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Open DC's neighborhood libraries on Sundays

The DC Public Library (DCPL) should open some neighborhood libraries on Sundays and instead stagger closings on other days of the week.

Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

Currently, DCPL closes all locations other than the main branch, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, on the same day of the week: Sunday. Residents and visitors are left with no neighborhood branch options every Sunday of the year.

My family loves to visit the library whenever we can. We take out dozens of books every month, mostly children's books, and enjoy hanging out at the library to read books and use computers. My family appreciates everything that the staff, many of whom know us by name, does to make the library fun and useful especially considering the cutbacks beyond staff control.

Libraries make our and other neighborhoods in the District more livable and enjoyable by offering books, recorded media, magazines and computers with Internet access to patrons of varied ages and interests. For example, DC Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), in its recently-released Digital Divide Strategy, specifically mentions libraries as having a role to address lower access to technology in Wards 5, 7 and 8.

For better or worse, we only benefit from our library branches when they are open. DCPL, like other regional library systems, has sustained budget cutbacks that have caused cuts to staff, programs, materials and hours.

In comparison to the surrounding counties, the District falls in the middle when measured by the number of days per week with library service. Fairfax and Montgomery Counties rise to the top with some branches open six and some open seven days per week. Alexandria and the District share the same pattern with the main branch open seven days and the neighborhood branches open six days per week. Arlington County opens its main branch seven days and then its branches vary between five and six days per week. Most Prince George's County branches are open five or six days with a small number open four days per week.

Many of our regional library systems have limited Sunday operations. Fairfax, Arlington and Montgomery all have some branches open on Sundays. Sure, you need to check the schedule to find out which ones are open on Sunday and the corresponding weekday those branches close to compensate for Sunday hours during these lean budget times. DC Public Library relies solely on the MLK location to provide Sunday hours. In total, 24 neighborhood branch libraries remain closed on Sunday. Alexandria has the same scheduling model as the District. Prince George's County closes all public libraries on Sunday.

Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper asked Director of Library Services, Nancy Davenport, to respond to whether Sunday is the best day for all branches to close, assuming that the six-day-a-week model remains in effect due to budget constraints. Davenport replied with a somewhat indirect response. She noted that the library cannot afford to open libraries seven days a week and that the MLK location provides Sunday coverage as the largest branch.

That response didn't specifically address the questions as to whether we can and should have neighborhood library coverage on Sundays. By closing some branches on a weekday, DCPL could make this happen without requiring additional funds.

President of the Board of Library Trustees, John W Hill Jr., at a library grand re-opening responded with a similar indirect answer. He suggested that the Council of the District of Columbia should fully fund the Library's request for funding to support seven-day-a-week operations.

DCPL is underestimating the negative impact of across the board Sunday closings on library patrons and our neighborhoods. More importantly, DCPL has not considered the option of having some branch libraries closed on a single weekday in order to open those branches on Sunday instead.

This would not require any additional funds for branch library staff since the branches would still only open six days per week. Centralized support staff already working to keep MLK open on Sundays could support the behind the scenes infrastructure to keep some branches running on Sundays.

There would be trade-offs for library patrons who use branches with the new Sunday hours. For example, kids who visit the libraries after school and job seekers preparing resumes during the work week would need to visit a different branch than their nearby one closed for a single weekday. On the flip side, everyone would have access to some of the branches with the new and improved Sunday hours.

Community groups such as the various "Friends of the Library" organizations could help the library determine which branches should switch to Sunday hours. DCPL could provide usage data such as book check-outs and computer usage hours to help groups determine on which day their neighborhood library should close for the smallest impact.

Overall, library patrons across the city would not have every branch open on Sundays. We would at least have options within more neighborhoods for Sunday library hours. Then we can make the choice to walk, bike, drive, bus or Metro to the nearest open branch on any given Sunday.

Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 25 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve. 


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I go to Arlington Library off Wilson Blvd on Sunday. The library is open until 9P; I was shocked when I saw that as I thought it would close at 5:30 or 6. As I trek over there I had the same thought as the poster. Opening a library per quadrant until more robust funding is found could be an alternative. MLK is not servicing neighborhoods. To me its opening serves the homeless population. All patrons need service.

by library patron on Dec 11, 2010 2:25 pm • linkreport

Biggest issue is likely union resistance to Sunday hours at other libraries. Also likely community resistance to their library being closed any day of the workweek.

by Fritz on Dec 11, 2010 2:28 pm • linkreport

@ Fritz

Why not shorten the hours Monday-Friday or Saturday for example

1 open 35 minutes later and close 35 minutes earlier
2 open 2 hour later close 1 hour later

Then take the resulting 6-7 hours and open libraries on Sundays for 6 hours.

I think more people use the library in the evenings after school or work than during the day except for during holidays, days off work or when school is out however the libraries are crowded on Saturdays

by kk on Dec 11, 2010 3:11 pm • linkreport

I recently looked into membership of local jurisdiction libraries. Somewhat to my surprise, I found that the entire DC region allows anyone in for free. That is DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax (plus cities), Loudoun, MoCo and PG counties.

So, if your jurisdiction closes on a particular day, check with the neighbors. We all live close to a border.

by Jasper on Dec 11, 2010 3:18 pm • linkreport

Given that DCPL is already facing budget cuts and staffing difficulties, this post seems naive. No amount of hour shifting will avoid having to pay overtime for at least some of these Sunday shifts. (Mostly b/c the Library has had to lay off most of its part-time staff.) And there just isn't the money to do that.

You should probably focus your efforts on keeping MLK open on Sunday. Unless the budgetary situation improves significantly, I'm guessing they'll look to save money by cutting those hours.

by MW on Dec 11, 2010 4:06 pm • linkreport

Actually, opening more libraries will require additional staff and funding. Sunday employees are required to be paid time and a half. There are barely enough employees with DCPL to cover the Sunday hours at MLK, so adding more open libraries on Sunday would require additional staff. DCPL recently let go of all of their part-time librarians as a result of the budget crunch, so Sunday hours require full-time staff to split their days, which can cause 6-day work weeks. Don't underestimate the value of staff morale in all of this. A happy staff is crucial for providing better customer service.

by Laura on Dec 11, 2010 4:11 pm • linkreport

Seriously, we have to pay people extra to provide services on weekends? Services that are in high demand on weekends? How does this make sense? Aren't there students who would love weekend work? Let's face it, library work isn't exactly backbreaking. When I was in college it was a coveted job.

I would love to take my son to the library on weekends but we only have one DCPL branch available to us on Sundays. This suggestion of shifting around hours to expand weekend library access makes a lot of sense to me.

by Ward 1 Guy on Dec 11, 2010 7:06 pm • linkreport

Time and a half for Sundays is silly. Retail work in libraries is like retail work in most other places: it's probably busiest on weekends, so everybody is expected to work then.

by Gavin on Dec 12, 2010 10:35 am • linkreport

talk about naive. dcpl is not your college library. the work can absolutely be back breaking. especially when you have to work ten days in a row because of how short staffed the system is. how about they get money to fill their many open positions? and then we can worry about asking even more of their staff.

by wow on Dec 12, 2010 10:53 am • linkreport

If Laura's comment "Sunday employees are required to be paid time and a half" is true, then there is opportunity to get more hours funded. Instead of paying employees time and a half on Sunday, get this "requirement" removed and limit employees to working up to 40 hours. Use the overtime money to hire part time employees to work at $8- $10/hour to fill in the Sundays and any hours where overtime is paid. The part time staff are cheaper since they get few, if any benefits. Eliminating overtime pay is an immediate reduction of unnecessary labor expense. If the libraries are not paying any overtime at all, then consider replacing one full time employee with 2 or move part time employees to move dollars spent for benefits to funding part time labor There are plenty of good people looking for work as supplemental retirement income or part time employment while attending school or raising kids. Tap into the part time labor pool as many private sector companies have done to reduce labor costs while providing more labor coverage.

Any "requirement" that forces higher wages to be paid on Sunday is just wrong IMHO .....

by Arlington guy on Dec 12, 2010 12:45 pm • linkreport

We need to think about our libraries as employment service centers also. During the Great Recession it's been pretty obvious that many of the patrons during the day are using library computers or wi-fi in job searches. Many job seekers do not have -- or no longer have internet access or need somewhere other than their homes for job searching. The traditional model of central employment services offices is not the only model, and not especially set up to serve out of work professionals. In Washington DC a portion of employment services office funds should help to keep our libraries open and ideally some of the employment services staff would be deployed to the libraries to create satellite service centers.

by Sarah on Dec 12, 2010 5:19 pm • linkreport

DCPL is now 3 budget years into massive cutbacks, like most other city agencies.

Even libraries in "tony" parts of town like GT and Cleveland Park are on skeleton crews and having to operate under 25% fewer hours per week as it is.

There is no way whatsoever that the city will magically find millions of dollars tomorrow to return libraries to their 2007 and before operating capacity.

Its simply the way it is in this economy.

by freely on Dec 12, 2010 5:39 pm • linkreport

DC's libraries have always been much loved across the board, with every ward and demographic--even in the Barry years and, yet, they are always the first thing to get cut. The fundamental vulnerability of the libraries needs to be addressed. While the libraries have sustained cuts, money has gone into other things like the protracted and surprisingly un-noticable revamp of 17th St.

Having done wage labor on all kind of schedules, I have no problem with people making time and a half on Sunday, esp. given the low wage rates that are typical for librarians (teachers do better and some librarians have master's degrees in a content area). The idea of taking a few hours here, putting them their is unreasonable, as well. I'm sure some readers are salaried wage slaves, but with the intention of only being so temporarily and someday making a lot of money or at least having a little power. Librarians look forward to rather little of either.

by Rich on Dec 12, 2010 8:45 pm • linkreport

MLK Library is a cesspool. I was a library student at Catholic in the mid-90s and was forced to enter the premises by an instructor for a building assessment. Homeless urinating in the hallways outside the bathrooms, a periodical collection that was based on donations since everything was stolen, etc. This place is a travesty especially when you consider how amazing the NYC Public Library is on 5th Avenue. There's no excuse for this abomination in a sizeable city such as DC and supposed "wealth" of its citizens.

by Mark on Dec 12, 2010 9:30 pm • linkreport

DC Public Library is funded by D.C. government, and their employees are government employees subject to government rules. Major cuts are taking place across the city government. Four furlough days will be taken by all city employees, probably on what used to be paid holidays. There is no overtime for non-emergency services. The situation in D.C. is dire right now.

Arlington guy wants to fire full time employees for part time employees? While that may help the budget situation, tell that to people who rely on a full time salary to pay the bills. Plus, if you only want to pay people $10/hour, what kind of employees will you get?

by gonzo on Dec 12, 2010 10:45 pm • linkreport

FYI, Georgetown University's library is open to the general public for free seven days a week..they even let people unaffiliated with the university have borrowing privileges (for a substantial fee, of course.)

by Phil on Dec 13, 2010 1:11 am • linkreport

Long-time library lover here. The writer said DCPL hasn't considered having some branch libraries closed on a single weekday in order to open those branches on Sunday. How does he know that? You may not like the decision but that doesn't mean that there was no thought behind it.

As for the part time workers on sundays. DCPL once had them. Then their budget was cut and they were forced to let them all go.

From this I would suggest that the writer do a little more advocacy for library funding instead of waiting for DCPL to get a raw budget deal then complain about the decision they have to make in light of a poor budget. Looking over the article again, the head of the library politely told you the same thing.

by really on Dec 13, 2010 8:39 am • linkreport

@ Mark. MLK has come a long way since the mid-90s. Maybe you should go visit. You may find that things have changed. Its only been close to 15 years.....

by really on Dec 13, 2010 8:41 am • linkreport

@ Really. Based on my two interactions with DCPL leadership I cited in the article, I concluded that weekday closures had not been formally considered. This possibility was not mentioned in either communication.
It would be great if you could provide additional details about whether it was considered and the pros/cons that resulted from the discussion.
As much as any library user, I'd like to see DCPL fully funded for branches to be open seven days a week. It does not seem likely that the Council will provide this funding in the near future given the challenging budget environment.

by Mitch Wander on Dec 13, 2010 11:16 am • linkreport

@ Mitch. Let me say first that I think it's important for libraries to be open every day. I've lived in DC for a long time and it wasn't until recent (maybe 2 or 3 years ago) that Sundays hours were even added. And it's my understanding that Sundays are not as busy as other days of the week. So if I had to pick which day to close, I would pick the one that's least busy...wouldn't you?

by booklover on Dec 13, 2010 2:15 pm • linkreport

@ Booklover. We're in 100 percent agreement on both of your points. It would be great if libraries were open seven days per week. And, if we have to close a library one day per week, it should be the day with the least demand.

I'd suggest that the "Friends of the Library" groups could provide input on your question, if given the opportunity.

I did read on article with a quote by Robin Diener, who heads the DC Library Renaissance Project. She noted that Sundays "...are very popular from the public's point of view."


by Mitch Wander on Dec 13, 2010 2:34 pm • linkreport

Off my topic, but having all of the libraries closed on the same day makes it easier to remember which branch is open and which is closed. The MLK branch is convenient to transit. Given the District's financial situation I'm afraid we can expect fewer hours for our library system and not more.

by Mr. Transit on Dec 13, 2010 10:40 pm • linkreport

If you care, advocate for library funding. Otherwise, don't complain and wait for someone else to fix things. Libraries are just managing to tread water. They need help--from voters and elected officials. And tax revenue. There is no free lunch.

by Glitterdog on Dec 17, 2010 2:36 pm • linkreport

DCPL employees do not get "overtime" on weekends. Every employee of DC Public Library works two nights a week until 9 pm, every other Saturday, and many Sundays at MLK, which is a sacrifice to their families and social lives. Employees of Fairfax and Arlington counties do not work hours like these, and those counties have much higher staffing numbers despite the cuts that all libraries have all suffered. DCPL employees do get extra pay for working Sundays and it's about a dollar more an hour. This is a Union thing, but it's certainly not what's preventing every branch from being open on Sundays. Nor is the Union actively trying to keep the libraries closed on Sundays, and is not strong enough to do so if they were inclined.

The Union does prevent public servants from being actual even though DCPL employees work many nights and weekends, they still do get days off. 28 branches open 7 days a week requires hiring additional staff, period, especially when staff are stretched out over weekday hours thinly already.

Currently (and throughour history) there has never been an urban library system in the country which keeps all branches open on Sundays. When DCPL had those hours, they were the first and only ones. If you are interested in keeping the library open on Sunday, the only way will be additional funding, so please be active in supporting your library.

by anon on Apr 19, 2012 3:51 pm • linkreport

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