The city's newest library in six years will open in Shepherd Park this weekend, the culmination of years of intense community lobbying to bring book-lending services to a Northwest Washington neighborhood that has felt isolated from them.
The $3.3 million rose brick building at 7420 Georgia Ave. NW is on a site that once was planned for a Wendy's restaurant until residents five years ago took up the slogan, "Books Not Burgers."
Residents say the state-of-the-art facilityy stands as a tribute to what ordinary citizens can do if they set their minds to it.
"The library has added new life to the community," said Jaunita Thornton, 77, a community activist.
Initially, the facility will contain 20,000 volumes, 50 tapes, 250 children's records, 125 compact discs and a magazine department. The librarian will be Winnell Montague, a 20-year library veteran who most recently was the children's librarian at the Georgetown regional library. The city now has 27 local libraries.
The Takoma Park Branch Library, a mile and a half away, has long been the closest to Shepherd Park. To walk there, children have to cross four major thoroughfares, including 14th Street, Georgia Avenue, Alaska Avenue and Piney Branch Road.
Massive redevelopment in the area in 1985 propelled the neighbors to change that. Resident Shari Tullberg said that in March of that year she came back from 10 days in Europe to find that several apartment buildings had been razed, a Pizza Hut had gone up, and a Wendy's had secured a building permit for the vacant lot where the library now stands.
McDonald's restaurant and Cork 'N Bottle liquor store were already right across Georgia Avenue and several other fast-food eateries were nearby.
"I was really ticked off," said Tullberg, who started a petition drive among her 1,500 neighbors to keep Wendy's out. "There's lots of community strength here. We had already gotten rid of five go-go joints on Georgia Avenue."
A meeting was called with the site's developers, and the next morning Thornton, a retired D.C. teacher, was on the phone at 6 a.m. with Hardy Franklin, director of the Department of D.C. Public Libraries. "We have beef, bread, booze and beer," she told him. "We need another B -- books."
He told her he'd work on it.
Thornton, who is legally blind and unable to read, continued to push. She telephoned local elected officials and the president of the company that owns the local Wendy's franchise. She said they talked about 45 minutes.
"I said, 'I'm thinking of that other B that would provide good mental health. It is necessary for the growth of our cities, harmony among the races, justice and peace.'"
He was convinced.
The next challenge was to win city support. Edith Smith, principal of Shepherd Elementary School, got her pre-kindergarten- through sixth-grade students to write letters to the mayor and testify before the library board that advises the City Council on library issues.
"I believe in books," Smith said. "I believe that children not only learn to read, but this is where you get the thinkers." She said she never blamed the city for the void in Shepherd Park. "I felt it was an oversight that nobody intended, an odd circumstance that needed to be corrected."
Residents lobbied council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), and within a few months the D.C. Council approved the project, initially estimated to cost $2 million.
The two-story structure has many windows casting generous light on an open interior that has separate areas for children and young adults and shelf space for up to 48,000 volumes. The building also contains several meeting rooms for community use.
A grand opening will be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday featuring musical entertainment and appearances by local clergy members, civic leaders and library officials. Books may be checked out beginning 9:30 a.m. Monday.