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.

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