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Your City Desk piece x-tolling the Xtreme Bookmobile, “Borrowing Time” (1/6), reads like a D.C. Public Library (DCPL) press release. Clearly the Washington City Paper has not been following the library story: systematic squandering of public resources by years of ineffective library trusteeship.
The latest incarnation of the District of Columbia Board of Library Trustees (BoLT) is doing an abysmal job. Blithely invoking “21st century libraries,” the trustees have failed to put forward a vision of what those might be or involve library staff or the public in creating a vision. Apparently, however, they do know what those libraries are not, canceling three years of hard-won funding and public planning for the rebuilding of four branches. The storefront temporaries—a good idea, belatedly proposed four months after the libraries had been closed—have, as City Paper noted, yet to be found, leased, or built out.
But 16 months ago, Mayor Anthony A. Williams put up a smokescreen for BoLT (appointed by him) by calling for a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Libraries and making the trustees members. This freed them from the hard work of reconstructing a starved and collapsing public-library system in order to jet off to other cities to look at new libraries, on the taxpayer’s dollar, while awaiting publication of their own findings!
Task-force member and trustee Richard Levy leveled with everyone at Kathy Patterson’s Library Committee town hall in November, stating that developers were salivating over library property and that the West End was a “slam dunk.” Well, honesty is good. And the D.C. Council followed up by passing supportive legislation to enable the sale of all library properties.
After the mayor unveiled a “preview” of the six key recommendations of the task force to a bored and incredulous Citizen Summit, the council called for public input in the task-force process before the findings would be officially released.
This deft move allows even more time for backroom development deals, under the guise of carrying out a program of citizen involvement. BoLT President John Hill appeared on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on Jan. 5 but never once mentioned the public-input process, thus giving us a good idea of how seriously BoLT takes it. A schedule of “listening sessions” was released subsequently to the Federation of Friends of the Library; the first session is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 14.
Administrators down at library headquarters evidently think preliterate motifs such as “X is for exciting” constitute good PR. And in case anyone is laughing his or her head off at the, like, totally retro idea of a bookmobile, bear in mind that in an era of free Internet access in every coffee shop, the four computers onboard the Xtreme Mobile would be more working computers than most of the 26 library branches ever have available. With the reopening of the closed libraries no longer guaranteed and, at a minimum, years away, some locked-out library patrons might well find the Xmobile as x-emplary as it’s going to get.
DC Library Renaissance Project