There has been a buzz among Ward 8 that its branches of the District of Columbia Public Library are in line for cutbacks — particularly speculation that the Bellevue/William O. Lockridge Branch in Southwest will be reduced to three full days a week and supplemented by a mobile library unit the rest of the week.
“False,” said Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the D.C. Public Library system, who stressed that the Ward 8 branches won’t be marginalized in any way and will be expanded in the future.
“Our goal is generally to get more people to using the library,” Reyes-Gavilan said, adding that the goal of the library system is to get more people reading and using technology there.
The DCPL is the public library system for residents of the District. There are two other branches located in Ward 8 — Anacostia and Parklands-Turner in Southeast.
In the most recent State of Adult Literacy Report, completed by the D.C. State Education Agency’s adult education and family literacy division, it showed that low literacy rates tend to be concentrated in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. The report showed that Ward 7 had the highest level of illiteracy in the city with 50.4 percent, while Ward 8 had the second-highest level at 48.9 percent.
Additionally, Ward 8 has the highest poverty rate in the District at 36.8 percent, according to census data for 2016.
Given these statistics, one could easily assume that the branches in Ward 8 are underutilized and largely ignored by city leaders. That’s not the case and Reyes-Gavilan uses the Bellevue/William O. Lockridge branch as an example.
“We will have a star running space at the Bellevue branch that will help parents and caregivers sing to children to help them to read,” Reyes-Gavilan said.
The program will provide interactive learning opportunities for children and families and use best practices from libraries across the country as a method of preparing young children to learn to read, according to DCPL staffers. The branch will be outfitted to enhance the design, flow, furnishings, equipment and collections to accommodate more interactive, directed and playful programs.
In addition, the new learning space will be expected to draw families from the immediate Bellevue neighborhood to come to the branch to play and learn.
“We have plans to expand this program to other branches in Wards 7 and 8 and possibly to other parts of the city,” Reyes-Gavilan said.
While DCPL has specific plans for the Bellevue/William O. Lockridge branch, Reyes-Gavilan said the Anacostia branch has a lot on its plate already.
“There are no specific plans for Anacostia,” he said. “This branch is very busy and has a high level of foot traffic. Many of our community partners use the Anacostia library for meetings.”
Reyes-Gavilan noted that the Anacostia branch is a “crucial anchor” in the D.C. Health Exchange’s efforts to sign people up for Obamacare, and that other organizations such as Capital Area Asset Builders use the branch because of its “great location.”
The Parklands-Turner branch sits in The Shops at Park Village retail center on Alabama Avenue SE. Reyes-Gavilan said there are plans to expand that branch.
“We want to study for another location around that Congress Heights neighborhood,” he said. “It is too small and it is one of the busiest libraries in the city. We need to find a right location and the right partner for the expansion. It is the only leased library in the system. We want to find city-owned property that is conveniently located near the Congress Heights Metro.”
Stuart Anderson, vice president of the new Parklands-Turner Friends of the Library organization, talks about the expansion enthusiastically.
“The Parklands-Turner library is the smallest in terms of physical space in the ward and the city,” Anderson said. “However, we have one of the largest volumes of traffic. We are located in the poorest ward in the city and we need to push literacy and the best way to do that is to have a library that the community supports.”
Reyes-Gavilan said a false perception exists that Ward 8 branches are underutilized because of low circulation of books and other educational materials.
“Circulation is not the be all when evaluating a branch,” he said. “Libraries presently offer community education, services and technology to residents. There are whole host of metrics.”
Reyes-Gavilan said residents throughout the city should get involved in its Library Master Facilities Plan process that will plan the DCPL’s future for the next 10 years. He said input on DCPL’s future will be done through focus groups, surveys and community meetings.