Dauntless D. C.


The main DC Public Library (DCPL) was closed for renovation when I was in our nation’s capital at cherry blossom time last spring, but I got a chance to visit the West End Neighborhood Library (WE), one of its 25 branches.


Daffodils were blooming in a wide strip of plants bordering the building and visible to all inside thanks to floor to ceiling plate glass windows.


In the lobby, express internet, self check and the catalog are straight ahead and to the right is a large coffee shop.  The bulletin board and big screen TV display up to date information and a few recommendations are scattered about.

I spoke to two friendly staffers at the circulation desk before looking up to admire Paragons of the West End.


The system’s foundation commissioned Adrienne Gaither for this magnificent piece that runs the length of the raised portion of the interior and calls attention to the high ceiling.

The library is very modern with huge tilted concrete pillars that make an emphatic statement and form geometric patterns.  Vibrant primary colored shelves accent the bright and airy facility.


I ran into Kevin Osborne, who’s in charge of this location, and he mentioned WE had just reopened last December after their renovation.  Among other things, a courtyard for warm weather fun was installed and I was delighted to learn they operated out of the infamous Watergate during construction.


Next to the patio, Children’s has nine computers and a Women’s History Month wall celebrating Sonia Sotomayor, Tina Fey, Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo etc.   Another happy moment occurred when I noticed Shirley Chisholm’s face amid the luminaries – my mother campaigned for the congresswoman in the ’72 primary when she was the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s nomination.  Can’t get away from politics in DC 😉


Eye level busy boxes on the ends of the picture book bins and racks keep toddlers entertained while parents look for new titles.  Blond wood slat partitions give the space a crisp, clean look and patterned carpet tiles covers up spills and can be replaced.


Near grape storage cabinets kids have the perfect seat to cozy up with a favorite author and the adjacent long hallway accommodates ample stroller parking.  Petite tables and chairs create a study area by an enormous mural depicting vines twining around two reading tots.  A Garden Party by Nekisha Durrette is courtesy of the DC Public Library Foundation too.


In just one week WE youngsters have several options besides the many storytimes for a variety of ages.  Go to Lego or book club, do crafts, or under two’s and preschoolers can take mini language skills sessions.

Elsewhere there are playgroups and storytimes in Spanish or pajamas or attended by dogs.  At dance parties, wee ones try out various instruments or go to beginning ESL.  Maker! lets youth over six create a different project weekly – mini robots, helicopter games, racing cars, airplanes, films, programming games and more.  At After School Zone, 9-12’s hang out or join in for activities, puzzles, board games… and Girls Who Code occurs during spring break.  YA’s come for Wii Game night, TAG teen advisory group and a Lounge.

DCPL also has an educator card for teachers and homeschooling parents that lets them check out up to a hundred books and audiobooks for nine weeks at a time.


Smaller gatherings use a nearby conference room instead

WE adults have coloring, yoga, anxiety reducing meditation, a film series, literary lectures and discussions, or coffee and conversation.   And the branch has a blog, its own Friends and book sale, retirement planning and author talks.

DCPL offers meet ups for beginning English speakers, tax assistance, PowerPoint I and Publisher Basics.  The job seekers legal clinic counsels on how to overcome barriers to employment or patrons can learn how to work a sewing machine or show your inner thespian at Reader’s Theater.   Tech Talk Tuesdays at the Center for Accessibility lets assistive technology users get together and share information on specific topics and Memoir Writing for Older Adults preserves precious memories.

Back in the adult section, I notice the gigantic beams have metal railings around them so people don’t accidentally walk into the slanting struts as I almost did 🙂


DCPL has an illustrious history.  Conceptualized in 1896 by an act of Congress, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated the money for the first building.  Sitting president Teddy Roosevelt was present when it was dedicated in 1903.

A federal depository, they increase visibility by setting up Library Takeouts at local happenings so residents can get a card and borrow materials immediately at their booth and as a partner of Community Connections, an organization that helps people find housing and avoid homelessness, obtain IDs, apply for benefits etc.


WE has an alcove with a copy and print center, five study rooms, wifi, 24 adult PCs and three Mac stations on long tables by Teen Fiction.  Other branches house the Memory Lab (scanning and digitization equipment), Studio Lab (recording and audiovisual post-production) and a configuration that let families visit D.C. Jail inmates via video.

Online you’ll find staff picks, an array of research guides and a slew of interesting podcasts.  In one, someone reads the first fifty pages to let you know if you should bother.  A second has episodes concentrating on overrated titles and suggested substitutes and there’s a Georgetown Poetry Series.  The website enhances the collection by 15 million items through goDigital movies, eBooks, etc.  Its learning arm, goThink, has tons of resources from music scores to consumer reviews to “InstantFlix” (notable shorts, documentaries and indie cinema) and includes Universal Class, a continuing education module, as well as databases like the Washington Post and New York Times archives from inception to present.


Reference, graphic novels and manga

Facebook features snaps of high profile galas and banner ads for Freegal Music and programs like Senior Speakeasy, Essential Oils, Open Mic Night and Mixtape Monday.  A video shows the Morehouse College’s Glee Club and Quartet preparing to sing and other postings promotes functions like Indoor & Outdoor Entertaining, where an interior decorator and a landscape designer impart their tips and tricks, and Death Cafe (to help make the most of your remaining days on Earth and discuss any concerns about mortality – with refreshments!).

#OnThisDayAtDCPL, a Twitter feed honoring the past, reports in 1905 they had 35,000 cardholders, and circulated about 1,500 books per day but now have 400,000 members taking out about 11,000 things per day and that “The Washington Post reported that eight neighborhood women modeled “the latest in women’s wear” in a fashion show held at the Chevy Chase library on Mar. 23, 1928. More than 200 people attended the event, which also featured orchestra music.”  How cool!  And to cap off Black History Month they were co-hosting a Twitter chat with “Who Is The Black Panther?” author Jesse J. Holland.


Lovely green glow

During the three years it’ll take to upgrade the flagship Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, they’ve opened a small express facility near it that has holds pick up, accessibility and adult literacy centers, some public internet stations and a training lab where most of the computer classes are taught.  Plus, DCPL extended hours and added public desktops at all branches.  You can still see the special collections by appointment.  I didn’t make one, so sadly missed the D.C. Punk Archive (comprised of personal ephemera like zines, photos, flyers, badges, bootlegs, cassettes, tickets and posters donated by fans and insiders).

Once the $208 million revamp is finished, the Mies van der Rohe designed edifice will boast a café and patio, an auditorium, a conference center, new reading room, a terraced roof top event space and spots for music production, fabrication and art creation.


From the WWII Memorial

What a marvelous boon for the congressionally underrepresented citizens of the District of Columbia!

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