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


Survey Results not Mixed

Over the past six weeks, our Project has been in the field with various Ward 7 ANC Commissioners surveying members of the community about their ideas for a new Benning Branch Library, and their reaction to a proposal to build housing over a new library facility. Results from last Saturday’s rally confirmed what we were already seeing.

Here are the top ten findings to date:

  1. Members of the community are not necessarily opposed to mixed-use on their library property, but are almost universally opposed to housing, from affordable housing across the board to luxury condos.
  2. Almost universally, the initial reaction of each community member suveyed was to call for "just a library," as had been promised. However, as we talked, it turned out that many would approve of things that support the library mission of education, such as a fee for service tutoring company (like Sylvan Learning Center), a career training center, an adult literacy center, or continuing education like the "Classes East of the River" proposed some years ago, according to many we interviewed, but which never materialized. The next strongest possiblity — daycare — was not as widely supported as the above but had enough interest to be important to consider. Nothing else came close. Given the generally high interest across the country in having coffee shops in libraries, surprisingly few people surveyed in Benning felt positively about that idea. Most said they believed it would encourage loitering or that people wouldn’t want high-priced coffee.
  3. Benning residents overwhelmingly want the library and its property to remain in public hands.
  4. They approve of the idea of creating revenue streams for the library by leasing part of the building — but, again, only if consonant with the library mission.
  5. They are fiscally conservative — concerned about the impact of stadium cost overruns and declining home sales. They would like to see due consideration given to plans that might be less costly (i.e., renovation, remodeling, adding another floor to the existing structure) than the proposed demolition and rebuilding estimated by DCPL to cost between $11 and $12 million. Many people were under the impression, when their library was closed, that it was going to be renovated, not necessarily torn down and built new.
  6. Residents of Benning are wary of development ideas and mistrustful to the point of cynicism. Many people predicted to us that if the library is torn down, it will never be rebuilt.
  7. They are angry that their council members and DC Public Library have not communicated with them directly about the library in nearly two years.
  8. They are angry that a promised bookmobile took 20 months to arrive. And now that it has arrived, they feel the bookmobile is not being promoted adequately.
  9. They resent the top-down planning process where ideas come from left field and are fast tracked into existence before a genuine process of community involvement and assessment can take place.
  10. Many young people said their teachers tell them to use the library, but then the government closes them down. The young people say they feel the adults in charge are "hypocritical."

We will continue to update this posting as more information comes to our attention. We welcome the participation of anyone who wants to help with this project. We invite residents of Ward 7, who have not been surveyed, to weigh in with us directly. Write to me: [email protected]

Rally to Protect Benning Library POSTPONED to Nov 4

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 4, from 1 to 4 pm
Benning Library, 3935 Benning Rd, NE

The Library Committee of ANC 7A-06 has planned this event to rally community support for re-opening or rebuilding their neighborhood library as the stand-alone, purpose-dedicated building they were promised nearly two years ago when it was closed. Residents recently learned that the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, with funding from the DC Department of Housing, had begun a study of the feasibility of putting housing over the Benning Library. Residents have already collected 1,000 signatures on their petition opposing such development over the library.

Ralliers on Saturday can add their names to the petition, participate in a survey to make their thoughts known about the disposition of the Benning branch, and have their library reminiscences recorded. In addition to hearing from invited speakers, rally activities will include sidewalk chalking, poster painting, and a parade.

The Rally to Protect Benning Library is sponsored by the Friends of the Benning Library, the DC Library Renaissance Project, and Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7A-06, Eddie Rhodes, Commissioner. Support from other groups is welcome.

Contact Robin Diener at 202/387-8030 or [email protected]

The Commissioner Bats a Thousand

Edward Rhodes, ANC Commissioner for 7A-06, and his redoubtable crew of library patrons have gathered more than 1,000 signatures on their petition against building affordable housing atop a new Benning Library. The feasibility of such development is now under study by the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, for the plum fee of $625,000, I might add.

Eddie (everyone calls him that) said he had surveyed many residents of Ward 7 who were opposed. "Out of a thousand, I could only find five people who were in favor," he announced at the last of a series of three design sessions held by Marshall Heights about the proposed library-with-housing.

Attendees in favor of the proposal at the session were skeptical about the Commissioner’s findings, but Mr. Rhodes is a standup guy. I was with his signature collectors at the Benning area Safeway last Saturday. They are well versed in the formalities. I observed one woman remind a gray-haired gentleman that he’d already signed last week. She gently chided that she couldn’t allow him to get her in trouble for signing twice. Very neighborly and very correct.

The District’s new Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper had told residents at an earlier ANC meeting of Mr. Rhodes’ that if they organized, they would probably stop the proposal from going forward. Trouble is, the Benning Library is already down for the count, and has been for almost two years, with no action towards resuscitation by DCPL.

This proposal has come at the community from out of left field. Housing was never mentioned during public planning sessions that were held in 2004 prior to closing Benning for rebuilding. But will rejecting it now mean Benning residents won’t get the library they were promised two years ago?

Commissioner Eddie’s troops say they won’t stop until they get 4,000 signatures. I don’t doubt they’ll get what they want.

The Lights Are On but …

The good news from the Board of Library Trustees meeting last night is that all the burned out light bulbs in the lobby of Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library have been replaced. Granted, that may be just the minimum performance we expect, but it is still good news.

For one thing, minimum standards for maintenance at MLK have not been met in decades. Under the administration of a new Chief Librarian (who arrived in late July), evidence is starting to trickle in that maintenance not only will be performed, but also reported upon and even documented. Maintenance, as has been widely reported, was the first concern of citizens across the city who attended the library "listening sessions" last winter. They wondered how DCPL’s buildings could have been allowed to fall into such dire disrepair. And they wondered why they should expect things to be any different with the new buildings Mayor Williams and the Trustees are proposing as the basis for library system "transformation."

For another thing, Pamela Stovall, Interim Director of MLK, reported that since the completion of some long overdue housekeeping tasks, "staff is beginning to see possibilities for the Great Hall." Staff of MLK is one of the groups on record as wholly opposing the renovation and preservation of MLK as DC’s central library. It would be nice for them (not to mention for patrons) if, in stewarding the building as should have been done all along, staff came to see "possibilities" in it.

Mayor Williams’ fantasy, "iconic," new central library on the Old Convention Center site is not planned to be finished until 2011, and without a realistic funding plan, never may be. If we renovate MLK, according to the AIA/Urban Design Committee’s 2000 Feasibility Study, we could have a light-filled, asbestos-free, central library inside two years.

One possibility that has recently been envisioned for the Great Hall, although it’s not clear by whom, is the installation of two giant escalators, plunk in the middle. The escalators are called for in the "PSA-Dewberry Cost Benefit Analysis Update," on which Distirict Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi based the September 15 review he prepared for Kathy Patterson, Chair of the Education, Libraries and Recreation Committee.

Back in April, as you may remember, Patterson held two hearings in response to public outcry at the Mayor’s "stealth" attempt to insert authority for leasing MLK into the 2007 budget. What emerged from the hearings was that no "costing-out" of the AIA/Cooper plan had ever been done in spite of strong, continuing interest from a public that keeps bringing the plan back to the table. Patterson, to the great happiness of many who had backed the plan over six years, did the right thing, demanding due diligence, and requesting the CFO provide her a comparative cost analysis between the Mayor’s plan and the AIA/Cooper plan.

(Sigh.) The bad news is that after six years of waiting, and after Patterson’s specific request, the AIA/Cooper plan still has not been costed-out. Whatever the PSA-Dewberry Report is based on, it is not the AIA/Cooper plan, nor indeed is it a plan that has ever been discussed at any Board of Library Trustees meeting. Whoever oversaw this report owes the citizens of the District, and Patterson, an apology — and a report as requested. This one makes a mockery of the public process.

Be on hand to demand an explanation at the third hearing in this matter:

Friday October 27, at 1 pm in room 412 of the Wilson Building. For further details or to present testimony contact Evelyn Bourne-Gould, Legislative Assistant to the Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation, at 724-8195, or via e-mail at [email protected]

Anacostia Library Rally Thursday Sept. 7

Rally at the Anancostia Public Library

Thursday, September 7, 2006
5:00pm to 7:30pm


Anacostia Public Library

1800 Good Hope Road, SE (18th & Good Hope)

(the 92 bus stops directly in front of the library)


Thursday, Sept. 7, 5:00 to 7:30pm

[[ please forward far and wide | PDF file Click here ]]

Rally at the Anancostia Public Library

Thursday, September 7, 2006

5:00pm to 7:30pm

We were rained out last week, but we won’t be deterred by the weather this week so we can standup and demand that Anacostia Library be reopened NOW!

Anacostia Library History >>Click here

As long as it is closed, City leadership should realize the educational outcomes of our young citizens will be jeopardized and the opportunity for our adults to get accessible GED, literacy training, and career empowerment simply does not exist.


Come on out to rally for the immediate reopening of Anacostia Library and bring your friends and children…

* Keynote speakers

* Children’s activities and reading-time

* Food and beverages will be served

* Open mic for ALL – step up to the podium and speak!


Anacostia Public Library

1800 Good Hope Road, SE (18th & Good Hope)

(the 92 bus stops directly in front of the library)


Thursday, September 7, 5:00 to 7:30pm



We are looking for organizing assistance as well. Can you help spread the word by email, flyer? Can you help read books to kids or do you have a car? Contact >> Robin Diener, 202-387-8030, [email protected]



Contact >>

Robin Diener, 202-387-8030, [email protected]

Joy Pinkney, 202-889-7581, [email protected]

Parisa Norouzi, 202-234-9119, [email protected]



We are looking for organizations to endorse this event. Please feel free to invite groups you may know to be inclined to do so. They can contact >> Chris Otten, 202-234-7075, [email protected]


Community Empowerment Operations

Parkland Community Center

Empower DC

DC Library Renaissance Project

BetterDeal4DC Coalition

Pleasant Plains Civic Association

DC Anti-War Network

DC Poets Against The War

Residents Association of Marbury Plaza

Operation Hope

Critical Resistance DC

Save Our Schools Coalition

Bread for the City

Youth Education Alliance

Parent Watch Inc.

Youth Action Research Group

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: