Thursday, September 3, 2020

Get Out! Or Stay In! Either Way, DC Public Libraries Have Great Things Going On

Photo of MLK Library by D Monack (public domain)
by Peggy Robin

It’s not often I have anything good to say about the DC government. But there is one department that can make any DC taxpayer sure they’re getting their money’s worth – and that is the DC Public Library system.  

Before the pandemic hit,  you could go into any of the 24 branch libraries – they were spread out all over the city and highly accessible – and in any one of them you would find a high level of programs happening all week long, all free and open to all. 

And the system just kept improving. There's a long-term, well-thought-out plan in progress to update, renovate, and rebuild all the old libraries. So far, each branch that has completed the renovation process has turned out to be, one after another, a  marvelous confluence of good stuff: good architecture, good functionality, and user-friendly design – accomplished with tons of constructive community input that really was listened to and incorporated into the final design. (Bet you thought that just did not happen in city government planning!). But our CP Library sitting at Macomb and Connecticut is a shining example for all to see. And now we can actually go inside again. 

Soon the renovated MLK library will reopen. The multi-year, long-delayed renovation process took this 1972 building from a leaky, dilapidated, hulking, depressingly dark box and has transformed it into a light-filled, open, welcoming and even joyful building. There’s a video preview here:  

Now, if you’re like me, and you are still cautiously staying put inside a bubble as much as possible, you may want to wait a while longer before checking out any of these libraries in person. In that case, you will want to limit yourself to what the DCPL system has to offer in cyberspace. It's a lot! You can get e-books. audiobooks, movies and other shows. Get research help, and sign up for any number of programs conducted in cyberspace. For the month's schedule of programs, start here: 

For one-stop convenient access to everything the DC Library system offers, you need the new Library app on your smartphone. Go to to learn what it does and how to get it.  

So far, so good. But you want to know the greatest innovation of the DC Library system this year? They got rid of late book return fines! 

And now for a fun bit of trivia as a little extra takeaway from this column:  Have you ever wanted to know the answer to this one: What's the most overdue library book of all time?  

Answer: It's this scintillating title, “Scriptores rerum Germanicarum septentrionalium, vicinorumque populorum diversi” (which translates to: "Various historians of the Northern Germans and of neighbouring peoples"), which was borrowed from the Sidney Sussex Library at Cambridge, sometime around 1667-8 by Colonel Robert Walpole when he was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge. The book was discovered 288 years later in the library of Houghton Hall in Norfolk, built by Colonel Walpole's son, Sir Robert Walpole, who became the first prime minister of England. The person who found it was the British historian, J.H. Plumb, who was at Houghton Hall doing some research on a biography of Sir Robert Walpole. Professor Plumb returned it to the Sidney Sussex Library  reportedly without a fine. 

Read the full story here:   _________

The Get Out! (Or "Stay In!") column is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and All Life Is Local on Thursdays.   

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