Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.
The DC Public Library (DCPL) should open some neighborhood libraries on Sundays and instead stagger closings on other days of the week.
Currently, DCPL closes all locations other than the main branch, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, on the same day of the week: Sunday. Residents and visitors are left with no neighborhood branch options every Sunday of the year.
My family loves to visit the library whenever we can. We take out dozens of books every month, mostly children’s books, and enjoy hanging out at the library to read books and use computers. My family appreciates everything that the staff, many of whom know us by name, does to make the library fun and useful especially considering the cutbacks beyond staff control.
Libraries make our and other neighborhoods in the District more livable and enjoyable by offering books, recorded media, magazines and computers with Internet access to patrons of varied ages and interests. For example, DC Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), in its recently-released Digital Divide Strategy, specifically mentions libraries as having a role to address lower access to technology in Wards 5, 7 and 8.
For better or worse, we only benefit from our library branches when they are open. DCPL, like other regional library systems, has sustained budget cutbacks that have caused cuts to staff, programs, materials and hours.
In comparison to the surrounding counties, the District falls in the middle when measured by the number of days per week with library service. Fairfax and Montgomery Counties rise to the top with some branches open six and some open seven days per week. Alexandria and the District share the same pattern with the main branch open seven days and the neighborhood branches open six days per week. Arlington County opens its main branch seven days and then its branches vary between five and six days per week. Most Prince George’s County branches are open five or six days with a small number open four days per week.
Many of our regional library systems have limited Sunday operations. Fairfax, Arlington and Montgomery all have some branches open on Sundays. Sure, you need to check the schedule to find out which ones are open on Sunday and the corresponding weekday those branches close to compensate for Sunday hours during these lean budget times. DC Public Library relies solely on the MLK location to provide Sunday hours. In total, 24 neighborhood branch libraries remain closed on Sunday. Alexandria has the same scheduling model as the District. Prince George’s County closes all public libraries on Sunday.
Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper asked Director of Library Services, Nancy Davenport, to respond to whether Sunday is the best day for all branches to close, assuming that the six-day-a-week model remains in effect due to budget constraints. Davenport replied with a somewhat indirect response. She noted that the library cannot afford to open libraries seven days a week and that the MLK location provides Sunday coverage as the largest branch.
That response didn’t specifically address the questions as to whether we can and should have neighborhood library coverage on Sundays. By closing some branches on a weekday, DCPL could make this happen without requiring additional funds.
President of the Board of Library Trustees, John W Hill Jr., at a library grand re-opening responded with a similar indirect answer. He suggested that the Council of the District of Columbia should fully fund the Library’s request for funding to support seven-day-a-week operations.
DCPL is underestimating the negative impact of across the board Sunday closings on library patrons and our neighborhoods. More importantly, DCPL has not considered the option of having some branch libraries closed on a single weekday in order to open those branches on Sunday instead.
This would not require any additional funds for branch library staff since the branches would still only open six days per week. Centralized support staff already working to keep MLK open on Sundays could support the behind the scenes infrastructure to keep some branches running on Sundays.
There would be trade-offs for library patrons who use branches with the new Sunday hours. For example, kids who visit the libraries after school and job seekers preparing resumes during the work week would need to visit a different branch than their nearby one closed for a single weekday. On the flip side, everyone would have access to some of the branches with the new and improved Sunday hours.
Community groups such as the various “Friends of the Library” organizations could help the library determine which branches should switch to Sunday hours. DCPL could provide usage data such as book check-outs and computer usage hours to help groups determine on which day their neighborhood library should close for the smallest impact.
Overall, library patrons across the city would not have every branch open on Sundays. We would at least have options within more neighborhoods for Sunday library hours. Then we can make the choice to walk, bike, drive, bus or Metro to the nearest open branch on any given Sunday.