WEB EXTRA: City discusses $170 million library plan

About 30 District residents came to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library at 9th and G streets Tuesday night to help determine the fate of the building as well as the improvements the city should make to the D.C. Public Library system.

Last year D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams appointed a task force to study how to overhaul the city’s public library system. Since then, Williams has proposed to tear down MLK Library, the central public library in the city, and build a new one two blocks away. The new library would serve as an anchor to the planned redevelopment at the site, the former home of the convention center, which is made up of 10 acres downtown.

Williams believes that a top-quality public library, which would still be named after King, would draw people to the area, which would also include hundreds of new apartments, offices and shops in the area

The task force has also recommended rebuilding or substantially renovating all 26 neighborhood branch libraries, at an estimated cost of $170 million. The District has allocated $70 million in its own capital budget to rebuild or renovate branch libraries, and President Bush asked Congress to appropriate $30 million for D.C. libraries in his budget proposal this week.

To gauge community feedback of the mayor’s proposal, Williams’ task force is hosting 10 community meetings at different locations across the District. Tuesday’s meeting was the fifth and was comprised of mostly Northwest D.C. residents.

John Hill, president of the mayor’s library board, presented the task force’s vision of a new central public library at the meeting Tuesday. Hill said that with a proposed budget of between $160 million and $280 million dollars, the task force hopes to construct the new library with better technology, more public space, multi-lingual programs and learning centers to promote literacy. The taskforce concluded that the library would need at least 400 more computers to accommodate the number of citizens who would use it.

Hill proposed the slogan, “a capital library for a capital city.” The task force estimates that reconstructing the library could take up to three years. Everyone at the meeting was given the opportunity to express their concerns with the plans and the current library system

Some residents emphasized the importance of seeing books in the new library about D.C.’s history to create a deeper sense of community. They also said they want a place where people can gather and feel at home.

Hill added at the meeting that it is time to “raise the expectation level” for all public libraries in the District in general and stressed the importance of updating library facilities in the District.

Resident Gisela Lloyd Johnson voiced her concerns about the accessibility of the library to children. As an active member of the community, Johnson said she holds meetings every month at the library to fight for extended library hours, improved youth literacy and homework helping centers.

“Children try to utilize the library and they are constantly turned away because the library is closing,” she said.

Hill emphasized the importance of listening to the community members to get their feedback. The task force has continually rewritten draft reports of the project plan for rebuilding the libraries based on the citizens’ suggestions, Hill said.

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