Housing Complex

Watha T. Daniel Libary, About to Go Live

(Alex Burchfield)

(Alex Burchfield)

After years of planning, contract negotiation, and construction, the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library will finally open its doors on August 2. It’s the fourth of six new and renovated libraries to open this year—but this one, a triangular shard of glass projecting over the corner of Rhode Island Ave. and 7th Street, NW, may be the most striking achievement yet.

The mastermind of the Library’s building blitz, Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper, toured Housing Complex around the soon-to-open facility yesterday, along with branch manager Eric Riley and Jeff Bonvechio, director of 21st Century Capital Projects. Cooper, who spent many of her 30-year library career at the Brooklyn Public Library, has an infectious enthusiasm. And it’s hard not to, just from the scale of the place: Sitting on a portion of land that would barely accommodate two modestly sized houses, the library has packed in 22,000 square feet of floor space on three levels, and can hold up to 80,000 books and audio/visual materials.

Aesthetically and technically, the building is a modern masterpiece. Designed by Davis Brody Bond Aedas, it’ll cost an estimated $11.8 million dollars to finish. The veneer of the north-facing wall is built with opaque glass, with windows for the study rooms on the second floor. The south wall is covered with a sheet of metal scrim, which is used for “daylight harvesting,” allowing an optimal amount of light to enter the building to control the temperature. Standing outside and looking up at the second floor, you can see only see a solid metal sheet. But looking outside from within, the scrim is transparent. Filling out the enviro-features—the library is expected to earn LEEDs Silver certification—the building uses post-consumer waste materials for the carpeting, low emission paints, and an elaborate heating system built into a “raised floor.”

“We are not cooling or heating the space from here up to there,” said Cooper, pointing to the ceiling. “In most cases, what you have in older buildings is [the air will] come from the top and blow down. You’re spending a lot of energy to make sure that the area from 10 to 20 ft is the right temperature, which is not the case in this building.”

As we skirted around construction workers and strewn boxes of supplies, the aura of a library began to sink in. Cooper talked about how excited she was to finally see books on the shelves, and branch manager Riley pointed out the different genre sections, including urban fiction, graphic novels, young adult fiction, reference books and a Spanish collection; Housing Complex spotted an encyclopedia of philosophy displayed prominently on one shelf.

The collection will start out at about half-capacity, with around only 40,000 items. Since the original Shaw library closed in 2004, half of the collection remained in a 4,200 square foot interim library, which Riley managed single-handedly for three years. The other half remained in a stockpile in the original location. But Cooper and her team plan to continue expanding, buying books from the same wholesalers that sell to companies like Barnes and Noble and Borders.

“We’re building a fairly complex collection when we open this library,” said Cooper. “One that takes into account both what kids are going to need for school, homework and current materials. I don’t think you’ll find any, ‘some man walks on the moon someday,’ stories.”

But books may not be the most important feature for library patrons. The 32 public access computers and free Wi-Fi are vital resources for residents of a neighborhood where many do not have Internet access.  Along with a community room, two conference rooms and five study rooms, Cooper’s team envisages a place where people will gather to learn, listen and bond in an environment that suits their needs.

“Libraries of all kinds, in particular these beautiful new ones, are the way that government says to people in this neighborhood, ‘you are important. See how this is? This is yours and you have built this for you.’ And that sense of pride and ownership is really what’s valuable.”

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