Richard Reyes-Gavilan, 45, was named executive director of the D.C. Public Library in January. He lives in Washington with his wife and children.
What was the last book that you checked out?
The last book that I checked out was for my daughter. It was Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” After seeing the movie about 20 or 30 times, I thought maybe she’d want to read the book, so we read the book together.
Why do we still need physical libraries?
What physical libraries allow us to do is create space for learning that is very different than the learning taking place in a classroom in a D.C. public school or even at a university. You’ve got a real laboratory-like atmosphere, and that spirit of innovation is only getting more popular in libraries. People are coming to libraries to learn about things that they wouldn’t find in other places. The spaces themselves provide a wonderful environment that I think exercises parts of the brain that are not typically used in more formal educational environments.
What do you want the MLK Library to be once it’s renovated?
Beyond being what I hope will be the most phenomenal central library in the country, if not the world, I really want it to be the building that the residents of the District of Columbia are most proud of. I’m hoping that the new MLK Library will be something that people will say, “This is for and about the residents of the District of Columbia.” And finally, I want it to be this phenomenally inspiring destination for learning in all of its forms: tactile learning, experiential learning, traditional learning, online learning. We have the opportunity to devote hundreds of thousands of square feet to nothing but learning.
Should libraries remain quiet places?
Well, look, I think that with the right architecture, the answer is yes, but no. You’ve got the ability, through smart design, to create spaces for welding as well as spaces where you could hear a pin drop. Especially at MLK, it’s a playground for every single type of learning at every single type of decibel that you could imagine
I have a book that is about six months overdue. If I drop your name when I return it, will I be taken care of?
You know, fines are a very important source of revenue to the city, so I would be loath to give you a break. But, that said, the visibility that you provide us is also worth a lot of money, so I’m sure that we can work something out. But, in all seriousness, fines are something that I’m looking at as barriers to participation with the library, and we really need to address these things that have a negative connotation like fines and shushing. Some of these classic stereotypes about libraries aren’t doing us a whole heck of a lot of good.
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