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The World Bank may have loaned $42 billion to impoverished countries last year to support education and economic development, but here in the District, it plans to shutter its beloved bookstore in October. And people are pissed.
Since 2000, the nonprofit World Bank InfoShop, located two blocks from the White House at 18th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, has been a haven for bibliophiles and anyone interested in how the world works. And its offerings aren’t all dry academic texts, either. Its deeply discounted titles include spy novels, memoirs, journals, and exciting tales of life in the Third World—arranged in a spellbinding series of works by authors from Kissinger to Le Carre.
A World Bank spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirms the planned closure, adding that the global financial institution has already closed a half-dozen other information offices around the world. “It was never a profit center,” she says. “It has been a showcase for publications and for visitors.”
News of the InfoShop’s last gasp has inspired a petition to save it, and at last count had gathered 862 signatures. “Due to the spread of the internet, the bookstore is not essential for distribution of knowledge,” the spokeswoman says.
The bookshop space will still belong to the World Bank and instead will be used for events—and no, you probably won’t be invited to them. It’s notoriously difficult to gain access to the bank buildings, whose spectacular modern glass atrium and international food court are strictly for those with electronic badges allowing entry into the main building across from the bookstore. InfoShop is currently the only way outsiders can access a piece of the World Bank mini-empire along Pennsylvania Avenue.
The closure is a tough blow: The only other independent bookshop in the D.C. area that can boast such a deep river of knowledge about international news, culture, economics, history and fiction is northwest D.C.’s Politics & Prose.
But InfoShop’s demise isn’t entirely surprising, as these kinds of closures have become par for the course in recent years. “The IMF [International Monetary Fund] closed its bookstore eight years ago,” says the bank’s source. “It is sad—we live in a changing world.” In the early 1990s, the U.S. Senate forced the U.S. Information Agency to close dozens of worldwide information centers and merge with the State Department, a blow to foreign journalists and students.
The World Bank says it will continue to offer its reports online, but the bookstore’s hundreds of other volumes won’t be available. On Oct. 14, just after its Oct. 7-9 annual meeting, the shop will strip its shelves and lock its doors, another World Bank source says.
“We’ve not really been told why they are ending the store.”