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

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

"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.

Two girls at the libraryThe 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 in 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 to maintain no less than the current level of service for the neighborhood libraries (six days a week) and for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (seven days a week).

The most wonderful library in the world is of no use if it's not open convenient hours and if there is no staff to provide needed services.

Operating costs include staff, books and other library materials, technology, maintenance of technology and ongoing building maintenance to protect the District's investment in the library buildings.

Operating funds for any new neighborhood libraries are essential. In the long view, operations are going to be a bigger expense than the initial construction costs. This is nothing new: when Andrew Carnegie gave money for the construction of public libraries, he required that the municipality invest 10 percent of construction costs in operations each year.

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

The FY2011 Capital budget includes no funding for continuing the vital work of replacing or modernizing the remaining neighborhood libraries. The libraries not funded are Capitol View, ChevyAnacostia Library Chase, Cleveland Park, Lamond-Riggs, Northeast, Palisades, Southwest, Shepherd Park, West End and Woodridge.7

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.

Research has shown that building libraries "where people are, "not just where they sleep" is the best way to ensure that people will use this valuable public asset.

The D.C. Office of Planning has provided excellent information about how and where D.C. residents work, go to school and travel, which should be very helpful in planning for future library facilities (see Appendices A, B1 and B2 - maps may take awhile to download).

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.

Often the criteria for partnering institutions are not the same as for libraries. For example, schools need to be placed away from commercial thoroughfares. But data provided by the D.C. Office of Planning and the team of library consultants has shown that in order to attract maximum use, libraries need to be on commercial thoroughfares. To use public funds effectively, libraries need to serve the widest possible cross-section of the community. This should be taken into consideration when considering co-location with partners.

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 requirement of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver or higher standard.

Smaller libraries get less use than larger libraries, which offer more books, technology, meeting spaces and other library services. In fact, both national and local data has shown that people will walk or drive right past smaller libraries on their way to get to larger ones. In addition, most operating costs are NOT less for smaller libraries: larger libraries are more efficient to staff by a factor of three.8

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

It's important to be good stewards of this architecturally significant, nearly 40-year-old District building: this includes maintenance as well as improving its functionality as a library.  Essential maintenance of the infrastructure has required significant expenditure.9  The exploration of alternative locations for the library and for DC Public Library's administration and support services will continue.

7West End Library is scheduled to be replaced through the District's development agreement with Eastbanc.
8Based upon comparison of DC Public Library size and staffing costs. See Appendix H.
9See Appendix F.

Executive Summary
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
View Full Report (PDF)