Marc Fisher summarizes the ongoing issues with DC’s neighborhood libraries. Four years ago, the city
closed (and recently tore down) several neighborhood branches, but the replacements are only now ready to go and are disappointing to many. He is more positive about the “glass boxes” than I, but rightly criticizes the lack of vision in the projects.
Fisher quotes Robin Diener of Ralph Nader’s DC Library Renaissance Project (who also ran unsuccessfully for the Dupont ANC seat now held by Jack Jacobson), concerned that these supposedly “state of the art” libraries won’t really be much better than the old in meeting the communities’ needs. She’s right on that score. But Diener is also clinging to an outmoded concept that a library must stand completely on its own and hindering the evolution of the library into something that best serves the community.
A good neighborhood library is a gathering place as well as a place of learning, and gathering places function best when located where people will naturally spend their time. Neighborhood centers fit the bill, but the classic library design—a one- or two-story building with some parking around it—itself inhibits activity in its area.
Activists and developers proposed integrating the library into a larger mixed-use development but encountered opposition from anti-development neighbors and Diener’s Library Renaissance Project, intent on ensuring the new libraries serve the community’s needs as long as they conform to a classic conception of how public and private spaces work together or separately to serve the community.
The Williams administration’s extensive study of new libraries in other cities found that the most successful efforts look almost nothing like a traditional library, but combine the feel of a books megastore, a college student union, and a museum—designed with lots of space for socializing, as well as private places for study (but with the ability to sip coffee and even eat while reading.)
While I know Diener opposes a public-private partnership at Tenley, I don’t know how she feels about these more modern amenities inside. She’s certainly right about one thing: “The chance to build a new library doesn’t come around often—every half a century or so.”