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

"If Washington is truly the capital of the free world in its fullest sense it needs a capital library that is at least equal - and ideally superior - to any public library on earth."

--A Capital Library for a Capital City:  A Blueprint for Change (2006)


What does a world-class library system look like in the 21st century?

Behavioral data tells us that library buildings need to be built where people are (not just "where they sleep").  Libraries need to invite and encourage exploration; they need to offer quiet placesNew Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library to read and reflect, as well as spaces for shared learning and collaboration; and they need to provide the public with access to mainstream technology. Finally, they need to be large enough to provide space, services and collections to draw the public, and to be staffed efficiently; flexible and sustainable enough to accommodate future uses; and housed in buildings that respect the earth and maximize the efficient use of resources.

Library buildings need to be "where people are" (not just where they sleep)...

Data shows that visits to the library do not always originate from home, and they often occur in combination with other activities. People travel to the library from their workplaces and schools; they visit libraries in the middle of shopping, or while running errands in the midst of busy lives.

In general, a good retail location is a good library location. Including libraries in retail corridors enhances the attractiveness and success of both the library and the retail business.

Library buildings are being designed to invite exploration...

Transparent exterior walls that allow people passing by to see what's going on inside the library invite the community to come inside and explore. Such design also allows for the use of natural light, and creates a more visually interesting environment for people inside the library.

Libraries need to keep pace with evolving mainstream technology...

Libraries need to be proactive in finding ways to use current and evolving technologies to improve library services. Technology is no longer seen as a special feature, but as an integral element in the basic work of the library. Library facilities need to be designed in such a way that this integration can continually evolve with a minimal need for expensive retrofitting.

Libraries tend to follow technological trends rather than create them. (Bar codes on books came after bar codes on cans of vegetables.) And while people don't expect their libraries to lead the way in uses of technology, they do expect them to keep up with mainstream technology. The time between people saying "I can't believe the library has X," to the time when they say "I can't believe the library doesn't have Y," is getting shorter and shorter.

Libraries are offering spaces for shared learning and collaborative creation...

Library "zones" are increasingly being designed to accommodate types of activities, rather than specific age groups. This makes sense: a 16-year-old job seeker has more in common with a 60-year-old job seeker than with his 16-year-old peers who may be looking for music videos or working on school projects with other students. A storytelling area might offer a place to read books to toddlers; or for elderly people to share their life stories.

Library buildings continue to offer quiet places for people to read and reflect...

While the days of "Shhh!  You're in the library!" are a thing of the past, libraries still need to provide quiet places where people who want to read, study or just reflect quietly can do so.

Library buildings need to be flexible...

While no one knows what changes future technologies will bring; there will be changes that cannot be predicted that must be accommodated in the future.

Today's libraries are being built to be easily reconfigurable, with few walls and raised floors.  Modular, movable furniture and equipment, even shelves on wheels, also provide the flexibility needed.

Library buildings need to be large enough to be staffed efficiently.

Part of the commitment to good stewardship of public funds is that the library must optimize the return on investment of every dollar. As at all libraries, staffing is DC Public Library's greatest expense: 70 percent of the operating budget.

Library size has a direct bearing on staffing efficiencies: for example, DC Public Library's larger libraries, such as Anacostia, Benning and Watha T. Daniel/Shaw libraries, support nearly three times the service per staff member of the smaller locations, such as Parklands-Turner, Deanwood and Northwest One libraries.

While the larger libraries provide three times the books, computers and seats; they require only two or three more staff. A small library may need five staff, while the larger libraries, around 20,000 square feet, require seven or eight.6

Libraries need to provide a "green" model for the community...

With their emphasis on reuse/return/recycle, libraries have always been inherently "green": their book and other collections can be used by the whole community, an ecologically sound practice if ever there were one.

District of Columbia building code requires that all new buildings must be designated at least LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver by the U.S. Green Building Council. But a desirable direction for libraries is to move from carbon neutral to carbon positive; and green operations as well as green buildings should be the goal and direction of future facilities planning.




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6See Appendix H.

Executive Summary
I. Transforming DC Public Library for the 21st Century
II. Library Services in the 21st Century
IV. Recommendations
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