The Cleveland Park Branch Library reopened recently with new lights, fresh paint, full shelves and no asbestos.
The library, on Connecticut Avenue between Macomb and Newark streets NW, closed four months ago, after an inspection revealed that the ceiling was full of asbestos, an insulation material used widely from the 1940s to 1972.
Asbestos dries out over time and can separate into tiny airborne fibers that settle in lungs and can cause mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung or abdominal cavity, and asbestiosis, a severe scarring of lung tissue.
Larry Molumby, deputy director of the District's library system, said that when the city hired a firm to inspect the 25 branch libraries for asbestos, "it revealed that Cleveland Park was the only branch with large public areas containing asbestos." The asbestos posed "no immediate problem" to users, Molumby said, but is a potential threat if a serious problem develops in the building, such as a water leak.
Library officials met with neighborhood residents in March to notify them of the closing, said June Sweeny, supervisor of branch and extension services for the library system. The library closed after the last checkouts on Sept. 7. In addition to removing the asbestos, the library system decided to modernize the building by replacing dim lighting, by painting, rebuilding the circulation desk and by cleaning the windows, venetian blinds and furniture, Sweeny said.
Ann Swearingen, founder of the Friends of the Cleveland Park Library, said the closing has been "a terrible inconvenience" for the library's users. The group was one of several support groups formed for branch libraries around the city five years ago, when budget cuts caused shorter library hours and threatened other library services.
The current president, Bill Ivory, said support of the Friends "gives the libraries some clout with city hall."
The group raises about $3,000 annually for library improvements, Swearingen estimated, primarily through two annual book sales.
Avid community support for the Cleveland Park Library dates back more than 40 years. In the early 1940s, when the city said it could not afford to build a Cleveland Park branch, three citizen associations began to canvass homes, apartments, schools and businesses, and raised $30,000, which was donated to the city to buy the lot and start construction. The library finally opened in October 1953, with 15,000 volumes.
The library now has more than 51,000 volumes, Sweeny said, and is second only to Chevy Chase in circulation among branch libraries.
Sweeny said that during the closing, "the community has been very supportive." Her office has received numerous calls from Cleveland Park residents who missed the community center and reading room, which drew many children and neighborhood senior citizens.
In 1974, neighbors gave a party to commemorate the 20th birthday of the Cleveland Park branch. Ivory and Swearingen hope to have a party to celebrate the reopening. "We've put away some funds for a little bash," Swearingen said.