Portrait of an Inner-City Library and Its Patrons

Our nations capital, the seat of our federal government and home to a multitude of shiny marble buildings and monuments is also home to a slightly decrepit branch of the DC public library, the Southeast Neighborhood Library on Capitol Hill.

It is here that Conrad Cheek Jr., a homeless man, comes on Tuesday evenings to teach aspiring chess players the game. After a game with 11-year old Avery, Cheek goes back out into the night to sell his "Street Sense" newspapers. Several other regular patrons, young and old, are also profiled in this article.

Southeast's struggles mirror those of the other 26 branches in the D.C. library system, which are in such disrepair that public interest crusader Ralph Nader launched an advocacy group on their behalf 2 1/2 years ago. The D.C. Library Renaissance Project has given the library system more political clout. But that has yet to change anything at the Southeast library. There have been plans to renovate the building for years, but the money for hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of repairs has not come through. More than one portion of the library is literally held together with duct tape. More about the District's library system from The Washington Post .


DC Public is also my local library system, and this piece really shows you the pathos, the joys, and the shameful situation you'll find throughout the system, even in the "better" neighborhoods.I probably won't be in DC for more than a year or two (working in libraries and the nonprofit sector, my fiancee and I simply cannot afford to buy a home here that isn't in a war zone, so we're looking to relocate to a college town in New England), but I hope Nader's Renaissance project will help get this system back on track: By all rights, it should be a flagship of public libraries.

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