Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan's 2017 Performance Oversight Hearing Testimony

News Releases

Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan's 2017 Performance Oversight Hearing Testimony

February 22, 2018

Good morning Councilmember Grosso and members of the Committee on Education. I am Richard Reyes-Gavilan, Executive Director of the DC Public Library. I am here this morning to testify on the Library’s performance in Fiscal Year 2017, accomplishments in Fiscal Year 2018 to date, and plans for the year ahead. Profuse thanks are due to this Committee and all councilmembers for their support of the Library. I’m also of course extremely grateful to Mayor Bowser for her leadership and enthusiasm about our work.
 
Never have I been more eager to reflect on the past year’s accomplishments as I am today. Justifying the District’s sustained and incredible investment in its library system is an awesome responsibility that the Library and Board of Trustees take seriously. The sheer joy we witnessed recently at ribbon-cutting events in the Palisades and West End neighborhoods suggest that we’re fulfilling our obligation to residents by continuing to provide inspiring destinations for community learning. The immense pride we felt last spring when we published Know Your Neighborhood, the Library’s first-ever comprehensive strategic plan was incredibly satisfying. The overwhelming fatigue we experienced after closing the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library and preparing it for a full modernization was utterly predictable but well worth it. The list of accomplishments in FY17 is long and while I feel I owe it to my staff to go into detail about all of them, in the interest of time I will stick to the highlights and refer to the answers we submitted to the Committee’s questions for more background.
 
Know Your Neighborhood, the Library’s five-year strategic plan, stresses a commitment to customizing collections and services for the unique needs of the communities we serve. It also stresses a commitment to equity, challenging all of us to think of ways in which the Library might pay special attention to the needs of traditionally underserved communities. Much of that special attention involves eliminating barriers to participation with the Library, which often means delivering services to people in non-traditional settings and more convenient ways. We have made important strides toward embracing this philosophy of equity in FY17. Our new Department of Outreach and Inclusion concentrates its efforts on reaching residents in Wards 7 and 8. Since launching in summer 2017, this new department, which is comprised of staff members who are temporarily reassigned while the MLK library is under construction, has provided 188 programs while interacting with 6,900 residents. Initiatives last year have included storytime programs at the DC General family shelter, and a new partnership with the Department of Public Works to provide computer classes and early literacy workshops to DPW staff. At the invitation of the Department of Corrections, our effort at the DC Jail has expanded also thanks to our ability to reassign MLK staff. That program expansion has resulted in the circulation of more than 20,000 books to more than 4,000 inmates last year.
 
Our Books from Birth program is in its second year and the penetration in our targeted neighborhoods has been remarkable. As of last month, more than 33,000 children have participated in the early literacy initiative with four of five of the eligible children in our targeted areas participating.
 
Our new GoDigital campaign is another equity initiative designed to expose residents who may not be aware of the Library’s impressive suite of digital offerings that includes ebooks, streaming movies, music, and more. All of our outreach efforts are focused in roughly those same targeted areas as Books from Birth. Understanding that internet access for many residents is achieved exclusively through their phones, the campaign stresses accessibility through mobile devices.
 
Providing residents opportunities to experience and to contribute to our local history is another major component of the strategic plan. In a world increasingly defined by information that disappears almost as quickly as it is created, public libraries are crucial in the ongoing effort to capture and preserve our stories, regardless of their significance in the moment. In its inaugural year, the DC Oral History Collaborative, through its community grants partner program, has funded ten proposals from individuals and organizations from across the city. Recorded interviews with women who were part of Howard University’s nursing program in the 1960s are but one highlight of the initiative thus far. We hope to have our first oral histories generated by the Collaborative accessible via DIG DC, the online portal to the Library’s digitized special collections, later this year.
 
Last year the Library was awarded a $245,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for the coordinated distribution of our Memory Labs personal digital archiving program to seven public library systems around the country. The seven systems that will benefit from a DCPL innovation include two of the largest libraries in the country in Houston and Los Angeles and much smaller ones such as the Karuk Tribal Libraries in northernmost California.
 
We’re thankful to the Mayor and Council for including funding for holiday hours in the FY17 budget. Providing holiday services will help the Library achieve one of its strategic participation goals of attracting five million visitors per year by 2022. We have opened eight branches, one in each ward, on select holidays, including this past Monday President’s Day. Thus far we’re averaging more than 4,000 visits per holiday and are on pace to reach our goal of 20,000 holiday visits this year.
 
Overall, there was a slight decline in use of the Library in FY17, but that decline wasn’t as pronounced as I would have predicted considering that the MLK Library and the Cleveland Park libraries -- our central library and our busiest branch -- were closed for construction for all or most of the fiscal year. There were 3.6 million visits to public libraries in FY17, down slightly from the 3.9 million visits in FY16. Despite the decrease in overall visits, use of the Library’s wireless network and its meeting and study rooms increased. That signifies that residents are getting more value from their library visits and that the physical library continues to move away from being strictly a transactional space. The Library continued to provide programs of great impact such as Neighborhood Legal Services, in which trained lawyers provide residents free legal assistance to eliminate barriers to employment. Stories such as “Mr. M’s”, a 61 year-old veteran and cancer survivor who was able to obtain work at the National Gallery once decades-old criminal charges were sealed, are common.
 
There were 4.3 million items circulated in FY17, down only slightly from 4.4 million items circulated in FY16. Use of our physical collections remains relatively stable while the use of the Library’s electronic content continues to increase. It’s important to note that the use of the Library’s subscription databases is not captured in these impressive numbers but continues to grow significantly. The number of registered cardholders remained strong at well over 400,000. The highest concentration of cardholders live in Wards 7 and 8, which is interesting considering that the circulation of books is lower in the branches in those wards than in those to the west. That juxtaposition reinforces the idea that libraries are no longer just valuable or necessary because of the books on their shelves. It also suggests that many residents, notably students, are using libraries that may not be near their homes. Considering that many DC students travel considerable distances for school, knowing about a given neighborhood’s residents doesn’t necessarily provide a complete account of how that neighborhood’s library is used.
 
Pivoting to the Library’s capital program, I’d like to start by sharing that in FY17 the Library spent $13.4M with DC-certified small businesses, $5M more than was our goal for the year. We were excited to finally close the MLK Library in addition to the Capitol View, Cleveland Park, and Palisades libraries for full renovations. MLK deserves special attention of course -- 300 staff members and more than 400,000 square feet of books, technology, and equipment were dispersed throughout the city in approximately 30 days. I can’t stress enough how proud I am of the Library’s collective effort here. Within two months of our closure we opened Library Express at 1990K Street, provided access to our special collections through partnerships with the Historical Society of Washington and the Library of Congress, and expanded hours at all of our branches. We opened a new administrative office also at 1990K Street and fully renovated two floors of the Penn Center in Ward 5 to serve as the Library’s temporary operations center.
 
Questions do remain about the future of interim services for the remaining two and one-half years of the MLK modernization. Not long after Washingtoniana settled in at the Carnegie Library it was once again displaced due to the exciting but unexpected news of the Apple renovation of that building. Not long after relocating to the Newseum from the Carnegie Library, Washingtoniana will be displaced yet again later this year when its service partner -- the Historical Society of Washington -- moves back to the renovated Carnegie Library. I’m unsure of the next stop for our well-travelled special collections but am sure that the Library will work hard to find a new home for this unique and well-used city treasure.
 
Some good news on the interim services front: I am aware that the Council has received calls and emails of concern after the Library was unable to find a temporary home for the Fab Lab -- the DIY emerging technologies lab that it opened in MLK in 2015. Later this year, with the help of the Department of General Services, we will be opening a temporary Fabrication Lab and Passport Services Center in the Reeves Center at 14th and U Street NW, in the former home of the Industrial Bank. We are also partnering with the DCPL Foundation and the NoMA BID to open a pop-up Fab Lab in a shipping container near the NoMA Metro station. The Library is excited to reintroduce 3-D printing, laser cutting, and other technologies to the many residents increasingly reliant on this equipment for their art or livelihoods.
 
In addition to oversight of the construction project and working on the ongoing provision of interim services, we are working diligently on a plan of public service for the new MLK Library. What are the services, experiences, and collections that residents should expect from their new central library and how will we best be in a position to deliver them? I look forward to future conversations with the Council and Administration about the resources we’ll need to fully activate the new building by opening day.
 
The Capitol View and Palisades libraries have reopened after beautiful interior renovations. Capitol View will close once again in the spring for an exterior renovation and reopen in the fall. A modular interim facility will be established on the grounds of JC Nalle elementary school to accommodate residents during the project.
 
In December, after many years of planning, the stunning new one-story West End Library opened as part of a mixed-use development on the corner of 23rd and M Street NW. The opening day ribbon-cutting event, taking place during a steady snowfall on a cold early Saturday morning, nevertheless attracted hundreds of residents.
 
I’d like to pause here momentarily before moving on to projects in the works and talk about the wildly successful first year of service at the new Woodridge Library that opened on the last days of FY16. With more than 150,000 visits and 150,000 items borrowed, Woodridge has become one of the busiest libraries in the system. We’ve taken advantage of the beautiful third-story terrace to relocate our popular MLK basement music programs in support of the DC Punk Archive. Concerts at Woodridge took place on Wednesday evenings throughout the summer. One of our performers, a Ward 5 resident, said “I am much more inspired to utilize the beautiful Woodridge Library than ever before… So cheers to reigniting literacy!”
 
In terms of projects under construction or in design, the community eagerly awaits the opening of the new Cleveland Park Library scheduled to open this summer. Later this fall we will close the Southwest Library for a rebuild and in the coming months we will engage a design-build team to start work on a new Lamond-Riggs Library. Also in the fall we will schedule a community meeting to discuss the challenging but sorely-needed renovation and expansion of the Southeast Library.
 
In the coming weeks, the Library is excited to start work on a 10-year facilities master plan that will not only help us better preserve our existing physical assets but also provide a framework by which we can better understand the landscape for future physical service delivery in the city.
 
I’d like to close by expressing my thanks to the DC Public Library Board of Trustees for its help and counsel. In addition, advocates and partners such as the Library Friends groups and the DC Public Library Foundation deserve special acknowledgement. Finally, I wish to express my deep gratitude to the staff of the DC Public Library, who work tirelessly to deliver the best library services possible to our deserving residents.