Every so often there is commotion about building a new MLK library in downtown DC. The current library is a mess, not so much for its design, which is actually pretty open and nice, but due to the complete lack of maintenance or simple TLC given to it since, oh 1975. Inside, the carpets are worn, the books missing or torn, and the staff sad and wanting.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are a slew of developers who are dying to trade a brand new library for the prime block that the current library occupies. They’ll build a new library as part of an overall block re-design that will add office space around the library. I think this is a great way for DC to upgrade its library at little or no cost to the city.

Still, I actually question the need for a library to begin with. Now before I have a mob torching me in effigy, I have a very simple question to ask

19 Comments so far

  1. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 8:58 am

    Because we can’t always afford to have Amazon send us every book we’re interested in…

  2. Tiff (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 9:23 am

    I was last in a library a couple months ago, to check out the Arlington branch in Shirlington. It sucked.

    However, I was out of work in the summer of 2001 and since all my friends had moved away and I had nothing to do, I spent a lot of time reading books from the very excellent main location of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

  3. Carlos (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 9:58 am

    2 weeks ago I returned 4 books. I intend to go next week to check out a few more. There’s always people reading books inside (what a concept). I would go to the library and ask for some usage stats before assuming no one reads library books anymore (assuming there is someone to give them to you that is). Cheers!

  4. JennB (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 10:32 am

    I go to the library all the time. Free books, dude.

  5. Emily (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 11:54 am

    I went to the Takoma Park library all the time, when I was living near it. They have a really good section for graphic novels/comics. Also, I find libraries to be the best place to go to get classical music CDs.

  6. Derek (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 12:12 pm

    It’s not so much about “do YOU need a library” but what about the researcher who needs a book ASAP or a poor student who is trying to educate himself and work his way up?

    What happens if all of the world’s literature is owned exclusively by private parties? What if the only city with a comprehensive collection of books gets nuked?

    Think of it as geographical fault meets public service.

  7. Derek (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 12:12 pm

    I meant to say “Think of it as geographical fault tolerance meets public service.”

  8. darpino (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 12:38 pm

    Lame Wayan, lame. MLK may be in dire need of a face-lift, but you can not be serious with this shit. Free knowledge and information for all is the bedrock of continuing and evolving free society. Just because one section of society can afford to opt out by buying books online and another is too damn lazy to take advantage doesn’t mean that we should fold up shop and privatize knowledge completely.

    Besides that, I wonder how many people reading this article are only able to read it thanks to the use of a public computer at their local library?

    And to answer your question – the most recent check-out date on the stack of library books here is July 18th, 05.

  9. wayan (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 12:42 pm

    So while we’re all still reeling from the fire in Alexandria, and there might be a need for a library for folks to browse, do we really need a whole library system? Wouldn’t the community be better served if we had one well-funded library downtown and local communtities used local school libraries? That would save much and yet y’all still could get your books & CD’s nearby.

  10. darpino (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 12:57 pm

    For a reasonably-sized city with good public transport, like DC, I’ve always thought that’d be a good solution.

    For sprawl-cities and large counties – not so much.

  11. Robis (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 1:03 pm

    Well, except that one cnetralized library would not serve the people who would benefit from it the most. For example, alot of shool-age people use the library as a resource for reports and homework. Should they really have to take a trip downtown while their parents are working to access that resource? What about adults who work hours that prevent them from making it to a downtown location during business hours (while stopping in to a branch on their way home would be doable)?

    And libraries are not just repositories of books but actual community centers. sometimes they are classrooms. Sometimes they are family outing centers. Getting rid of branches eliminates all of the secondary community functions of a library that very often make a couple streets a neighbrohood.

  12. wayan (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 1:20 pm

    You ask:

    shool-age people use the library as a resource for reports and homework. Should they really have to take a trip downtown while their parents are working to access that resource?

    I say, of course not, they should use the school libraries in their own communities. Schools that we’ve already built & furnished with libraries, schools that are already community centers & classrooms, schools that now sit vacant for three months out of the year.

    I question the need for library branches and schools, when schools already do and should/could provide the same services, especially when the library branches detract attention & resources from a central library.

  13. Tiff (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 1:42 pm

    When’s the last time you were in a school library? They’re getting smaller and smaller because they take up space that could be used for much-needed classrooms. Their selection of books is poor because of limited budgets for such things. Let’s just burden school budgets more by asking them to be the local public library too, okay?

    And Robis- I’m with you. When I was a wee lass, my parents were broke- married young, didn’t finish college, dad was in seminary, etc. So one of my mother’s favorite ways to feed our young minds on the cheap was to pile my brother and me onto the 46G bus and take us to the library. Every week we each got to take out 3 books. Twenty years later, I still have the canvas Kool-Aid Man backpack (bought with Kool-Aid points!) I used that was the perfect size for 6 books from the children’s section because I can’t bear the thought of giving it up.

  14. Sawt (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 2:48 pm

    Not everyone is a rich yuppie who can buy books all the time from Personally I think all the clowns who run out to Barnes and Noble to buy a book they’ll look at once in their life, oh and grab a $4 latte on the way out, are morons. Oh well, less traffic in teh library make it a better experience for me.

  15. wayan (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 3:55 pm

    Sawt, I couldn’t agree more. I haven’t bought a new book since I don’t know when. I buy used ones on Amazon, better yet trade friends & family for good ones, and only visit Borders for thier clean bathrooms (thanks again Mr. Kroc).

    Oh and $4 latte, please! I’ll only spend $4 on a good beer + lime + ice or decent Friday night fun.

  16. Don (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 5:35 pm

    Well personally I was glad the library near me has the annotated Virginia code since the $100 seemed somewhat steep so I could copy 5 pages. Are you taking kickbacks from publishers of research texts or something?

  17. wayan (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 6:33 pm

    I wish I was taking kickbacks – it would do wonders to my chips + beer budget.

    Have you heard of Google Print, where you can search the full text of books, or Google Scholar where you can search specifically for scholarly literature? Both are causing a rukus because they are taking what was once only accessable in a library or via a book purchase, and making it available online for free.

  18. Peter (unregistered) on July 30th, 2005 @ 4:50 pm

    “Card catalog”?? Wayan, that is soo 1990’s. It *has* been a while since you’ve been in a library, eh?

  19. shinypenny (unregistered) on July 31st, 2005 @ 9:09 am

    I go to libraries all the time. The Arlington Library System is better than the Alexandria System, but they’re both a great resource. Also, it would be a crying shame if the City allowed the current library to be torn down. It’s one of the few buildings in the United States designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. True, it’s in crappy condition, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed up with a little TLC. I find it pretty sad that the City can find all this money for a brand new stadium for the Nationals, but can’t put aside a few million for the library system. Or if they didn’t want to ask the public to fund it, there are plenty of wealthy people in the DC Metro area who could be approached for funds. They need to ask someone who’s on the Washington Opera board to head up fundraising and make it a “cool” cause, a la donating to the New York Public Library sytem.

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