February 17, 2021
Dear Chairperson White and members of the Committee:
Thank you for affording me the opportunity to me to comment in conjunction with this hearing.
I am Mark Pattison, current secretary and former president (2011-14) of the Friends of the Juanita E. Thornton-Shepherd Park Library and a member of the Federation of Friends of the D.C. Public Library.
On Page 46 of DCPL’s “Next Libris” master facilities plan, it makes the recommendation to, quote, “Replace the existing Shepherd Park (Juanita E. Thornton) Library (Ward 4) with a new full-service library that is south of the existing site to address a service gap identified in Brightwood Park/Manor Park,” unquote.
If publication = policy, then it is critical to bring this to the Committee’s attention now, even though DCPL does not contemplate asking for any money in the coming budget for shutting down a library, site planning, or construction, because it signals DCPL’s intention to close the Juanita E. Thornton-Shepherd Park Library.
That would send the wrong message not only to the community but to the entire District. Because Friends don’t let friends close libraries.
The Juanita E. Thornton-Shepherd Park Library opened in 1990 after a five-year struggle in which the library site was intended for a Wendy’s restaurant. Students at Shepherd Elementary — led by some savvy adults, among them Juanita E. Thornton — led the “Books Not Burgers” campaign that convinced the District to take the land with the express intent of building a library.
This is the only — repeat, only — full-service library targeted for closure by DCPL. Yet the master facilities plan also envisions new libraries to serve such communities as Cathedral Heights, Dupont Circle, Eckington, and Fort Lincoln without closing existing libraries.
DCPL, in the master facilities plan, argues that The Juanita E. Thornton-Shepherd Park Library is, to quote again from page 29, “only one mile away from the 63,000 square foot Silver Spring Library.” Does this mean that District residents should sponge off Montgomery County services? If that’s the case, then there’s a fire station in Silver Spring even closer than that to the District that we could call for fire and EMS service since far too many of our 911 and 311 calls get sent to Montgomery County as it is. But to get back to the library issue, there are other DCPL branches in close proximity to Montgomery County library branches, with even more materials borrowed in Maryland — yet none of those branches are recommended for being shut down. And they shouldn’t be targeted, just as our library shouldn’t be targeted.
Moreover, the Shepherd Park Library does not, as DCPL asserts, also on page 29, “typically ranks among the bottom third” in patronage. DCPL’s own statistics from 2019, the last year before COVID threw all sorts of metrics into disarray, show the Juanita E. Thornton-Shepherd Park Library in the middle of the pack when it comes to patronage, computer usage, checkout of books and other materials, and library program attendance. The only category where it’s not in the middle is meeting room usage — and that’s because it’s fifth among all 25 DCPL branches. At a December 8 special meeting of the Shepherd Park Citizens Association, DCPL executive director Richard Reyes-Gavilan said he had, quote, “no problems with the library’s performance,” unquote.
DCPL also says in the master facilities plan that Shepherd Park has the fewest residents per library square foot in its “catchment area.” But DCPL conveniently gerrymandered Walter Reed into the catchment area of the Takoma Park Library, which is tiny by comparison and will remain tiny after renovations are completed. The Takoma Library is farther from the Parks at Walter Reed, while the Juanita E. Thornton-Shepherd Park Library is a short walk from much of the development. Ironically, the Takoma Park Library had the closed-for-business bullseye painted on its bricks by the previous DCPL regime. Shepherd Park’s size, by comparison, allowed it to be one of the first eight libraries in the District to reopen during the pandemic. In an era of climate change and pandemics, the need for non-dense, walkable neighborhood amenities has increased rather than decreased.
Equity is a shifting target. We have no problems with DCPL building a new library to serve residents in Brightwood Park and Manor Park, but disenfranchising one area to enfranchise another makes no sense. Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George, before she was sworn in and before she was assigned to this Committee, tweeted her support for BOTH a new library to serve Brightwood Park and Manor Park — and keeping the Juanita E. Thornton-Shepherd Park library.
If you concur that publication = policy, then you on the Committee can preempt any attempt by DCPL to close the Juanita E. Thornton-Shepherd Park Library. Keep this issue on your radar. Please don’t let yourself get caught by surprise should DCPL start making budget requests that would have the effect of shutting down the Shepherd Park Library, because should you ask DCPL, “Where did this come from?” they’ll simply reply, “Well, it was in our master facilities plan when we released it in 2020, and nobody made a stink about it then.”
This is why we’re making a stink about it now. Remember: Friends don’t let friends close libraries. Thank you.
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