Sunday, December 30, 2007

Could This Be Our New Flagship Library?

Here's one vote for moving the District's main library to the Carnegie building in Mt. Vernon Square. The city's main library has resided in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library building at 9th and G Streets NW since 1970. The Carnegie Library, so named because its construction was made possible by the philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, opened in 1903 in this part of town formerly known as the Northern Liberties. The MLK building is architecturally significant for sure, but what's to say that it has to remain a library?

The MLK building has served dutifully as the central library, but with DC being named one of the most literate cities in the U.S., the residents need a more inviting, prominent space for their flagship library. The Carnegie building would provide this. With failed, non-starter-type attempts to use the building as something other than a library (part of UDC campus, City Museum, National Music Center) the site seems destined to return to its original purpose. What better way to reinvigorate the DC Public Library system? They've struggled over the last few years, closing libraries for renovation and not completing the job (the Shaw Library was closed December 2004, subsequently demolished and remains an empty lot to date). To their credit, DCPL has re-appropriated the construction contracts and opened temporary library facilities.

The development of the Old Convention Center site was finalized this month and a newly constructed main library was not in the mix. According to the Washington Business Journal, the city-owned portion of the site will most likely be sold to a developer and become retail or housing. With an ailing MLK building and an available, historic property in our hands, the city has a chance to elevate a public good to the same level its elevated the private good in terms of downtown development. We should strive not only for the best and brightest new condos and retail options, but for the best and brightest public facilities and opportunities. Let's get on the phones and email to our councilpersons and push for the face lift and repair of the Carnegie building as the new DC Central Library, the gem of public libraries in the U.S.