Wells to the street to protest closing of MLK Library (but Mayor Gray finally found his Mayoral-ness)
Not everyone is taking the Sunday closing of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library sitting down. This Sunday, the first that MLK will be closed, Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-6) will speak at a rally outside the downtown library at 901 G Street NW at 1 PM.
While local media has cited the empathy deficit and inconsistency by the Mayor and City Council to the plight of the libraries, Wells, is nonetheless optimistic. “I find that most of my colleagues are sympathetic to the need, and I’ll continue to push to find the funds needed.”
In a vacuum of organized opposition to the library’s closing the rally is being convened by the DC Library Renaissance Project. “Budget hearing testimony from every ward was not enough to make clear to this particular government that residents want their libraries open more hours, not fewer—especially in difficult economic times,” says Robin Deiner, Executive Director of the Renaissance Project. “Sunday’s rally has become necessary to achieve that understanding with our officials.”
Though supporting funding for libraries might seem as wholesome as apple pie, some library advocates point to reasons why it’s not a top priority for city leaders. At a campaign forum last fall, former Washington City Paper and Washington Post reporter Elissa Silverman asked candidates if they supported restoring money for Sunday hours at MLK as well as to show the audience their DC library cards. Not one candidate—including now At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange—had a borrower’s card in their wallet
Library hours back and forth
Under Mayor Fenty, in the fall of 2009 Sunday hours at all 24 branch libraries were eliminated while MLK Library would stay open on Sunday, because of its accessibility to metro.
According to internal figures from the library, costs of keeping MLK open on Sundays and branch libraries during the school year are manageable. The cost of keeping MLK open Sunday, from 1pm to 5pm, all year is $316,000. To keep 11 of the 24 branch libraries open on Sunday, May to September, would cost $365,853. Included in the 11 libraries are one in each ward plus one additional library in wards 7 and 3.
All neighborhood libraries were open Sunday, September through May from October 2007 to October 2009. The city’s fiscal year begins October 1st. To keep all neighborhood libraries open Sundays, from September to May would cost $713,215 and to keep 11 neighborhood libraries open Sundays all year would cost an estimated $487,804.
Furthermore, the capital budget has provided for not only brand new or renovated libraries across the city to open – that are then not open on Sundays – but for a RFP to“complete the Interior Improvements to the Business Science and Technology Reading Room and the Great Hall” to hit the street. The renovation of MLK is historic and laudable, but at the apparent cost of public access is legitimately questionable and ineffectual.
Sunday’s Last Hour
Last Sunday’s fateful final hour passed slowly. Many of the people I spoke with had only just learned the library would be closed on Sundays.
“It’s terrible we have to go through this,” Iman Shabazz said as she used a public computer on the first floor. “What are we supposed to do? Go over the bridge into Virginia?
In the Washingtoniana division two UDC nursing students, Gallen Rodes and Demetria Byrd, were reviewing for an upcoming test. “We came here originally for the free internet access.” UDC, the city’s public university, does not maintain Sunday library hours. “It’s hard schedule-wise. Working, kids, full-time student,” said Byrd. “They don’t care.”
The second floor’s teen space was active with students studying, chatting, and digging through their friends newly uploaded photos on Facebook. Coolly leaning against a wall just outside the door was 17 year-old “D.” Although he frequents MLK with his friends, he hadn’t heard the library would be closing on Sundays. “I’m like jah mad,” D said to his friend nearby. “The Mayor, son, he’s gonna have to see me.”
“In five minutes the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library will be closing. Please have all books and materials checked out,” announced a DC Library Police officer over the building’s loud speaker.
“This is a really great and progressive place to go just for pleasure sake,” said David McCullough, a high school student aware he shares a name with a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Along with his girlfriend, McCullough self-checked out seven graphic and manga novels a couple minutes after 5pm. With Love Sick by Jake Coburn the last book checked out, the commodious lobby of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library was abandoned.
According the press release announcing that Sunday hours at MLK have now been restored, it appears Gray will make a ceremonial appearance at the opening of the library. I wonder if Gray has a library card?
Who do we give credit too for hours being restored? Does it matter? Maybe Gray or his people realized, they really shouldn’t close the one library open in the entire city. Gray might not be as tone deaf as we thought, but he still needs to deal with the Bellevue situation and other matters of running a big city. We give credit where it’s due, but credit for something that you should already be doing is not deserved.