February 9, 2022 Friends Council Testimony

Feb. 9, 2022

Chairman White and members of the committee:

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify at this hearing. My name is Mark Pattison, and I’m the President of the Friends of the Juanita E. Thornton-Shepherd Park Library on Georgia Avenue — all 116 of us members mobilized to fight against the planned closing of our community’s library.

Friends groups citywide have a more favorable view of their branch library than of the overall library system. If you look at the work branch libraries have done in the past year that doesn’t ordinarily fit the definition of library services — like the free daily distribution of COVID test kits to anxious residents — it’s easy to see why library workers are feeling overtaxed and burned out. But they’re the ones on the front lines, and they’re our champions.

In a time not that long ago, we who visited the library were referred to as library “patrons.” DCPL now calls us “customers.” That suggests that library usage is just another transaction. That’s what got the DCPL Board of Trustees in hot water last month. But this problem extends far beyond the trustees.

Last year in this forum, I protested the Shepherd Park Library’s recommended closing as spelled out in DCPL’s master facilities plan, “Next Libris.” So I’m using my time to critique “Next Libris” and point out its many shortcomings, which would put the justification for its recommendations — even the good ones — on shaky ground.

“Next Libris” touts itself as “a living document.” Well, it’s been 14 months since it was unveiled, and I haven’t seen one thing to indicate any change AT ALL, even though we’ve been living in a pandemic all this time. As it relates to the Shepherd Park Library, “Next Libris” said that it, quote, “typically ranks among the bottom third,” unquote, in usage metrics systemwide. We did some digging and found that for the six metrics DCPL measures to assess usage, we ranked squarely in the middle of the pack among all D.C. libraries in the last pre-pandemic budget year. And for the second quarter of 2021, our circulation numbers — already in the middle of the pack — doubled, even as the Takoma Park branch was being reopened. Yet I don’t see any acknowledgment of this in the “living” document.

In 2019, DCPL conducted an online survey with 1,201 respondents. However, “Next Libris,” says, quote: “The survey is not statistically valid because it does not have a statistically valid sample set.” That’s an understatement. For example, 58.3 percent of the respondents had a graduate degree. Moreover, the survey, which asked many questions about library use, never mentioned children.

DCPL’s site planning process should be reexamined as well. The city has no central capital facilities planning function. To make up for this, each agency hires consultants to develop their data, provide standards, and do designs. DCPL can build on its own, while other agencies use DGS.

When it came to renovations, this worked well for DCPL. Planning for millions in new construction is quite another thing. “Next Libris” has many space standards — you’ll keep seeing references to 20,000-square-foot buildings that will each cost about $25 million — but no staffing or technology standards.

And the drawbacks of such a decentralized system are many. Let’s take a look at Walter Reed. The D.C. Office of Planning actively planned for Walter Reed’s development. However, when FEMS wanted to locate there, OP had no role.

The result is that each agency spends millions hiring facilities consultants — DCPL has hired six so far that we know of — to develop stovepipe plans without any consideration of overall public need or attempt at multifunction facilities.

One more thing about Walter Reed. Last year in my testimony, I used the word “gerrymander” to complain that Walter Reed, whose northern terminus is less than two blocks from the Shepherd Park Library, was instead assigned to the Takoma Park Library. I was wrong. Walter Reed is simply in the same census tract as the Takoma Park Library, maps and distances be damned. That’s not gerrymandering, but it sure is sloppy work by DCPL.

Something else that’s sloppy on DCPL’s part is calling this a “New 4A Library” in its budget request. Since “Next Libris” mentions the neighborhoods of Brightwood Park and Manor Park, those two neighborhoods are in ANC District 4B — NOT 4A, as the Shepherd Park Library is. If DCPL is sloppy on the little things, what guarantee is there that they’re not going to be sloppy on the big things — especially when you’re asking for $25 million in pre-inflation dollars for a brand-new library. Let me say this again here: The Friends are OK with a new library for Brightwood Park and Manor Park, But it should NOT have to come at the expense of the Juanita E. Thornton-Shepherd Park Library. If you’re looking for a solution to this problem, don’t “replace” the Shepherd Park Library, but keep it and build one in ANC 4B as well.

We’ve got other bones to pick about “Next Libris.” Our Friends group submitted more than 50 questions about it to DCPL’s director of community engagement, at her request, the day before Thanksgiving. Here it is, 49 working days since then, and still no answers. I hope you have better luck with them than we’ve had. Thank you.

Mark Pattison, President

Friends of the Juanita E. Thornton-Shepherd Park Library

1221 Floral St. NW

Washington, DC 20012