Three new libraries in East Washington – Anacostia, Benning, & Deanwood
One of the most prominent developers in East Washington through the first half of this year has proven to be an unexpected and sometimes forgotten member of the community, the library.
On June 25, both recent and long-time Ward 7 residents and community leaders joined Mayor Fenty and Chief Librarian of the DC Public Library, Ginnie Cooper, at the grand opening of a 63,000 square foot multi-purpose facility in Deanwood that includes a 7,500 square foot library at 1350 49th Street NE directly off Minnesota Avenue NE.
With 20 computers, space set aside for children’s activities, a teen study area, and capacity for 25,000 books, the new Deanwood Library stands as a welcome upgrade for the neighborhood to those who remember the Deanwood Library Kiosk at 4215 Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue NE.
All one hundred and twenty square feet of the kiosk were closed in the summer of 2008. Neighborhood jokes had circulated for years surrounding the library such as “Even (insert name) has read all the books in there.” Those jokes are now relegated to memory.
Sylvia Brown, ANC 7C04 and past president of the Deanwood Citizens Association, has already observed a noticeable increase in foot traffic in the neighborhood, which she says is a great plus for the community with the prospect of future investment and development.
“It’s great to see people walking from as far as Division Avenue and Foote Street,” says Brown, who hopes the Deanwood Recreation Center and Library, the realization of the community’s long history of civic activism and engagement, can be a source of hope for communities in other areas of the city.
Along with the new Deanwood Library, in the past 3 months the city has opened new modern libraries for the Anacostia and Benning branches. The Benning Neighborhood Library, two-stories and 22,000 square feet, at 3935 Benning Road NE was the first new stand-alone library to open in the city in more than two decades. The library has an expanded children’s area, study rooms, and a wide range of materials for check-out from DVDs to new releases.
Additionally, last fall, a new Parklands-Turner Library opened at 1547 Alabama Avenue SE, replacing the old kiosk still standing across the street in the Shops at Parkland strip mall in the same lot as the Giant. The new library has been a solid anchor for the surrounding retail according to neighborhood members.
The Washington Highlands Library that stood at 115 Atlantic Street SW has been knocked down. A new library is scheduled to open in 2011 and will continue to hold the attention of an active community that has been very engaged in the planning process. The interim library has been opened at 4037 South Capitol Street SW in the intermediary.
On a recent afternoon a group of a dozen early and pre-teens from the immediate neighborhood were “chillaxing” in the Anacostia Library or “chillville” as they call it. The library keeps them “out of trouble and doing something positive” according to Kabula Samuel, 12, a daily visitor.
“It used to be a miracle when you’d get a computer, now it’s no longer than a 30 minute wait,” said her twin brother, Mabula.
Every member of the group held a library card. The DC Library Police Officer assigned to the Anacostia Library noted he has a good relationship with the group of young people he sees every day.
At the time of the interview, the group of young people made it a point to show me the 8 MAC computers in the children’s section. I observed seven out of the eight were “out of service.” Popular consensus was that the computers had been down for a month, if not two months, or longer. However, this did not diminish their enthusiasm for their new neighborhood library, “We’ll be here tomorrow if you have any more questions.”
Fulfilling the prophetic adage that “if you build it, they will come”, preliminary circulation numbers for the Benning and Anacostia Library, released by DCPL, indicate there is direct causality between increased circulation numbers and new libraries.
The new Benning Neighborhood Library opened on April 5, 2010. From that date through May 31, 2010, this library issued 1,647 new library cards. In May 2010, the new Benning Library had 7,224 items checked out. The Benning Interim Library had 1,928 items checked out in May 2009. The old Benning Library had 899 books checked out in April 2004.
The new Anacostia Neighborhood Library opened on April 26, 2010 and from that date through May 31 had issued 669 new library cards. In May 2010, the Anacostia Library had 5,318 items checked out while in May 2009 the Anacostia Interim Library had 2,373 items checked out. In comparison, the old Anacostia Library had 1,000 books checked out in April 2004.
One reason for increased circulation is a wider variety of materials available to the public, say DC Library officials. The old libraries offered books and CDs while the interim and new libraries offer books, DVDs, CDs, playaways [audiobooks on self-contained mp3 players] and other items that have been popular and thus circulated.
In full library disclosure, we must acknowledge the Capitol View Neighborhood Library at 5001 Central Avenue SE and the Francis Gregory Interim Library at 2100 36th Place SE. The interim library will remain open during the construction of the new Francis Gregory Library, which is scheduled to open in summer 2011, according to the library’s website.
While older and somewhat antiquated libraries in upper Northwest such as Cleveland Park and Chevy Chase have been long-time pillars of community life, the new state-of-the-art libraries in East Washington have opened with an enthusiasm of renewed civic prides that has been a long time coming.