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Over 50% of Libraries Closed Sundays Through Jan., Staffing Cited; InTowner’s Area Spared

By Anthony L. Harvey

In late November, during DC Council committee oversight hearings and at DC Public Library Board of Trustees meetings, Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper reported on significant strides being made by the public library system (DCPL) in the provision of improved public library services to city residents. Most important was the announcement that all four interim branch libraries are now open and that architects have been selected to design new permanent library buildings for the four respective neighborhoods, this in active collaboration with neighborhood residents and city-wide library activists.

Design meetings were announced for December, with continuing neighborhood consultations being said to be on-going. The four interim libraries — located at or near the previous sites for the Watha T.Daniel/Shaw, Tenley, Anacostia and Benning, branch libraries are all 4,500 square feet in size, fully equipped with 20 computers, and open every day of the week in bright and cheerful, well-lighted spaces and stocked with a variety of sparkling new books, music, and videos.

But then, sadly, as if to remind DC that its public library system is still very much a work in progress, all but 11 of DCPL’s 27 libraries were announced for Sunday closings through the month of January, 2008. The reason given was a shortage of staff willing to work on those Sundays, notwithstanding that DCPL spends generously for overtime. For example, DCPL overspent its fiscal year 2007 overtime budget by $1,128,970.09 — a 305.1 percentage overage.

When asked about the Sunday closings in an urban library system willing to spend such sums on overtime, Librarian Cooper expressed her continuing frustration at being unable to comprehensively staff Sunday hours, especially with an acknowledgement of DCPL’s proud trumpeting of system-wide Sunday openings. Cooper recounted her own recent experience of taking an out-of-town visitor to a branch library one Sunday only to find a hand-written noted taped to the front door stating, “Closed — no staff.”

In addition to the Sunday openings for the four interim libraries, the others that will remain open on Sundays, in addition to the Martin Luther King, Jr. main library, are: West End, Mount Pleasant, Cleveland Park, Lamond-Riggs, Takoma Park, Southeast and Washington Highlands.