Greater Greater Washington

Preservation


Nader-backed group opposes creative reuse of MLK Library

Even before proposals have been made, the District Dynamos, an off-shoot of Ralph Nader's Library Renaissance Project, says they'll oppose any attempt to modernize, renovate or substantially change the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in downtown DC with a private partner.


Rendering of library with new floors on top. Image from DC Public Library.

Discussions about the the library's future began in 2006. The building, which is the only work by architect Mies van der Rohe in DC, is overdue for an upgrade. It's too big for the library's current needs and ill-equipped to handle new programming or emerging technologies, like print-on-demand books.

In 2011, the library commissioned a study by the Urban Land Institute to figure out how to modernize the building and how to pay for it. ULI offered 3 options: move the library and give up the building, share the building with private interests, or simply renovate it, which would cost more than $200 million. If the library were able to lease part of the building or create a public-private partnership, it could recoup the cost and remain in the building.

However, the District Dynamos say they're concerned about private companies taking over a public building and losing parking, even if it preserves a historic building and gives the District needed funds. They insist the library remain in its current space and are only open to a space-sharing agreement if the partner is a public entity, like the National DC Archives. This is the same argument they used when they opposed replacing the West End Library with a new library, housing and a fire station.

The Dynamos recently posted alerts on their website opposing changes which involve private companies or making the MLK Public Library smaller. However, it is important to note that none of the proposals involve closing or reducing the library's functions. Rather, they position the library for the future. By monetizing space it no longer needs, it can invest in the technology required to remain relevant.

Public libraries are changing. They need less physical space, but require ongoing investment in new technologies. The ULI study recognizes this reality and proposes a trade-off between the two to build a stronger library. The District Dynamos' blanket distrust of private interests may earn the sympathies of some in DC, but it may be counterproductive in the long run.

The Dynamos cite parking as a major concern, even though the location is a transit hub between Metro Center and Gallery Place. Every Metro line, several Metrobus routes and Capital Bikeshare all serve the surrounding neighborhood. Parking garages and on-street parking are located nearby. Furthermore, the library hasn't had dedicated parking since 2010. Does it makes sense to deny District residents a new library because there's no parking on-site, even when there are so many alternatives available?

If done correctly, public-private partnerships can give the District more flexibility and fund more and better projects. This is a chance for DC's central library to become a real gathering place with meeting space, 21st century technology, the capacity to serve all District residents, and make better use of some very valuable space.

Abigail Zenner is an Associate in Government Affairs at the American Planning Association. She is a member of the Ward 3 Vision Steering Committee and often described as a professional parking nerd. When she's not nerding out about smart growth, you may find her teaching a fitness class. Her blog posts represent her personal views only. 

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Dynamos seems like a completely inappropriate name for this group. Recalcitros might be better.

by NikolasM on Jul 3, 2013 9:54 am • linkreport

A: Parking: whatever

B: Are they concerned that private property management will somehow influence the running and management of the library itself? It's unclear from their website what their actual concerns are or what they expect to happen outside of "privatization" which I get, but I don't know what I should be concerned about. I am concerned about interference with the library programs and functions, I'm not so concerned with who is actually the landlord of the building.

by drumz on Jul 3, 2013 10:09 am • linkreport

Given that the District (and region) keeps growing at a prodigious rate, isn't selling off / leasing space in the library strikes me as rather shortsighted. Why downsize MLK when the District ranks among the fastest growing cities in the country?

by JS on Jul 3, 2013 10:19 am • linkreport

Well argued, and I'll stand in line to mock Nader's strategy, tactics, and priorities in his anti-corporate crusade, which I would sympathize with if he wasn't so counter-productive.

But...

DC (and probably every state) needs some process for real scrutiny of public subsidies for real estate development and partnerships. Like, and independent GAO. The simple fact is there is reason to distrust this process.

I would love to see the library made into a vibrant space. But I don't think we have any real reason to trust that public-private partnerships are being "done right" at present. Do we?

by DavidDuck on Jul 3, 2013 10:20 am • linkreport

So a facility that doesn't meet current and future needs is better than something that will? How is that dynamic?

by Colleen on Jul 3, 2013 10:21 am • linkreport

The "District Dynamos" sound like DC's team in some new sports league - professonal kickball perhaps, or World Team Badminton.

by Mike on Jul 3, 2013 10:27 am • linkreport

Yes, if a company puts up the money, there's a good chance they will have a strong influence on the institution, unless the money is a community benefit for an independent project.

When did we stop caring about public space in America?

by George on Jul 3, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

Another pathetic example of sclerotic nimbyism in action. Seems to be a lot of these in the District, opposed to everything, but for nothing. Standing up to "The Man" went out in the 1960's, dude. Guess what, you are "The Man" now.

by 17BobTrey0 on Jul 3, 2013 10:34 am • linkreport

Library? That sound like pretty small potatoes. Shouldn't he be working to usher in a decade of far-right hegemony or something?

by oboe on Jul 3, 2013 10:42 am • linkreport

George,

How? Genuinely curious.

by drumz on Jul 3, 2013 10:45 am • linkreport

Thanks for the update. Interesting initiative. MLK library is in desperate need of change. It doesnt seem to work for anyone - from outside to in.

by CCort on Jul 3, 2013 10:49 am • linkreport

Makes a Mies van der Rohe look like an Eric Colbert.

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 3, 2013 10:52 am • linkreport

Isn't the building historic? I still think the Smithsonian should step in and renovate the building for a modern sculpture museum. Open it up and make it what all "transparent" modernism wants to be. I'm not sure how many times everyone has to point out what a miserable failure it is as a Library for DC to move forward on this.

by Thayer-D on Jul 3, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

Who says that President Nader doesn't care about libraries? His 2000 quest gave us a former librarian as first lady, Laura Bush.

I think the current plan for MLK library is interesting, the design seems sensitive to the original building and it should probably move forward. That said, DC needs to ensure that we have an enhanced, improved central library and not one that is downsized as commercial space is added. One happy change over the past couple of decades is that MLK is no longer just a main library, it serves as the neighborhood library for downtown, NoMa and Mt. Vernon Triangle, all neighborhoods that did not exist in 1990, I also agree with a prior writer, that there needs to be a thorough, transparent review of how DC properties are made available for PPPs, etc. The recent WAMU series made that clear.

by Bob on Jul 3, 2013 11:17 am • linkreport

Thayer-D also has a good suggestion. In fact, another Mies building, the National Gallery in Berlin, serves quite well as a home for modern art. The MLK is also located across the street from the National Portrait and American Art museums, and could form a downtown campus for the Smithsonian -- and which could draw even more tourists off the Mall into downtown restaurants and shops. However, if this plan were pursued, DC should get a Federally-owned parcel in a swap where a modern, central library worthy of the nation's capital could be built.

by Bob on Jul 3, 2013 11:23 am • linkreport

When did we stop caring about public space in America?

After the "Reagan Revolution".

by Downtown Alley on Jul 3, 2013 11:23 am • linkreport

Yeah, the Smithsonian ALREADY has modern art in the American Art Museum and the Hirshhorn. Throw in the NGA and the Sculpture Garden (yeah, yeah, not part of SI) and it's not as if we lack modern art options. I doubt anyone at the Smithsonian is sitting around saying, "we have all this cash on hand, let's find a building that will require hundreds of millions to restore to make it barely adequate as gallery space. Or, and if there was a NIMBY group already in place that will actively block anything more aggressive than fixing the toilet, that would be a plus."

by Tim Krepp on Jul 3, 2013 11:38 am • linkreport

As with yesterday's discussion of the FBI headquarters, is there any reason this library needs to be located downtown where it is a bunker-like building (no ground-floor retail) and some of the most expensive land?

If it were to move elsewhere in the District (Buzzard's Point, RFK stadium?) couldn't it serve as a catalyst to development there as well as allow the District to earn significant revenue from the sale of this property right in the middle of downtown?

by 202_cyclist on Jul 3, 2013 11:40 am • linkreport

Tim, why do you think the preservationists would turn a blind eye to the defacing of Mies' beautiful toilet designs? It's a slippery slope my friend...

by DavidDuck on Jul 3, 2013 11:43 am • linkreport

Well, as a RFK neighbor, I'd LOVE to welcome the central library to my hood. But I think the flagship library should be central, taking advantage of the plethora of transit options, sidewalk traffic, etc. We should be seeking to leverage the space we already have, not abandon it.

by Tim Krepp on Jul 3, 2013 11:43 am • linkreport

@DavidDuck touche. The historic toilets should stay. Especially the clogged ones that overflow all the time.

by Tim Krepp on Jul 3, 2013 11:44 am • linkreport

I understand having the library downtown makes it central to a lot of people but locating it to property the District owns at Walter Reed would help encourage more development along the Georgia Ave corridor, generate trips for the Georgia Avenue streetcar and revenue from selling the land downtown can be used to finance that streetcar.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 3, 2013 11:45 am • linkreport

202

do you mean selling it to tear down? Isnt it considered a landmark (unlike the FBI building?) Or do you mean to renovate it in such a way as to have retail - could that be done while still keeping a library?

I tend to think of a library as more of a driver of city life and a catalyst to development than a national LE HQ is.

For examples, see branch libraries in Shirlington, in Rockville, and to a lesser extent, in Ballston. Im pretty sure there are good examples in other cities.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 3, 2013 11:50 am • linkreport

I understand having the library downtown makes it central to a lot of people but locating it to property the District owns at Walter Reed would help encourage more development along the Georgia Ave corridor

That location is so completely out of the way and inaccessible as to make the library more of a burden than it already is.

by JustMe on Jul 3, 2013 11:51 am • linkreport

Given that the District (and region) keeps growing at a prodigious rate, isn't selling off / leasing space in the library strikes me as rather shortsighted. Why downsize MLK when the District ranks among the fastest growing cities in the country?</>

Because as stated in the article above, libraries don't need as much space as they previously did to be valuable to the community. Libraries have changed in their role, and while they are still absolutely necessary, they aren't in need of a building the size of MLK. A public-private partnership, when well-managed, is the perfect solution to the issue. I find the idea that of the Smithsonian as a realistic partner laughable. They couldn't even fundraise enough money for the "bubble" at the Hirshorn, and the chances of anything happening in the next 20 years are pretty much zero.

by Circle Thomas on Jul 3, 2013 11:58 am • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity:
DC's Historic Preservation Review Board granted it historic status but I don't think it has federal historic status: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr._Memorial_Library#Landmark_status .

@Just Me: Walter Reed might be inaccessible now but it won't be with the Georgia Ave streetcar and improved accessiblity by the Purple line station at Silver Spring. The area around RFK certainly isn't inaccessible.

Additionally, is there any requirement that this needs to be near the center of DC? The University of the District of Columbia should hypothethically serve all DC residents yet it is on the periphery of DC in Van Ness.

I am not saying that the MLK library should/shouldn't move from its current downtown location on valuable land but if there is going to be a big debate about what should be done with the building, this should be one option that is considered.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 3, 2013 12:04 pm • linkreport

Honestly, this group's position on this should be met with the same response that any other equally ridiculous idea, such as saying we should let murderers go free if they apologize, or that we should cut down all the trees in the city because the branches might break and hurt someone in a storm, would be met with. Laugh at it, tell them to sit back down and shut up, and move on with our day.

It just isn't possible to even engage people that are this unreasonable in a discussion. It's like trying to explain to a schizophrenic that the aliens will, not, in fact, steal their thoughts if they take off the tin foil hat. If they are not willing to even concede the obvious, factual point that the library needs to change, they can't even be engaged.

by ShawGuy on Jul 3, 2013 12:11 pm • linkreport

"Additionally, is there any requirement that this needs to be near the center of DC?"

Yes, there needs to be a library in this area.

by Fred on Jul 3, 2013 12:22 pm • linkreport

"@AWalkerInTheCity:
DC's Historic Preservation Review Board granted it historic status but I don't think it has federal historic status: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr._Memorial_Library#Landmark_status . "

IIUC its actually only local preservation status that matters - national landmark status provides certain tax breaks, but does not actually prevent something being torn down.

"Additionally, is there any requirement that this needs to be near the center of DC? The University of the District of Columbia should hypothethically serve all DC residents yet it is on the periphery of DC in Van Ness."

IIUC that location is problematic.

"I am not saying that the MLK library should/shouldn't move from its current downtown location on valuable land but if there is going to be a big debate about what should be done with the building, this should be one option that is considered."

I believe we had some discussion some time ago of keeping the building versus tearing it down. It got into a bitter dicussion of the historical and architectural value of bauhaus modernism and of the renovation opportunities for this building. But I think both sides assumed, rightly that the central libary needed to be fairly close to the center of the city, if not in this same building. I mean if you tore the building down, why not replace it with a libray IN a new, taller building (see MidTown Manhatten Branch for an example of a fairly large library on a couple of floors of a high rise) rather than a more peripheral location?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 3, 2013 12:33 pm • linkreport

Circle Thomas, I'm afraid my point wasn't as well made as it could have been. I fully grasp that a library's functional role has changed, and though I'm not entirely convinced that the library is too big for their current needs, that's a conversation for a different day.

An arrangement that leases out space in the library is a solution that may address the needs of today's population - again, a discussion for a different day - but I'm of the opinion that DCPL should be forward looking, and work to address the needs of a city that has added 30,000 new residents in 2 years, and of a region that has grown by about 250,000 during that same time. These people, too, will have a need for MLK's services, and DCPL does them a disservice by downsizing based on today's needs.

by JS on Jul 3, 2013 12:38 pm • linkreport

Another excellent location for the main library would be south of Independence Ave. This is still centrally located and well-served by metro and buses. It would also:

1) encourage the redevelopment of the SW Ecodistrict.
2) allow the District govt to earn revenue from the sale of the property near Metro Center, and
3) allow the District govt to earn property taxes from private tenents at the current MLK library location.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 3, 2013 12:56 pm • linkreport

I don't support a retreat of one of few civilizing things left on the weak premise that a private partnership will enhance it.

Once the downtown library is consolidated and stuffed into a much smaller space, it will lose its capability to change with the times.

I utterly and completely oppose this misuse and destruction of one of DC's great public spaces.

DC's officials are setting this up for a "public private partnership" by refusing to bring minimal upgrades to MLK. This is being done by design. I am sure that a public private partnership will lead to campaign donations for its supporters.

by kob on Jul 3, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

Oh jeez…this again.

The land the MLK sits on is worth ~90 million dollars. The building is bleeding money and is a maintenance nightmare that frankly, is more known for the hobo pee smell then it is for books.

1.Move the DC central library to the Carnegie Library 3 blocks north. DC just spent tens of millions a decade ago upgrading it, but take some of the 90 million you get from selling MLK and upgrade it more if you want. The Carnegie Library is a building more suited to be a library and is a far more appropriate size. The building is currently closed most of the week anyway and is literally just sitting there.

2.Tie some façade preservation language into the sales agreement for MLK so the preservationists are appeased. Some private developer then builds new office / residential adding thousands of additional jobs / residents downtown. It also produces tens of millions in new property tax.

3. And lastly, anyone who accuses DC of giving up on our library’s hasn’t been paying attention as DC spent hundreds of millions of dollars the past decade building new and upgrading existing libraries across the city.

by MLK on Jul 3, 2013 1:44 pm • linkreport

Why does MLK need less space? Granted, they no longer need their card catalog, but my concern is that DCPL may be planning to throw out many of their wonderful but older (and often out-of-print) volumes, as they've done at their branch libraries.

I favor a large and exhaustive main library in a downtown location. Libraries are a great equalizer. We should spend the $200 million.

by Sally M on Jul 3, 2013 1:50 pm • linkreport

@MLK:

Exactly right-- good post. It is a bit amusing seeing all the people yesterday who are so eager to kick the FBI headquarters out of the District turn around today and argue that this fortress-style building needs to be right in the middle of DC, on top of some of the most expensive land.

What good arguments are there against putting a new library somewhere in the middle of the Southwest Ecodistrict neighborhood the federal govt is anxious to develop?

by 202_cyclist on Jul 3, 2013 1:52 pm • linkreport

This is so, so bizarre. I thought I had been keeping on top of the MLK Library debate, but I never in a million years thought that there were DC citizens who *honestly*, *earnestly* think that they're helping the library system by fighting against private-sector involvement or freaking PARKING limitations.

by Tom Veil on Jul 3, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

What good arguments are there against putting a new library somewhere in the middle of the Southwest Ecodistrict neighborhood the federal govt is anxious to develop?

Uhh, people already pointed out a bunch of reasons, namely that this location is more central. Were those not "good" reasons?

by MLD on Jul 3, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

I don't really care about the building. (actually I do, but that's a different debate). But I can see the importance of having a library branch downtown. Moreover, I think the city can keep a branch downtown and open new branches around the city. Some of these can be combine with new community centers and such.

The difference between this and the FBI is one of process. We pretty much know what the FBI wants/requires and its DCs choice to try to take it or leave it. There are still many many things to work out with the MLK library and its not quite clear what the choices will ultimately be.

by drumz on Jul 3, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

I have no objection to a move to the SW eco district, which is relatively central, I guess.

However I think its clear that a library is a more appropriate urban use than a security fortress, and I think personally that the MLK building is more attractive and worthy of preservation on arch grounds than the FBI building. Those who strongly dislike bauhaus modernism, or who strongly like brutalism, may disagree.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 3, 2013 2:00 pm • linkreport

@MLD:

Right next to four metro lines, several bus routes, and across the street from the Mall is pretty central as well. What reason is there for the library to be in the immediate geographic center of the city when we can get, as per the esmitate above, $90M for the land, have a new, highly energy-efficient building, and greatly encourage the redevelopment of the Southwest Ecodistrict?

As I wrote above, there are all sorts of Disrict buildings that are suppose to serve all residents that are not located in the center of the District. Not only are they not located in the center of the city, many are located along the periphery of DC.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 3, 2013 2:02 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity:

Clearly the library is not a security fortress, but as it currrently is designed, it is a single-use building without any interaction of the surrounding streets. Sort of like the FBI headquarters.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 3, 2013 2:06 pm • linkreport

There's also an issue of who it's for. The FBI headquarters exists to serve the needs of the FBI, and by extension, the nation. I hope they're good neighbors wherever they end up, but the primary purpose of the building is not to serve DC (or, for that matter, Fairfax or Greenbelt or wherever).

The DC Public Library, on the other hand, exists to serve the people of DC. Catalyzing development and another ancillary goals are fine, but fundamentally the central library building should, in and of itself, be for the people of Washington.

And if we can leverage private partners to make that happen, then great! Even if angers a group backed by a Connecticut based activist who did his best work when the historic building in question smelled of fresh paint and not like a homeless shelter.

by Tim Krepp on Jul 3, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

Except anyone can walk into the library and do what they need to do despite the buildings appearance. Not so with the FBI building even if the FBI were headquartered in a building that looked more like the national gallery.

by drumz on Jul 3, 2013 2:08 pm • linkreport

drumz:
"Moreover, I think the city can keep a branch downtown and open new branches around the city. Some of these can be combine with new community centers and such."

Eventually everything south of Independence Avenue to the Anacostia Riverfront will become more or less an extension of downtown and become more of a vibrant, walkable, neighborhood. Moving the library to the SW Ecodistrict will help encourage this.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 3, 2013 2:08 pm • linkreport

If new floors are built, as part of a PPP, the District can get some of that money without moving the library. Is it worth that much if you dont tear the building down? (Again, many people think this bit of bauhaus is more preservation worthy than the FBI building)

If you are going to move the library, why outside the CBD? why not a few floors of a new office building IN the CBD? Is it only because commercial rents are higher in the CBD? If commercial rents in the CBD are so high, that public facilities that would benefit from a central location must leave, that would suggest that maybe the height limit is causing problems.

UDC vs the library. Its much more difficult to accommodate a Univ campus in dense office district then a library (though I suppose there are examples of doing it) Also, again, IIUC the location of UDC is problematic, and at one point DC wanted to move it.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 3, 2013 2:11 pm • linkreport

"Clearly the library is not a security fortress, but as it currrently is designed, it is a single-use building without any interaction of the surrounding streets. Sort of like the FBI headquarters."

A. while multiuse is preferable to single use, single use in an approachable building is a lot better than a security fortress.

B. I presume the building could be altered to multiuse, without being torn down. Isnt that the plan above?

C. Moving to a new location in a new office building IN the CBD would mean it WOULD be in a multiuse building, just not the same one. Thats possible for the library, but NOT for the FBI

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 3, 2013 2:14 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity:

" Is it worth that much if you dont tear the building down? (Again, many people think this bit of bauhaus is more preservation worthy than the FBI building"

This, of course, is one of the drawbacks. I don't think a private owner(s) would be able to tear the building down (and perhaps they shouldn't be allowed). This, of course, would limit the value of the property.

Regarding the height limit, I completely support relaxing that as well.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 3, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

We could go back and forth on what downtown means (in that case the library over near NY/NJ Avenue or the west end library also counts as downtown. I don't think we need to do that. Plus there is a library branch near the Waterfront metro station meaning you'd suddenly have two branches very close together in SW and a big hole where the MLK library used to be. I don't think that's optimal.

by drumz on Jul 3, 2013 2:20 pm • linkreport

There are also relatively few residents actually downtown (yes, NOMA is growning and there are some in Penn Qtr, and soon in the City Center development). As far as accessiblity, if you're concerned about accessiblity to greatest number of DC residents, it makes sense to continue what the Distirct has been doing-- investing in the modernization of the regional libraries (some of the most beautiful new architecture in DC.

Selling the property that the MLK library sits on and using this $90M could help reinvest in these branch/neighborhood libraries.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 3, 2013 2:38 pm • linkreport

There are few residents, but there are still lots of people downtown. Again, this isn't to say that the Dynamos are justified or that DCPL must keep the building no matter what. But I do think that there should be some sort of library/public space in the general vicinity of where MLK is today. Whether that's a new building/leased space/a shrunk or expanded MLK building I can't quite say but it'd be folly to think that just because the building isn't great there isn't a need for a library in that area.

Plus many Va. and MD. residents can get a DCPL card and check out books as well.

by drumz on Jul 3, 2013 2:46 pm • linkreport

There's nothing wrong with the library's location. But it's poorly designed and in no way one of the "great public spaces" of DC.

by JustMe on Jul 3, 2013 2:50 pm • linkreport

@JustMe:

Nobody is saying there is anything wrong with the current location but moving it elsewhere you could:

1) enoourage the redevelopment of another neighborhood,
2) earn the District signficant revenue to use for something useful like streetcars,
3) expand the commercial tax-base of DC, and
4) build a new, modern library.

JustSayin'

by 202_cyclist on Jul 3, 2013 3:01 pm • linkreport

MLK, like most Mies buildings has an open floor plan and so reconfiguration of the space shouldn't be a big deal. The systems (HVAC, elevator) are outdated and the windows need to be replaced. The new structure proposals wouldn't give us a place that's any bigger and there's no guarantee that the space would be as flexible over the long term.

The drawing would destroy the architectural merit of the buildings. Public-private ventures in DC 9and just about everywhere else) seem mostly to be failures and open the door to cronyism, etc.

I'm usually not a fan of the Naderites and don't like the tactics that Nader-affilitaed groups often take, but have no trouble lining up on the same side as them.

by Rich on Jul 3, 2013 3:35 pm • linkreport

This statement made me look up: the Dynamos are "only open to a space-sharing agreement if the partner is a public entity, like the National Archives." The Dynamos' website mentions possible co-hosting with the DC Archives--not the federal National Archives.

by Mary on Jul 3, 2013 3:36 pm • linkreport

Why not build up to 12 stories using the MvdR facade? Like lengthening Dulles. The number of stories had nothing to do with the design and I think he actually anticipated going up.

Be a lot better than this crap all around.

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 3, 2013 3:38 pm • linkreport

Apropos of the book collection itself, there's a reason DCPL doesn't need to spend lots on a large centralized research library: the city already has one.

by Steve S. on Jul 3, 2013 3:55 pm • linkreport

I'm still holding out hope for demolition by neglect.

by tdballo on Jul 3, 2013 4:10 pm • linkreport

@Tom Coumaris, "Makes a Mies van der Rohe look like an Eric Colbert."

So well said. Thus structure is landmarked and adding anything on top of it that is visible from the street will impinge on its landmark designation given current practice. Not that those practices are set in stone. However, the horizontal-ness of this landmark is what makes it special. We should be looking. To add ore than one well concealed level to it.

Additionally, hasn't anyone told DC that libraries aren't needed anymore? Yes, we can use a place for spaces for community groups. But why does that require a big physical structure. Can't existing government office space be used for that during off hours? Libraries aren't needed for book storage anymore, since it all is digital. They soon won't be needed for access to computers and audio visual devises as those continue to drop in price to the stage where they'll be disposable like our coke cans and our razors. And as for librarian services for pointing you to the correct book you need, what's wrong with Google. The District has just wasted millions renovating libraries whose specific use for their purpose is going out of fashion even quicker than churches.

by A neighbor on Jul 3, 2013 4:24 pm • linkreport

The District has just wasted millions renovating libraries whose specific use for their purpose is going out of fashion even quicker than churches.

Don't be so sure.

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2013/06/survey-day-younger-americans-want-great-library-programs-and-spaces-more-e-books/6019/

by drumz on Jul 3, 2013 4:37 pm • linkreport

It sounds like the District "Dynamos" are just a bunch of sticks in the mud!

(They're right to be suspicious of public-private partnerships since they tend to give up too many rights to the private sector at the expense of the public, but that doesn't appear to be the case here.)

by Omar on Jul 3, 2013 4:37 pm • linkreport

they soon won't be needed for access to computers and audio visual devises as those continue to drop in price to the stage where they'll be disposable like our coke cans and our razors. And as for librarian services for pointing you to the correct book you need, what's wrong with Google. The District has just wasted millions renovating libraries whose specific use for their purpose is going out of fashion even quicker than churches.

This is by far the dumbest thing I have ever read on GGW, ever. Which is really saying something.

by JustMe on Jul 3, 2013 4:56 pm • linkreport

MLK is right about the Carnegie Library. The MLK was built because Carnegie became too small. Now MLK's too big and Carnegie's mostly empty and about the right size three blocks north.

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 3, 2013 5:15 pm • linkreport

The title of this entry is deliberately pejorative. And note from the standpoint of argumentative/expository writing, it would be called an ad hominem attack.

It's as if I started prefacing blog entries that cite GGW posts with something like "young snotnoses who know everything say X." ... at least when I disagree.

Not to mention that whether or not we agree with everything Ralph Nader does or did, he's had so much impact societally on so many issues. Disclosure: my first job in DC was for a consumer group that had Nader lineage, even though it was vociferously denied by the founders. Nader wasn't involved in funding or running the organization.

Anyway, it really sucks that lots of people, including the writer of this post, thinks that it's great to cheapen key public-civic assets by corporatizing and commodifying them. Certainly libraries and central libraries specifically deserve some reverence.

I wrote a long post about this last fall, when the proposal to co-locate for profit space was first raised:

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2011/11/dc-central-library-and-civil-society.html

Not to mention why the f* is a city with allegedly millions every year in surpluses crying poverty with regard to doing a better central library?

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2011/11/dc-central-library-and-civil-society.html

It worries me that the smart growth movement seems to know the "price of everything and the value of nothing."

I also wrote a review of the Salt Lake City Central Library recently which discussed its wide ranging program, but the post neglected to discuss in enough detail the fact that civic uses (other than cafes and a gallery) take up the whole block (which in SLC is very big) including plaza, space used by other nonprofits, plus the old library, still on the site, is used as a museum.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-salt-lake-city-central-library-is.html

Plus, it is not true that central libraries in other cities are getting smaller--this is a misrepresentation by DCPL and the ULI group-- but it is true that the way the spaces are programmed are changing.

Look at "recent" central library constructions or expansions in cities like LA, Vancouver, Seattle, Salt Lake City, or Chicago, and tell me that the "libraries" got smaller compared to the previous incarnations.

The current debacle in NYC and the proposed library consolidation at 42nd St. is exactly about how proposals to "downsize" 3 libraries into one specifically dis-serves a large proportion of the user base of the library, forcing the move off site of a large proportion of the research collection. That's an indicator that less space is not as good as more space. There are competing needs maybe, but this does not indicate that there is less demand for space.

The better libraries incorporate more and other public uses such as auditoriums and galleries, conference centers, etc., have lots of computers, great specialized departments like Dallas' Urban Information Library or Salt Lake City's childrens library.

Elsewhere I've suggested that DC's central library could incorporate archives, museum, and visitor center functions. That would definitely require more space, not less.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2005/12/central-library-planning-efforts-and.html

That being said, MLK generally sucks as a library. It's too bad that it was designed by a modernist personage, which keeps it around (and note to . The only reason I've favored keeping it is that the alternative proposals put forward by DCPL have never indicated they would do a better library somewhere

by Richard Layman on Jul 3, 2013 6:17 pm • linkreport

Steve S. -- if you use LC, you know it's not super easy to do so. It will become much less easy to do so as the library closes many of the reading rooms, including the serials and periodicals room, which I use on a weekly basis. I believe the map room is also slated for closure. And the science and social sciences reading room as well.

(That being said, except for GWU and the law libraries in the city, it's pretty easy to use the college libraries. I use CUA about once/month probably.)

wrt the point about historic designation, the federal designation is meaningless (well it isn't in terms of if they did a co-location and rented out space maybe part of the renovation could get an HP tax credit). The federal law only pertains to federal undertakings, other than the tax credit. The local law pertains to local undertakings. It would be hard for the building to escape protection, but it's possible. Personally, I don't think it's all that worthy of protection from the standpoint of the overall oeuvre of the architect, but the local law is only concerned, necessarily, with the representation of the oeuvre within the city proper, not everywhere else.

by Richard Layman on Jul 3, 2013 6:22 pm • linkreport

my apologies about the poor editing of the previous entry (duplicate site, a couple hanging sentences).

The last sentence should have ended with "doing a better library somewhere else." Which referred to the original proposal to build a new smaller library on the CityCenter site. Also, to proposals to move the library back to the much smaller Carnegie Library site on Mount Vernon Square. I once talked about this with HT, and she said it could be expanded underground, which pretty much isn't realistic.

by Richard Layman on Jul 3, 2013 6:25 pm • linkreport

Let's be frank about what we are discussing. A "private/public" reuse of the MLK library, a major portion of its space will be lost. It's not just space that is lost, but potential.

I use DC's libraries, including MLK. And while it is dismissed as a place used by homeless and the less well-off, the people that I see, often on the second floor where I work, are engaged in some serious reading and research. Some of these folks may be sleeping on the street for what I know. But what I see is great human potential. Who knows what genius relies on this library? The idea of reducing the available seating areas makes me ill.

The DC libraries have been adapting to the new world. The Web site is very usable and well designed. It's easy to place holds online. You can check out digital books.

The library is apparently planning to put in 3D printing capabilities. Imagine. We have so many bright young people who could benefit from exposure this technology. You will need space for this.

As a meeting space, the MLK facility is in an ideal location. I've always felt that its potential as a shared space for arts, theater and idea generating facility, is immense.

The MLK library is being allowed to decline through policy. And I believe it's a deliberate policy intended to build support for commercial reuse of the building.

This library needs to be defended. Not just for today, but for our very future. Must we surrender everything to profit?

Instead of pitching the idea of public/private partnership to diminish the facility, this great space, this wonderful building, why not do something radical? Why not challenge the community to bring this library up to its potential, and to utilize its spaces in a ways that advance this community and its citizens, expand knowledge, and lift the spirits of everyone. Why can't work to advance our civilization instead of selling off chunks of it to the highest bidder? Why can't we do this?

by kob on Jul 3, 2013 7:02 pm • linkreport

I guess I would re-word the title of this post to something like:

Nader group objects to uncreative use of the MLK Library: wants to preserve public and civic prominence of a key city asset, while improving and expanding services

for me having a usable auditorium, great gallery, cafe, an urban information center, visitors center, some museum-cultural display space, community conference space, space for nonprofits -- e.g., for years I've suggested that the Foundation Center Library and Provisions Library could colocate there, in return for having free space they could expand their hours of service -- etc. would make the library so much better.

Plus a scanner. (Note to Steve S., they do have a scanner at the LC serials room. I don't think there is one at any of the DCPL branches. There is one at SLC.)

by Richard Layman on Jul 3, 2013 7:19 pm • linkreport

@ Richard Layman Out of curiosity, what are your concerns for LC's reading room consolidation? As far as I know, they don't plan to withdraw a single book as a result of the consolidation. By contrast, there is a serious storage problem, the head of Library Services has said "the sky has already fallen".

by Steve S. on Jul 3, 2013 8:06 pm • linkreport

It takes a lot of time to get the items. The main reading room will become much more crowded. There won't be access to frequently used items as there is in the reading rooms, e.g, the Business reading room has lots of reference items + periodicals. Same with the Serials room. Plus computers of course.

I don't use the main reading room. I presume that people with more specialized uses go to the reading rooms. Putting all those people in one room, without necessarily having access to specialty librarians could create issues as well.

by Richard Layman on Jul 3, 2013 8:30 pm • linkreport

202_cyclist

It is the main library so for that reason it should be downtown, what about moving City Hall to Blue Plains or DC Court to Takoma, Police headquarters to East Potomac Park, DMV to Southern Ave & South Capitol or moving all of them to the listed places etc.

Main buildings of a city should be in the center so that it is easy to access to all parts of the city and not just one area. UDC is at a terrible location a better location is where part of it use to be in Mt Vernon Square some decades ago.

Since you're floating the idea of moving it to the DC equavilent of westbumf**k what are your thoughts about Upper Marlboro as the seat of PG County

by kk on Jul 4, 2013 12:04 am • linkreport

Why not challenge the community to bring this library up to its potential

This is a meaningless sentence. You can set up this "challenge" to the "community," but the community will respond with "meh."

I accept that, to a degree, the fate of MLK is not really in my hands. If the city council has a vision for what they want to do with it that is particularly innovative, then that's great. But the reality is that most of my experience with DC libraries is with its branches.

Sadly, the only people who seem to care about the library are fetishists of poor architecture, and that colors our policy towards MLK. I think Gray's renovation plan is a good idea, but his options will ultimately be limited by the building's landmark status and the library's reputation as a hangout for the homeless.

by Tyro on Jul 4, 2013 9:01 am • linkreport

The current location may be centralized but is fairly inaccessible except to the few people who work or live in that area. Parking is scarce and expensive. The Walter Reed area would be even more central to most residents I suspect, and sufficient free parking could be built at a new site increasing accessibility to the library.

by A neighbor on Jul 4, 2013 1:13 pm • linkreport

Tyro -- if you believe this, then why even bother reading a blog like GGW. The point is to push the process so that it can be better.

Plus, you need to distinguish ("unpack") the issue of the library vs. "the building" (your point about fetishists).

I want a great central library for the city. We don't have one. Both because the building sucks and the program (what's inside the building) sucks.

Like a lot of things, the dual problems, combined with the issue of the building being "designated" and "historic" and a "memorial" (in name only, to MLK, Jr.) makes the process even more convoluted and contentious.

I meant to mention in one of my other comments that this is another illustration of the failure to have a defined and public capital improvements planning and budgeting process in the city.

If we had one, this would be a public process.

It's very interesting to talk to people in other cities about the processes they went through there, to get their new libraries. E.g., the librarians in SLC are so proud of what they accomplished (yes the building is a copy of the library building that Safdie did in Vancouver). But they had an amazingly public process, the librarians were all involved, the public etc.
\

by Richard Layman on Jul 4, 2013 1:38 pm • linkreport

if you believe this, then why even bother reading a blog like GGW.

Well, politics is the art of the possible. It's not that I think it is pointless to discuss the fate of the library on GGW, it's that I am realstic about what the ultimate result will be.

by Tyro on Jul 4, 2013 4:30 pm • linkreport

Also, placing it somewhere like Walter Reed would solve the problem of the homeless using it as an ad hoc shelter. (Hopefully steering the homeless toward real shelters.)

by A neighbor on Jul 4, 2013 6:09 pm • linkreport

This is a Catch 22. The library likely doesn't use all the space it currently has because demand is not what it could be. If the library were renovated, usage of that library would go *way* up. I'm thinking that it could be an incredible public multimedia space: modern meeting rooms, modernizing the small business center, more interactive materials in the Washingtonia room (perhaps even a mini-museum including artifacts? a standing historic photo exhibit of past images of the city), perhaps even a small theater for screening locally shot/focused documentaries or small performances? Sky's the limit, no?

ps: I am SUPER opposed to moving the library from its central location. The idea is supposed to be that this is a transit-friendly space that is equidistant from most points in the city, not in some far flung corner where some people have to travel 45 minutes and others can walk around the corner.

by wylie coyote on Jul 5, 2013 10:12 am • linkreport

I'm surprised at the number of comments that advocate moving the flagship central library some some 'less valuable' part of the city. Great cities should have great flagship libraries. And they should be in the center of the city. I'm sure the main branch of the New York Public Library sits on some of the most valuable real estate in the country, if it were to be put on the private real estate market, but it's public value is greater. A downtown site for the DC Public Library is optimally accessible from a public transit standpoint (something often advocated on this board). It also serves a local need, since the 'downtown' neighborhoods have no separate branch libraries.

When I see higher values placed on taking public property for private development, all in the name of 'density' or 'vibrancy' or DC's insatiable demand for 'more tax revenue', it makes me wonder if the true agenda of some writers here is 'smart growth' in the sense of truly sound city planning that takes account of public and private uses. Or is it simply advocacy for whatever provides plum opportunities and fattens the margins of real estate development interests? Sometimes I wonder.

by Axel on Jul 5, 2013 10:39 am • linkreport

axel

Not everyone here is a supporter of smart growth or of transit access, at least not to the same degree.

I think it makes sense to keep it in a central, transit accessible location. That does not mean it has to be in the current location. You mention the NYPL - while the central reference library is a in a landmark building (with an adjacent park, which is no longer a site for illicit retail activity) the MidManhattan branch is in an office building. That could be done in downtown DC.

Whether the SW ecodistrict is sufficiently transit accessible, is an interesting question. I think overall it is.

Walter Reed is almost certainly not a good location. I believe the only people supporting that are folks who think that free parking at the library is an important criterion. While thats not generally the kind of POV you find here, its good we have a diversity of views - not everyone has to be prosmart growth, or supportive of a less autocentric city.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 5, 2013 10:55 am • linkreport

@Wylie Coyote "If the library were renovated, usage of that library would go *way* up. I'm thinking that it could be an incredible public multimedia space: modern meeting rooms, modernizing the small business center, more interactive materials in the Washingtonia room (perhaps even a mini-museum including artifacts? a standing historic photo exhibit of past images of the city), perhaps even a small theater for screening locally shot/focused documentaries or small performances? Sky's the limit, no?"

Well, the sky's the limit if we're trying to justify keeping the public monies flowing to libraries , instead of focusing on providing library services in the least expensive and economical manner possible.

Here's the definition of library:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/library

In the Internet age, just about anything a library is SUPPOSED to do can be done most efficiently via electronic dissemination of information, images, and audio-visual. And it can do it without requiring a physical building. In this modern world we've created, all that's required to access library services is an Internet connection and some sort of electronic device. You can have access to the world's store of knowledge by use of your smartphone or tablet, from anywhere in the world.

Yes, a libray can also providing meeting space, show movies, and display/archive hard artifacts such as old manuscripts. But those services, if to be funded by the taxpayer at all, can more efficiently be provided within their own spaces. We call those spaces resource centers, theaters, and museums respectively.

It's understandable that as the method of providing library services has shifted to electronic means, that those with a stake in running the old brick and mortar libraries have tried to devise ways to keep themselves relevant, and in a job. However, all of these other services they are attempting to provide can be better and more efficiently provided if provided separately by those best experienced in providing these services, and not by librarians. Ad many of these services are better provided by private and/or government supported (but not managed) foundations. Look at the Smithsonian as an example.

The building of new central libraries or even of new neighborhood libraries at a time when the need for brick and mortar spaces for true library services is diminshing is questionable. Long term, as techinology provides us even more marvels in knowledge sharingm librarians won't be able to keep pretending their expensive fancy spaces really do much to advance the basic mission of a library. And not being specialized or experts in providing these other services which really truly belong to other experts, they're doomed to fail at shifting the focus to a kind of catch all 'how can we keep ourselves in business?".

by A neighbor on Jul 5, 2013 11:56 am • linkreport

@202cyclist there are already two libraries within walking distance of the Walter Reed campus- Takoma Library nearby the Metro statiom and Shepherd's Park library on Georgia Ave. Moving the city's main library out there wouldn't even much improve service for locals, let alone the whole city.

@A neighbor Not "everything" is digital and until the city has the means to provide everybody with free Internet access and electronic devices libraries will still have a purpose. You must remember that libraries are intended to serve lower-income residents as well as middle-class.

As for the issue of parking- who cares? Who drives to the MLK library when A) it's RIGHT BETWEEN two of the busiest transfer stations on the Metro system and B) there are a variety of other, more car-accessible libraries further out if the city's dense core. If you drive to the MLK library my first instinct is not to make sure you have parking but to tell you to get the train next time.

by Pennsy on Jul 5, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

>The Walter Reed area would be even more central to most residents I suspect, and sufficient free parking could be built at a new site increasing accessibility to the library.<

Walter Reed is crazy. What could be more central than MLK? It's between Gallery Place and Metro Center. No parking? Who cares? I thought this was suppose to be the new walkable DC?

by kob on Jul 5, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

@Pennsy 'Not "everything" is digital and until the city has the means to provide everybody with free Internet access and electronic devices libraries will still have a purpose. You must remember that libraries are intended to serve lower-income residents as well as middle-class.'

Salary savings alone (not to speak of the value of the library properties) would be enough (many times over) to provide each and every under privileged individual a tablet or other like device AND provide for free wireless access throughout the city.

by A neighbor on Jul 5, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

"It's as if I started prefacing blog entries that cite GGW posts with something like "young snotnoses who know everything say X." ... at least when I disagree."

my·op·ic [mahy-op-ik, -oh-pik] Show IPA adjective
1.Ophthalmology . pertaining to or having myopia; nearsighted.
2.unable or unwilling to act prudently; shortsighted.
3.lacking tolerance or understanding; narrow-minded.

lit·tle [lit-l] adjective
1. small in size; not big; not large; tiny: a little desk in the corner of the room.
2.short in duration; not extensive; short; brief: a little while.
3.small in number: a little group of scientists.
4.small in amount or degree; not much: little hope.
5.of a certain amount; appreciable (usually preceded by a): We're having a little difficulty.

twit
1 [twit]
verb (used with object)
1. to taunt, tease, ridicule, etc., with reference to anything embarrassing; gibe at. Synonyms: jeer at, mock, insult, deride.
2. to reproach or upbraid. Synonyms: chide, scold, rebuke, criticize, revile, castigate.
noun
3. an act of twitting.
4. a derisive reproach; taunt; gibe.
Origin: 1520–30; aphetic variant of obsolete atwite, Middle English atwiten, Old English ¿twîtan to taunt, equivalent to ¿t- at1 + wîtan to blame

by LongTimeRez on Jul 5, 2013 4:05 pm • linkreport

The Dynamo folks need to get the National Archives out of their brain as potential partners they would be satisfied with for the location (clearly they pulled them off the top of their heads).

NARA has been under a steadily shrinking budget for several years now, even before being hit by the sequestor like all other government agencies. They have no money for such "partnerships".

by Ray B on Jul 6, 2013 12:15 am • linkreport

Axel -- It is true that the primary funders of smart growth organizations tend to be "sympathetic" developers. (This can be a problem with historic preservation organizations as well.)

by Richard Layman on Jul 6, 2013 7:44 am • linkreport

A neighbor -- libraries aren't just spaces for individuals to use, they are public-civic assets that build, strengthen, and anchor community and civitas.

Everything you said is true, especially for people with money.

But I wonder, given all that you say, why it is that central libraries in other cities, including "recently constructed" buildings (over the last 20 years) are such vibrant, fundamental, active, community places, and yet people here can be satisfied with achieving so little (a/k/a mediocrity)?

by Richard Layman on Jul 6, 2013 7:48 am • linkreport

Locating the Reeves building at 14th and U Street at that intersection instead of downtown, although the agencies located there serve all Dac residents, was one of the major contributors to the redevelopment and growth of the U Street corridor.

Moving the library to the SW Ecodistrict could be a similar catalyst for the redevelopment of that neighborhood.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 6, 2013 10:38 am • linkreport

*DC residents

by 202_cyclist on Jul 6, 2013 10:39 am • linkreport

"Axel -- It is true that the primary funders of smart growth organizations tend to be "sympathetic" developers. (This can be a problem with historic preservation organizations as well.)"

And the primary funders of the strongest opponents of smart growth are folks in the fossil fuels business. So what?

And I suspect LAB even gets some $ from bicycle makers.

In a country where the Koch Brothers and Exxon Mobil can do this

http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/global-warming-and-energy/polluterwatch/koch-industries/

http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/news-and-blogs/news/exxonsecrets-2007/

people think Abdo or EYA are the core of some evil conspiracy? Feh.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 6, 2013 10:45 am • linkreport

SW Ecodistrict is a much more centrally located, much more transit convenient place then Walter Reed. These are really two separate discussions - one about simply widening what downtown DC is, and the other about de-emphasizing non-auto access to the central library (and its role in general)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 6, 2013 10:48 am • linkreport

How many posting here with opinions about the fate of the MLK library actually use the library?

Never?

At least once a year?

At least once a month?

Greater than once a month?

How many here have actually been in the MLK library at least once in the last five years?

If you are a frequent (month>) user of the MLK library, do you favor a public/private partnership to shrink the amount of available library space, and incorporate more fun uses into the building, such as a wine bar?

If you are an infrequent/never user of the MLK library, do you favor a public/private partnership to shrink the amount of available library space, and incorporate more fun uses into the building, such as a wine bar?

Do you believe a wine bar is a better use of public space than a library?

by kob on Jul 6, 2013 10:53 am • linkreport

202_cyclist -- for years I have argued against your point about Reeves.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2011/10/reeves-center-myth-re-revisited.html

It's very much arguable Reeves had any positive impact, as it was built about 20 years before much started happening on the corridor. The Metro was far more important. Most of the retail businesses in the building were failures, and there was no substantive impact on retail improvement w/i 1 to 1.5 blocks of the Reeves Center say between W and T.

But an office building doesn't have the same impact as a building actively used by the public. Even then it has to be well located.

by Richard Layman on Jul 6, 2013 2:27 pm • linkreport

AWITC -- I deal with developers and I like the people that I deal with (including Jim Abdo). Frankly, I think Jim Abdo's entry into the H St. corridor was one of the most important anchoring decisions that occured in terms of that corridor's revitalization.

That doesn't mean that I don't recognize that their interests are their interests and not necessarily mine.

I don't know the operations of CSG intimately. You can claim that I don't know the operations of DCPL intimately. But I would claim that many DCPL actions have been compromised by the domination of developers on their board, for matters which require board confirmation.

Granted groups are sympatico with their supporters. But I wouldn't claim that CSG is great on every issue, and I think they cheerlead a bit more than I would be comfortable with, if I worked there. And cheerleading and rote positions don't necessarily move the discourse and action to more ideal positions than more mid-point compromised positions.

by Richard Layman on Jul 6, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

"They... are only open to a space-sharing agreement if the partner is a public entity, like the National Archives."

Uh, no... DC Library Renaissance Project and the offshoot Dynamos are asking the government to consider a partnership with the District of Columbia Archives (which has just been given $14 million in funding and would be an excellent match for MLK).

by LongTimeRez on Jul 6, 2013 2:49 pm • linkreport

Eh? I don't necessarily agree with every position of CSG. But its one thing to argue with a position, and another to critique funding sources. Quite a lot has been made out of CSG funding by its opponents, more than I think is warranted. I do not see CSG constantly cheerleading (look at their skeptical view of air rights development in Rosslyn. There is so much advocacy and entrenched interests the other way (especially here in Virginia) I am glad of the strong voices that CSG and PEC are.

Note, I don't know the issues with the DCPL board. But then DCPL is not a "smart growth org"

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 6, 2013 3:30 pm • linkreport

If someone once affiliated with an organization can be pejorative towards another group by using the phrase "Nader-backed" then it's reasonable to counter with something like "Affiliate of developer-backed group advocates for for-profit use of central library site".

e.g., "turnabout is fair play."

FWIW, urban preservation is almost by definition "smart growth" since it implies use of what is already there. Where the conflict comes is over infill and demolition of historic buildings for newer, presumably bigger, buildings.

by Richard Layman on Jul 7, 2013 9:26 am • linkreport

kob-

Hilarious commentary/survey... I love it! We know folks can "talk the talk(able)" but can they "walk the walk(able)?"

by Anonymous,Too on Jul 7, 2013 11:27 am • linkreport

@ A neighbor

How in the hell is Walter Reed more central to most residents of DC; It somewhere between 2 and 3 miles from Maryland. Parking is not the only thing to look at, Waslter Reed is in no way accesible and central if you are from Anacostia, Benning or somewhere else east of the Ancostia river.

The center of DC is at 4th and K or L NW; unless you remove all of DC south of K Street, east of North Capitol and east of the Anacostia there is no way that Walter Reed is more central.

The put it bluntly you need to look at a damn map and see just where Walter Reed is see how close it is to the majority of the city.

by kk on Jul 7, 2013 11:30 am • linkreport

@Richard Layman

FWIW, urban preservation is almost by definition "smart growth" since it implies use of what is already there.

I would think that by definition urban preservation is not smart growth or any growth at all, since you are preserving what is, rather than changing/growing.

@kob

I'll bite. I use the MLK from time to time, mostly the Washingtonia section, although I did once see a community play there. It was about the last day in the career of a Metrobus driver, I think on the 80 route. Was very interesting.

Anyway, to your questions:

How many posting here with opinions about the fate of the MLK library actually use the library?

This is relevant, but only up to a point. I'd wager that most of the people posting here are DC taxpayers, which means that they automatically have a stake in what happens with the library, how public funds and capital holdings are utilized, etc. I hope to never use the services of DC FEMS or MPD, but that doesn't mean I have less of a right to weigh in on their operations.

If you are an infrequent/never user of the MLK library, do you favor a public/private partnership to shrink the amount of available library space, and incorporate more fun uses into the building, such as a wine bar?

Do you believe a wine bar is a better use of public space than a library?

You seem to be using "fun" in a somewhat pejorative way, although I'm not sure why... aren't libraries supposed to be fun for a significant segment of its users (kids)? I get the broad critique about urbanists/newcomers/yuppies focusing only on fun things like bars and dog parks to the exclusion of core city/social amenities, but libraries are an opt-in amenity, so attracting users is a central part of their mission in a way that it is not for most social services.

Personally, I get the feeling that many people are looking at this specific case solely through their own ideological lens, rather than based on the particulars of the situation.

On the one hand, we have the mixed use diehards who seem to believe that all building are improved through the addition of commercial uses. One does not have to be a radical anti-capitalist to find this a little unseemly. I think there are some facilities that are incompatible - or, at the very least, not necessarily compatible - with commercial uses. Grade schools, fire stations, prisons (the ongoing privatization of which is a very bad idea), etc. I think libraries, particularly the flagship central library, could be one such facility, especially since libraries are already mixed use by any definition other than one that insists upon for-profit use as being essential.

On the other hand, the 'Dynamos' and other groups (DCFPI on its less good days) come off as believing that government ownership of property should only increase, never decrease, and the involvement of the private sector in anything is a defilement. This is... not a healthy attitude, and it is no more rational than the pathological 'Private Everything!' credo that has found traction on the right.

With regard to MLK, it appears that some core factors are in dispute. How much does space does the library need now? How much space is it projected to need in the future? Is it cost-effective (using a variety of metrics) to spend $200 million (or some other amount) on this facility, based on its current and predicted value? Do other, better locations - such as Carnegie - exist?

My own take: I am not a librarian and have not studied MLK's operations, so I cannot answer many of these. However, spending $200 million for MLK to become a somewhat nicer "daytime hobo storage" venue and skateboard arcade does not seem like a worthwhile investment. This is one reason why I'm skeptical of claims like JS's:

...I'm of the opinion that DCPL should be forward looking, and work to address the needs of a city that has added 30,000 new residents in 2 years, and of a region that has grown by about 250,000 during that same time. These people, too, will have a need for MLK's services, and DCPL does them a disservice by downsizing based on today's needs.

The prohibitive majority of those new residents will not be availing themselves of library services, not only because younger/wealthier/more tech-savvy people have less need of libraries but because using many public libraries is an un unpleasant experience for reasons that have little, if anything, to do with the services being provided.

Because of this, I think that it is absolutely worth exploring whether certain commercial amenities could improve the user experience and draw in more patrons, enhancing MLK's value as the flagship public space it is supposed to be. "Wine bar" does not strike me as a good fit, but there are others that would act as a better complement. And if giving up some space could help make the costs more manageable, that is worth looking at as well, assuming it makes sense upon careful examination.

by Dizzy on Jul 7, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

Dizzy -- 1. from the standpoint of "smart growth" and historic preservation, I was referring more to the standpoint of the metropolitan landscape and how HP re-focuses residential choice on center city (and first ring suburbs) as opposed to continuous outmigration and exurban development in a metropolitan, along the lines of _Changing Places_ by Wilkie and Moe and _Cities in Full_ by Belmont. For me, HP = SG pretty clearly.

2. WRT your last point (and you wrote a great piece generally) when you raise the issue of "commercial amenities" you end up more carefully defining another point, which contributes to making the argument more clear but also more complicated.

Here are the issues:

a. a central library in a city and what should its program be, cost, should it be relocated (most of the suggestions have been pretty bad) or stay in a central location;

b. and whether or not the program can include for profit amenities (like coffee shops and galleries) [personally I think it should]

c. and other noncommercial co-located complementary spaces with a decided public purpose (like the DC archives, visitor center, Foundation Center Library, nonprofit radio station, auditorium suitable for theater and movies, meeting space, other display spaces, etc.) [I am fine with this, have suggested it since 2005]

d. or other commercial co-located noncomplementary space with no defined "public" or "civic" purpose (office space for for profits) [I think this is a terrible idea] because you need the money to pay for renovations of the current library space

e. the particular central library in DC, its specific physical nature [it sucks as a library], homeless presence (frankly, most cities deal with it, it doesn't preclude people from wanting to use the library, SLC is a perfect example, with a homeless presence probably comparable to that of MLK, although if race is the issue then it's different because their homeless are mostly white) especially that it is "designated historic" and is "a memorial."

f. which means that the central library should stay there rather than be built new in another place [I never had a problem with the library moving to a new building as long as it is Downtown, my problem is that the city never indicated that they could do a new building that was actually and really better than the current library, in 2001 Kevin Palmer then of the H Street Main Street program had a very good suggestion of building a new central library on the backside of Union Station's parking garage--since then they expanded the parking garage to include that space]

by Richard Layman on Jul 7, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

"This is the same argument they used when they opposed replacing the West End Library with a new library, housing and a fire station."

Uh, no again... while developer EastBanc and its supporters may have framed the situation as such, DCLRP was thoroughly supportive of a West End Library replacement--but not at three to five times what it should be costing the city, aka taxpayers.

It's hard to give credence to any commentary from CSG advocates when there is no basis in fact for it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_journalism

by LongTimeRez on Jul 7, 2013 2:25 pm • linkreport

@Richard

I see now what you're saying re: smart growth and historic preservation. I can think of some examples where they're in conflict other than what you mentioned, such as Ron Lewis's insistence that historical preservation demands we never widen the sidewalks along M Street, but I think the spirit of what you're saying is true.

It looks to me like you've laid out the key points on this matter quite well.

On point E, I'm sure race does have something to do with it, as does the unique characteristics of SLC denizens (geneology-obsessed Mormons and regular Mormons for whom the allowable range of amusements is much more constrained than it is for the average DC resident. Yes, I know fewer than half of SLC's residents are LDS, although it's 56% for Salt Lake County). I haven't been to SLC, so I cannot compare the relative levels of 'hospitableness,' though the generally run-down state of MLK's physical infrastructure and the amount of porn-watching going on there are likely not as acute of an issue in SLC.

Central public libraries are as much monuments/landmarks/scenic public spaces as they are book depositories. That means a central location is critical, which in DC means in relatively close proximity to downtown and the monumental core.

by Dizzy on Jul 7, 2013 3:17 pm • linkreport

LongTimeRez -- the other thing that bothers me about the West End Library is how the developers really did the project more for them in terms of the design rather than a great library. Plus they set up the deal so that the Library/the City is financially responsible for maintaining the ground floor area outside the building, without any responsibility being taken on by the rest of the building (condos).

This is again an illustration of the failure to have an overall and public capital improvements planning and budgeting process in the city dis-serves the residents.

And it's an illustration that it is better to have "the city" make the plans for a project provided by the private sector, rather than rely on the private sector, if the desired outcome is the best possible "product" (in this case a library branch) that can be produced.

by Richard Layman on Jul 7, 2013 5:48 pm • linkreport

I feel like two issues are being conflated. This ISN'T the national library, that would be the library of congress. This is the main branch of the DC public library which should be reasonably accessible by most residents, but that doesn't necessarily mean smack dab in the middle of Chinatown.

Personally, it reminds me of an old university library with none of the charm. I'd love to see it redeveloped with more focus on electronic/internet resources and community spaces. I am a huge book lover, but keeping hundreds of thousands of them on dusty shelves is behind the times. Most people will just go to their branch libraries for casual reading. What is it that DC needs out of it's library headquarters, certainly not what it is now.

by Alan B. on Jul 8, 2013 11:18 am • linkreport

It's not just residents that can check out books from DCPL. Northern Va. and MoCo/PG residents can check out books from there (or any branch) as well.

Like Richard Layman says, there is precedent for keeping big public libraries downtown and its worked great so far. I'm not personally wedded to the building itself but I see the need and since there isn't any serious proposal to build a completely new space then figuring out something that will work in the current building will have to do. That includes recognizing that there is a need for a library/public space downtown.

by drumz on Jul 8, 2013 11:28 am • linkreport

A problem with the discussion about public/private reuse of the DC library is that it is shortsighted. It doesn't consider at all how the library will change in the years and the decades ahead. Consider this emerging trend:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/19/chicago-public-library-maker-space_n_3466732.html

by kob on Jul 8, 2013 11:31 am • linkreport

" someone once affiliated with an organization can be pejorative towards another group by using the phrase "Nader-backed" then it's reasonable to counter with something like "Affiliate of developer-backed group advocates for for-profit use of central library site".
e.g., "turnabout is fair play."

ah I see. Maybe its my age - I remember Nader as a consumer rights advocate, before he was a presidential candidate. I didnt see "Nader backed" as a dig, in the way "developer backed" is.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 8, 2013 11:36 am • linkreport

"How many posting here with opinions about the fate of the
MLK library actually use the library?"

^ On average, twice a month. Some months I go more than others.

by wylie coyote on Jul 8, 2013 11:39 am • linkreport

@ Dizzy >My own take: I am not a librarian and have not studied MLK's operations, so I cannot answer many of these. However, spending $200 million for MLK to become a somewhat nicer "daytime hobo storage" venue and skateboard arcade does not seem like a worthwhile investment.<

This is another problem the library reuse discussion faces. I suspect reuse proponents are more interested in getting rid of the perceived negatives and creating an environment that largely inhospitable to people of lesser means. To this, I challenge people to spend time in some of the reading areas to see what people are actually doing with their time. You will see many people, part of the 'hobo storage' group, actually doing serious reading and I suspect research in some cases. I find it inspiring and ennobling.

by kob on Jul 8, 2013 11:40 am • linkreport

Note to my prior post: If the library were renovated, I really do think more people would use it. A centrally located, beautifully renovated library would attract loads more people, if you ask me. As the library looks now, I get in and get out as rapidly as possible. It's sort of a dour, depressing place, as is. If I stuck around more, I'd probably pick up more books, then come back more often because I'd be returning books more often. I usually go there with one book in mind, get it, and get out, as things stand now.

by wylie coyote on Jul 8, 2013 11:42 am • linkreport

Oh, and another quick note! Am I the only one here who prefers physical books to e-books? All this talk about digital this and that is saddening to me. I like physical books. I don't think I'm alone. Or I hope not.

by wylie coyote on Jul 8, 2013 11:44 am • linkreport

Books vs ebooks: sure for casual reading I love a good book, hence branch libraries. I usually have several lying around that I'm in the middle of. But if you are talking research or most academic pursuits, how can you not argue that e-books are vastly superior. I think I cited maybe 2 or 3 hard copy books total in two years of grad school. Online resources are almost always more up to date and easier to search. And if you're talking about kids -- computer literacy is certainly one of the top five skills they need to learn, up there with reading, writing, arithmetic, and creative thinking.

by Alan B. on Jul 8, 2013 11:51 am • linkreport

Dizzy -- I messed up when I wrote "you wrote a great piece generally". DK how the "generally" got in there: you wrote a great piece!

AWITC -- agreed, but I am willing to bet David Alpert's first child that the use of the word Nader in the title of the entry was not to give encomiums to the long years of contribution to civil society by Ralph Nader, the Center for the Study of Responsive Law, Public Citizen, PIRGs, etc., but to cast aspersions.

Alan B. -- yes I am old fashioned. I read books. And I would were I in grad school and writing a thesis too. Maybe if I had an Ipad, it is finally now faster (is it?) to read on a screen than from a printed page?

WRT my list of a bunch of points, the last one should be broken out to include g. another site. As I said, I have no problem with another site, but the city has never convinced people who care that they will do a better job.

WRT Alan B.'s point about a "U library" with none of the charm, again I'd refer people to (1) the SLC Central Library as one side of the building is set up almost like university library carrels, (2) the SLC Central Library in my opinion has more disturbed homeless than does DC, and they dealt with it ok, and I agree with the other comment that people who are "homeless" are mostly regular consumers of library services, even if occasionally smelly (the SLC library has a handout on services available to the homeless, including where they can get showers) ...

wrt kob's comment, I think that people at least some of us, do recognize that there are uses for a public asset beyond what people think about strictly as "a library". that's the basis of the public purpose, civic asset argument.

E.g., for many years I have also commented on how many of Montreal's branch libraries also serve as district cultural centers, and how our central library should have the same function, but it doesn't function that way...

anyway (3) Goucher College's Athenaum is another example of a "library" with other functions (one can also look to college unions as examples) http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2012/06/buildings/national-landmark-academic-library-1-goucher-athenaeum-goucher-college/, and (4) speaking of "bad university libraries," I haven't been but SJSU and the City of San Jose created a shared central library-university library.

... and thinking more about Dizzy's points about "for profit space" and public purpose vs. private purpose and cultural purpose, again, having for profit spaces beyond galleries and cafes is possible. E.g., publishing, the 3D printer as people mentioned, incubator type spaces of various sorts, and even bookstores, as mentioned in some of my past posts, or publishers (e.g., Island Press is a very active publisher, and based in DC), etc.

A library in a London borough also included space rented to a bookstore, and the National Library of Quebec has Parisian style bookseller stalls (bouquinistes) placed on the alley at the back of the library. They are open on Friday nights. And it's really cool.

Speaking of a central library with multiple functions, this is how the Grand Bibliotheque of Montreal is described in this entry (http://www.archdaily.com/102511/grand-library-of-quebec-patkau-architects-with-croft-pelletier-and-menkes-shooner-dagenais-architectes-associes/):

The Grand Library of Québec consolidates a number of collections dispersed throughout the province to create a resource library for the region as well as a central public library for the city of Montreal. The building contains four major components: a general library, a children’s library, the collection Québécoise (historic documents pertaining to Quebec), and an assortment of public spaces outside the library control zone.

This entry, http://www.architecturenewsplus.com/projects/1886, goes further in describing "non-library" functions being connected, complementary, and integrated, but separate:

Library spaces that do not require library control—exhibition space, auditorium, conference center and meeting rooms, catering services, gift shop, public lobby, and café—are located along pedestrian routes to foster a broader public engagement. As part of a larger strategy of urban revitalization, avenue Savoie, a narrow lane on the west side of the building, is lined with bouquinistes (very small second-hand bookshops) and display vitrines.

Note that this library/facility is larger, not smaller, than the current MLK library.

by Richard Layman on Jul 8, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

"AWITC -- agreed, but I am willing to bet David Alpert's first child that the use of the word Nader in the title of the entry was not to give encomiums to the long years of contribution to civil society by Ralph Nader, the Center for the Study of Responsive Law, Public Citizen, PIRGs, etc., but to cast aspersions."

I thought it was neither to give encomiums nor cast aspersions, but simply to identify an otherwise obscure group.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 8, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

Again, this hasn't really been answered--- why was locating the Reeves DC government building at the intersection of 14th & U Street (spurring the redevelopment of both corridors) a good thing but potentially relocating it to the Southwest Ecodistrict a bad policy outcome? If proximity is a concern, L'Enfant Plaza and the proposed Ecodistrict neighborhood is possibly the seconnd most accessible neighborhood in DC with four metro lines and several bus routes, not to mention that is is closer to actual DC residents the library is suppose to serve-- not office workers from Virginia and Maryland.

Before spending $100M or $200M, on rennovating the existing MLK library, DC should have a responsiblity to look at this option.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 8, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

why was locating the Reeves DC government building at the intersection of 14th & U Street (spurring the redevelopment of both corridors)

Again, you're going to have to prove the causation here. Much like how much impact Nats park had in its neighborhood there are many factors that cloud how much impact a single development can really have on an entire neighborhood redevopment and what can be done to replicate its success.

I think there should be a provision for public space (be it a library, community center, park, whatever) in SW eco-district but I don't think we need to make MLK's future contingent on what happens down there.

by drumz on Jul 8, 2013 2:36 pm • linkreport

Huh, we both used "Again". I didn't mean anything by it, the mimicry was unintentional.

by drumz on Jul 8, 2013 2:39 pm • linkreport

drumz:

"I think there should be a provision for public space (be it a library, community center, park, whatever) in SW eco-district but I don't think we need to make MLK's future contingent on what happens down there."

Agreed but relocating the library should be one of the options that is looked at before spending between $100M and $200M, especially when relocating the MLK library could bring many other benefits as well.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 8, 2013 2:49 pm • linkreport

Additionally, what is the center of DC based on residential density, not the geographic center of DC where you have a lot of hotels and non-DC office workers?

by 202_cyclist on Jul 8, 2013 2:52 pm • linkreport

Additionally, what is the center of DC based on residential density, not the geographic center of DC where you have a lot of hotels and non-DC office workers?

According to the 2010 census it's here:
https://www.google.com/maps?q=38.910270,+-077.014468&hl=en&sll=38.91027,-77.014461&sspn=0.01127,0.026157&t=m&z=16

by MLD on Jul 8, 2013 2:55 pm • linkreport

I think in the case of U St you can make a stronger argument that it was part of a gradual spill over from the center of development around Farragut/Dupont which started bouncing back in the 70s/80s(?). Adams Morgan, Logan, and U St were the next wave. Right now much of the locus is around Shaw/Columbia Heights. Most people in Petworth/Bloomingdale see the writing on the wall already assuming that development continues apace in the city. If you drew concentric circles out from Farragut North I suspect it would be surprisingly accurate.

The problem the SW waterfront has always had is the "natural" barrier of the mall which prevents incremental development and the awful physical geometry of the place.

by Alan B. on Jul 8, 2013 2:57 pm • linkreport

Many of those Non-DC office workers can still check out books from DCPL.

http://www.dclibrary.org/getacard

by drumz on Jul 8, 2013 3:00 pm • linkreport

MLD:

"According to the 2010 census it's here:
https://www.google.com/maps?q=38.910270,+-077.014468&hl=en&sll=38.91027,-77.014461&sspn=0.01127,0.026157&t=m&z=16"

So, not downtown at all. In fact, two miles from downtown. So, who does the MLK library serve at its current location, DC residents or buildings that are empty on the weekends?

by 202_cyclist on Jul 8, 2013 3:02 pm • linkreport

drumz:
"Many of those Non-DC office workers can still check out books from DCPL."

I don't doubt this but for the District to spend $100M - $200M rennovating the current MLK building, forgoing $90M - $100M from the sale of some of the District's most valuable property, and the long-term forfeiture of property taxes from having private-sector uses at the Metro Center site seems like a pretty expensive price to pay to allow Virginia residents to check out books. I understand the need for regional cooperation but has Virginia been so generous towards DC residents?

by 202_cyclist on Jul 8, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

In fact, two miles from downtown. So, who does the MLK library serve at its current location, DC residents or buildings that are empty on the weekends?

Well, you've got 5 days in the week vs. two on the weekends. Then all the people who can check out a book from DCPL (you can get a card if you work in DC, not just reside). Also downtown isn't that empty on the weekend. Especially near the verizon center/american art museum/spy museum. Finally, if you're going to have one branch open 7 days a week you'll want the one that is most accessible by the greatest number of residents. That'll still be the one downtown near all of the metro lines.

by drumz on Jul 8, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport

Alan B.

"The problem the SW waterfront has always had is the "natural" barrier of the mall which prevents incremental development and the awful physical geometry of the place."

The problem is the CSX tracks and I-395. The entire (or at least most) of the area from the Navy Yard/Capital Riverfront to Independence Avenue will eventually be developed/redeveloped. It will become an extension of downtown.

If we want to do nice things, however, like deck over the CSX tracks or build the 37-mile streetcar network, you need funding to pay for this.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 8, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport

"I understand the need for regional cooperation but has Virginia been so generous towards DC residents?"

Like Arlington subsidizing Artisphere that folks from Georgetown can walk to?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 8, 2013 3:10 pm • linkreport

Putting the central library in Truxton Circle is a very interesting idea.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 8, 2013 3:11 pm • linkreport

The direction of the MLK is being engineered to favor commercial reuse for these reasons:

- Nothing is being done to improve the existing library spaces. They are being allowed, deliberately, to decline. The intent is to give patrons the worse possible impression of the existing facility.

- The $100 to $200 million renovation figures are probably inflated. There are certainly options for renovating the building at less cost.

- The only reason this library is under attack is because the building is one of the most desirable in DC both from a location and architecture point of view. Its exterior architecture remains stunning. The views from the upper floors, especially in the direction of the Verizon Center are wonderful (and guess which side the private partnership will take?)

by kob on Jul 8, 2013 4:00 pm • linkreport

Truxton might be a stretch but Shaw I could see considering it has pretty comprehensive Metro + bus coverage plus it's close enough to the population center. That said, is the area really that much more affordable than Chinatown? I'm not sure you could find an area that provides enough economic incentive while also still being as accessible.

As an aside, I'm shocked people are so enamoured with the architecture, it looks incredibly dated to me.

by Alan B. on Jul 8, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

Re: Putting the central library in Truxton Circle is a very interesting idea.

This is a terrible idea. No subway station access, or at least not very amenable or convenient. The NoMA station is proximate but pretty far, and it's a s****y walk or bike ride and only a couple bus lines serve the area.

The whole point about a downtown location is overall accessibility by multiple modes in a relatively time efficient manner.

wrt drumz@3:08 general point, another thing to consider wrt the current location is the fact that there it's part of a "naturally occurring arts district" although somehow the city doesn't realize this or market it.

http://www.trfund.com/resource/downloads/creativity/NaturalCulturalDistricts.pdf

when my friend-colleague was interim director of the City Museum we intended to try to do some programming on arts and culture planning for that part of downtown. (She wasn't retained and so the initiative was aborted.)

In that area you have: Carnegie building; MLK; SAAM; Goethe Institut; various Shakespeare theaters; Wooly Mammoth; art gallery in Edison bldg.; Verizon Center; National Building Museum; Clara Barton site; Navy Museum; proximity to the various institutions on the National Mall; plus various other entities (the Cultural DC group and facility, arts facilities in that church on 8th St. NW, etc.); National Theater; certain facilities in the Press Building; Koshland; plus various for profit cultural facilities such as the Spy Museum and the Law Enforcement Museum and the Wax Museum + the Warner Theater + Landmark Cinemas

It's incredible/pathetic that all those cultural assets aren't marketed as a unit.

It's a crime that a Grand Library (like the one in Montreal but with enhanced cultural facilities) wouldn't be part of the mix.

by Richard Layman on Jul 8, 2013 4:31 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman -- That old saw from Santayana--"Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it..."--seems appropriate here.

FWIW, in 2002 when DCPL was in complete disarray, Anthony Williams went to Ralph Nader for help. Nader stepped up, created the DC Library Renaissance Project to work with the library "Friends" groups, and raised a lot of money for DCPL. And, as Ginnie Cooper has publicly testified, if it hadn't been for Ralph, the city wouldn't have hired her.

The West End Library was an outlier. Williams had been eyeing it for some time as the spot for Radio One. Prior to her early and unceremonious departure (18 months early) from Brooklyn Public Library, Cooper had worked with Architect Enqrique Norten on an ambitious design for a cultural library branch adjacent to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/03/arts/design/03bam.html?_r=0

That Brooklyn was never realized for lack of funds--it was 2006 just prior to the market crash and financial meltdown. However, all was not lost, and Mayor Bloomberg announced last fall that Norten's new design for a mixed-use project including the library space was on track for development.
http://archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6377

In the first iteration of the West End deal--an emergency sole-source maneuver orchestrated by Jack Evans--EastBanc gambled that Cooper would support the project because of Norten's involvement. In the end, it really made no difference since Cooper was busy with other things and let a few self-styled community advocates run the show.

In addition to some of the questionable details of the deal, there are numerous problematic design issues with the West Project that render MLK a veritable architectural masterpiece in comparison.

by LongTimeRez on Jul 8, 2013 4:40 pm • linkreport

did not know about the Brooklyn project. Thx. I will check it out. (And for the other back story, some of which I know, some I didn't.)

FWIW, I suggested back when I was doing H St. Main St. stuff that the execrable RL Christian Library could be replaced with a culture library branch to leverage the investment into the Atlas Performing Arts Center, and when the Children's Museum was there, to do a children's theater-library combo like the ImaginOn in Charlotte, NC.

Similarly, when there were proposals to do some cool stuff with the Kennedy Center and connecting it to the Potomac, that would have been a decent location for a culturally-related branch library, with the exception of Metro access.

by Richard Layman on Jul 8, 2013 5:59 pm • linkreport

Mies' "universal space" doesn't actually work particularly well for libraries; I say this as a regular (~monthly) user of MLK, and previous user of two Mies libraries in Chicago (UChicago SSA and IIT Galvin).

First off, books don't like either heat or light, which makes housing them in glass boxes with under-powered A/C pretty stupid. There's not enough interior space at MLK to push reading areas to the outside and books to the inside; instead, books end up in the only column-free areas, which are at the glassed-in ends of the building.

Second, libraries must be highly legible spaces: they warehouse information, so they demand a clear internal taxonomy and flow. Koolhaas' Seattle library is the clearest exploration of how the many uses contained within a library form a sequence of spaces. The instant you walk in, you flow through the building, guided to what you need. Black Miesian boxes work fine when housing a minimal number of uses. They're great as single-floor, single-use pavilions (post office, bank, art gallery) that can be comprehended at a glance, or as empty high-rise lobbies which only need to funnel people towards the elevator core. At MLK, the ground floor is a great sea of nothing, and circulation between and within floors is an afterthought at best.

Upon further reflection, maybe a new library could be included in a forthcoming reconfiguration of city offices around Judiciary Square, starting with a new police HQ. That would add a new public anchor and more activity to a part of downtown that can use it, and open up the existing building to a broader array of uses.

Regarding the architecture, the Secretary of the Interior standards for additions to historic buildings explicitly state that "new work will be differentiated from the old." Thus, even though the original Mies plans called for additional floors to be added to MLK, the new floors might not be able to look like a vertical extension of the existing building. Then again, Steven Semes points out that the rule's local applications are inconsistent: both Dulles Airport and the Kennedy-Warren Apartments were extended per original plans from the original architects, and NPS ruled in favor of the former but against the latter. Go figure.

by Payton on Jul 8, 2013 6:07 pm • linkreport

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