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Watha T. Daniel Library

Shaw Residents Rally 'Round Their Closed Library
By Timothy Wilson, Washington Post
Aug 17, 2006, 10:09

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Since their neighborhood library closed almost two years ago, residents in the Shaw area have been upset with the unfulfilled promise for an interim library and they want a full-service branch to reopen immediately.

Residents protested at Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library, 1701 Eighth St. NW last Friday, to demonstrate their frustration with the D.C. Public Library's effort to restore service to their community.

"When libraries aren't open, they hurt communities," said Alex Padro, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member, at the rally. Children "need a safe, secure education option for the summer."

After years of under-funding and overdue maintenance, four branches were closed in December 2004 by library officials. Demolition, leading to construction of new facilities, was to have begun in spring 2005. The other three are the Anacostia, Benning and Tenley branches.

Library officials said they will dispatch a mobile library featuring Internet access and a book collection to the area in September and open an interim library at Shaw Junior High School by December.

Work to replace the old buildings came to a halt when designs were changed to incorporate recommendations from a 32-member task force appointed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). That postponed construction of the new facilities, and the reopenings have been delayed until probably the end of 2008, library officials said.

Hess Construction Co. of Gaithersburg received $3 million before its contract to rebuild the branches was terminated in October 2005. A search for a new architect will not begin until the fall.

"We're behind," said Monica Lewis, spokeswoman for the D.C. libraries. "We could not rebuild them according to the plans we had."

Since its closing, the Watha T. Daniel branch, which was named in honor of a local businessman who advocated for the poor, has changed from a neighborhood focal point to a destination for the homeless, vandals and illegal drug activity. The property was accessible until it was surrounded by a 12-foot-tall chain-link fence about two weeks ago.

"This is not a beautiful sight for children to walk by," said Letha Blount, 76, who attended the rally, along with dozens of other chanting demonstrators. They tied yellow ribbons to the fence to "symbolize the libraries that are being held hostage" by library officials.

Carsia Robinson, a recent graduate of SEED Public Charter School in Southeast who started using the library for book reports in third grade, said the closing forced her to travel to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library downtown to conduct her research. "Without a library our community is falling apart," said Robinson, who will attend Hampshire College in Massachusetts next month. There "wasn't this much violence [in Shaw] when it was open."

Despite the promises for interim and mobile libraries, the neighborhood activists are skeptical.

"We're not real comfortable with their promises," said Padro, who is also president of Friends of Watha T. Daniel Library. "A lot of lip service is being paid to the community input."

© Copyright 2005 by ShawDC.com

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Watha T. Daniel Library
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