Subjective view of MLK library

Big A$$ Disclaimer: This is just one woman’s opinion. Which you are free to disagree with because a) beauty is in the eye of the beholder, b) everyone may have a different user experience and the following is just one of that of the 5 billion or so people on the planet and c) everyone has different user needs that change with time and (sometimes) space. Also I do sometimes identify myself as a librarian, however I have never served as a Public Librarian. I have worked mainly in academic libraries and one association library, which are different from public libraries. Also I tend to use academic libraries and the agency library at work for my library needs.

Okay. I was reading in today’s Post “Through Glass Darkly: D.C.’s Poor Vision for Library” and disagreed with a few things. For one, I think, and this is just my subjective opinion, that the Martin Luther King Library designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is a ugly building and just plain ugly inside. To my eye is it just another nondescript ugly officey looking building downtown. But you may disagree, and that’s ok. The author of the article writes that “the library is a splendidly welcoming public building.” Personally, this is just my personal experience, I haven’t found it so. I compare it to other libraries I have used, and so far the best public libraries, in places where I resided, are the Arlington County main library (on a street that starts with Q) and the Gainesville, FL main library (circa early 90s). The MLK Library seems more like a reflection of the rest of DC government, some parts good, other parts not good or a bit horrid, and overall, blah.
Back when I had a subscription to American Libraries, the magazine of the American Library Association (I let my membership lapse because my then new employer does not pay for memberships), I remember there being an article every once in a while about library buildings and design particularly for libraries and the big problem of trying to get non-librarians to understand that we have special needs, and those needs being ignored. I will admit that library building design does not interest me that much so, mainly because I’m not in a position where I will need to design a library. So the the articles I did read, it was a quick read. Personally, I don’t think I have seen the MLK touted as a great example of how a library building should be. It might have been, but I haven’t seen anything coming from the library world (from architects and others but not so much librarians, hum) saying that the MLK is all that. Maybe that was in an article, and if so, please cite it. Another big problem is maintenance, but that’s not the only thing.
Well since I don’t have the Waltha T. Daniels library to go to, I will go to the MLK if I have to. The Washingtonia division is there. And when the copiers, the change machines, and microfilm reader/printers work properly, it’s all good. The enjoyment comes from the materials found and the mood of whoever is in charge of the room, not so much the design and layout, which does not really encourage sticking around. For other needs, the library my agency has at work is good and has the professional literature I need, and wouldn’t expect any public library to have anyway. Also if it somewhat-slightly-maybe-depending on how you think about it, relates to my job I can get the agency library to do an inter library loan for me, to get me the book/ article/ microfiche I need. Then as a dues paying alumni I can use and borrow from the University of Maryland’s library.
As libraries go, I have seen and experienced better.

13 thoughts on “Subjective view of MLK library”

  1. As far as the special needs of Libraries, do you remember how the new library at UMASS Amherst was in danger because the architect didn’t take into account the books (and how much they all weigh) when designing it.

  2. Well as an alumna of UMASS, I heard that statement before but I’m not entirely sure that it is true.
    The one thing I liked about the UMASS library (and it was the only thing) was the little rooms (4x 9?) they gave to grad students. I shared it with someone who didn’t use it. When I got sleepy I would crawl under the desk, turn out the light and take a nap. But as far as library enjoyment in the Happy Valley of Western G-dforsaken nowhere Mass, was the college library at Mt. Holyoke. I would take the bus there just to study that was such a wonderful place, except the basement. Smith was ok. Hampshire College didn’t inspire sticking around but they had a great CD library. Amherst, was undergoing construction when I was there.

  3. An uncle and I were have disagreed on the fate of MLK library. Uncle contends that one doesn’t destroy a memorial. Neice says as memorials go, MLK library is a disgrace. Building system failures are common. The place looks like an ugly office building on stilts. Why not start over with a new central library.

  4. are the Arlington County main library (on a street that starts with Q)

    That would be Quincy St. Used to live right across the street from that library. A very nice library indeed.

  5. OK, an opposing view on the aesthetics of Mies: I LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE that building. LOVE Mies. I hope they sell it. MMMMMMMMM, condos……..

  6. I think it’s a handsome building, much nicer than the faux-late-pre-post-modernism that you see everywhere in DC. Though I haven’t been in it for a long time, and I could believe that it isn’t well suited to be a library. It should be given some public use, though rather than just sold for flats.

  7. Actually, I haven’t paid much attention to the outside, but it sure would be nice if the inside was a little more attractive. I recently attended a meeting in a room downstairs and the place was simply NOT well maintained. A coat of paint and a new carpet would do wonders for it. I guess they don’t have two pennies to rub together. It really is a shame.

    As a side note, I’ll type that I was in the city of Frederick, MD a few weeks ago. Their old downtown is being beautifully refurbished and the central point is the public library. It is absolutely gorgeous.

  8. My favorite library I’ve ever used is the New Haven central library. It’s old and gorgeous, but it’s also very up-to-date and convenient inside and has a welcoming feeling.

    The new Bethesda library renovation is very nice too.

    I love the contents of the MLK library, but I hate the way it looks inside and out–it’s just depressing. It’s also so symmetrical that it’s very easy to go the wrong way. Simple things like paint and carpet could make a world of difference. The children’s room was just re-done and looks great.

    The cavernous main lobby needs somehow to be made more cosy. First of all, the rows of empty chairs need to be put away. Then it needs attractive carpeting. I would also add a mezzanine level over most of the first floor, which would create lower ceilings (essential for cosyness) and much-needed extra space.

    Also half the elevators are ALWAYS out of service (no exaggeration). I think it’s b/c they don’t have the budget to maintain all 4 of them.

  9. I use the stairs. But I use them with a slight fear that I’ll be jumped by a crazy.
    And this is why I’d prefer a decent neighborhood library that will hold books from the main (or any of the other locals) for you.
    Once again, thank goodness for the library at work.

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