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The problems at the Langston Community Library go well beyond uncollected fines.

The Langston Community Library is unique among D.C. Public Library branches: It doesn’t have to deal with the DCPL’s antiquated computer system. That’s because the library has no computer system at all.

A small outlet with a few thousand books, the branch on Benning Road NE hasn’t collected fines for almost two years, which is how long its computers—two for the staff and two for public use—have been down.

Library technician DuAnn Gaston, a 30-year veteran of the DCPL, says the staff is forced to track circulation the old-fashioned way, logging each borrowed and returned item with paper and pencil. Fines are tracked the same way, but collecting them has understandably not been a high priority. If Gaston wants to process a fine, she must take the books to another library, enter the information into its computer, compute the fine, mark that it’s been paid, and then clear the fine.

“That’s a lot of work,” says Gaston. “If we had our computers up and running, it would be so much easier.”

If a patron wants a library card, Gaston is forced to send them to another branch. Langston lost its network access when DCPL switched telephone providers in August 2004, and DCPL has been unable to reestablish the connection. “We have called, we have e-mailed, but we just don’t know [what’s going on],” says Pat Pasqual, head of targeted and outreach services.

The loss of the computers hasn’t crippled just librarians. The DCPL expected the Langston branch to handle displaced patrons from the nearby Benning Road branch that has been closed for renovations for more than a year. But once those patrons saw that the computers were down, Gaston says, they stopped coming.

Numerous calls to the mayor’s office, interim library director Francis Buckley Jr., and the DCPL information-technology department have been unproductive. All Gaston has been told is that the building has a wiring problem.

“But it’s going on two years, so if that was the case, and they know what’s going on, then what’s the holdup?” says Gaston. “That’s what I’ve been facing for almost two years. So when people come in and want to fuss about the computers not working, I tell them to call someone and don’t fuss at me, because I’m not in charge of it.” —Huan Hsu