For those who depend on the library for access to the Internet to apply for jobs and borrow books, they may soon be able to enjoy longer hours at their neighborhood library. But that depends on passage of a bill to extend the hours of the District's library system. The proposal has the support of the majority of D.C. Council members.
D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) sponsored a bill in 2012 that would expand the hours of the District of Columbia Public Library, providing service to residents and other patrons from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 12 p.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday. Evans, who reintroduced the bill recently, said that the city's main library and its branches should have longer hours to accommodate a growing population.
"Basic city amenities would be available to District residents seven days a week, especially as more people move here and we work to become a world-class city," said Evans, 59. "I hear from residents around the District on a regular basis about our inadequate library hours and this bill is the first step in fixing the problem. I am confident that out of our [city's] $10 billion budget, we can find $10 million to make this a reality."
The D.C. Public Library has 25 branches including the Martin Luther King Memorial Library (MLK Library), the central library, in Northwest. The city has rebuilt a number of branches in recent years – some located in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River – with new buildings and better access to digital technology.
The library system has maintained various operating hours throughout its 116-year history, with some branches open seven days a week as recently as several years ago. However, budget constraints in recent years forced the library system to limit hours at branches and close kiosks.
The MLK Library is the branch of the library system that is open daily, with varying hours depending on the day of the week. An effort to close the MLK Library on Sundays in 2011 was met with loud and vocal opposition, prompting D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) to work to get the funds to keep it open daily.
Evans is the chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue and has pledged to find the money to implement the bill.
Robin Diener, director of the D.C. Library Renaissance Project in Northwest which advocates for the improvement of the library system, supports Evans's bill.
"These hours are needed to realize the return on investment of the District's $180 million library transformation over the last five years," Diener said. "They bring D.C. in line with the best library systems around the country, such as Seattle's, which also invested in rebuilding its library system in recent years."
Kirk Adair is the president of the Friends of the Capitol View Library Association in Southeast. Adair, 50, said that he supports the bill to expand library hours but he's a bit apprehensive.
"I have talked to library staff members and they are concerned about working hours," he said. "They don't want to work additional hours without the possibility of additional compensation in the form of overtime."
Evans said that once the bill becomes law, there will be money to hire additional staff for the added hours.
Adair also thinks that instead of opening every branch daily, there should be one branch in each ward that's open throughout the week, and the MLK Library should remain open seven days a week.
"That will save the city some money and the staff can work out Sunday hours," he said. "Plus, people will have some branch to go near their home on Sunday to work on the computer and to read and study."
Venus Hamilton would welcome expanded hours of her closest branch, Northwest One in Northwest. Hamilton uses a cane to move around and has to walk a few blocks west to go to the MLK Library to use the computers on Sunday.
She said that keeping Northwest One open later and perhaps even on Sunday would be helpful.
"I don't understand why the branches aren't open on Sunday now?" said Hamilton, 41. "Plenty of people would use their services on that day and there are some people who would be faithful in doing that."