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The march of new library openings continues Monday with the opening of the Tenley-Friendship branch, up on Wisconsin Avenue. After singing the praises of Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper‘s building blitz last week, I poked my head into the flurry of pre-opening activity, as books went on the shelves and emergency systems got tested.
In many ways, the latest addition to the library system is similar to other recent buildings. It’s got a “quick-grab” area near the front, with things like DVDs and holds. The children’s area is also on the first floor next to the sidewalk, easily accessible to the kinds of SUV strollers that roll through this library.
If there is a distinguishing characteristic, it’s in the spacious entryway. The foyer is large enough to hang out and wait in, and a lofty area through the second set of doors helps orient oneself in the building, which is largely transparent. To the right, a broad staircase elevates up to the second floor, which has a catwalk-like central hallway to the main collection. By the wall, a set of gigantic heavy glass doors stands ready to block off the meeting rooms from the rest of the library, so it can be open past normal hours for community functions (which won’t actually happen until enough money exists to pay staffers to stick around).
Despite the glassyness of the building, the main reading rooms don’t have glaring light, due to the orange “fins” that cover the exterior of the building. The metal protuberances serve the same function as the Shaw library’s translucent wall, blunting the southern exposure while allowing an almost unobstructed view towards the busy intersection. That’s particularly valuable in the large teen section, where kids can look out and see who’s hanging out in Starbucks across the street. Like the other new libraries, tables and work rooms are all near the exterior walls, unlike the MLK central library, where they tend to be set up in the center of the floor.
The private spaces and meeting rooms are less pleasant, set up against the windowless eastern wall of the building. The exposure that faces Janney School is blank by necessity: At the city’s direction, and the cost of almost $1 million for additional structural supports, the library still retains the possibility of having several residential stories added behind and on top, which proved controversial enough that plans stalled completely (the diagram at right was obtained by neighborhood resident David Frankel, who says he has spent tens of thousands of dollars on two separate lawsuits to force the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development to release all information related to the proposed addition). Cooper,
however, maintains that the library is exactly what she would have built, residential add-on or not.
“I have no idea what will happen, and it won’t be the library’s decision,” Cooper says. “In the final analysis, nothing is planned, and we are building the library we planned, without compromise.”