Northeast Library History
The Northeast Neighborhood Library, the fourth oldest DC Public Library building still in operation, was the first public library branch to be built in the District entirely with public funds.
The story of the library at 330 7th St. NE, built in 1932, began with a woman named Bessie Burrows. The well-connected private citizen was the motivating force behind gaining appropriations from Congress in 1929 for a neighborhood library in Northeast Washington. Congress set aside $35,500 to purchase a site and an additional $150,000 to cover construction costs. Designs for the two-story Georgian Revival-style brick library building were prepared by Albert L. Harris, the city's Municipal Architect. Harris was also responsible for designing some of the original wood furnishings fitted for the interior of the library.
In addition to Burrows' efforts, the Rhode Island Avenue Citizens Association played an integral role in convincing the library's administration and Congress of the need for a public library in their neighborhood. Imminent plans for numerous new schools, along with the related need to provide schoolchildren with library materials, were part of the case they made to the Library and Congress. The association also argued that the nearest library, the Central Library at Mt. Vernon Square, was too far from the residential areas developed at 7th Street and New York Avenue NE.
Northeast's public library was built on a vacant lot, once occupied by the Eagle Coal Company, at 7th Street and Maryland Avenue NE. The Library bought the land for $28,500. A $150,000 appropriation by Congress in 1930 paid for the construction of the building and its equipment. The building was constructed by the Boyle-Robertson Company. The exterior featured stone quoining at the corners, semicircular arched windows on the first story, and a slightly projecting central pavilion capped by a pediment. The interior woodwork and furnishings were rendered in walnut, and careful attention was paid to reproducing colonial designs.
A branch opens in Northeast
The Northeast Library opened March 11, 1932, with presentations by Dr. George C. Havenner, President of the Federation of Citizen's Associations and member of the Library Board of Trustees; Representative William P. Holaday of the House Appropriations Committee; Evan H. Tucker, President of the Northeast Washington Citizen's Association; and Cecil J. McHale, the first branch librarian of the Northeast Branch. Havenner emphasized the building's modern and careful design, praising the municipal architect.
The library originally contained 20,000 volumes; 11,500 were the children's collection. The hours of operation were 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday. On Saturdays, the library was open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the library was closed Sundays. The extraordinarily large staff of 16 people was headed by McHale from 1932 to 1938.
Hale’s report on the status of operations at the Northeast Branch, four months after opening, praised the building's design:
“The building, outside and in, is admirably adapted to be the home of a model major Neighborhood Library. Nearly four months of occupancy demonstrates that the floor space is laid out economically and the rooms are readily accessible. The lighting is nearly perfect as I have ever seen in a public building,” he wrote. “...The combination of dark woodwork and lighter walls is to me a happy one, restful and pleasing. The furniture is utilitarian as well as artistic.” The report also mentioned trends in patronage, including the high demand for foreign language books in French, Italian, German, and Spanish, and the demand for technical books from patrons working in the mechanical and building trades.
The library circulated 265,424 volumes and registered over 3,400 patrons during its first four months of operation. Within the first five years, the library's collection grew to 33,000 books and, by 1941, it boasted 12,992 registered card holders. The library also served as a place of community activity and display. D.C. Public Librarian George Bowerman initiated a program to display the artwork of local artists in the public library branches, with the Northeast Branch as one of the focal points of this program. The policy of displaying artwork in libraries was aimed at bringing examples of contemporary art to the citizens, especially children. In the late 1930s and 1940s, several public programs were initiated including a children's story hour and "An Evening with the Victrola." A small auditorium was erected adjacent to the main building to house these activities, as well as to accommodate community meetings. Lectures from library
Outreach over the years
During World War II, public libraries in the District contributed to the war effort by providing space for warden posts, registration centers and Red Cross bases. The Northeast Branch played a role in the "Victory Book Campaign," which provided book lending to overseas servicemen. It also served as the meeting place of the air raid wardens assigned to Stanton Park and Lincoln Park. The Northeast Branch celebrated its tenth anniversary during the war with displays and lectures on the usefulness of books.
Iva Swift succeeded Cecil J. McHale as branch librarian in 1938, and served in that capacity until 1949. During Swift's tenure, the library increased its collection, its informational resources, and its connections to the community. During the 1950s and 1960s, with demographic changes occurring in the neighborhood, the focus of the library shifted. A collection of literature for young adults was formed, previously unobtainable prints and records were offered, and the demand for children's books was met with an expanded collection. In 1959 and 1960, the Northeast Branch had the highest circulation of children's books in the District.
The late 1960s witnessed the initiation of an expansive outreach program by the Capitol East Community Organization, which sponsored a drive to register all schoolchildren in the area at either the Southeast or Northeast Branch Libraries. The libraries collectively succeeded in issuing 4,068 library cards during the drive.
In the early 1970s, the building’s basement became devoted to a carpenter's shop, where colorful and original furniture for the library was made. Later, a bookmobile station was set up in the same space. Library programs also focused on acquainting children in the public schools with the resources of the public library through visits by children's librarians. The early 1980s saw the advent of the computer age in the DC Public Library System, and a computerized circulation system was installed at the Northeast branch in August 1981. Computer upgrades and new software, including CITYCAT PAC and INFOTRAC, increased the library's capacity to easily and efficiently locate information for its patrons.
Branch librarian Alfred Maury directed a building renovation in April 1982. The annual report that year stated that the "renovation has infused new life and interest in an old building that the greater majority of people prefer retaining." The renovation included new carpeting, modernizing the staff kitchen, the addition of handicapped accessible entries, the installation of an elevator, repainting and the addition of a new heating system.
In October 2012, Northwest Neighborhood Library began a $10 million historic renovation, which will include new elevators, plumbing, furniture and flooring.