In Langston Dwellings, where people are concerned about crime, jobs, keeping the streets clean and getting faulty bathrooms repaired, saving a one-room library may seem insignificant, but some residents don't think so.
Led by Joline Bloxson, president of the Langston Dwellings Resident Council, parents, residents and children here are trying to save the Langston library, a small, one-room collection of reference materials, best-sellers and children's books that has been in the basement of an apartment building at 701 24th St. NE in this Northeast public housing project since 1943.
D.C. Public Library officials plan to close the library and replace it with a prefabricated circular structure to be built a few blocks away from the Langston branch. Residents have met with library officials and carried petitions to the mayor's office, but to no avail. Library officials said last week the move will take place later this year.
In a way, the library is an informal institution here, a way of life for children who come each afternoon to get help with homework, use books they do not have at home or find a quiet place to study.
Over the years, hundreds of children and teen-agers have written term papers, finished homework, learned to read, played chess, gossiped with friends and even flirted with the opposite sex in the library. It is an unlikely refuge amid the often rough-and-tough world along the lower end of Benning Road.
One day last week, 12-year-old Arre Maddox arrived at the library at 3:30 p.m. and started on her math homework. She is one of a few dozen children who regularly file into the library shortly after the school day ends, said librarian James Quinn.
Maddox, a sixth grader at Blow Elementary School, said she comes to the library to use dictionaries and encyclopedias that she doesn't have at home. Maddox said most of the time she prefers to study after school rather than play. "I don't like playing around here. There's too much trouble," she said.
Elsewhere in the library, small children, their feet barely touching the floor even in the tiny chairs built for them, look at picture books.
The library is in the heart of the project and even the small children come there on their own. That's why it's so important to keep the library where it is, residents say.
"Little public housing children don't have much anyway," said Bloxson.
Bloxson said her daughter, now a student at the University of the District of Columbia, used the library while growing up here. It helped her daughter and other children at Langston and at the nearby Carver Terrace public housing project develop good study habits, she said. It is also a safe place for children to congregate after school.
"Parents know where their children are between 3:30 and 5:30," Bloxson said.
Lawrence Molumby, assistant director of D.C. Public Libraries, said the new facility will better serve residents and will be accessible to more of them. The new library is to be on the school grounds in front of Spingarn High School, part of a four-school complex at Benning Road near 24th Street.
Bloxon said residents in the 309-unit Langston Dwellings complex are concerned that if the library is moved many small children will not be able to get to the new facility and others will have to walk past groups of teen-agers and adults who loiter near the area's liquor store, fast-food shops and convenience stores.
Molumby said the new facility will look much like the new R.L. Christian Library at 13th and H streets NE. That building is brightly colored inside with blue and white tables, chairs and bookcases and blue carpeting. Its circular structure and many windows give it an airy contrast to the bustle along H Street NE.
Brenda V. Johnson, head of library branch services, said use of the new R.L. Christian facility more than doubled since that library was moved from a small storefront building last year.
The Langston library, at the bottom of a short, dark stairway, is virtually hidden. Its existence is marked only by a small orange sign on the front of the apartment building.
In the library, exposed water pipes hang above unmatched sets of bookcases. There are two reading tables for children and three reading tables for adults. The interior is gray, and even on a bright, warm autumn day, it is cool and dark. Few of the children seem to mind, however.
One day last week, 11-year-old Shawn Hillard came into the library looking for a chess partner. He found Craig Robinson, a 16-year-old Brown Junior High School student. Robinson explained why he comes to the library. "It's just fun to be here," he said.