Read Your Way Up

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - Central Library

Read Your Way Up

A bike ride visiting portabranch, kiosk and storefront library locations hosted as part of the 2018 DC History Conference

As part of the DC History Conference in 2018, DC Public Library hosted Read Your Way Up: a Bike Ride to Storefront, Portabranch and Kiosk library locations. Listen to the podcast on DC Public Library's Full Service Radio, learn more about this unique history in the blog post below, and find the ride's route map here to retrace our steps!  

Public Libraries need to be flexible and responsive to the neighborhoods in which they are embedded. As change occurs, library staff and administrators evaluate the effectiveness of service or identify where there might be gaps, and we do this for our library locations on a regular basis. 
In the 1960’s, the Johnson administration developed the anti-poverty and federal urban aid program called Model Cities. Although funding was approved by congress in 1966, DC didn’t see the projects come to fruition until 1971, the program was then terminated in 1974.  What Model Cities did in that short period of time was contribute funding for various projects based on a particular geographical location within urban cities throughout the United States. In Washington, D.C. that area was 675 acres stretching around Shaw, Trinidad and the H Street Corridor in Northeast, with 3.2 million dollars for various projects. Watha T. Daniel (for whom the Shaw Library is named) was instrumental in selecting and guiding eleven Model City projects for DC, which included a retirement center, a boys club, daycare centers, and the German Measles inoculation program. 

Model Cities also included expanded library bookmobile service, and the establishment of four storefront libraries for these identified neighborhoods. The Harrison Storefront Community Library at 1419 V St. NW, the Trinidad Storefront Library at 1603 Montello Ave. NE and the Sibley Plaza Storefront Library at 1140 North Capitol St. all opened in 1971. The Stanton Park Community Storefront Library at 1003 H St. NE opened in 1972 and was soon after named for the community leader, R.L. Christian. Each storefront library had between 2500 and 5000 books, and stations for viewing films, records and tapes.

After the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library opened in 1972 and the Model Cities funding ran out, there was a moratorium placed on construction of traditional library branch locations. The intention was to reevaluate community need and explore flexible, cost-efficient options for service. As a result the kiosk library structure was developed as a temporary space of about 120 square feet, taking up only a small amount of public land, allowing for just 1000 volumes on standing book racks. Kiosks were aluminum, prefabricated structures with “windows of unbreakable materials” and a “fresh imaginative look”, according to the DC Public Library Survey, a traceries report published in 1997. The kiosks were implemented as a testing ground to gauge the volume of library transactions within a particular community, with the idea they could be easily moved if needed. The Barry Farms, Parklands and Deanwood kiosk libraries all opened in 1976. Although the Deanwood Kiosk is still standing (although not owned or managed by DC Public Library as of the early 2000’s), the Barry Farms Kiosk at 1430 Sumner Rd stood only until 1984, after the Garnet C. Wilkinson Library was built in the newly constructed public school nearby. The Parklands kiosk at Alabama and Stanton Rd. SE was replaced in 1984 by the Parklands-Turner Community Library portabranch at 1720 Alabama Ave. SE. 

What’s a portabranch you ask?  Designed by Portastructures Industries Inc., the portabranch was an expanded model of the kiosk DC Public Library Special Collections, courtesy of the Washington Post library. Also designed as temporary and relocatable, it was slightly bigger than the kiosk. Att 1600 square feet, the portabranch could accommodate 5000 volumes and allow 25 to 30 patrons inside the building at one time. In addition to Parklands-Turner, in 1981 The R.L. Christian Community Library portabranch replaced the Model Cities storefront library and was built at 1301 H St. NE, a structure that was replaced with new development in 2018. In 1983 TInvitation for the Parkland-Turner Grand Opening, DC Public Library Vertical File he Langston Community Library opened at 650 26th St. NE and in 1993 the Sursum-Corda Community Library opened at 135 New York Ave. NW to replace the Sibley Plaza Community Library that was still in operation from the Model Cities project of the 70’s.

Learn more about the current DC Public Library Facilities Master Plan at Find more great images and news articles about DC Public Library’s past and present. Visit and browse the Library Archives collection. Check out news articles through the Washington Evening Star and Washington Post online databases, search for your library or your neighborhood to learn more about library service throughout the decades! 


DC Public Library survey : final report
prepared by Traceries for the DC Preservation League & the DC Historic Preservation Division

REF 027.4753 D1115

D.C. Gets $3.2 Million HUD Grant to Start 11 Model Cities Projects” 
by Peter Braestrup, Washington Post
January 15th, 1970

Storefront Libraries Serve Neighborhoods” 
by William B. Pollack, Washington Post 
July 15, 1972 

A New Life at Sursum Corda” 
by Sarah Booth Conroy, Washington Post 
June 25, 1972

Tiniest Library Loses Largest Heart
by Manny Fernandez, Washington Post  
October 01, 2003

Youngsters Get Own Branch for Leafing Through Books
by Prakash, Snigdha, Washington Post 
November 14, 1991