needed.

Still, even an “interim” is a sign of life from the formerly moribund DCPL. Chief Cooper, who is overseeing its creation very directly, aims for the Anacostia interim to offer a taste of things to come with a fresh look, large open service desk, and 20 public computers — the old branch had only four, when they were working. At least one Anacostia mother was delighted in the fact that her son had been ensconced at the interim every night since it opened on March 12.

In another community with a closed library, Benning, where even the interim hasn’t yet arrived, residents want their old branch reopened. They’re not just fed-up with delay. They fear that their library, located half a block up from the valuable intersection of Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue, both of which are included in the Great Streets project, will be sold off to developers. Residents have every reason to be worried in light of the LEAD Act of 2006, which authorized the sale of all DCPL property, and every reason to be skeptical of the Trustees’ plans. One way to earn the Benning community’s trust would be for DCPL to commit to a meaningful process of public input for the new redesign of the branch — leaving everything on the table, including renovation/expansion.

Given all the time already wasted, and in view of the good start Chief Cooper has made, holding off on demolition in order to consult the community is the only decent course.

Read more about Benning