The essentiality of determined advocates ignored in Post editorial on the Martin Luther King Library
The Washington Post has an editorial, "Finally, a ‘more delightful’ MLK Library," about how great it is that the Library system has moved away from earlier proposals to build housing on top of a renovated library, and to expand the library by one floor, and improve. From the article:
The plans were developed after library officials received feedback from more than 3,000 residents about what they want in a library and studied successful central libraries around the world. Traditional features such as a reading room and book stacks would remain. But there also would be hands-on learning areas, a digital commons, performance rooms and collaboration spaces, enabling a “dizzying array of services,” Mr. Reyes-Gavilan says. Daily users, he projects, would rise from 2,000 to 5,000. The facility would be a resource for city agencies and like-missioned nonprofits: The Department of Employment Services would teach people to apply for jobs there, DC Health Link would walk residents through how to apply for health benefits. Young children would be made to feel welcome.Actually, the Post fails to acknowledge the key role of determined advocates in opposing earlier plans which were focused mostly on adding unrelated commercial or residential space on top of the library, and not developing a more wide ranging "program" of services within the library.
That the Library board has "capitulated" was a big shock, even for the select group of advocates, primarily the DC Library Renaissance Project and the Friends of the MLK Library, both led by Robin Diener, myself, and others.
Repeatedly--in the face of neoliberal arguments laid out in the Washington City Paper and Greater Greater Washington--we laid out the case for why including unrelated mixed use within the city's primary "local" and foremost civic and cultural asset was decidedly the wrong direction, in a series of meetings, submissions to and participation in the Section 106 process, etc.
- Civic Assets and Mixed Use: Central Library edition
- The Central Library planning process in DC as another example of gaming the capital improvements planning and budgeting process
- A follow up point about "local" library planning and "access to knowledge
- More thoughts about broadening how we think about 'The Central Library'
I was shocked at the November meeting of the Section 106 review (a historic preservation review process triggered by the proposal) when the director of the library, Richard Reyes-Gavilan, spoke on the topic, using the language and argument that I had laid out in a meeting of the Friends of the MLK Library many months before, where he was first introduced to us.
2. Even so, my criticism of the process remains, something that I said at that early meeting is that "an RFP isn't a plan."
Despite the Post's waxing poetic about the 3,000 comments, there isn't a published document listing and organizing those comments.
There still isn't a plan for what the program should be, if the city wants to fully realize having a premier cultural-civic-knowledge-media promoting facility.
That's the next step. There needs to be a robust planning process on what a great library AND cultural facility could be. And note that such a facility could incorporate "for profit" uses, so long as they are related to the cultural-knowledge-media function.
3. Note though from the perspective of achieving a great library, the Mies-designed building is not very good, basically an office building, and the fact that it is landmarked significantly constrains what can be done.
It raises a tough issue in preservation policy, in that is a building important and worth landmarking and saving because it's in your community, even if overall, it is not a particularly noteworthy example of the architect's ouevre?
Personally, were I in charge of the library system, I'd probably push for demolition, and go through the Mayor's Agent appeal process.