DC Public Library Services and Facilities: A Framework for Continuing Success


“The role of libraries in the 21st century is changing. And one of those changes is that libraries will increasingly be places where people can meet.” Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray (2010) Transforming DC Public Library for the 21st Century…
In 1896 the District of Columbia Public Library was created by an Act of Congress, in which the purpose of the Library was simply and clearly stated:

“To furnish books and other printed matter and information services convenient to the homes and offices of all residents of the District.”
In 2006, a Blue Ribbon Task Force charged with assessing DC Public Library‟s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities issued a report titled A Capital Library for a Capital City: A Blueprint for Change. That report made two fundamental recommendations: 1) to revitalize DC Public Library’s neighborhood libraries to meet 21st century opportunities; and 2) to build a new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library “that inspires and empowers.”

DC Public Library: A Framework for Continuing Success is based upon
the dual platform of the 1896 Act of Congress that created it and the 2006 Blue Ribbon Report, which recommended changes needed to bring it up to date.
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The purpose of this Report is to provide the Mayor and the City Council with specific recommendations to guide them in future library services and facilities planning and decision-making. The Board of Trustees has developed these recommendations in collaboration with the D.C. Office of Planning and with a team of nationally recognized library planning consultants1. The recommendations are based on national and local data concerning behavioral patterns of library use and the needs of library users. They draw on current best practices as well as forwardthinking “next practices” from both within and outside of the library world. The body of this Report will summarize and explain the findings that led to these recommendations.

A Process Well Underway…
While DC Public Library continues to carry out its mission as it was originally conceived by Congress more than a century ago, in the 21st century new ways of accomplishing the same mission have evolved. In a new and ever-changing world of information, DC Public Library plays an increasingly vital role in the lives of those who live and work in the District of Columbia; and its importance as a place where people can meet and communities can grow and thrive continues to evolve. With funding made available by DC Mayors and the City Council, the DC Public Library Board of Trustees has moved to carry out the recommendations made in the Blue Ribbon report. The transformation and revitalization of the D.C. public libraries called for in that Report is well underway.


See Appendix I for summary of current and future trends in library planning. Also see http://www.georgeandjoan.com/

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 LIBRARY SERVICES have been expanded and improved throughout the system. o Services to Children, Youth and Teens  DC Public Library promotes literacy and provides books and programs for children and their parents and caregivers, beginning at birth. Programs for the very young focus on emerging literacy skills and prepare children for school; work with children, parents, and educators to promote success for kids in elementary and middle school; programs like Teen Read-in and involving teens in program planning help keep high-school students engaged. o Ready to Work and Other Workforce Development


 The award-winning Teens of Distinction program provides employment for high-school-age D.C. residents.  In September 2010, a web portal that provides a wide range of online training and resources for job seekers was introduced.  Adult literacy programs, English language classes for new Americans, GED preparation and tutoring, databases of tests for licensing and certification all support and carry out DC Public Library‟s “ready-towork” initiative.  A 2010 study found that 40 percent of computer users at DC Public Library used the computers to research and apply for jobs; and 20 percent reported that they found jobs as a result.2


See Appendix K: U.S. Impact Study: Web Survey Results, University of Washington Information School, 2010 at www.dclibrary.org.

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o Access to Information and Resources via 21st Century

Technology for all D.C. Residents

o A Place for People to Meet  “Clean, safe, and open when scheduled” is the standard that is now being met.  All libraries in the system provide community meeting spaces, and the new libraries have stateof-the-art gathering spaces.  LIBRARY FACILITIES have been improved in much of the system. o By the end of calendar year 2011, 13 of the 24 neighborhood libraries will have been replaced or renovated (See Appendix D at www.dclibrary.org).

 Since 2006 the number of computers for the public to use in DC Public Library has increased from just over 100 to about 700.  There is now free WiFi access, and broadband capacity, in all libraries.  Bridging the “digital divide” is a high priority. In January 2010, a pilot program at the Woodridge and Francis Gregory libraries provided seniors with training in computer and Internet use, as well as with refurbished computers and free robust broadband access in their homes. This program served as a model for expanded programs funded under a $1.5 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Broadband Grant, which will train up to 1,600 D.C. residents and provide free computers and Internet access to 1,000 participants.  DC Public Library was the first library in the nation to offer iPod-compatible audio books and an iPhone application for library users.

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The Library has received widespread praise in local and national press for improvements made since 2006. But the most important endorsement has been from the people of the District, who enthusiastically use their libraries in record numbers. System-wide circulation is up 126 percent since 2006. At the new libraries opened in 2010, circulation is more than double what it was in the interim libraries that preceded them, and nearly 14,000 new library cards were issued at the new libraries in the first few months they were open. The new libraries have created a positive “buzz” that is energizing and exciting for the whole community.

A Continuing Process…
Much has been accomplished: yet much remains to be done. The FY 2011 Capital Budget includes no funding for continuing the vital work of replacing or modernizing the remaining neighborhood libraries— Capitol View, Chevy Chase, Cleveland Park, Lamond-Riggs, Northeast, Palisades, Shepherd Park, Southwest, West End and Woodridge.3 Plans have not been made and funding has not been identified for the new central library recommended by the Blue Ribbon Report. In cities across the nation and around the world, new and revitalized libraries have been a critical public resource for job seekers and workforce development as well as an effective engine of urban development. The Blue Ribbon report‟s call to create a new central library “to inspire and empower” expresses the potential of DC Public Library to do the same for the District of Columbia. But it cannot do this without sufficient funding.


West End Library is scheduled to be replaced through the District’s development agreement with Eastbanc.

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DC Public Library‟s work with the D.C. Office of Planning through this planning process, summarized in appendices A and B at dclibrary.org, has provided a basis for determining how the continuing transformation of DC Public Library can help foster economic development in the District while continuing to provide and improve the essential library services and resources all of its citizens need and deserve.

“Libraries can play a crucial role in encouraging innovation and creativity, and DC Public Library can be a key partner in helping to foster entrepreneurial activity, and in ensuring that all of the District‟s communities benefit from its growing economic prosperity.” D.C. Office of Planning (2010)

“While some believed the Internet might retire the library, the reverse has occurred. Over the past decade, libraries have embraced technology resources, and library visits and circulation have grown by 20 percent. The recession has only increased the demands on the public library.” Roberta Stevens, President, American Library Association (2010)
To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the death of the public library have been greatly exaggerated. In the 21st century, public libraries are more important, more relevant, and more essential to our communities than ever before. And while the essential services provided by libraries have not changed, across the nation and around the world librarians are finding ways to better serve the public using new methods and new tools. This section highlights some of the current and evolving trends in library services.

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Libraries are focusing on people, not just “stuff.”
Until recently, the primary focus in library facilities planning was as storehouses for books and other materials. And while this is still an element in library facilities planning, attention is now being given to the importance of libraries as gathering places, locations where the community can come together. The big, imposing desks that librarians traditionally sat behind are being replaced with different ways of arranging furniture and space: and libraries are being designed to encourage and facilitate collaborative, side-by-side interaction between library staff and library users.

Libraries help create and sustain healthy communities.
Libraries support “brain health” by providing intellectually stimulating activities and opportunities for people of all ages. While there are new formats for reading, reading itself remains a vital skill, and a skill that libraries continue to promote vigorously through their services, programs, and resources. Libraries provide storytelling and other reading-readiness programs for very young children; they offer homework help, chess clubs and other intellectually enriching activities for schoolchildren and teens; help for teens in developing the skills and knowledge they need to enter college or the workforce; and services, programs and resources to support literacy and other life skills and enrichment for people of all ages. Learning languages, participating in civic discussions, and attending interesting and challenging programs offered by libraries—everything from traditional readings and lectures to origami workshops and yoga sessions—all help keep people creatively, intellectually, and physically active and independent.

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Libraries are family-friendly destinations.
Libraries have always served children and families, but in the past children and teens were usually relegated to segregated sections of the library, sometime even being provided with separate entrances that would help keep them “neither seen nor heard.” In today‟s libraries, children and teens are seen, heard, and welcomed, as are their parents and grandparents, along with all the other members of the community. The library is also one of the few places in modern society where multigenerational activities are promoted and encouraged, and collaboration across generations happens in the library in a way that it doesn‟t happen in other places. The library is a place that welcomes everyone in the community, and where “the community can be introduced to itself.”4

Libraries are welcoming places.
Comfortable seating, open spaces designed for conversation and collaborative learning, and amenities such as coffee carts all make the library a more inviting place, a place that encourages people to meet, explore and work together.

Libraries provide access to digital technology—tools, training, and information. “The future is already here. It‟s just not evenly distributed yet.” William Gibson
For many people, the public library is the only place where they have free access to the Internet. As such it is a vital connection to information and resources that people use to educate themselves, find jobs, and enrich and improve their lives in a wide variety of

George Needham and Joan Frye Williams.

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ways. The public library provides not only access to these tools and resources, but also valuable education and training in how to use them. On the other side of the digital divide, many people no longer need assistance in accessing information. For library users who are able to find what they need on their own and prefer to do so, libraries provide access to library materials remotely, allowing them to get the information they need whether or not library buildings are open.

Libraries stimulate and promote creativity.
While libraries continue to provide quiet spaces for those who need them for reading or studying alone, spaces in which people can work together collaboratively, sharing and creating are increasingly included in library facilities design. “Libraries used to be like a supermarket, where you would go to get the ingredients you need to take home to your kitchen and make something,” says Joan Frye Williams, library futurist. “Today the library is becoming more like a kitchen, where „meals‟ can be prepared and shared in a community setting.”5

Libraries contribute to a healthy economy.
At all times, but especially in times of economic difficulty, libraries are a critical public resource for workforce development where individuals who are looking for jobs, changing careers, and developing and building their professional skills and abilities in a variety of ways can find the tools, services and resources they need. Libraries are good for the community at large as well: they support traditional businesses, and they are also a vital resource for “the new creatives,” the class of entrepreneurs who are helping to develop and redevelop urban centers—artists, software developers, musicians, and other creative workers.


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In addition, libraries support the kind of traffic and offer the hightech infrastructure that stimulates economic development in urban settings. The opening of Chicago‟s Harold Washington Library Center in the South Loop launched the redevelopment of that formerly blighted neighborhood. In Salt Lake City, new commercial and residential building has surrounded the new main library. III. A “GREAT, GOOD PLACE” FOR THE 21ST CENTURY “If Washington is truly the capital of the free world in its fullest sense

it needs a capital library that is at least equal—and ideally superior— to any public library on earth.” A Capital Library for a Capital City: A Blueprint for Change (2006)
What does a world-class library system look like in the 21st century?

Behavioral data tells us that library buildings need to be built where people are (not just “where they sleep”). Libraries need to invite and encourage exploration; they need to offer quiet places to read and reflect, as well as spaces for shared learning and collaboration; and they need to provide the public with access to mainstream technology. Finally, they need to be large enough to provide space, services and collections to draw the public, and to be staffed efficiently; flexible enough to accommodate future uses; and housed in sustainable buildings that respect the earth and maximize the efficient use of resources.

Library buildings need to be “where people are” (not just where they sleep)…
Data shows that visits to the library do not always originate from home, and they often occur in combination with other activities. People travel to the library from their workplaces and schools; they visit libraries in the middle of shopping, or while running errands in the midst of busy lives.
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In general, a good retail location is a good library location. Including libraries in retail corridors enhances the attractiveness and success of both the library and the retail business.

Library buildings are being designed to invite exploration…
Transparent exterior walls that allow people passing by to see what‟s going on inside the library invite the community to come inside and explore. Such design also allows for the use of natural light, and creates a more visually interesting environment for people inside the library.

Libraries need to keep pace with evolving mainstream technology…
Libraries need to be proactive in finding ways to use current and evolving technologies to improve library services. Technology is no longer seen as a special feature, but as an integral element in the basic work of the library. Library facilities need to be designed in such a way that this integration can continually evolve with a minimal need for expensive retrofitting. Libraries tend to follow technological trends rather than create them. (Bar codes on books came after bar codes on cans of vegetables.) And while people don‟t expect their libraries to lead the way in uses of technology, they do expect them to keep up with mainstream technology. The time between people saying “I can‟t believe the library has X,” to the time when they say “I can‟t believe the library doesn‟t have Y,” is getting shorter and shorter.

Libraries are offering spaces for shared learning and collaborative creation…
Library “zones” are increasingly being designed to accommodate types of activities, rather than specific age groups. This makes sense: a 16-year-old job seeker has more in common with a 60-year-old job
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seeker than with his 16-year-old peers who may be looking at music videos or working on school projects with other students. A storytelling area might offer a place to read picture books to toddlers; or for elderly people to share their life stories.

Library buildings continue to offer quiet places for people to read and reflect…
While the days of “Shhh! You‟re in the library!” are a thing of the past, libraries still need to provide quiet places where people who want to read, study or just reflect quietly can do so.

Library buildings need to be flexible
While no one knows what changes future technologies will bring; there will be changes that cannot be predicted that must be accommodated in the future. Today‟s libraries are being built to be easily reconfigurable, with few walls and raised floors. Modular, movable furniture and equipment, even shelves on wheels, also provide the flexibility needed.

Library buildings need to be large enough to be staffed efficiently.
Part of the commitment to good stewardship of public funds is that the library must optimize the return on investment of every dollar. As at all libraries, staffing is DC Public Library‟s greatest expense: 70 percent of the operating budget. Library size has a direct bearing on staffing efficiencies: for example, DC Public Library‟s larger libraries, such as Anacostia, Benning and Watha T. Daniel/Shaw libraries, support nearly three times the service per staff member than the smaller locations such as Parklands-Turner, Deanwood and Northwest One libraries.

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While the larger libraries provide three to five times the books, computers, and seats; they require only two or three more staff. A small library may need five staff, while the larger libraries, around 20,000 square feet, require seven or eight.6

Libraries need to provide a “green” model for the community…
With their emphasis on reuse/return/recycle, libraries have always been inherently “green”: their book and other library materials can be used by the whole community, an ecologically sound practice if ever there were one. District of Columbia building code requires that all buildings must be designated at least LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver by the U.S. Green Building Council. But a desirable direction for libraries is to move from carbon neutral to carbon positive; and green operations as well as green buildings should be the goal and direction of future facilities planning.


See Appendix H at www.dclibrary.org.

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“One City. One Library.”
DC Public Library has come a long way in its more-than-onehundred-year history. And it has come a long way in the past five years. But much remains to be done. The purpose of the Library is to enrich and nourish the life of the mind for all D.C. residents; to provide them with the services and tools needed to transform lives; and to build and support community throughout the District of Columbia. In order to provide all residents of the District with the 21st century library services they need and deserve, and based on the findings of the process summarized in this Report, the DC Public Library Board of Trustees therefore recommends that the Mayor and the City Council:

1. Provide operating funds to protect the District’s investment in its new and existing buildings, and to maintain no less than the current level of service for the neighborhood libraries (six days a week) and for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (seven days a week).
The most wonderful library in the world is of no use if it‟s not open convenient hours and if there is no staff to provide needed services. Operating costs include staff, books and other library materials, technology, maintenance of technology, and building maintenance to protect the District‟s investment in the library buildings. Operating funds for any new neighborhood libraries are essential. In the long view, operations are going to be a bigger expense than the initial construction costs. This is nothing new: when Andrew Carnegie gave money for the construction of public libraries, he

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required that the municipality invest 10 percent of construction costs in operations each year.

2. Fund continuing capital work to keep the promise that all neighborhood libraries will be ready for the future.
The FY 2011 Capital Budget includes no funding for continuing the vital work of replacing or modernizing the remaining neighborhood libraries. The libraries not funded are Capitol View, Chevy Chase, Cleveland Park, Lamond-Riggs, Northeast, Palisades, Southwest, Shepherd Park, West End and Woodridge.7

3. Choose locations for new or relocated neighborhood libraries that are easily visible and convenient to public transportation (Metro, bus, streetcar), commercial activity, and schools.
Research has shown that building libraries “where people are” not just “where they sleep” is the best way to ensure that people will use this valuable public asset. The D.C. Office of Planning has provided excellent information about how and where D.C. residents work, go to school, and travel which should be very helpful in planning for future library facilities (see appendices A and B at www.dclibrary.org).

4. Use the same criteria for evaluating all potential DC Public Library locations, whether co-located with public or private partners or in free-standing facilities. These criteria include cost analyses that factor in both initial construction and ongoing operating costs.
Often the criteria for partnering institutions are not the same as for libraries. For example, schools need to be placed away

West End library is scheduled to be replaced through the District’s development agreement with Eastbanc.

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from commercial thoroughfares. But data provided by the D.C. Office of Planning and our team of library consultants has shown that in order to attract maximum use, libraries need to be on commercial thoroughfares. To use public funds effectively, libraries need to serve the widest possible crosssection of the community. This should be taken into consideration when considering co-location with partners.

5. Build neighborhood libraries that are at least 20,000 sq. ft., are flexible enough to accommodate changing uses and new technologies, and that meet the District requirement of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver or higher standard.
Smaller libraries get less use than larger libraries, which offer more books, technology, meeting spaces, and other library services. In fact, both national and local data has shown that people will walk or drive right past smaller libraries on their way to get to larger ones. In addition, most operating costs are NOT less for smaller libraries: larger libraries are more efficient to staff by a factor of three.8

6. Allocate funds for continuing maintenance and improvement of the historic, landmark-designated Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.
It‟s important to be good stewards of this architecturally significant, nearly 40-year-old District building: this includes maintenance as well as improving its functionality as a library. Essential maintenance of the infrastructure has required significant expenditure.9 The exploration of alternative locations for the Library and for DC Public Library‟s administration and support services will continue.


Based upon comparison of DC Public Library size and staffing costs. See Appendix H at www.dclibrary.org. 9 See Appendix F at www.dclibrary.org.

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Appendix A: DC Public Library Services and Facilities: A Framework for Continuing Success (PowerPoint presentation by the D.C. Office of Planning, December 2010) Appendix B: Maps from the Office of Planning:  Map 1: District of Columbia: Libraries, Transportation, Schools, Development Activity, Public Facilities  Map 2: District of Columbia: Libraries Appendix C: DC Public Library: A Framework for Continuing Success (Q&A from DC Public Library website) Appendix D: Neighborhood Library Openings 2011-2012 Appendix E: District of Columbia Public Library Capital Construction Report: February 17, 2011 Appendix F: Comprehensive List of Projects at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Appendix G: DC Public Library: FY 2011-16 Capital Budget RequestFinal, 4/1/10 Appendix H: Staff per Square Foot Comparisons: Large, Mid-Size, Small DC Public Library Neighborhood Libraries Appendix I: Library Facilities: Current and Future Trends Appendix J: Public Comment to Draft Report (available April 2011) Appendix K: Study Finds Many People Use DC Public Library Computers to Find Jobs; from the “U.S. Impact Study: Web Survey Results” (University of Washington Information School) See all appendices at www.dclibrary.org

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