DC Public Library Services and Facilities: A Framework for Continuing Success

DC Public Library Services and Facilities: A Framework for Continuing Success

"The role of libraries in the 21st century is changing.  And one of those changes is that libraries will increasingly be places where people can meet."

--Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray (2010)

DC Public Library Services and Facilities: A Framework for Continuing Success provides the mayor and the city council with specific recommendations to guide them in decision-making for the DC Public Library. This report was produced in collaboration with the D.C. Office of Planning, and with its support.

I.  Transforming DC Public Library for the 21st Century: A Process Well Underway

"Libraries can play a crucial role in encouraging innovation and creativity, and DCPL can be a key partner in helping to foster entrepreneurial activity, and in ensuring that all of the District's communities benefit from its growing economic prosperity." 

--D.C. Office of Planning (2010)

In 2006, a Blue Ribbon Task Force charged with assessing DC Public Library's strengths, weaknesses and opportunities issue a report titled A Capital Library for a Capital City: A Blueprint for Change.  The report made two fundamental recommendations:

1)  Revitalize DC Public Library's neighborhood libraries to meet 21st-century opportunities; andNew Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library
2)  Build a new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library "that inspires and empowers."

Plans have not been made and funding has not been identified for the new central library recommended by the Blue Ribbon Report. Essential maintenance of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library infrastructure has taken place and is ongoing, requiring significant investment.  Meanwhile, the transformation and revitalization of the neighborhood libraries called for in the Blue Ribbon Report is well underway.

Library services are better everywhere. As one example, since 2006 the number of computers for the public to use in D.C. public libraries has increased from a little more than 100 to about 700.

In all neighborhood libraries, maintenance has improved.
By the end of calendar year 2011, 13 of the 24 neighborhood libraries will have been replaced or renovated.

The library has received praise in local and national press for improvements made since 2006, but the most important endorsement has been from the people of the District, who enthusiastically use their libraries in record numbers. At the new libraries opened in 2010, circulation is more than double what it was in the interim libraries that preceded them, and nearly 14,000 new library cards were issued at the new libraries in the first few months.

DC Public Library Services and Facilities: A Framework for Continuing Success summarizes the progress made toward the goals set out by the Blue Ribbon Task Force; outlines what is needed now; and offers clear recommendations for how to continue the transformation.

II.  Library Services in the 21st Century: The Same Mission, New Methods and Tools

"While some believed the Internet might retire the library, the reverse has occurred.  Over the past decade, libraries have embraced technology resources, and library visits and circulation have grown by 20 percent.  The recession has only increased the demands on the public library."

--Roberta Stevens, president, American Library Association (2010)

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the death of the public library have been greatly exaggerated. In the 21st century, public libraries are more important, more relevant, and more essential to our communities than ever before. And while the essential mission provided by libraries has not changed, across the nation and around the world librarians are finding ways to better serve the public using new methods and new tools.

In the 21st century, libraries are focusing less on where to put "stuff" and more on how to provide access to the tools and resources people need. Many D.C. residents turn to DC Public Library for that access; and many of DC Public Library's materials and resources are now available to the public 24/7 via digital media.

Libraries are inviting places that emphasize and foster community connections, and provide places where the community can gather; where those who work independently are free to do so, and those who need assistance can find it.

Libraries are the public place where people of all ages can learn and flourish; where everyone is welcome; and where, as library consultants George Needham and Joan Frye Williams have said, the community "can be introduced to itself."

III.  A "Great, Good Place" for the 21st Century

"If Washington is truly the capital of the free world in its fullest sense it needs a capital library that is at least equal--and ideally superior--to any public library on earth."

--A Capital Library for a Capital City: A Blueprint for Change (2006)

What does a world-class library look like in the 21st century?

Behavioral data tells us that library buildings need to be built where people are (not just "where they sleep"). Libraries need to invite and encourage exploration, they need to offer quiet places to read and reflect as well as spaces for shared learning and collaboration; and they need to provide the public with access to mainstream technology. Finally, they need to be large enough to provide space, services and collections to draw the public, and to be staffed efficiently; flexible enough to accommodate future uses; and housed in sustainable buildings that respect the earth and maximize the efficient use of resources.

Section III of the full report describes some of the ways library buildings are being designed to best meet changing and future needs, and to facilitate the efficient and effective delivery of library services.

IV.  Recommendations

"One City.  One Library."

DC Public Library has come a long way in its more-than-100-year history. And it has come a long way in the past five years. But much remains to be done. 

The purpose of the library is to enrich and nourish the life of the mind for all D.C. residents, to provide them with the services and tools needed to transform lives, and to build and support community throughout the District of Columbia.

In order to provide all residents of the District with the 21st-century library services they need and deserve, and based on the findings of this report, the DC Public Library Board of Trustees therefore recommends that the Mayor and the City Council:

1.  Provide operating funds to protect the District's investment in its new and existing buildings, and maintain no less than current levels of service for the neighborhood libraries (six days a week) and for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (seven days a week).

2.  Fund continuing capital work, to keep the promise that all neighborhood libraries be ready for the future.

3.  Choose locations for new or relocated neighborhood libraries that are easily visible and convenient to public transportation (Metro, bus, streetcar), commercial activity, and schools.

4.  Use the same criteria for evaluating all potential DC Public Library locations, whether co-located with public or private partners or in free-standing facilities.  These criteria include cost analyses that factor in both initial construction and ongoing operating costs.

5.  Build neighborhood libraries that are at least 20,000 sq. ft., are flexible enough to accommodate changing uses and new technologies, and that meet the District environmentally-friendly requirements of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver or higher standard.

6.  Allocate funds for continuing maintenance and improvement of the historic, landmark-designated Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

DC Public Library Services and Facilities: A Framework for Continuing Success explains the considerations that led to these recommendations.

"More than a building that houses books and data, the library has always been a window to a larger world--a place where we've always come to discover big ideas and profound concepts that help move the American story forward...This is an enormous force for good." 

--Barack Obama (2005)

Feedback Survey
Feedback survey was held from February to June 2011.  View results of survey.

View Full Report (in sections)
I. Transforming DC Public Library for the 21st Century
II. Library Services in the 21st Century
III. A "Great, Good Place" for the 21st Century
IV. Recommendations

View Full Report (PDF)