The Martin Luther King Library in Washington, DC

Aug 20, 2007

DC's MLK library is well known as being a classic work of modernist architecture, designed by Mies Van Der Rohe. It also houses an extensive collection of resources, some of them unique to this library - most notable the Black Studies and Washingtoniana collections.

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The Martin Luther King Library, flagship library of the District of Columbia system, was built in 1972 by German architect Mies Van Der Rohe, and was recently designated as a historic landmark by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board. What this means is that this classic work of modernist architecture is now safe from the wrecker's ball -- and just in time, too, as there was some talk of tearing it down to make way for additional development in the newly renovated Gallery Place/Penn Quarter area. And despite talks of moving the library, director Ginnie Cooper assures patrons that those plans have been, well, shelved, and instead the MLK library will be restored inside and out -- repainted, new lights, needed repairs to elevators, and increased accessibility for the disabled. Cooper also reveals that her office is hard at work developing plans to ensure that present and future renovations 'can keep in mind some of the principles of Mies's architecture'.

When visitors first enter the library's massive lobby, perhaps the first thing that draws their attention is the King mural. Created by Jamaican-born artist Don Miller, this mural commemorates the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , for whom the library was named. Every year the library celebrates its namesake with a 'Reading King' celebration where celebrity guests and students from local elementary schools read stories about King's life. This event takes place in the lobby, right below the famous mural.

The library's first floor also houses the circulation and information desks, public access computer terminals, the Popular Library (fiction) and Young Adult collections, the College Information Center, the Business collection, the Technology and Science collection, and Books Plus, the library's store which sells a selection of gift items in addition to new and used books. The second floor is home to the Children's Room (which had a complete makeover in 2004), the Audio-Visual collection, the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and the Lifelong Learning Center (for residents 60 years of age or older), as well as collections in Art, Music, Language and Literature, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion, History, Biography, Sociology, Education, and Government. On the third floor you'll find the Black Studies department, the Washingtoniana and Washington Star collection (an archival local history collection, established in 1905), and the Periodicals and Newspaper collections. The 3rd floor also houses the Literacy Resources Division, which has GED preparation materials as well as adult literacy materials. The 4th floor is given over to administrative offices.

Below ground are the A levels where the public access areas include an art gallery, meeting rooms, an auditorium, and restrooms. The rest of the space is 'backstage' - where all of the books are sorted for shelving and where shipments of books and other materials come in and go out to all of the DC Public Library system's 26 other branches. The B level is an underground parking garage where you can get a pass good for one hour's parking from the security guard -- good to know in this part of town, as parking spaces on the street are few and far between (and likely to be illegal and earn you an expensive parking ticket).

If you choose not to drive, the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro stop is right across the road, beneath the National Portrait Gallery. Within a few blocks you'll find Chinatown, the Verizon Center, the International Spy Museum, and historic Ford's Theater (site of Lincoln's assassination). If your research makes you hungry, your dining choices range from the various offerings of the ubiquitous hot dog vendors to Chinatown's restaurants to trendy bistros like IndeBleu or upscale dining establishments like Zaytinya.

Fast Facts about the MLK Library
Address: 901 G St. NW , Washington, DC 20001
Year Construction Started 1968
Year Completed 1972
Cost to Build $18 million
Number of Floors 7 (4 Above Ground, 3 Below)
Hours of Operation M-Th 9:30 AM -- 9 PM F-Sa 9:30 AM -- 5:30 PM Closed Sun.
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