Though the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL) system has one of the finest collections and services in the country, some residents complain it could be better.
One possible way to improve the DCPL’s branches is increasing activity within the Friends of the Library association that, theoretically, should be represented at each of the 25 branches of the system. The Federation of Friends of the Library serves as an umbrella group for all of the active groups.
There are Friends groups in most of the branches west of the Anacostia River but there are some that are struggling on the District’s East End. In Ward 7, the Deanwood and Dorothy I. Height Benning branches don’t have active chapters, while the chapter at Francis A. Gregory is one of the most productive in the District.
In Ward 8, the Bellevue/William O. Lockridge branch has had little activity in recent years, but there are plans to bring it up to speed.
“The Anacostia Coordinating Council is working to develop a new Friends group at the Bellevue/William O. Lockridge Library,” said a DCPL spokesman. “Several people have voiced an interest in reestablishing a Friends group and a Friends organization is expected to be launched very soon. The group will also be assisted by the DCPL Federation of Friends in getting organized.”
The Parklands-Turner Friends branch has been reenergized with noted community activists Brenda Richardson and Stuart Anderson serving as president and vice president, respectively.
Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the DCPL, said he has fully embraced Friends groups.
“I value them for a whole host of reasons,” Reyes-Gavilan said. “They help us get additional funding [from the D.C. Council] and help advocate for the library. They testify at council hearings on behalf of the library. We also work with them on challenges to individual libraries. We also have a great relationship with the Federation of Friends.”
Reyes-Gavilan said he realizes that some branches don’t have active Friends groups but stressed that doesn’t mean the needs of a particular branch will be ignored.
“We don’t focus on size when we deal with Friends branches,” he said. “Some Friends groups have been longstanding and some haven’t. Everyone has a voice and we don’t see a distinction between strong versus weak.
“Of course, some have more members and resources than others,” Reyes-Gavilan said. “We encourage all interested residents to join their nearest branch’s Friends group or help to start one.”
Carolyn Lynch, treasurer of the Gregory branch’s Friends group, said her group’s success is largely due to its dedicated members.
“I have been a member of the Gregory branch’s Friends group since 2000,” she said. “We have a pretty good core group of people interested in the library.”
Lynch acknowledged that many of Gregory’s patrons live in the nearby, upscale Hillcrest neighborhood and said the group has a good relationship with its neighbors.
“We have a lot of activities with Hillcrest,” she said. “When Hillcrest holds its chili cook-off, its jazz events or its flea markets, we are there with an information sheet describing our activities and how people can join. When our library holds a ‘Movie Night,’ we provide snacks such as hot dogs and sodas and that interests people.”
Lynch said the Gregory group goes to the council to testify and write letters to council members for more support for the DCPL. She advised people who want to reinvigorate or start a Friends chapter to discuss it with their neighbors and the people who use their branch.
Anderson said he plans to get people involved in the Parklands-Turner Friends group with an aggressive outreach campaign.
“I plan to hand out 200 flyers to people in the immediate neighborhood,” he said. “In January, we will hold a pizza resolution event to get people to find out more about us and join us. We also are soliciting people to join online.”