Plan to Expand Library Funding Lauded

James Wright | 4/10/2013, 1:21 p.m.

The proposals to expand library branch hours, refurbish the central library administrative offices and fund other library projects in the mayor's 2014 budget have drawn widespread support from residents and city leaders, alike.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) announced his $12.1 billion budget for 2014 on March 28 at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest. One of the proposals would ensure that all branches of the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL) system remain open every day and that's an idea that Terence Green of Southeast is excited about.

I think it is beautiful," said Green, 50. "It will be great for me because I work on Saturday and I can go to the library on Sunday to do my work."

Currently, the only branch of the D.C. library system that's open on Sunday is the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Northwest. An effort to discontinue Sunday hours at that branch two years ago by Gray, 70, triggered a backlash from residents and D.C. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).

As a result, the mayor restored the Sunday hours.

In 2012, Evans, 59, sponsored a bill that would have opened all library branches daily but the legislation didn't move through the D.C. Council because of other budgetary issues at the time. This year, Evans said in a statement that he worked with Gray to get the library hours increased and to get "$8 million toward new hours and an additional $2 million toward new books."

Gray's other library proposals include re-furbishing the branches at Cleveland Park in Northwest ($15.2 million), Palisades in Northwest ($21.7 million) and Woodbridge in Northeast ($4.8 million). The King Library in Northwest - which houses the DCPL administrative offices - is slated to receive $103 million facelift after decades of neglect from past mayoral administrations.

Gray hasn't included any new taxes or fees in his 2014 budget. He intends to rely on increased revenue from property and sales taxes, along with savings from city services due to declines in enrollment in foster care and special needs children's payments in private schools. He also intends to tighten the budgets of District agencies, specifically those that deal with health care.

The mayor added $100 million to affordable housing programs and provided funding to increase the Metropolitan Police Department's force to 4,000 officers while cutting $6 million out of the city's arts program.

Gray increased the DCPL budget by 25 percent in his proposed budget, a noteworthy development for an agency that's used to being given short shrift.

Ginnie Cooper, the chief librarian of the DCPL, said that Gray's proposals will benefit District residents.

"We are pleased with the proposed budget," Cooper said. "It would allow District residents to use their library every day across the city. We are also excited about continuing to explore making the [King Library] amazing."

Philip Pannell, a Ward 8 activist who served on the DCPL board of trustees and remains active in forming library support organizations in the ward's branches, said that he was "thrilled" to hear Gray's proposal.

"I have been pushing for this for over 20 years," said Pannell, 61. "We need the libraries open seven days a week in this ward so people can come in and do what they need to do. Libraries are good places to be, particularly for young people."

However, there are those who remain on the fence - and could go either way.

"There are some benefits for some folks," said Annette Mercer of Southeast. "The opening of branches on Sunday will help school children with some last minute projects that have to be finished. Honestly, I don't see a real need for it but I am not adverse to it."

Mercer, 55, said that she has a computer at her home "like most people these days."

But, that's not the case for Green.

"I have no computer at home so the library is where I go to conduct my job search, do my banking and other business transactions," he said. "I really look forward to going to my nearest branch, Francis A. Gregory [in Southeast], on Sunday because I can walk there from my house instead of having to go downtown to the Martin Luther King Library."