We need to be deeply concerned about the future adequacy of library services here on the south side of Capitol Hill. Our SE Branch library, at only 10,000 square feet, is one of the smallest in DC. It is one of 25 branch libraries in the District of Columbia Library system, many of which have been expanded or replaced as their neighborhood populations have increased. But the Southeast Branch Library has never been expanded and today is too small for our community.
Yet on January 28, in a standing-room-only meeting with Capitol Hill residents, the DC Public Library’s Chief Librarian Mr. Reyes-Gavilan made clear that very limited expansion of the SE Branch Library is possible because of its small and historic footprint; he said it cannot be built “down,” “up,” or “out any side.” He also said that now is not the time for input from the community because a construction company and architect must be chosen first. Only then can citizen input be considered.
This is putting the cart before the horse. Community stakeholders need to be brought together first — to be involved from the start in planning such a large project, a library that will meet our many needs. Yet, Mr. Reyes-Gavilan is right now moving forward without our input to renovate the SE Branch library, even though it is too small for our community’s needs. Now is the time to halt the renovation process. This community needs a much larger library.
We form if not the largest community of readers in DC, then close to it. Library meeting spaces are essential to our community — the NE Library and the Hill Center meeting rooms (which are not always free of charge, or available) are not enough. Space for books and internet access for information, research, and pleasure are essential. Yet there have not been any serious planning meetings for the wide general public to say what we need and want in a library that will remain for many decades.
The library says it has $23 million dollars ready to spend on renovating the SE Library. That amount is what it usually costs to build new library from scratch. We should take the time to explore more appropriate uses of these funds — such as for other city-owned properties or city-owned tracts of land — for a truly adequate building.
The existing bijou Carnegie Building, which is protected as historic under current DC law, can still be used for many civic purposes. We on Capitol Hill need to consider our options for a really adequate new library.
Pat Taylor, Library Lover