Monday, January 31, 2011

New Tenleytown Library Reviewed: Thumbs Down

by Warren Gorlick

My family came away disappointed after using the new Tenleytown branch for the first time. This new library allocates relatively little space to books and other media, in favor of a large atrium area, locked conference rooms and 40 (mostly unused) computers. In general, the library had the feel of a crowded bus station, with people literally sitting on concrete floors, and a noise level that is comparably loud. If this is the model for the eventual re-construction of the Cleveland Park branch, I say "no thanks."

I began my tour of the library by proceeding up to the adult level (one enters the library at the children's level). The amount of book space is remarkably small, not much more than the Cleveland Park library, notwithstanding that this library is significantly larger. Instead, the second floor devotes nearly half of its space to three large conference rooms, with further space taken up by various private offices for library employees. All of these conference rooms and offices were locked and unoccupied. Only a handful of the 30 computers were being used. (I understand that in poor areas computers are a critical library amenity, but should computers have the same priority in an area such as Tenleytown, where a larger number of residents have a computer and internet in their home?) There are only a handful of tables and chairs available for people to sit on the second level.

Proceeding downstairs, my kids were faring no better in the children's area. With no place to sit at tables, they were reading on a concrete floor. Ten computers reserved for kids were completely unused. The noise level far exceeded anything I had ever experienced at any other library. My children were disappointed with the small selection of books in their favorite categories. Much additional space was wasted by a large atrium entry area that had nothing but a few worn pamphlets.

The DVDs are also located on the first level, and I cannot imagine how an elderly person might access them, as one has to bend down nearly to the floor and try to pull the DVDs out of bins into which they are dumped, rather than laying them out on their spines. A friendly librarian conceded the DVD set-up was a problem, but indicated that it was not likely to be corrected and that "we have to make the best of a bad situation." There are large floor to ceiling large windows on the building's east side, but since the library only opens at 10am, after the sun has risen above these windows, no actual sunlight seems to enter the library.

Whereas the Cleveland Park library check-out area is a large open area that serves as the library's central hub, the Tenleytown library circulation area is tiny little desk that barely accomodates two computers. Since there were about a dozen people waiting to check out books, we tried to use the one "self-service" scanner, but the librarian directed us back to the line after she, like us, was unable to check out some of our materials (the self-scanner checked out some of our books but gave an error message on others).

There is no underground parking, and meters in the area are frightfully expensive. I suspect it is only a matter of time before Tenleytown residents demand Saturday restrictions in their area.

At bottom, this library will be a place my family goes to quickly obtain reading materials, but will never be a place we would desire to spend significant amounts of time. While a few of my friends and neighbors present defended the large allocation of space to conference rooms as a necessary community amenity, the general reaction of those with whom I spoke was along the lines of "what could they possibly have been thinking?" My family has had the good fortune to visit libraries in small towns across the United States and Canada in the past few years, as well as branch libraries in various large east coast cities and Germany (we always visit the local library while on vacation – it says a lot about the community and is a welcome respite from being a tourist), and by any measure our new Tenleytown branch is a less inviting and less useful space than comparably sized libraries in these other towns and cities.

1 comment:

  1. I think the tone of disbelief in your review is accurate. I enjoyed reading it. I might add that while the ClevelandPark library is significantly smaller it has crammed onto its shelves books of vastly superior interest and quality (i.e. older books). While I am at it, what happened to the older books that once the MtPleasant library once held. They are gone, replaced with a paltry selection of shallow reading. This is no criticism of gearing the new libraries toward children, but still. it is evident by the books that are listed in the catalog at least (good luck finding most of them) that once upon a time the DC library knew what it's mission was --bring in quality. I'd like to know what the mission is now. , quite.