Why Build New Libraries to Keep Them Closed?

Over the last five years, DC Libraries have undergone a $180 million capital investment in “transformation”: 14 new buildings with more space, improved energy efficiency, greatly expanded computer access. It stands to reason that we need more money to support a system that is larger and serving far more people than it was in 2008 (the last time DC had a full complement of hours including all mornings, four evenings, and Sundays).

It should not come as a surprise that the modernized libraries are leaner, greener, and more efficient. The Board of Library Trustees’ request for $10 million over last year’s bare bones budget — for a return merely to 2008 funding levels — would be a 13% savings when adjusted for inflation! This is an amazing bargain, especially considering the increased numbers of people being served.

In 2006, during the Library Listening Sessions of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, people prioritized “being open.” So much so that then-Library Committee Chair Kathy Patterson fought to open library branches on Sunday. Sunday proved to be the Library’s busiest day of the week. The cost to open DC’s branch libraries on Sundays in FY2013 would be only $1.8 million.

The Task Force recommended that new Libraries be regarded as “gathering space.” Notable libraries across the country were described as the nation’s new “living rooms.” Four District libraries that had been closed for rebuilding in 2004 had to cancel and redesign their plans because residents demanded more meeting space.

Coming in second after “being open” was everything else: collections, literacy, computer access, and programs for children, teens, seniors, handicapped, and homeless patrons.

It’s impossible for libraries to provide any of these when they are closed.