Gray Finds Money to Keep MLK Library Open on Sundays

James Wright | 10/5/2011, 12:24 p.m.
Alicia Rucker is a strong believer in education and has said that the D.C. public...
Lionel Davis, 33, a Northwest resident, loaded with chindrel's books under his arm, makes his regular Sunday afternoon visit to the MLK Memorial Library in Northwest with his sons 14-month-old Jacob (in the stroller) and Joseph (5). Photo by Shevry Lassiter.

Alicia Rucker is a strong believer in education and has said that the D.C. public libraries are key to young people getting a good education. So, when she heard a few weeks ago that the main branch of the D.C. Public Library would be closed on Sundays, starting Oct. 1, she was outraged.

"When I heard that they were going to close the library on Sunday, I said 'oh, no they are not,'" the Deanwood resident said. "When I found out that it was true, I told everybody that I could about the closing of the library. Libraries are such an important part of our children's education."

Rucker was not alone in her outrage. As it became clear that the Martin Luther King Memorial Library of the D.C. Public Library System was closing on Sundays starting in October, elected officials and community activists took action. The MLK Library is the only public library in the city that is open seven days a week.

The Informer first did the story on the Sunday closing of the MLK library in its June 29-July 6 edition. As a result, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced on Fri., Sept. 30 that money had been found in the D.C. budget to keep it open on Sundays. "The library plays an important role in supporting education for students of all ages and providing job search and career assistance," Gray, 68, said. "We are pleased we were able to identify funding to keep the (library) open on Sundays." D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), the new chairman of the Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning, played a key role keeping the MLK Library open on Sundays. "When it became clear that the library was closing on Sundays at the beginning of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, I talked to the chief librarian, Ginnie Cooper, and groups like the Friends of the D.C. Library about what we can do to keep it open," Wells, 54, said. "I found out that will cost about $316,000 to keep it open on Sunday and I went to the mayor and the city administrator to make the case to keep the library open."

Apparently, the efforts of Rucker, Wells and others worked. The D.C. Public Library has 25 individual branches, with the MLK Library having the largest collection of books, DVDs, records and archival material and housing the system's administrative offices.

The MLK Library opened in 1972 and was named for the slain civil rights leader. MLK has children's and teen section as well as Washingtoniana, a division that has books, newspapers articles and microfilm about the history of the District.

"We generally have 500,000 materials checked out throughout the system and our numbers show that 10 percent of those materials are from MLK alone," George Williams said.

Williams, who handles communications for the D.C. Public Library, pointed out that 15 people work on Sundays and the library not only has patrons using computers and conducting research on that day, but there are other activities such as televising Washington Redskins home games and public meetings.

The reducing of library hours is not an unusual occurrence in the Washington region. In Prince George's County, there are no branches with Sunday hours. In Montgomery County, there are a few branches of the public library open on Sunday from 1-5 p.m. Arlington has three branches that are seven days a week, with hours of operation on Sunday from 1-9 p.m. Fairfax County has a few branches that have Sunday hours.