Temporary Facilities, Bookmobiles Fill Gaps

Ginnie Cooper, head of the library system, says that forums will allow residents to share their views about what their new libraries should include.
Ginnie Cooper, head of the library system, says that forums will allow residents to share their views about what their new libraries should include. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 24, 2006

The D.C. Public Library system will soon open two temporary facilities to serve readers in neighborhoods whose libraries are closed for renovations.

The first will open by the end of the month in a storefront at 4200 Wisconsin Ave. in Tenleytown, and the "high-tech bookmobile" now based at Albermarle Street and Fort Drive NW in that area will be moved to another part of the city for use by schools and senior citizens.

Library officials have also chosen a temporary location for the Anacostia facility in Southeast. A prefabricated, modular building was shipped from Indiana by tractor-trailer and will be set up behind the existing library at 1800 Good Hope Rd. Library officials said the bookmobile now at 1603 Good Hope Rd. will remain open through early next year.

Until the temporary facilities open, those neighborhoods and two others are being served by the bookmobiles, which are stocked with books and computers linked to the Internet.

Since September, the $500,000 bookmobiles have been stationed in Shaw, Anacostia, Benning and Tenleytown, because libraries there were shut for modernization and aren't scheduled to reopen until 2008 or 2009.

In addition to thousands of books, the 40-foot-long, 7-foot-high bookmobiles have eight Dell personal computers and free WiFi connections. They are open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday.

"The communities were understandably upset that the libraries were closed, so we began operating the mobiles," spokeswoman Monica Lewis said.

But the bookmobiles haven't stopped some people's complaints about insufficient library services.

There are 27 branches of the library system, and many of them are open until 9 some evenings. Many residents of neighborhoods who watched their branches close for renovations said the bookmobiles aren't open long enough and are too far from the original branches.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Charlene Exum of Fort Dupont said that when the Benning branch at Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue NE closed two years ago, the children in her area were faced with a 30-minute walk to get to the bookmobile, double the time it took to get to the branch.

"We have a lot of children and seniors who just can't get there," Exum said. "How many first-graders can catch a bus to go read a book?"

Over the next few weeks, the Shaw and Benning neighborhoods also will receive temporary, modular libraries. The Benning library will be housed near the Boys & Girls Club at Benning Road and 41st Street NE. The Benning bookmobile is parked at two locations: From 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., it is at the Chartered Family Health Center, 3924 Minnesota Ave. NE, and from 3 to 6 p.m., it is at the Boys & Girls Club parking lot at 4103 Benning Rd. NE.

The Shaw temporary library will be at Shaw Junior High School, 925 Rhode Island Ave. NW. That area's bookmobile is parked at 1401 Seventh St. NW.

Ginnie Cooper, chief librarian for the District, said the bookmobiles were conceived as an effort to give children and adults access to library facilities during the renovations.

The overhauling of the District's 1950s-style public libraries is part of a $170 million project. In coming weeks, library officials will hold public forums to get input from communities, Cooper said.

"We will begin meeting with residents early next year to get them to help me better understand what they need in their communities," she added.

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