Visiting Washingtoniana — the MLK Library’s collection of more than 25,000 books and other printed materials documenting the District of Columbia’s history — is like taking a trip back in time. What’s historic about Washingtoniana is not just the documents, but also the shelving units and cabinetry design to preserve and protect them.
Kim Zablud, the library’s interim assistant director, was our guide on a recent walk-through.
The answer to almost any question about this city’s social, legal and political history can be found in Washingtoniana. The problem, Ms. Zablud told us, is that the storage facilities are as outdated as the documents are historic. And that means not only is the public’s access to these treasures limited, but some are at risk of decay if not properly stored.
She showed us old bound volumes of Washington, D.C., newspapers such as the National Intelligencer, which published from about 1800 to 1870, and the Evening Star, a daily afternoon newspaper published in D.C. from 1852 to 1981.
They’re in tattered brown volumes, shelved horizontally. Some are on the third floor and the rest are tucked away in the basement, not easily accessible to the public.
It’s only a matter of time before these pages of history are yellowed and torn – their contents and stories lost forever.
An old-fashioned wooden library card catalog is part of Washingtoniana. Sorting through all the cards, matching them to items in the library, and digitizing those records is a major undertaking. Ms. Zablud said it would require hiring extra temporary staff and working closely with them, as much of the task involves judgment calls.
One enormous metal storage device labeled “Kardex” was state-of-the-art when the library opened in 1970, Ms. Zablud told us. A mechanism inside allowed the shelves to rotate when a crank was turned.
Now, however, no repairmen know how to maintain or fix it. And only one staff member has the strength and just the right touch to get the mechanism to rotate. Unless he is in the building, materials inside this device are inaccessible, Ms. Zablud said.
As we rounded the corner, Ms. Zablud’s face softened and she smiled widely when she saw her a row of neatly labeled, uniform grey boxes, some protected behind glass cabinet doors.
“This is what storage should look like,” she said. “Acid free, clearly labeled, accessible, appropriately sized. I want to see seas of grey archival boxes. I want to do justice to the materials we are charged with protecting.”
Staff, historic preservationists and community members alike hope the renovated MLK Library will include those “seas of grey archival boxes,” as well as a more prominent, accessible and showcase-like space for the library’s special collections.
Finally, Ms. Zablud showed us a model of the library from the exterior from the building’s planning and design phase – yet another Washingtoniana treasure worth carefully preserving.
MLK Library Renovation Blog
Serving Native Spanish Speakers
Published on Thursday, September 25, 2014
As we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, the timing is perfect to share what we're hearing from D.C.’s Spanish-speaking residents about the MLK Library renovation. Just over 1 in 10 D.C. residents are of Hispanic or Latino origin, according to the 2013 U.S. Census. More than 70 percent of those speak a language other than English at home.
Recently, Latino students at the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School joined us in a conversation about the Library’s future. All were relatively recent immigrants enrolled in the school’s English language learners’ program.
NCPC Announces Public Scoping Meeting
Published on Thursday, September 18, 2014
The lead regulatory agency for the MLK Memorial Library renovation is the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the federal planning agency for the nation's capital. NCPC's review process includes an environmental assessment of the project under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Preparation of the environmental assessment will enable NCPC to evaluate and analyze the environmental impacts of the project and alternatives under consideration.
The NEPA process requires a public scoping meeting where various alternatives are shared. The public is invited to provide feedback on the potential environmental impacts of the alternatives.
The NEPA public scoping meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the MLK Memorial Library, 901 G Street NW.
Published on Wednesday, September 17, 2014
When renovation starts, the central library at 901 G St. NW will be closed. During that time, library services at MLK will have to be relocated to an interim location.
As we plan for the renovation -- and our interim space -- we need your input!
Please take our short survey to help inform decisions about interim services.
Community and Cultural Spaces
Published on Friday, September 12, 2014
Places for fun and for peace
Share your ideas for the new central library
Published on Thursday, September 4, 2014
The Library is hosting a series of neighborhood meetings to share information about the MLK Library renovation project and gather feedback from residents about what library services they would like to see in their central library.
Dates and locations for September are:
Tuesday, Sept. 23, 6:30 p.m.
William O. Lockridge/Bellevue Library
Thursday, Sept. 25, 6:30 p.m.
Francis A. Gregory Library
Tuesday, Sept. 30, 7 p.m.
St. Paul's Parish
2430 K St. NW
Re-Imagine a New Central Library
Published on Monday, August 25, 2014
Take a virtual tour of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Hear why this historic building needs a complete renovation and how we hope to transform it into a state-of-the-art central library for D.C. residents.
Watch the video.
Learn more about the MLK Library renovation at dclibrary.org/mlkfuture.
On the importance of engaging a diverse community
Published on Monday, August 11, 2014
We recently spoke with John Tinpe, a member of the MLK Library Renovation Advisory Panel and an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the neighborhood surrounding MLK Library. Specifically, Tinpe represents ANC 2C, which is the section of Ward 2 that extends roughly from 15 St. NW east to I-395, and from Massachusetts Ave. NW south to Independence Ave. SW.
Mr. Tinpe shared his thoughts on the renovation and the importance of keeping members of D.C.’s diverse community engaged in the process.
Services for People With Disabilities
Published on Monday, August 4, 2014
Patrons of the Martin Luther King Jr. Library who use Adaptive Services have said they hope to feel welcome, comfortable and at ease in the newly renovated central library. Whether a disability impairs a person’s sight, vision or mobility, the library should accommodate everyone.
Published on Tuesday, July 22, 2014
A major goal for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library renovation is to open up the building and make it more inviting for the public, said the project’s lead architect, Francine Houben, of the Dutch architectural firm Mecanoo.
“People must realize that libraries are not just about books,” said Houben from her office in the Netherlands during a July 10 webcast about the renovation. “They are about people: People meeting each other, exchanging knowledge, furthering their education. Libraries are about lifelong learning.”
Published on Friday, July 18, 2014
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library will undergo a major renovation. The design and planning process for that renovation began last fall with the process to select and architect. We now have a concept design for the renovated building from the selected team of Martinez + Johnson/Mecanoo. The various required regulatory processes will begin this fall.