Anacostia Library History

Anacostia Library History


A Dream Delayed

The community of Anacostia, one of the oldest residential areas in Washington, D.C., had long been considered a primary location for a potential branch of the public library. Funding for the D.C. Library Board of Trustees was finally received in 1940. The proposed Anacostia branch would serve the primarily working-class neighborhoods of Twining City, Washington Highlands, Old Anacostia, Hillcrest, Bolling Air Force Base, the Naval Air Station and St. Elizabeths.

A site on the northeast corner of 18th Street and Good Hope Road SE was purchased in 1942. Construction was delayed, however, by the intervention of the war, and funds allocated to the library were redirected to the war effort.
A temporary branch, established at 1537 Good Hope Road SE, a former store and apartment building, opened Nov. 20, 1942, with a collection of 7,000 volumes and 27 periodicals. City commissioner Guy Mason and George C. Havenner of the Library's Board of Trustees spoke at the dedication. In attendance were members of the Anacostia community, including John J. Watson, president of the Anacostia Citizens Association. District librarian Clara W. Herbert garnered special appreciation from the community for her efforts in establishing the Anacostia Neighborhood Library.

Facing Great Change

Anacostia Library, 1956In the years following World War II, the area southeast of the Anacostia River grew: During the 1940s, the area's population increased 231 percent. By the time the new Anacostia Branch opened in 1956, the neighborhood's population had begun to change from predominantly white to predominantly black. Between 1950 and 1970, the white population decreased from 82.4 percent to 14 percent. The area remained a touchstone for black history -- the Barry's Farm settlement was historically associated with a post-Civil War freedmen's community, and Old Anacostia was recognized as the home of Frederick Douglass.

The pressure of the increasing population and changing social makeup of the community began to tax the resources of the temporary neighborhood library. Local citizens became restless for improved facilities, voicing their dissatisfaction over the continued postponement of a permanent library building.

A Permanent Place

Anacostia Library, 1958The permanent building, designed by D.C. Municipal Architect Merrell A. Coe, a man responsible for public buildings that include the National Zoo, opened on April 12, 1956. Built at a cost of $284,750, the Anacostia library was the first of six public library branches built under the D.C. Public Works Program, and became the model for several subsequent branch buildings.

The one-story, steel-frame, red brick modern-style building had concrete slab floors, interior cinder block walls and was designed to eventually hold 50,000 volumes.

Early services and community activities included continuing the Great Books reading program, establishing a senior citizens film series, and hosting the Southeast Exhibit of Washington Artists. By 1972, the library's services had changed to accommodate new community needs, including the initiation of a Minority Enterprise Week.

The library currently houses collections specializing in basic adult education, technical publications, African-American Studies, and bestsellers. The library also holds an archival collection focused on the history of Anacostia. 

The Anacostia Library is supported by a Friends group that holds fundraising events, purchases materials and equipment for the library, and supports library activities through volunteer efforts.