DC’s MLK Library: A Modern Nightmare to Avoid

21Nov08
A hideous four-storey building that houses DC's main library. Rather fitting.

The hideous four-storey building that houses DC's main library. Rather fitting.

I go to public libraries for free internet. Good people watching is a splendid side benefit.

But I don’t like what has happened to many of America’s inner city libraries. They are veritable military zones!

Two days ago I tried to go to Washington’s central library, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, located downtown.

But I stopped, right before entering. Through the glass windows I saw a serious security regime: a bag scanner, metal detector, and a security guard. And, worst of all, a big sign advertising the library’s strict no food and drink policy.

I’ve been down that road before. Three years ago, I got kicked out of Dallas’s main public library for eating a banana in a stairwell.

I told my mom about the ridiculous story and she wrote a column about it. She told me some readers responded by calling me “spoiled.” True, I must admit. But didn’t I win? I got her to write in print – telling thousands of people – about the messed up city libraries.

I guess I just want the same to be said about DC’s libraries. Albeit to an audience of tens.

Up front, I will grant that both Dallas and DC must deal with an army of aimless homeless folks. They sleep, shower, and shout. To be frank, they are not the intended users of the public library. But should the library use a tremendous sledge hammer to deal with the problem?

All urban public libraries must deal with homeless people. However, New York and Chicago have found a way to do so without penalizing their clientele – their owners! – in such a dehumanizing way.

No scanners, nor metal detectors. A security guard just asks to see your bag when entering and leaving the building.

It’s a failure of leadership. Similar to the heavy-handed ways of the head of DC schools, Michelle Rhee?

There are issues. There should be rules.

A simple one: no showering in the bathroom. But no soap to deal with this issue? Sorry, no thank you Dallas. I don’t want shit hands when I’m reading.

Security guards can make frequent trips to all the bathrooms. They already do, I’m sure. When they see someone bathing at the sink, kick them out!

And should security guards waste their time as food and drink czars?

I say no.  Overall, public officials shouldn’t ruin a great public space just because a few people misuse it.

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