Sherwood’s Notebook: You Can Book It — Better Days Ahead


Jerry McCoy was being old school this week.

He was flipping through a newspaper, but not just any newspaper.

It came from a stack of 100-year-old editions of The Washington Star.

He found Feb. 18, 1914. There was a cartoon picture of someone shoveling snow. “Nothing changes, a century later,” he joked.

It’s all part of his job.

McCoy handles special collections at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in the Washingtoniana room, and he has worked for the D.C. Public Library for nearly 15 years.

“For me personally, coming in [here] is like entering this incredible world of our city’s past,” he said Tuesday during an interview with News4. “I feel excited for people that are coming in here because it’s like we have all of this neat stuff and we’re ready to share it with you.”

McCoy spoke as he stood near a white iron newspaper box that held a final edition of the Star, its headline reading: “128 Years of Service Ending.”

The Notebook was visiting the library for the formal announcement of the architectural team that everyone hopes will transform the historic but aging Mies van der Rohe building into a modern, technological library of the future.

“So this takes us to a new stage,” Mayor Vincent Gray said during the ceremony.

The library board selected the international Mecanoo firm and the local Martinez + Johnson firm to undertake what will probably be a nearly five-year, $300 million project.

Staff historians and administrators and technical crews can’t wait to have a modern building as good as the library collections it houses.

“It’s going to be a state-of-the-art library and special collections,” McCoy told us.

We also checked out the library on Monday, when it was closed for Presidents Day. It seemed eerily quiet. Libraries nowadays aren’t as quiet as you might remember.

Library Public Relations Director George Williams spoke to the guards, who allowed News4 inside to review the various redevelopment designs that had been set out for a final public meeting on Saturday. More than 250 people came that day to have a say about their library.

“There are people who really hate this building and there are people who really love this building,” said Alexander Padro, a Shaw advisory neighborhood commissioner and architectural historian. He joined us in the grand hall of the library, with its large mural dedicated to King and with its depictions of the civil rights movement.

Nearly everyone hates the dilapidated interior — whether they like the stark exterior or not.

The inside corridors, desks and restrooms are go-to places for many homeless people who take a break or spend much of the day there.

Padro has sympathy for the homeless, but he says their presence can discourage families and others from making the most of the library.

“It’s all about making sure that we’re providing services to the homeless population so [the library] is not needed as a daytime shelter of last resort,” Padro said.

The building’s infrastructure is worn out. The interior has fallen into structural disrepair as plumbing and electricity suffered while technology raced ahead far faster than the aging building could be retrofitted.

The subterranean meeting rooms are suitable for horror shows or dreary prison scenes.

Bring on the new design and find the money to give the people of Washington a library they’ll use and want to use.

Back then. Former Mayor Tony Williams launched a plan back in 2006 to sell the library and use the proceeds for a new headquarters facility on the grounds of the old convention center. That never got off the ground.

Some people want the central library to return to the Carnegie Building that sits between Mount Vernon Square and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. But as grand as that original facility may be, it’s too small and too structurally out of date to serve as a modern library. (There are plans for the private International Spy Museum to move its operations there.)

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