I live less than 3/4 of a mile from the West End branch of the D.C. Public Library. This week’s cover story in the Washington City Paper is about Ralph Nader’s quest to stop the redevelopment of the land on which that branch is located. The redevelopment would (will) result in a mixed-use property with the library on the ground floor and residences above.
You have to read the article. There are some key points in it. Like the fact that every group that is actually composed of residents of the area support the redevelopment. And that these are groups that never agree on anything. The article does not say that I want to buy a condo above the library. (Can you imagine how awesome that would be?? I’d never be able to afford it, though.)
Land in the West End neighborhood is at a premium. The neighborhood is relatively close to two different Metro lines. There is a Trader Joes a block from the library and a Whole Foods only a few blocks further. It’s close to Georgetown. There are nice restaurants nearby. And so forth. Yet the library is a single story (there might be a second floor with meeting rooms? I’ve never been off the first floor) in this neighborhood that is so thirsty for density.
Nader, however, seems to be stuck in the age of the Carnegie library. Consider this quote of his from the WCP article: “It should have an architectural dignity, free-standing with good landscaping around it.”
Libraries are not built on the Carnegie model anymore. Nor should they be. Libraries are about access to information, not about the building. They should be welcoming, certainly. But welcoming does not equate to “free-standing with good landscaping.” Welcoming means helpful librarians and other library staff. Welcoming means books that people want to read and space where people can sit to work. Welcoming means working computers with useful software. Welcoming means hours that are convenient for people to use the library. And in DC, especially in West End where land is so valuable, a public-private partnership helps the library financially in a way to meet all of those welcoming criteria.
And while I’d rather not alienate any readers who might not share my politics, I cannot help but mention the government shutdown in the context of Nader’s crusade.
Jack Evans, who is the councilmember for my ward/the West End library’s ward), is quoted as having said this:
“Where I’d take issue with … the Library Renaissance Project is, at the end of the debate, you take a vote, and if you lose, you lose. And in this case the vote was overwhelming. Everyone came to an agreement that this was a good project. They were on the losing end of it and refused to stop. That’s where I would say wait, you gotta play by the rules.”
What does this remind you of? The Tea Party faction of the House of Representatives who were on the losing end of the Affordable Care Act and who have managed to wrangle an outsize amount of influence to shut down the government?
Ralph Nader probably wouldn’t appreciate being compared to the Tea Party, but that’s just too bad. Let us have our library and I’ll roll back the criticism.