Plan calls for D.C. libraries to open on Sundays

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Photo - The D.C. Council is slated to take up a bill this fall that would expand hours at the city's public libraries. (Examiner file photo)
The D.C. Council is slated to take up a bill this fall that would expand hours at the city's public libraries. (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The District's public libraries would open on Sunday -- and stay open for much longer on other days -- under a $10 million plan that the D.C. Council is poised to take up this fall.

Most library branches in the city are open for 48 hours each week, but legislation that Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans is pressing would move that figure to at least 69 hours a week, a 44 percent jump.

"The libraries are very important," Evans said. "We have one of the finest library systems in the country, and people at community meetings bring [operating hours] up to me all the time."

Under Evans' proposals, libraries would be open for 12 hours a day Monday through Thursday. Branches would also be operational for at least eight hours on Fridays and Saturdays.

But the biggest shift would come in Sunday hours. Although only one District library -- the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library -- is open on Sundays, Evans' plan would require each branch to open for at least five hours on Sunday afternoons.

"Sunday are times when people can use the library because they're home," Evans said. "Monday through Friday, a lot of people are working and kids are in school."SClBEvans' proposal comes as library use is surging. Since the 2007 fiscal year, circulation has more than doubled to 3.1 million, and computer use at the libraries climbed more than 40 percent last year.

Ginnie Cooper, the District's chief librarian, said she was open to an expansion.

"Having libraries open as many hours as possible has always been a priority for us," Cooper said. "We look forward to working with our elected leaders as this moves forward."

A majority of lawmakers have already signed on to Evans' proposal, which will not get its first hearing until late October, but Mayor Vincent Gray's administration stopped short of an unconditional endorsement of the plan.

"We're open to a conversation about expanding library hours, but we don't think legislating them is the answer," mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said. "It's a decision better left to the mayor and council during the budget process."

Gray is not due to present another budget proposal until March 2013.

Evans said he was resorting to legislation because he felt his colleagues were ambivalent about libraries.

"I can't seem to get either the mayor or my colleagues to fund the libraries," said Evans, who may launch a bid for mayor himself in 2014. "They give it a good talk, everybody supports libraries and then we pass a budget that doesn't include the funding to keep libraries open seven days a week."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner