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MLK Library Building Reconstruction Program (draft document issued Oct. 2014)


Imagine a place where people come to experience the joy of reading, explore new interests, find information, learn, create, reflect, interact and have fun. Imagine a space that is open, welcoming and bright. Imagine a building that preserves its history while embracing the future. Imagine the newly renovated Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library’s renovation is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the central library into an amazing, state-of-the-art library for the residents of the District of Columbia. The project’s architects have been tasked with designing a welcoming, flexible space that will serve people at all stages of life. They have been asked to design a spectacular 21st Century central library that D.C. residents want and deserve.

Community Input

There has been an overwhelming amount of public interest in this project. Community ideas have shaped and enhanced many aspects of the design concept including new spaces for people to create, lounge, relax and read, and the need to honor and celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. For a full overview of all public input to date, please visit

Early in the planning for the renovation, we thought we could create a spectacular central library in about 250,000 square feet. Since then, more than 3,000 District residents have shared their ideas with us. Through the Library’s online crowdsourcing portal, community meetings, focus groups, surveys and comment cards, we have heard creative and inspiring ideas about what spaces and services residents want to see in their central library.

With that input, along with feedback from library staff and review of other central libraries around the world, we now know that we will need all 425,000 square feet, plus a fifth floor suite for public use, staff use and mechanical space.

What We’re Hearing . . .

“You should see lots of people engaged in library-related activities upon entering. The Great Hall is too empty.”

Guiding Principles

■Balance the joy of reading with space for innovation, creation, collaboration and technology;
■Showcase the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.;
■ Respect the building’s historic designation and the industrial, modern style of the building’s original architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe;
■Create a space that is bright, open, flexible and welcoming for all.

The design will include many environmentally sustainable elements including making the building more energy efficient as well as more comfortable for occupants. The Library will seek a minimum of LEED “Silver” certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The renovation also will incorporate elements of universal design, an approach that encourages spaces that can be easily navigated by everyone, regardless of age, height, sightedness, dexterity or mobility. Examples of universal design include power doors with sensors, clear sightlines across rooms, easy-to-read signage and counters that are a variety of heights to accommodate standing, sitting, and a range of different tasks.

In short, the aim is to go beyond a library that is merely transactional – a place where you go simply to checkout a book – to create a library that truly transforms lives – a world-class library for the 21st Century.

Program Description

This library building program, which continues to evolve, outlines each type of service, but does not identify where each service will be located or which services will be grouped together. It also does not specify every activity that will happen in these spaces. These details will be determined as the design process evolves. The program calls for flexibility to accommodate new services within the spaces. The building
program is broken into three major components (that make up the 425,000 square feet) public space, non-public or staff space and mechanical space.


One of the most frequent comments we heard was to make the entrance of the building more welcoming and easier to navigate. Many residents requested a place to purchase a cup of coffee without having to leave the building. Still others recommended “activating” the Great Hall and making it “feel more like a library” as soon as one enters.

What We’re Hearing . . .

“Make the Great Hall more eye-catching”; “Have the latest gadgets and software.”

Space and Services

> Transition area: customers move through to get to other destinations;
> Check out area for customers to check out books and other materials ;
> NEW clear, visible vertical connections with sightlines to floors above and below;
> NEW café with interior and exterior seating;
> NEW performance space;
> Exhibit space with movable furniture;
> Flexible furniture to allow different configurations ;
> Reserved books pick-up area;
> New releases display;
> Computers for quick look-up.


World-class, 21st Century libraries include spaces for customers to create as well as contemplate. Often called “maker spaces,” such areas include equipment for designing and prototyping. These spaces feature flexible set up and invite collaboration. They have specialized equipment, such as 3-D printers, power tools, specialized software and other equipment.

Space and Services

> Flexible space with movable furniture;
> MORE meeting spaces in a range of configurations;
> MORE collaborative work spaces;
> NEW software and equipment for prototyping;
> Digital Bar to demonstrate electronic devices;
> MORE 3-D printers;
> Power tools and other specialized equipment;
> Book printing machine;
> Recording studio (video and audio);
> Computers.

What We’re Hearing . . .

“Have more comfortable seating and more group study areas”; “Keep teens separate from kids. Don’t treat us like children”; “People need natural light, seating should be by the windows as much as possible.”


Teens have told us they want spaces to socialize and work in groups, in addition to quiet study areas. They want space to be creative and to make a little noise. Teens would like easy access to adult books and materials and don’t want to be too close to children’s services.

Space and Services

> Larger space with transparency and clear visibility among the different activities;
> Distinct look that is appealing to teens;
> A range of reading/studying places supported by a variety of furniture types;
> Reading and browsing areas;
> MORE study/meeting rooms;
> MORE comfortable seating;
> MORE quiet study areas;
> Video and audio listening booths;
> Books, periodicals and magazines;
> Computers;
> College and career info.


Fiction and Non-Fiction

Many community members asked that the new library continue to offer plenty of books as well as traditional reading and study spaces, while embracing the newest technology and new ways of learning and exploring. We heard loud and clear that the library should continue to celebrate reading and offer a “great reading room.”

What We’re Hearing . . .

“The space needs to offer privacy and confidentiality. It needs to respect the customers’ situation.”

Space and Services

> Welcoming and inspiring space that appeals to discovery and learning;
> NEW seating along windows to take advantage of natural light and views;
> A variety of reading/studying spaces;
> NEW comfortable lounge seating;
> Display shelving for books and other materials;
> Shelving for fiction and non-fiction books, media collections, international languages, periodical magazines, newspapers and reference    collection;
> Printing and copy center;
> Computers;
> NEW download stations;
> Exhibit/display space.

Adult Literacy

Current adult literacy customers told us that privacy is a top request for them in the renovated central library. They also want easy access to collections that match their reading skill level.

Space and Services

> Visual privacy;
> Tutoring lab
> MORE private study and tutoring rooms;
> ENHANCED training room;
> Welcoming and inspiring space for adults to learn with a tutor or by themselves.

(formerly Adaptive Services)

Because this area of the library was recently renovated and updated, customers of the Center for Accessibility are largely happy with the current space. When asked about opportunities for improvement, customers did say that they want to feel welcome everywhere in the library, while still having an easily accessible space dedicated to meeting their specific needs. They noted loud HVAC systems can be distracting.

As part of the renovation, the Library will move to more efficient, compact storage of recorded materials, which will reduce the space needed for collections by nearly 4,000 square feet. Space for the public will remain the same.

What We’re Hearing . . .

“I’d like to see more ‘universal design’ to make the entire library more inherently accessible for everyone”; “Some cool art object, like a spaceship, with reading nooks kids can climb into”; “I want to see seas of grey archival boxes. I want to do justice to the materials we are charged with protecting.”

Space and Services

> Easily accessible and close to elevators to minimize travel distances;
> Adaptable furniture: height adjustable tables and chairs;
> Signage for visually impaired customers (large print and Braille);
> Meeting room that is “looped” for hearing impaired customers;
> Braille and audio books, periodicals and newspapers for adults and children;
> Adaptive technologies and equipment (magnifying scanner, magnifying stations, adapted video-phone booth, SARA, gaming stations);
> Training room;
> Computers;
> Recording booth.


We received many – and sometimes conflicting – ideas about services for children. Some customers expressed preference for easy access (e.g., close to entrance minimizing movement of strollers within the building) while others preferred “out of the way” space to increase security. Everyone wants fun and flexible space for children to read, but also learn, create, interact and play.

Space and Services

> Distinct look and feel that appeals to children of all ages – colorful, playful, inviting;
> Furniture and fixtures appropriately sized for children;
> Exhibition/Display area;
> Collaborative work areas;
> Separate areas for children birth to age 5 and school age children;
> Early childhood learning and play space;
> Computers;
> Quiet space for homework/study;
> Story time space.

(including Washingtoniana & Black Studies)

Customers requested that the renovated central library provide appropriate space for “serious scholarship” and quiet research. Feedback focused on the need to highlight, celebrate and increase accessibility of the unique and wonderful Special Collections of DC Public Library. Customers also want to see more of the collection displayed throughout the building. Staff expressed the critical need to improve storage and accessibility of the collections. The Library will introduce state-of-the-art, archival storage as well as digitization of some of the records, which will greatly reduce the space needed for storage. This new compact storage will reduce space needs by more than 5,000 square feet.

What We’re Hearing . . .

“I’d love the library to be a space where I want to spend the whole day.”

Space and Services

> MORE study tables and chairs with sufficient space to spread out larger items like maps, newspapers, atlases, etc.;
> IMPROVED exhibition space;
> Genealogical research;
> NEW space for programs or classes;
> IMPROVED collection and storage space for books, periodicals, maps,
photographs, microfilm, E-resources.


The MLK Memorial Library currently is used for everything from author talks to ANC meetings and choir practice. Overwhelmingly, community feedback has centered on the desire for more meeting space – located somewhere more inviting than a basement
with low ceilings and poor lighting – as well as a larger performance space. Rooftop access in the center of downtown has been a popular idea as well. Customers expressed excitement at the opportunity to take advantage of outdoor space and beautiful views on the currently un-used rooftop. Others want the library to be a place they can spend several hours – not just a few minutes picking up a book – including
enjoying a meal or reading in the fresh air with a cup of coffee or tea.

Space and Services

> NEW large theater-style auditorium, featuring state-of-the-art technology and acoustics. Amenities such as green rooms, changing rooms, restrooms etc.;
> Variety of meeting spaces located throughout the library, available for use by community organizations and for library programs;
> NEW pre-function space for people to gather before events, register for meetings, and enjoy refreshments;
> NEW catering kitchen;
> NEW roof terrace with outdoor seating and program space.


The library’s non-public spaces include staff, storage and mechanical spaces. The proposed renovation will make these spaces significantly more efficient and functional. Reductions in staff space will result in 30 percent more space for public use. Staff spaces also will be much more pleasant. The numbers below do not include the mechanical level or the B level, which is approximately 106,000 square feet.