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D.C. Public Library Director Hardy R. Franklin, 75

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 27, 2004; Page B06

Hardy R. Franklin, 75, who revitalized and expanded the D.C. Public Library system as its director for almost 23 years, only to resign under a cloud of scandal in 1997, died Aug. 22 at Washington Home hospice in the District. He had Alzheimer's disease, complicated by diabetes.

Dr. Franklin took over the struggling library system in July 1974 and during his tenure expanded the library's holdings fourfold and gained national attention for introducing an online catalogue, launching programs at day-care centers and increasing the library's services across the city.

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In his years as director, he became a popular figure in Washington and a political force. In 1989, he unsuccessfully challenged Mayor Marion Barry for control of the library's budget in court. He was nationally recognized in library circles and in 1993 was named president of the 52,000-member American Library Association.

By the time he left in January 1997, Dr. Franklin had increased the library's holdings from 650,000 volumes to 2.5 million, with 27 branch libraries and an annual budget of $21 million.

"Two and one-half million people used the D.C. library facilities last year," he said in 1992. "That means more people used the D.C. Public Library than attended all the Washington Redskins football games, Bullets basketball games and Washington Capitals hockey games, added to all those who attended concerts at the Kennedy Center."

In his final years at the library, the goodwill Dr. Franklin had cultivated was overshadowed by accusations of favoritism, embezzlement and sexual harassment.

In 1993, he fired the director of the library's budget department, Adelaide Okyiri, after she uncovered monetary shortfalls and other financial irregularities. When two judges ruled that Okyiri should be reinstated, the library spent $360,000 -- more than 14 percent of its budget for books -- fighting the decision in court.

In 1995, one year after the trustees of the D.C. library presented Dr. Franklin with the Martin Luther King Leadership Award, an audit revealed that the library had spent $45,000 in the preceding three years on a no-bid photography contract that went to a friend of Dr. Franklin's.

In the mid-1990s, two female employees of the library, an assistant director and a department head, lodged complaints against Dr. Franklin, claiming that he had subjected them to unwanted sexual advances since the 1970s. Nine other women signed supporting affidavits. After he stepped down as director, both cases were withdrawn.

Finally, in 1998, he was indicted on charges of theft and mail fraud for allegedly defrauding the city of $24,000 in expense reimbursements. By then, the embattled Dr. Franklin had had a severe stroke and a heart attack, compounded by the diabetes he had endured for many years.

In September of that year, he pleaded guilty to a charge of conflict of interest and was ordered to pay back the money and serve five months of home detention. Leaning on a cane in court and fighting back tears, he said, "I accept full responsibility."

Libraries had played an important part in the life of Hardy Rogers Franklin since he was growing up in segregated Rome, Ga. When he was 10, he was paid to read books to the 6-year-old son of a prominent white family in his home town. But when he went to the library on his own, he was turned away.

He graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, where one of his classmates and close friends was Martin Luther King Jr. After teaching and working as a librarian in Conyers, Ga., he served in the Army from 1953 to 1955, working as librarian on a general's staff on Okinawa.

In 1956, he received a master's degree in library science from Atlanta University and moved to New York, where he worked in the Brooklyn library system until 1968. After receiving a doctorate in library science from Rutgers University in 1971, he taught at Queens College in New York for three years, before coming to Washington.

Among his other achievements in the District, he spearheaded the drive for a mural of King, which was unveiled in 1986 at the downtown Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Dr. Franklin also extended the library's online catalogs to the city's high schools and the University of the District of Columbia, set up community libraries across the city, created an arts library and a weekly "dial-a-story" program, and brought such notable speakers as Rosa Parks and Vernon Jordan to the library.

His wife, Barbara Washington Franklin, said Dr. Franklin considered libraries "the universities of the public."

He was on the library boards of six universities, including Catholic University and the University of Maryland, and was a delegate to the White House Conference on Libraries. In 1983, he received the Allie Beth Martin Award of the American Library Association and, in 1987, was named a Washingtonian of the year by Washingtonian magazine.

He was a longtime member of Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington and an officer in the national professional honor society Sigma Pi Phi.

His wife of 28 years, Jarcelyn Fields Franklin, died in 1985.

Survivors include his wife of 17 years, Barbara Washington Franklin of Washington; a son from his first marriage, Hardy R. Franklin Jr. of Atlanta; a stepdaughter, Regan Alexandria Perry of St. Croix, Virgin Islands; two sisters; and one grandson.


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