DC Public Library Services and Facilities: A Framework for Continuing Success

DC Public Library Services and Facilities: A Framework for Continuing Success

"The role of libraries in the 21st century is changing.  And one of those changes is that libraries will increasingly be places where people can meet." 
--Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray (2010)

Transforming DC Public Library for the 21st Century...

In 1896 the District of Columbia Public Library was created by an Act of Congress, in which the purpose of the Library was simply and clearly stated:

"To furnish books and other printed matter and information services convenient to the homes and offices of all residents of the District."

In 2006, a Blue Ribbon Task Force charged with assessing DC Public Library's strengths, weaknesses and opportunities issued a report titled A Capital Library for a Capital City: A Blueprint for Change. That report made two fundamental recommendations:

1) to revitalize DC Public Library's neighborhood libraries to meet 21st-century opportunities; and
2) to build a new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library "that inspires and empowers."


DC Public Library: A Framework for Continuing Success is based upon the dual platform of the 1896 Act of Congress that created it and the 2006 Blue Ribbon Report, which recommended changes needed to bring it up to date.

The purpose of this report is to provide the mayor and the city council with specific recommendations to guide them in future library services and facilities planning and decision-making. The Board of Trustees has developed these recommendations in collaboration with the D.C. Office of Planning and with a team of nationally recognized library planning consultants1.

The recommendations are based on national and local data concerning behavioral patterns of library use and the needs of library users. They draw on current best practices as well as forward-thinking "next practices" from both within and outside of the library world.

The body of this Report will summarize and explain the findings that led to these recommendations.Girl on computer

A Process Well Underway...

While DC Public Library continues to carry out its mission as it was originally conceived by Congress more than a century ago, in the 21st-century new ways of accomplishing the same mission have evolved. In a new and ever-changing world of information, DC Public Library plays an increasingly vital role in the lives of those who live and work in the District of Columbia; and its importance as a place where people can meet and communities can grow and thrive continues to evolve.

With funding made available by D.C. mayors and the City Council, the DC Public Library Board of Trustees has moved to carry out the recommendations made in the Blue Ribbon report. The transformation and revitalization of the D.C. public libraries called for in that Report is well underway.

Library Services

Library services have been expanded and improved throughout the system.
  • Services to Children, Youth and Teens
  • DC Public Library promotes literacy and provides books and programs for children and their parents and caregivers, beginning at birth. Programs for the very young focus on emerging literacy skills and prepare children for school; work with children, parents and educators to promote success for kids in elementary and middle school; programs like Teen Read-In and involving teens in program planning help keep high school students engaged.

  • Ready to Work and Other Workforce Development Programs
  • The award-winning Teens of Distinction program provides employment for high-school-age D.C. residents.
  • In September 2010, a web portal that provides a wide range of online training and resources for job seekers was introduced.
  • Adult literacy programs, English language classes for new Americans, GED preparation and tutoring, databases of tests for licensing and certification all support and carry out DC Public Library's "ready-to-work" initiative.
  • A 2010 study found that 40 percent of computer users at DC Public Library used the computers to research and apply for jobs; and 20 percent reported that they found jobs as a result.2
  • Access to Information and Resources via 21st-Century Technology for all D.C. Residents
  • Since 2006 the number of computers for the public to use in DC Public Library has increased from a little more than 100 to about 700.
  • There is now free WiFi access, and broadband capacity in all libraries.
  • Bridging the "digital divide" is a high priority. In January 2010, a pilot program at Woodridge and Francis Gregory libraries provided seniors with training in computer and Internet use, as well as with refurbished computers and free robust broadband access in their homes. This program served as a model for expanded programs funded under a $1.5 million American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) Broadband grant, which will train up to 1,600 D.C. residents and provide free computers and Internet access to 1,000 participants.
  • DC Public Library was the first library in the nation to offer iPod-compatible audio books and an iPhone application for library users.

  • A Place for People to Meet
  • "Clean, safe, and open when scheduled" is the standard that is now being met.
  • All libraries in the system provide community meeting spaces, and the new libraries have state-of-the-art gathering spaces.

Library Facilities

Library facilities have been improved in much of the system.
  • By the end of calendar year 2011, 13 of the 24 neighborhood libraries will have been replaced or renovated (see Appendix D).

The library has received widespread praise in local and national press for improvements made since 2006. But the most important endorsement has been from the people of the District, who enthusiastically use their libraries in record numbers. System-wide circulation is up 126 percent since 2006. At the new libraries opened in 2010, circulation is more than double what it was in the interim libraries that preceded them, and nearly 14,000 new library cards were issued at the new libraries in the first few months they were open. The new libraries have created a positive "buzz" that is energizing and exciting for the whole community.

A Continuing Process...

Much has been accomplished: yet much remains to be done. The FY2011 Capital budget includes no funding for continuing the vital work of replacing or modernizing the remaining neighborhood libraries--Capitol View, Chevy Chase, Cleveland Park, Lamond-Riggs, Northeast, Palisades, Shepherd Park, Southwest, West End and Woodridge.3  Plans have not been made, and funding has not been identified for the new central library recommended by the Blue Ribbon Report.

In cities across the nation and around the world, new and revitalized libraries have been a critical public resource for job seekers and workforce development as well as an effective engine of urban development. The Blue Ribbon report's call to create a new central library "to inspire and empower" expresses the potential of DC Public Library to do the same for the District of Columbia. But it cannot do this without sufficient funding.

DC Public Library's work with the D.C. Office of Planning through this planning process, summarized in Appendices A, B1 and B2 (maps may take awhile to download), has provided a basis for determining how the continuing transformation of DC Public Library can help foster economic development in the District while continuing to provide and improve the essential library services and resources all of its citizens need and deserve.

"Libraries can play a crucial role in encouraging innovation and creativity, and DC Public Library can be a key partner in helping to foster entrepreneurial activity, and in ensuring that all of the District's communities benefit from its growing economic prosperity."
-- D.C. Office of Planning (2010)


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1See Appendix I for a summary of current and future trends in library planning.  Also see georgeandjoan.com.
2U.S. Impact Study: Web Survey Results, University of Washington Information School, 2010
3West End Library is scheduled to be replaced through the District's development agreement with Eastbanc.

Executive Summary
II. Library Services in the 21st Century
III. A "Great, Good Place" for the 21st Century
IV. Recommendations
View Full Report (PDF)