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Southeast Library, Preservation, Renovation, Rehabilitation

Project Overview

The Southeast Library is being modernized. The design for the $33 million transformation of this historic Carnegie library is now complete and construction is underway. The project goals include: 

  • Expanded space for children, teens and adults 
  • More space for books, computers and seating
  • Preservation and restoration of the building's historic elements
  • Universally accessible entrance (as well as maintaining the original historic entrance)
  • Restoring the exterior landscape
  • Environmentally sustainable design
  • Improved sight lines
  • More meeting, collaboration, and study space

View the Final Designs Here

Interim Services During Construction

Construction is now underway at the historic Southeast Library The last day of service was Jan. 4, 2024. Holds that customers placed between Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023 and Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024 that have not been fulfilled have been automatically transferred to the Interim Library, the Northeast Library. Customers who would like to choose another pick-up location can select one in their My Account settings. 

Customers will have access to a variety of nearby locations, programs and services during the modernization. 

Interim Library | Northeast Library

Photo of Northeast library

The Interim Library for the Southeast Library during the modernization is the Northeast Library. It is located at 330 7th St. NE

The following services are available at this location:

  • Browsing and Borrowing Materials
  • Meeting and Study Rooms
  • Public Computers and Printing
  • American Sign Language Classes and Services
  • Books from Birth
  • Beyond the Book
  • Voter Registration

Learn more about the Northeast Library

Arthur Capper TechExpress

Arthur Capper Recreation Center

Arthur Capper Community Center, 1000 5th St SE 

The following services are available at this location:

  • Holds Pick-Up
  • Item Return
  • Wi-Fi Access
  • Public Desktop Computers for Children, Teens and Adults 
  • Public Laptop Computers for customers ages 17 and older
  • Printing and Copying

Learn More About Arthur Capper TechExpress

Programs and Services in the Community

Library Programs

Library by Mail Service

Library by Mail is a free service for eligible Washington, DC residents to check out library books, DVDs and magazines through the mail.

  • Who is Eligible?: Washington, DC residents of all ages who are unable to visit to the library due to a permanent disability (one year or more), temporary disability (up to one year or less), or underlying health conditions are eligible for this service. 
  • How Does Library by Mail Work?: All Materials are mailed in a postage-paid library mailing pouch through the U.S. Postal Service. Please allow for a turnaround time for the materials to arrive. When you are finished, place the materials back in the same library mailing pouch and turn over the address card. Mail the pouch back through the U.S. Postal Service. 
  • How Do You Apply?: Fill out the Google Form on this page.

Community Engagement

Community engagement is a vital aspect of the design process. The Library hosted eight community meetings throughout the design process. In addition, the Library conducted a survey and hosted focus groups to gather input. The project was reviewed by the ANC, DC Historic Preservation Review Board, The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. View a compilation of the comments below.

Dec. 14, 2023

At this meeting, the library and the Southeast Library construction team, Whiting-Turner updated the community about upcoming logistics, interim services and what can be expected during the construction. You can view the full recording of the meeting on Youtube and the slides and two videos showing timelapse renderings of the project below.

View the Presentation

View the Construction Sequence Video

View the First Person Construction Video

Sept. 29, 2022

On Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, the Library hosted the seventh community meeting. The design team presented further refinements to the design, focusing on interior layout and renderings, adjustments to the mechanical court to address concerns about sound attenuation, and refinements to the new universal entrance on South Carolina to address concerns about lighting and safety.

Question: How deep is the he wall along the new entrance on South Carolina? I am concerned that it will attract people who want to sit and hang out.

Answer: The wall is 8 to 10 inches wide. It angles down at a sharp angle, so it will not be comfortable to sit on.

Question: Are these renderings showing the library when it's not in use? (in showing the different lighting aspects the new design has)

Answer: This is the library when it IS in use.

Question: So it looks like you're creating a meadow? That’s cool. (in showing the green area the new design will have)

Answer: Yes pretty much, yes.

Question: So there's no access to the ground floor from the historic entrance side?

Answer: If you come through the historic entrance, you enter on the top floor. To reach the ground floor, you'd have to take the elevator down. 

Question: The only way to get to the children's level is downstairs or an elevator. I’m just thinking that half the room is covered with strollers and they’re getting that many [strollers] on the elevator, versus the stairs which they don't use. I just wonder what accommodations are made for the caregivers who bring a stroller; how do they get there [children’s level]? The elevator won’t hold that many at once. 

Answer: Customers with strollers will need to use the elevator to go down to the lower level. But if they’re attending a program, like story time, in a meeting room, the ground floor space will be accessible directly from the new universal entrance on South Carolina.

Question: Either you’re not listening or you don't care. There have been about 39 of us in this residential neighborhood of 600 South Carolina Entrance and 600 D Street; we had a petition about offering constructive alternatives to what you’re proposing. One of our major concerns is with the entrance on residential South Carolina. I don’t care what you do to it, we just don't want it. We offered constructive alternatives, and again not demanding this but just what could be done? And then we hear bike racks? Bike racks are gonna be on South Carolina Avenue also? And the lighting to face down? Obviously you guys don’t live in the neighborhood. We need a lot of lighting around here, the crime is really bad. On the historic stairs and now you’re just gonna move it to South Carolina? No thank you. 

(Different person: Piggyback statement/question): If I can just piggyback on that, the biggest complaint is, the primary entrance really does not belong in the neighborhood. The primary entrance for this institutional building needs to be on 7th Street and build some relationship with the metro plaza across the way. 95% of users that use this facility are coming from that direction and your entrance is exactly the opposite way, so anyone coming down has no idea it's there. And if you’re looking for a handicap entrance or if you have a stroller, you’re gonna have to wait and find the big ugly blue sign that says “accessible route around this way”, uh it's basically bad architecture to stick it around the corner. 

On top of that, the architectural expression of that entrance does not fit Capitol Hill in any way. These baguettes that you want to put on top of terracotta, you couldn't put them on any of the houses in the residential center. This is a historic district, they wouldn’t allow it. You need to go back and look at the entrance to figure out a way it fits the neighborhood. Right now it's very choppy; you’re showing two light-colored bricks and then just something slammed in the middle of it. They’re not even symmetrical around the entrance. It's a very odd feeling, the precast baguettes are not successful, I don't know. It looks like you have a vestibule projecting out into the public space? That should not be allowed, you're past the property line. You need to start working that entrance way from the property line if it's gonna be over there, which I think is the wrong thing to do. We’ve stated time and time again, we’ve given you other options, we’ve shown you one way we could easily put it on 7th Street, so it's possible. I don’t know why you're so resistant to accessing the front of the building with the front entrance. That’s something you should go back and look at. 

Some of the other things: your skylight that runs along that south wall is not strong enough. I think it could be so much more compelling if you ran it perpendicular to the sight and brought more light down into that children’s space. You’re actually starting from the back and you get tapered down very slightly, I don't know why you couldn't do it the other way and just be more expressive with it. I think you’d be more successful if you did that. 

Interiors, I think look generally very nice, I’m a little concerned there were a lot of hard surfaces and wide spaces. The library during the day gets loud, people working on computers, especially teenagers running around and stuff, so you might want to look at that and say maybe there’s a way we can get some considerations on the interior space. 

Thank you for listening to us on the HVAC equipment. Due to your due diligence it looks very compelling, I think it works so much better. I have some questions as to where the exhaust area is pouring out? Like you said, it’s pulling in an amazing amount of air and you're dumping it on your roof and if you look at your sight plan, your roof dumps into our backyards. In the summer, when you're blowing all this air, your exhaust air is cooler than the outside air, it's running across the roof, it's dropping into our backyard. I want you to look at that with your engineering staff. 

When you look at replacing that hand rail up the center steps, instead of having one in the middle of the steps –  if you accidentally start walking up the wrong side of those stairs and you get to the door, people are coming out and it's just a cluster of people bumping into each other. The guard rail actually divides you from where you’re trying to go. If you put it on either side of the stair going up, more like the 1920 version where the steps come down, it would be so much more successful so I just ask you to look at that.  

Question: I just needed clarification; both doors at the historical entrance can still be used as an entrance? But when you come in you immediately have to take the elevator downstairs? 

Answer: Yes [both doors can still be used as an entrance], and if you want to use the services on the lower level, then yes. 

Answer: And not to be dismissive of you, you know, put 12 architects in a room, you're gonna get 12 different opinions about what the design should be and I respect that. We’ve looked at something that showed an entrance on 7th Street with a tremendous amount of work at the front of it. The team is extremely thoughtful in terms of getting lots and lots of opinions. And this has been iterative, This has all been vetted with HPRB and all the other agencies who are not only okay with it, but think it's good. So again, it's not to say you're wrong and someone else is right, but when you’re building a community space for people with strong, very good opinions and I think that in terms of the will of the general population in the neighborhood, I think there has been support for this approach. If there hadn’t been I think we would’ve known that a long time ago, not to say that we didn’t get some feedback, but we’ve gotten a lot of feedback, much of it very supportive of this approach.

Question: I didn’t see the Friends space? Also can you tell me the size of that meeting room compared to the size of the current meeting room?

Answer: It’s roughly the same size as this. The large meeting room is roughly this size. And the Friends room is right by the staff entrance. It’s 160 Sq ft. 

Question: I have a question about books. Some years ago when I moved here we didn’t have the computer rows, so we lost some book space at that point. I saw on one of the slides that there’s a 50% increase. I was just wondering, do we have a rough estimate of how many books there is space for compared to now? 

Answer: There’s more space for books, certainly a lot more kids books. I don’t want to say how many thousands of volumes, but we know we have more linear feet of shelf space. 

One of the ways we’re adding shelving upstairs is by replacing all the shelves. We will have new shelving between each of those windows that will be deep enough that Julia and her staff will be able to manage the collection of book data. So about 25,000 volumes will be the new amount.

Question: In terms of time frame, there’s no Metro stop near Northeast and there’s nowhere to park. You mentioned the possibility of neighbors, maybe working with library staff? Are we going to be able to come in the general area and access books in some way or is Northeast going to be the only option?

Answer: Hopefully. You know we still have some time to figure that out, we’d love to find a destination to pick up books at least. We’re working diligently on that, hopefully we can find a solution. 

Question: As someone who lives 20 feet away from that entrance, I am a little concerned that this is the main entrance. When the design first came out it was, ‘no no, this is only one of the entrances, the main entrance will still be across the Metro’ but everything I’m hearing today is, THIS will be the main entrance. Is there anything that will still encourage people, maybe just to spread out the population of people coming in, minimizing so much entry into what’s a residential side of the street? 

Answer: The historic entrance is still the path of least resistance for anyone coming off the Metro or anyone participating in any other retail nearby. And that is to your point sort of, the instinctual drop; to go up the main stairs. That’s what we're programmed to think. So I think that’ll sort itself out.

Wayfinding is still something that’s being worked out into detail, but one of the primary objectives when we started the conversations was how people will enter the building. It was required that we keep the existing entrance. When we did our Historic Structure Report, we looked at all the character defining features of the building, from the exterior of the site to the interior. This historic set of stairs is a character defining feature. To remove that in any way is a non-starter from a preservation perspective. We talked to staff at HPRB about that early on and they gave us very clear feedback about how they feel about that. And they were further concerned about any entrance near this corner. That’s one of those things where compromise comes in. We have mandates, certain ways we’ve been told to look at the design. We went through lots of staff consultation with CFA and NCPC, to find the most appropriate way to enter the building. So it is a compromise we know that, and I think we’ve worked sincerely and earnestly to find a safe, visible entrance that you can find, but it’s also going to allow and encourage the use of the historic entrance because so many patrons coming to the area on the adult floor, are going to come up those front steps. 

Question: So just to clarify, is there a staff service point once customers enter in that front entrance?

Answer: Yes we have a main service point. 

And pushing the collection to the corner of the west edge using the perimeter of the building, we’ve really opened up the view across the space, so this has really strong line of sight control across that space which they don’t have now, so we think that’s going to be key to the most secure, safe way to go. 

Question: During COVID, this library was closed for a long time. Northeast was open sooner. I found it easier to use Northeast because of the arrangements that were made there that were different than ordinary. It seems to me that everytime we have one of these meetings, there’s the question of what will happen while the library is closed. I don't think we’ve given enough time yet on the strategy for that period. 

Answer: It will require some innovation. It’s not like we’re moving into a physical space the way we would with some of our other projects. When Northeast Library underwent renovation, we didn’t open an interim location either. Certainly we work very closely with our staff at Northeast Library, we know that regardless of what happens in terms of interim services, that building will be relied upon for holds and we're going to have to do shelf management there. 

We’re really looking forward to being able to multiply our offerings at Northeast while still looking to be very vibrant and present in this community. I’ve been talking with folks at the Hill Center and at East City Books. We know you live here so to find something close and free is ideal. If you’re interested or you might think of something I haven’t yet, please reach out to me.  

Question: I’m concerned about the height of the wall. If it could get lower, that front wall. It’s a little gross but if you ever walk by D Street, you know what I’m talking about. I just don't want it to be anywhere where someone can sit and use it as a toilet. A real problem we have with the metro plaza is, if you walk along the storefronts and such, it’s noticeable, it’s there, it's real, so if that front wall can get a lil lower, I think that will help. 

Answer: We tried really hard to lower that. We were asked by the DDOT Public Space Committee to lower that down to a 6 inch curve.

Question: What's the width of the main stair going up and down?

Answer: 4 and a half feet. 

Question: Construction time frame. What are the active months and hours this will happen? Just so I can prepare for the noise, the distraction. 

Answer: 18-24 months we will be active in construction. 7am to 7pm will be the active hours, however typically we try not go that long. Contractors usually wrap up by 3:30-4 so those are the more realistic hours of construction.

Question: You mentioned funding wise, the prices are going up so, I just want to make sure we commit to building the plans that are here, right? I just don't want to see a VE come through like “we could save so much money by just putting the mechanical in the back, and doing the children's room on the side, and leave everything else” and that would be a basket case of solution.

Answer: We said earlier that if we couldn't build something like this then we wouldn't go through with the project. It wouldn't be worth it. 

And while I don't know what the exact delta is, but I have full confidence, 100% confidence. We’ll identify what that delta is, we’ll figure it out. 

July 21, 2021

Questions and Comments: 

Will the reduced amount of Friends storage space be sufficient for the monthly book sales held by the Friends of Southeast Library? Can you explain some of the changes that will be made to ensure the book sales can continue? 

The Friends room will be smaller than the current space. Virtually everyone program area in this project is slightly smaller than what we might ideally offer if we were building a completely new library. In the case of the Friends room, the trade-off is between a larger space for the Friends or study room for the public. To accommodate the Friends’ monthly book sales, the new system will be for the Friends to accept book donations only in the week leading up to their monthly sale. The branch manager will block of the study room during that week to allow for additional storage as donations come in. We have discussed this with the Friends and they agreed to this approach. 

We will be increasing the size of, what we now call, the “Honor Shelf”. The Honor Shelf is the ongoing perpetual book sale space. Right now we have one; in the new building we will have two, one for adult books and another for children’s books. 

The library is small. How will the noise from the Children’s Library not be an issue throughout the building? 

The children’s library is located on the lowest floor. There will be a glass acoustical barrier separating the children’s library from the ground floor above. The design team will be using sound dampening techniques throughout this project. This is a huge improvement over the current building, where children and families really don’t have a space that is separate from the adults. 

Will there be a noise issue between the conference room and the computer area? 

We are going to study possible noise between rooms. There are design approaches we can make to ensure noise is not an issue. Also, the conference room seats only 6 – 8 people, so we do not anticipate loud or amplified events in that space. 

What were the delays and costs of lawsuits regarding other branches? 

We have had a couple projects that faced delays as a result of lawsuits, but the majority of our projects were delivered on time and on budget.  

Will the old entrance still be open? 

Yes, the historic entrance will remain open, but because it is not accessible, we are creating the universal entrance on the southwest corner of the building (South Carolina Ave.). 

Are there any concerns about the Metro running beneath the building? Or the utilities that run beneath it? 

We have done a detailed survey of the area beneath the building and have no utilities that are problematic. Everything running under the building serves the building. There is a protected sewer line running between the 7th Street sidewalk and the building. A study has been completed to assess the impact of our work on the Metro station and we have been cleared. 

Where will the trash dumpster be located? 

There will not be a large dumpster. There will be a series of rollout trash cans located on the ground floor stored below the raised mechanical court.  

Can there be an additional after hours book drop on D Street? 

We have worked with library staff and the design team on where the book drop location works best. Because a book drop is more than just a slot in the wall - there has to be room on the inside for the carts, storage, etc. - we do not have the interior room to accommodate more than one slot. 

If we are doubling the library space why are the Friends losing space? 

Based on the usage of Southeast Library, if we were building a new building, we would be building a larger building. Since we are working with an historic structure that is small we need to maximize every square inch of the interior space. The choice was either creating a ‘warehouse’ space for the Friends to store books for future sales or creating a study room – and study rooms are in demand every single hour of every day.  We made the decision to create a study room. 

How are you going to service the Service Court?  

It’s an open court with a structured frame above it and all the equipment sits on a steel frame above. There is a door to allow access to the space from D Street.  

How will the Service Court be built?  

There will be a requirement to underpin the adjacent neighbor’s house. There will be a plan developed by Whiting Turner that will be shared with the neighbors so that they understand what is going to happen, when it will happen, and why it is happening. The plan will include real-time monitoring devices to warn if there is any unexpected movement or vibration. Properties will be surveyed in advance of construction and again at the end. Everything possible will be done to allay the concerns of the neighbors. 

I’ve no question – just want to say great job working with limited space while respecting the historic nature of the building. 

May 5, 2021

On Wednesday, May 5, 2021, the Library hosted the fifth community meeting where the design team presented the schematic design and gather community feedback.

Questions and Comments

When will the Southeast Library close for the renovation work? 

The Southeast Library is on track to close at the end of 2022. We are still in the process of evaluating what the interim services will be and where they will be located. 

What considerations have been given for library users with impaired mobility? 

The accessibility of the building has been a priority throughout the design phase. The new entrance on South Carolina Avenue will be universally accessible. 

It is unacceptable to access the library from South Carolina Avenue. The front door of the library should be visible from the commercial zone of Eastern Market Metro Plaza. South Carolina is a residentially zoned and in the historic district. The light pollution from the entrance at night is untenable to the residents that face the library. 

We will still have the main entrance that faces the Eastern Market Metro Plaza and we expect that many people will want to use that entrance. There are questions that we will want to address regarding the South Carolina entrance, including safety and light, and we want to go back, look at the design, and address those issues for the next meeting. We understand your concerns and we will continue to refine the design of the entrance. 

It all looks so wonderful! 

If there are no public bathrooms in the area, by locating the South Carolina entrance around the corner from the public and Metro Plaza, you have created a bathroom area for people who circulate through the neighborhood at night. This will not be an acceptable location for our children’s library entrance. 

Again, like the earlier comment, we want to make sure the South Carolina entrance is safe, it respects the fact that it is a residential street, and we don’t want people sleeping there. There are ways to mitigate these issues through design. We will be addressing these issues with the team as we move forward. This is an important point for us to hear. 

The sloped entrance walls will conceal people from people walking along South Carolina Avenue. This is a big security concern. 

Again, we understand security is a crucial element to the design of the entrance. 

The mechanical systems needs to be located on the roof. The existing HVAC system is on-grade and it’s very loud. Now you are doubling or tripling the amount of cooling and the HVAC will now be located in an echo chamber. 

That is an excellent point to raise. We are looking at the acoustical considerations of the mechanical equipment. We have both an acoustical engineer as well as a very talented mechanical engineer to analyze the sound attenuation of the equipment. We want the design to be “good neighbor” design. We will continue to refine the mechanical court with this feedback in mind. 

At one point there was a proposal to go directly beneath the Eastern Market Metro Plaza.  What happened with that proposal? 

We studied that proposal going into this process. We realized it was not possible for a host of reasons, including proximity to Metro. We can accomplish the requirements of the new library within the existing footprint which we think this presentation demonstrates. 

What will be the meeting and study spaces in this design? I am concerned about having a quiet place to read and study in the library. 

The library is designed in zones. The upper floor will be quiet – an adult space for quiet activities. The ground level will be much more of an active space with rooms you can book to study. Having quiet spaces and active spaces are crucial to any of our library renovations and new construction. We will make this presentation available online where you can study the floor plan.  

Will there be solar panels or geothermal wells? 

This is an historic building and the design is dictated by preservation  guidelines. We are working to ensure the changes we make do not  interfere with the building’s historic character. Geo-thermal wells are not being considered because there is not the space; photovoltaic panels may be possible. We are exploring offsite green power and carbon offset credits as well. 

Is the Lactation Room still part of the plan? 

An earlier design included a staff wellness space, but with limited space that area has been designated as a small group study space.  

Will there be a teen library? 

That’s a good question and something we have discussed quite a bit. The  primary reason for there being a teen collection on the lower level is that is where we will have our teen librarians and the teen collection. We do not anticipate it being a ‘teen hangout’. Its been our experience that teens use our entire library buildings for the same great reasons the adults use them. The interior of the building has a flexible design. If we find in the patterns of use require a different floor plan, we can change the spaces and their use. 

This is an exciting and imaginative design offering many new opportunities. I am sorry for the loss for the opportunity to sit in a shaded green space. The plaza across the street is very exposed.  

According to a staff member in the councilman’s office, there will be two shaded  seating areas in the newly designed Eastern Market Metro Plaza. 

There should be public restrooms on the Eastern Market Metro Plaza. 

According to a staff member in the councilman’s office, Department of Parks and  Recreation is considering including public restrooms on the Metro Plaza.  

Will this renovation address the loitering that takes place on the main steps to the library’s entrance? 

The library, by being bigger, will be busier and that typically helps with issues around loitering. By virtue of the activation of the area that this new building will achieve, it is our experience, the loitering on the steps during library operating hours will not continue to be the issue it has been in the past. With completion of the new Eastern Market Metro Plaza, we anticipate that residents will once again be able to spend time in that space.  

Will the realignment of South Carolina down D Street change the public right-of-way and allow for a bigger ‘footprint’? 

That realignment is not part of the library’s project. It is part of the Metro Plaza  project. While the right-of-way along the south side of the building is now larger, we are still working within the historic guidelines of the building and cannot change its exterior. Also, we have, by expanding the building underground, maximized the building's footprint according to the lot size. 

It looks like the addition will abut my house and my backyard neighbor’s house. How will this be accomplished and what recourse will I have if there is any damage to my property? 

We’ve been working from the start with a local support and excavation specialist and a structural engineer to develop the best possible and safest plan to underpin and excavate that area as well as for the new construction. We will keep the immediate neighbors informed as the design is refined. Our goal is to avoid any damage to neighboring property, but there is a process to file a claim if damage occurs. 

Will the Friends continue to have book sales in the new building? 

Yes, we will continue to do what we can to support the work of the Friends. 

I have concerns about the noise from the mechanical systems and that the neighbors will be able to hear the noise. 

The library’s goal is to minimize any vibrations or harmonic frequencies that are  generated by the equipment. We are holding the design team to a very high  standard because we are committed to a high quality performance on the  acoustic front.  

Will there be an opportunity to discuss our concerns in a more traditional hearing format? We remain very concerned about a South Carolina entrance. We live 15 ft. from the proposed new entrance. Our children walk significantly out of the way to avoid the front steps of the library after seeing drug deals. We have even had a weapon thrown in our yard after a dispute at the library. We will no longer be able to avoid the entrance if it is right next to our door. I was not able to adequately express my concern through the online format and would like a more robust discussion about my concerns and what can be done. 

We appreciate that this is a virtual format and it can be difficult to feel that your feedback is being heard. We will continue to work with neighbors as the design continues to evolve. We are still early  in the design process. You have the recourse to keep us informed about your concerns and your input is crucial to the process. Give us some time to address your concerns and we will bring it back to the community at the next meeting. 

Sept. 16, 2020

Questions and Comments

Will the original/historic entrance remain even if there is a new entrance on the south side of the building?

Yes, DC Public Library is planning for both the historic entrance and the universal entrance to be used.

As a physician and a mom, I am really glad to see the lactation rooms included in the plan. Thank you.

Bravo! The southwest entrance is brilliant.

Is there a concept for how you will achieve energy efficiency?

Southeast Library will be DC Public Library’s pilot LEED v4.1 project which means the design team will be working towards the highest benchmark out there including energy efficiency, natural light, ventilation as well as onsite renewable energy.


Are there any plans for outdoor library space?

DC Public Library is focused, along with the Department of General Services, (DGS) on making the Eastern Market Metro Plaza a combined open space for use by the surrounding community.


I would like to see DC Public Library ensure the southwest entrance does not impose hardship on the adjacent residential property.

Will the magnolia trees be removed?

Yes, the magnolias will have to be removed because of the impact of construction. The landscape plan has yet to be developed. In creating a plan  the team will be looking at the relationship of the building and lot to the surrounding community.  They will also consider the original landscape as well as the character of the Carnegie Library and the period in which it was constructed.

Will the construction have any impact on the Library’s neighbors?

Whiting/Turner is an experienced construction team from years of working on projects in historic communities. Whiting/Turner will develop a safety plan and a quality control plan specific to the Southeast Library project for working with the neighbors. Whiting/Turner will make a priority of notifying the surrounding neighbors and the community of any disruptions caused by the construction work.

As an immediate neighbor, I look forward to working with the construction team at the appropriate time.

Love the design - can’t wait till 2024!

Can you discuss the bathrooms and whether they will become, functionally, the bathrooms for the Eastern Market Metro Plaza?

DC Public Library does not know if there are plans for public restrooms on the Metro Plaza. If there are no other public facilities in the area, that could have a huge impact on the public’s use of the Southeast Library’s facilities. DC Public Library will follow-up with DGS regarding plans for public restrooms on the plaza.

What are the important characteristics of the berm that need to be maintained?

It’s important to maintain the relationship between the building and the street. The design cannot include anything that interferes with the continuity of that relationship.

July 23, 2020

On July 23, 2020, the Library hosted a virtual community meeting where the design team shared the results of the community engagement to date, the due diligence on the site, and how the library building program is beginning to take shape.

Questions and Comments

There is a right-of-way to the east midway on the left edge of the library building. The right-of-way connects to the alley behind the houses on D St. SE.

How will you make the library building bigger?

We’re going to make the existing ground floor ceiling height taller.  Then we’re going to add another floor below that and we hope to expand that lower level horizontally in a way that creates some compelling space.

The problem of people experiencing homelessness has been raised a few times. Has anyone considered that those filling out these surveys are not those who are experiencing homelessness? Have we gotten those people’s views directly?

The library’s coffee and conversation events allowed us to talk one-on-one with members of the library community who are experiencing homelessness and gave them the opportunity to offer their insights and perspectives.  Also, the library staff was committed to making sure that patrons experiencing homelessness were given paper copies of the survey and when the survey was completed, the staff ensured the completed surveys were delivered to the community engagement team. 

We want all of our libraries to be open to all residents at whatever stage they are in their lives. We want library spaces that make people feel dignified and where people can feel productive. There is a universality in our library designs that speak to everybody’s needs. 

How will DC Public Library provide services to the Southeast Library community when our building is under construction?

We are concentrating on the services that we deliver and finding appropriate alternate locations that can support these services. It may not look like a traditional interim library, but services will continue in the immediate area of the Southeast Neighborhood Library building. 

As the covid emergency continues, and if phase 2 is extended, will there be a reevaluation of library services to include services at Southeast Library, which isn’t currently slated for reopening until late phase 3?

We currently have 14 libraries open with very limited access. There are additional significant constraints in some of our smallest libraries, like Southeast, that prevent us from opening them at this time. It is our goal to open all of our libraries as soon as possible but safety has to be our first priority. Because this pandemic has been so unpredictable it would not be prudent of me to make any promises on when and how our libraries will reopen. We want to stress that we are grateful for the patience of the community as we continue to think through this impossible time.

What is the approach you will be taking to expand the library? Will you expand into the alleyway or other spaces above ground?

There is consideration of building a small addition to the west of the library into the alley - we need to provide a reasonable means for safe exits from all three floors of the building. We realize that any addition to the back will require Board of Zoning adjustments approvals and will need for us to work closely with the community. We are looking at the largest part of the expansion being underground. Other above ground expansions are probably unavailable to us given that we are dealing with the historic public space corridors along South Carolina Avenue and D Street originally planned by L’enfant.

Will you be asking for an exception to the Historic Preservation Guidelines?

I don’t see the need for one. Everything we are discussing is consistent with the Secretary of Interiors Guideline. We recognize the historic significance of this building, and we are committed to respecting that as much as possible.

Many of the survey results we saw today focus on the need for individual space in the library which often requires quiet areas. How will you balance those needs with the need for space to be used for children and the community?

The vertical expansion of the building gives us unique opportunities to create acoustic buffers between really active places in the library and quiet places. 

Given everyone’s increased use of virtual meetings and remote learning, how does that affect what the library will be like?

While we are super fortunate to be able to conduct virtual meetings, nothing will replace the desire for people to seek out these great anchor institutions, like libraries, and commune there.  I don’t think the current health pandemic is going to influence our design process of a building that won’t even come ‘on-line’ for at least another 3 years.

Have you considered geothermal potential for the Southeast Library building?

We have not gotten to that level of assessment yet. We are just beginning to delve into possible mechanical systems. We are pushing the limits of sustainability while balancing the project’s budgetary constraints.

When will the next community meeting take place and what will be the focus of that meeting?

We have a meeting scheduled for later this summer or fall. At that point, working with DC Public Library and consulting with the regulatory agencies, we will have developed concept designs that we will want to share with the community.

Looking at the project timeline, can you explain how the design process continues beyond the regulatory approval phase? 

We would be ill advised to take a final design to the regulatory agencies and ask for their approval since whatever we might show them is likely to need significant adjustments to accommodate the feedback. The informed process that we have developed is to complete about 25% of the project’s design so that we have enough of a design to represent to the agencies the scope, scale and character of the building. We then take the feedback from the various organizations and agencies and finalize the design and construction drawings. This process shortens the time and  allows us to begin construction as indicated on the schedule. 

Will this be a mixed use structure with retail and residential space?

The library is in favor of mixed use projects, but in the case of Southeast, that approach is not being considered. Southeast is a small facility on a constrained lot. Giving up any space for use other than library use would mean we could not provide in this facility the programming needed by the community.

When will the new Southwest Library open?

We are on target for opening the new 20,000 sq.ft. library early next year, 2021.

The newly built entrance to the Northeast Library abuts the house next door. Can you avoid that with the Southeast Library?

Yes, we are trying to avoid that at all costs. Some of our initial ideas are very much informed by not interrupting the historic viewshed along South Carolina Avenue and the berm.

Many of the past conversations included shrinking the already small number of books to allow for more technology or other collaborative features. Is there any sense whether this will be the case?

We strive to keep the collection size roughly the same. I don’t anticipate there being a great deviation with Southeast. With each project I like to talk about opportunity costs: what do we have to give up in order to have something else? We will decide collaboratively the trade offs we’re willing to make.

Mar. 3, 2020

On March 3, 2020, the library hosted a community meeting in the North Hall at Eastern Market. Executive director Richard Reyes-Gavilan introduced the design-build team of Quinn/Evans and Whiting/Turner. The presentation included the project process and timeline and an opportunity for community members to participate in design exercises.

Questions and Comments

Have you compared the information on the use of the library gathered by your team with the census data on the surrounding community?

When will the actual renovation begin?

We anticipate a lengthy regulatory and design process because of the historic nature of the building and the size of the lot. The design process will begin in Summer 2020 and continue thru mid 2022. Construction is planned to begin in late 2022 and will continue thru 2024 with the library opening in 2024. 

Has anyone collected information from library users experiencing homelessness?

Yes, from surveys and focus groups with our Coffee and Conversation series.

Can you move the main entrance?

This is going to be a very involved process, we will be working with 8 or 9 different regulatory agencies on this project. We don’t know at this time what we will or will not be allowed to do – but we want to understand what you would like us to do.

 There’s already that second entrance on the side - can’t we continue to use that?

True, but there’s also the question of universal experience of the building, we want everyone to share the same experience when entering the building. Right now that is not the case – a dignified entrance for use by everybody is one of the many design challenges with this building.

When will the renovation begin?

Due to the historic nature of the building, the design process will be at least two years. We anticipate that construction will begin in 2022 with the new library opening in 2024.

The audience then broke out into small discussion groups to engage in design visioning exercises, which were captured to be shared with the design team.

Other Community Engagement

On Feb. 8, 2020,  the Library hosted a drop-in for residents to meet the architects chosen for the renovation of Southeast Library. There was much discussion, exchange of ideas, and an opportunity for residents to begin providing input.

On Jan. 28, 2019, executive director Richard Reyes-Gavilan was invited to speak with members of the Capitol Hill Village regarding the modernization of the library. He discussed the project process and timeline, and shared examples of buildings around the city that the Library had completed to date.

Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, the library hosted a community meeting at the Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE.
Executive director Richard Reyes-Gavilan discussed the project process and timeline, and shared examples of completed libraries around the city.

You can’t just close our library and tell us to go downtown or to Northeast – we use the building here and we still need services here. You’re just coming in here making decisions without considering us and our needs.

When we modernized the Northeast Library – which shares many characteristics with the Southeast Library – the community agreed to put all their resources into the project. They did not want to spend money on an interim library when that additional money could be spent on the actual library building. Why we are out here this early having community meetings is just for this sort of reason. We will have to look more closely at how this community will access library services while the Southeast Library is closed.
I understand that you are creating a building plan for our library that will allow for community input – but are you also creating a programming plan for the building?  Will the community be allowed to decide what sort of programming will take place in the building?

Yes, that is a vital part of how we are approaching this project. We are building libraries that address the needs of the people who use them. The community will have repeated opportunities to respond and comment on the project throughout the planning process – both the design of the building and the services the building can provide.
I live on the same block as the library. I know that construction can be disruptive to surrounding properties. Will you inform us of the construction plans and when something particularly noisy or messy is about to happen?

Yes, we will inform you of our plans. You should also know that as we make any of our plans we do so with an awareness of the impact construction work has on neighboring properties. Like Southeast, the Cleveland Park Library has nearby neighbors and I think we did a good job at limiting the impact of the construction work on those properties. You will also have contact names in case there’s something occurring on the construction site that you feel you need to report.
Do you know if you will be adding an addition to the library? That building is small in comparison to the size of its lot – I would hate to see the existing building be lost by adding additions to it.

We will address the actual design of the building once we have chosen a design/build team.
I live across the plaza from the library, I can see it from my house. For the past few years we have all thought the library would have an underground connection to the Eastern Market Metro Plaza that would include additional space for the library.  Are you saying this is not going to happen?

That design you have mentioned was the work of Amy Weinstein and commissioned by a private group about 5 years ago. It was not a library sponsored design. The library’s design will not include an underground passage and meeting area attaching the library to the plaza. At the same time, I have met with DGS (and will continue to do so) to discuss our plans for the building and their plans for the plaza.
Will the library have the same community meeting room?

Again, any design decisions will be made once we’ve got a design/build team in place.  Then we will continue working with all of you to ensure we are designing a library for this community.
I have noticed there is a homeless population that regularly uses the library – is something being done to ensure they are part of the plans for the renovated library, that their voices are heard?

We have a full-time social worker on staff to help the homeless find services and programs to improve their lives. In recent years, library designs have changed … and some of those changes have been with the needs of the homeless community in mind … designing a library with good sight lines improves the safety for all our patrons, convenient locations for restrooms, and expanded services and facilities that are accessible to all our patrons.
With gentrification, many of the members of this community are under a lot of stress both because of time and money. In the south we are used to accepting pain without speaking up but I think we need to speak up. Changing something, even if it’s making us walk or metro to the next library facility may just be more than we can add to our already burdened lives. I think we need some sort of interim facility while the Southeast Library is closed.

Yes, I think we will look at all our options.
Will the community have a say in the look of the renovated library?

Yes, we will work with you in choosing the design/build team. Once that team is in place we will continue working with you as we plan and design the building.
Will the RFP spell out the building program?

The RFP is just the beginning of a process, it is a way of finding the right team to work with us to build a unique library for your community. The RFP is the first exchange of information, it describes the sort of project we are planning.  Then once we’ve chosen the architect/builder there will be many more opportunities to exchange information as we work towards a final design for the building. I hope that all of you in this room tonight will continue to work with this team in making decisions, providing ideas that will provide a beautiful library for your community.

Yes, the Councilmember is familiar with this process, having worked with us on the design of the Southwest Library, the RFP is just the beginning, not the end, of the design phase. While this may take a bit longer than how projects were done in the past, it is a way that really allows us all to be involved.

Additional comments sent to DC Library from a member of the community:

Inside: this library is basically useless other than for reserving/returning books from other libraries. The selection is poor and out of date. Homeless sit at the tables all day, leaving little room for actual patrons.
Outside: The building needs to preserved. The area around the library has become a site for loiterers and homeless (library steps and sidewalk). I’ve seen men drinking in broad daylight on the sidewalk. I’ve seen these same people walk down my street in groups and steal packages. While the renovation is being done, this site (not just the building) needs to be secured so that it doesn’t attract more crime and blight. A vacant building with big staircase would be a prime location for this.

History of the Southeast Library

Southeast Neighborhood Library, one of three Carnegie-funded libraries in D.C. and the second neighborhood library built, proved to be one of the library system's busiest from its opening on Dec. 8, 1922. The one-story brick building, designed by noted library architect Edward L. Tilton, sits at 403 7th St. SE on an irregularly shaped site in the Capitol Hill National Register District, purchased with $8,360 from Congress, and bolstered by $67,000 in construction funding from the Carnegie Corporation.

Southeast's Start

Southeast Library began to take root at the Central Library's dedication at Mount Vernon Square in 1903. On that day, Andrew Carnegie offered to provide an additional $350,000 to build branch libraries throughout the city as needed. It took the District seven years to secure congressional approval to build the first Neighborhood Library in Takoma Park. And although the Library Board of Trustees requested a library in Southeast in 1917, it was not until June 1921 that Congress finally appropriated money to purchase a site for the new branch. The legislation also authorized the use of $50,000 of Carnegie's donation for building costs. As was his policy, Carnegie's money came with the stipulation that Congress supply operating and maintenance costs equal to at least 10 percent of the cost of the building.

Architect and his Design

Edward L. Tilton (1861-1933), a native of New York who trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, designed the Southeast Neighborhood Library.  A friend of Andrew Carnegie's personal secretary James Bertram, Tilton was well placed in the lucrative business of designing numerous Carnegie-funded libraries across the country. Tilton advertised himself as a proficient library designer who could promise completion of his buildings on or under budget. By 1905, he had designed five libraries for Carnegie-funded projects. In 1920, Tilton took a partner, Alfred T. Githens, and continued his work with libraries. The firm of Tilton & Githens won the American Institute of Architect's (AIA) Gold Medal for its public library in Wilmington, Del., in 1930. Thus, Tilton was one of the premier designers of Carnegie libraries, applying his vast knowledge and study of library design to the planning of the Southeast Branch in 1922.

The new branch was dedicated with much fanfare on the evening of Dec. 8, 1922. Several community representatives spoke, including the presidents of the Southeast Washington Citizens' Association and the East Washington Citizens' Association. D.C.'s public librarian, Dr. George Bowerman, and the president of the Board of Library Trustees also spoke, praising the forward step accomplished by the opening of this second neighborhood library. The dedication appeared to have been a perfect platform for the suggestion of a third branch in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood.

Tilton designed the Southeast Neighborhood Library specifically for its irregular triangular-shaped site. The building presented a monumental neoclassical style adorned by a massive, pedimented entrance portico supported on paired Corinthian columns. Large-scale semicircular arched window openings flanked the main entrance that contained double-leaf entry doors surmounted by a multi-light transom. A stone water table divided the base of the building, which was accentuated by modest window openings, while the upper story was well illuminated by semicircular arched window openings along the north and south elevations. The building was covered by a shallow hipped roof clad in slate shingles.

The interior consisted of a main floor divided into a delivery and stack room, librarian's office, reference room and two large reading rooms -- one for adults and one for children. A fireplace created the traditional Victorian home-like atmosphere in the children's room. The rooms were furnished by the Library Bureau with an octagonal delivery desk, shelving, desks, chairs and tables in light wood with a greenish finish. The ground floor was occupied by a teachers' room, two club or meeting rooms that could be combined into one, a stack room, staff offices and janitor's quarters. A mezzanine level provided additional work space for patrons and staff.

A Bustling Location

The library opened with a collection of some 5,000 volumes and 75 periodicals. It was expected that the collection would be frequently supplemented by deliveries from the already overcrowded central library, which at that time contained nearly 250,000 volumes. The branch was set to be open most weekdays from noon to 9 p.m., on Wednesdays from noon to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The staff consisted of branch librarian Frances S. Osborne, a children's librarian, an assistant, a page and a janitor.

The Southeast library was immediately successful, with an average daily circulation of 550 books during its first two weeks of operation. A growing concern was the demand for juvenile literature; at the time of its opening, the library had only a modest collection. Nearly 1,400 extra books had to be transferred to Southeast from the Central Library to meet the demand. By the end of June 1923, after only seven months of operation, the library had circulated 86,822 books and registered 3,904 patrons.

The book collection had grown during the same period from the initial 5,000 volumes to nearly 8,000 through purchases, gifts, transfers and borrowed books. On Jan. 4, 1937, the Southeast Branch experienced its largest one-day circulation count—1,777 books. The library quickly took on an important community and educational role within the neighborhood, offering a quiet and safe place for school children to study after school hours. The large meeting rooms also provided a centralized location for community meetings.

After World War II, the branch served a population of 20,419 persons within a half-mile radius. The area surrounding the library was generally residential with a busy retail district nearby. Since its opening, however, the neighborhood character of the community had slowly been encroached upon by the construction of government buildings on Capitol Hill. In 1947, the area served by the Southeast Branch encompassed 12 public schools, four parochial schools, the Friendship Settlement House, Providence Hospital, the Naval Gun Factory and the Marine Barracks.

Changes Over the Years

The branch has undergone several interior alterations over the years, including the 1928 removal of an unused central stairway in the children's room and the continuous rearrangement of bookcases and furniture. In 1942, the bookcases on the main floor were shifted so the area could be divided into a front and rear sections for adult and juvenile books. Also in 1942, the basement floor was lent for Civilian Defense. New block linoleum was laid on the main floor and additional bookcases in the adult department shifted to the north side to improve reading conditions. In 1982, an intensive renovation was undertaken, returning the interior layout to its original plan. To serve the community better, a handicap access ramp and elevator were installed, as was new lighting.

By the early 1970s, the Southeast Branch was serving a population of 80,700 in the immediate vicinity. The population of the area included the largest concentration of public housing residents in the city. By 1971, the book collection totaled 57,610 volumes, and the average weekly attendance in the branch's reading rooms was approximately 700. At the time, the library offered a number of programs for school children, picture book hours and a film series. Between April 1970 and March 1971, 180 community programs were offered at the neighborhood library, ranging from poetry readings to adult education classes.

In the spring of 2007, Southeast Neighborhood Library was the recipient of Library Journal/American Library Association funding and in-kind donations from a variety of library vendors. This resulted in another major interior renovation. Alterations included:

  • Removing the wall separating the children’s room from the adult reading area.
  • Lifting the ceiling — lighting was updated and improved and sound-dampening panels installed, refurbishing all of the original wood.
  • Replacing the circulation desk.
  • Adding a built-in information desk. 

One of the highlights of the renovation was the installation of the shelving endcaps with quotes that complement the original fireplace tiling depicting scenes from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Southeast Today

Today, Southeast is proud to maintain a collection consistent with DC Public Library’s system-wide philosophy. The most popular genres are children’s and mysteries followed by new fiction and political and economic young adult titles informational titles. Popular non-book items are feature films on DVD and music CDs. Preschool programs and infant/toddler lap sits are quite popular and well-attended by parents and caregivers.

Friends of the Southeast Neighborhood Library, a volunteer support organization established in September of 1982, provides fundraising support in the form of a biannual book sale. The Friends also act as advocates for the Southeast branch, testifying to the Board of Library Trustees and the City Council when necessary. The Southeast Library was designated a historic landmark by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board on March 25, 2021.