Getting a Read on the King Library's Future

Monday, May 1, 2006

As the architect of the restoration and modernization of the Library of Congress, I was astounded to read that D.C. officials have concluded that the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library cannot be modernized. At the Library of Congress, we worked with a solid masonry, 19th-century building constructed before the widespread use of electricity -- and now it can accommodate 21st century (and beyond) information systems.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's library is a late-20th-century building with hung ceilings and abundant chases permitting any number of new systems. The "consultant" who said it cannot be modernized is wrong, and library officials should not try to justify a new building on the basis of such official vandalism.




I don't see how a new building, even one with modern technology reaching out to the branches [Metro, April 23], is going to make the operation of the D.C. library system any different when the system still will be managed by people who can't provide temporary facilities while renovating four branches.

I can't bring myself to support either a new building or renovation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library because I can't imagine that the library's board of trustees could handle either alternative successfully.




Should the city spend $180 million to build a library on the site of the old convention center? Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) says yes. We need a 21st-century public library to attract people and improve literacy and our neighborhoods, he says. This is the same mayor who has allowed the District's libraries to deteriorate shamefully.

I go to the central library once a week with a 14-year-old I mentor. No public restrooms are open on the first or second floors. One main elevator has been broken for more than nine months. Few drinking fountains work.

Nevertheless, $180 million could be invested more strategically than in a new downtown library. Neighborhood libraries could be linked to schools, more computers with Internet access could be made available at libraries across the city, and night and weekend hours could be extended.

The mayor's budget for a new library proposes $5 million for furniture. Give a team of interior designers that money to refurbish the main library instead. Mr. Williams says it can't support technology upgrades, but with wireless technology, we can run computers in the desert.

The D.C. Council should not be pressured by the mayor into deciding on a new library before his term ends. We need more public debate and idea sharing. Then the $180 million decision should be put to the voters.



© 2006 The Washington Post Company