Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan's 2018 Performance Oversight Hearing Testimony

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Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan's 2018 Performance Oversight Hearing Testimony

February 25, 2019

Good morning Councilmember Grosso, members of the Committee on Education, and staff. 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 2018, accomplishments in Fiscal Year 2019 to date, and plans for the year ahead. As always I’d like to start by offering my thanks to the Committee for its ongoing assistance and support of DC Public Library. I’d like to thank the Library’s Board of Trustees for its guidance throughout the year, and the many other volunteers and advocates like our Friends and the DC Public Library Foundation who devote so much of their personal time to advancing the work of the Library. Finally, I’d also like to express my deepest appreciation to Mayor Bowser for her commitment to our libraries and to the happiness and enrichment needs of all of our residents.

In 2018 we continued implementation of the Library’s strategic plan, Know Your Neighborhood, and participation with the DC Public Library, despite the ongoing closure of the Martin Luther King Jr. Library continues to increase. We continued to support new readers and a love of reading through the growth of Sing Talk and Read, and, for adults, programs like DC Reads -- our one book/one city campaign that last year had residents all over the the District reading and discussing Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees, a powerful and timely collection of short stories about the Vietnamese refugee experience in the United States. We continued to diversify our collections of books and other materials and introduced popular new services such as Kanopy. In its first six months last year, residents viewed 10,000 feature films, documentaries, and instructional videos on the popular streaming service.

We advanced the city’s digital citizenry efforts through the ongoing provision of digital skills assessments and certifications. 157 residents received Microsoft Office Specialist certification as part of the Microsoft Imagine Academy that we host at the Library through an agreement with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. 636 residents were awarded Northstar Digital Literacy certifications, indicating proficiency in a variety of digital tools and software applications. We also implemented free copying and printing at all of our libraries to provide a significantly improved customer experience and help level the playing field for customers who rely on the public library for these vital services. In the first quarter of FY19, residents made a combined 311,000 prints and copies, with the heaviest usage in our libraries in wards 7 and 8. This is one of many efforts over the past few years, including the elimination of fees for students, that we’ve implemented to remove barriers to library participation for D.C. residents.

We contributed to the strength of our communities through innovative outreach and inclusion efforts in these same underserved areas of the city. And we excelled in offering residents a deeper understanding and appreciation of our complex local history through our People’s University programming and ongoing implementation of the Oral History Collaborative. Thank you Councilmember Grosso for your support for that initiative.

FY18 was the first full fiscal year without a central library so I wasn’t quite sure of the impact the long-term closure of our flagship building would have on circulation, attendance, wifi usage, meeting room usage, and other key performance indicators. I’m pleased and frankly a little bit surprised that overall usage of the libraries -- despite the ongoing closure of the MLK Library -- continued to increase last year. We experienced a five percent increase in library materials borrowed and even an overall increase in physical visits. The number of active library accounts continues to trend upward as well, indicating the Library is serving more users in more ways than ever before. I can talk all day about the Library’s participation metrics but I think those are well covered in our oversight responses. I’d rather spend my time this morning talking more about some of the Library’s programming highlights, especially as I think they’re a preview of the awesome things to come once MLK Library reopens.

I’d like to start with the Library’s inspiring and expansive series of People’s University programming, coordinated by our Special Collections department, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lectures, workshops, and exhibitions took place around the city, all focused on timely issues of social justice and inspired by the Poor People’s Campaign and the Resurrection City that occupied the National Mall for 40 days in the late spring of 1968. The Library recreated the Soul Tent, a cultural exchange space, and it travelled across the city, inviting residents to participate in the history of the city and learn more about the offerings of the Library at the same time. We partnered with organizations like the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American Culture and History to promote the Library’s personal digital archiving services. At a Home Movie Day event last year, we helped Ayanna Free, a Ward 4 resident, digitize her old VHS tapes. She was able to access footage she never thought she’d see again and at the same time introduce her young children to the voice and image of their grandmother who died 17 years earlier. These types of programs, including a new listening station for the Library’s growing collection of oral histories, can be commonplace and a key attraction in the new MLK Library.

In 2018 we launched an innovative partnership with the Department of Behavioral Health. The Peer Outreach Navigator program employs three formerly homeless individuals who connect with vulnerable adults in 11 neighborhood libraries. The certified specialists engaged 742 residents in 2018, helping them secure appointments for services, providing transportation to appointments, and providing other necessities that sometimes include laptops, cellphones, hygiene products, and even socks and gloves. We continue the successful Peer Navigator program in FY19 and look forward to the potential of employing the specialists at the new MLK Library next year.

In addition to the Peer Navigator program, the Library’s own Outreach and Inclusion efforts that launched in 2017 immediately upon the closure of the MLK Library represents our most intentional attempt to connect difficult-to-reach District residents to Library services. The Outreach team works with a variety of organizations and District government agencies to introduce a love of reading in short-term housing facilities (a partnership with the Playtime Project), in public housing facilities (a partnership with the Housing Authority) and a host of other locations that serve some of the District’s sometimes hard-to-reach-residents, including a partnership with the Metropolitan Police Department where officers participated in story time at Langston Lane in Ward 8.

Next, I’d like to highlight an ongoing program called Unlocking Barriers to Employment that the Library has been running for three consecutive years in partnership with the nonprofit law firm Neighborhood Legal Services Program. The Library pairs attorneys who deliver pro bono assistance to job seekers who need help with a variety of legal issues that prevent them from securing employment. Issues range from the sealing of criminal records to credit reporting issues to drivers license restoration. 44 job seeker clinics took place mostly in our ward seven and eight libraries. More than 100 referrals were made to NLSP lawyers or to other legal assistance providers.

Insofar as our programming with youth was concerned, the year was marked with great successes and ongoing experimentation with how best to encourage reading throughout the summer. Registration in our Books from Birth program continues on a trajectory that will eventually result in every eligible child’s participation. The Library’s new Department of Youth and Family Services is providing age-specific thought leadership and introducing more rigor to our service offerings that will result in better outcomes for our youth. In the spirit of seeking better outcomes and to align with national best practices, the Library made a significant change to its summer reading completion requirements in FY18. Rather than providing participants an overall reading goal of eight hours that resulted in many program completions within the first few weeks of summer, the Library changed its summer reading campaign to stress the need to read at least 20 minutes per day, every day, throughout the summer. Sustained reading practice over time is a proven method to stem “summer slide” -- the decline of reading skills that can occur when school is not in session. The new demands of the program that now require more reading and cannot be completed until the end of the summer resulted in fewer completions in 2018 than in 2017, although the total amount of reading minutes logged actually increased. The Library will continue to make improvements to the program until we are satisfied that we are promoting the great benefits of reading to the best of its ability. Some of those strategies are outlined in our responses to the Committee’s questions.

Capital Investment Program
Ten years ago next month, on March 9th, 2009, DCPL opened the renovated historic Takoma Park Library in Ward 4. It represented the first significant capital investment in a District public library in 19 years. In the decade that followed the Library went on to modernize or rebuild 18 new libraries -- an astounding average of almost two per year. In the past ten years we’ve built approximately 350,000 square feet of libraries and an additional 150,000 square feet of interim library space to ensure continuity of operations during construction. In the coming few years we will add an additional half million square feet of library space, including of course the new MLK Library, set to reopen in the second half of 2020.

The MLK Library project is currently at 52 percent completion. I’ve appreciated touring the site with some of the Education committee members and I’m sure you’ll agree that the excitement is palpable. We hope to retire major risk associated with the project by the middle of this year and move into the construction of interior finishes. There have been approximately 450,000 hours worked on the project to date, with 36 percent of those hours worked by District residents. In the meantime, Library staff is working furiously on a new program of services that will provide visitors to the new building access to opportunities unimaginable in the old library. Everything from an oral histories listening station that will be part of a larger DC Community Archive, to a new in-house cafe that will include a workforce development component for its employees, to new family learning programs in our breathtaking new children’s room, to myriad new services for DC’s growing creative and independent contractor communities.

We opened an interim Washingtoniana on Connecticut Avenue at UDC. I’d like to thank you again Councilmember Grosso for helping to identify resources to cover lease payments through 2020. We’re continuing to work on standing up an emerging technology test lab at the Reeves Center that we hope to open this spring. We’re disappointed in the time it’s taken to construct the space but we’re excited about the idea of offering residents the ability to experiment with technologies that we will be introducing in the MLK Library Fab Lab next year.

In FY18, DCPL’s neighborhood library modernization efforts continued at breakneck pace. We opened the brand new West End Library immediately followed by the beautifully renovated Palisades Library, and, this past June, opened the stunning new Cleveland Park Library which has become the highest circulating library in the city and one that hosts the greatest number of community meetings and study room sessions. Overall, our libraries had 3.6 million visits in FY18, 300,000 more than in FY17.

In the coming months we expect to reopen our Capitol View Library after its exterior beautification and window expansion, close the Southwest Library to begin the construction phase of that project, open a Southwest interim facility on M Street SW, complete the schematic design phase of our new Lamond Riggs Library, and select a design-build team to help us with what I know will be an exceptionally challenging modernization and expansion of the Southeast Library.

Tenley Library Water Infiltration
Moving on to the topic of facilities maintenance, I’d like to provide the Committee an update on the Tenley Library’s water infiltration issue. In 2018, the Library contracted with the Georgetown Design Group to address the ongoing glass roof leaks that have plagued the building since it opened in 2011. Despite 2018’s record setting rainfalls, we are satisfied that the glass roof repairs have held. The building has subsequently experienced several leaks unrelated to the glass roof that have prompted the Library to engage a contractor to perform a building envelope assessment that will begin in March. I should pause here for a moment, because I feel as though I talk about the Tenley Library at every oversight hearing, and stress that despite the frustration with the water infiltration, in the library’s eight years of existence there has been a minimal impact on services, technology, and books. We’ve had to close the building for a total of six hours and 15 minutes, since January 2011. I understand that no amount of facility-related closure is acceptable, but I do think that it’s important to understand the impact on services to the public.

Library Facilities Master Plan
Maintenance and upkeep of the city’s incredible investments in our capital program is of paramount importance to us. Several years ago the Library completed an HVAC audit of our newest facilities that helped to resolve a few lingering issues in some of our new buildings. This year, the Library is in the process of completing a comprehensive facilities master plan. Multifaceted in scope, the plan is designed to give us detailed information about the useful life of all of our buildings and their components. In addition and most importantly, the plan is looking to the future of physical library services in the District and making recommendations for changes to where and what types of services the Library offers. Meaningful staff and public engagement is crucial to this process and that engagement began early in FY19 with focus groups, online and paper surveys and  all-day staff workshops. Later this month and in March we will conduct four public workshops where we will learn more about the services District residents want and the types of facilities necessary to accommodate those services.
I’d like to close my testimony this morning by first thanking Library staff for their good and hard work that’s making a meaningful difference in the lives of District residents, and second, doing what all good librarians do, recommending a good book. Late last year, sociologist Eric Klinenberg published a book called Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life. Klinenberg defines “social infrastructure” as those institutions, libraries in particular, that determine whether social capital or human connectivity and interaction is fostered. The book beautifully illustrates how now more than ever we need libraries to bridge society’s yawning divides and reminds us that public libraries represent the best ideals of our democracy.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to testify and I look forward to our conversation.