Library Releases Final Report on MLK Building Study

Photo courtesy of DC Library

From a press release:

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) released its final report today after conducting a week-long review of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library building last November. Based on the results of the ULI report, the DC Public Library will begin an in-depth analysis next month to determine the feasibility and cost of implementing the scenarios.

“The analysis is the next step in a long process that will help us figure out how to make the District’s central library a spectacular place for residents,” said Ginnie Cooper, chief librarian of the District of Columbia.

The ULI report outlined three scenarios for consideration without necessarily recommending one over the other. All scenarios will require significant investment by District government for major improvements to the building, according to the report.

Keep the existing building as a library and lease excess space in the building to another commercial, nonprofit or municipal entity.
Maintain the existing building for complete use by the library.
Sell the building and identify another downtown location for the central library.

The Library will work with nationally recognized architectural firm and architect-of-record for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, The Freelon Group, to examine how the MLK Library can be reconfigured for co-tenancy, complete an analysis of how two more floors can be added to the building, and identify, prioritize and provide cost estimates for needed major improvements. The work will follow the historic design guidelines developed by EHT Traceries.

Additionally, the Library will work with the D.C. Office of Planning to explore whether there are viable alternate locations downtown that can accommodate a 225,000 square foot central library. And finally, nationally recognized library experts will be consulted to test the assumption that 225,000 square feet is sufficient space to house a state-of-the-art, cutting edge central library. The analysis is expected to be complete by the fall. The results of the analysis will be used to continue the conversation on the future of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library with residents, city leaders and other stakeholders.

Continues after the jump.

“The MLK Library is positioned to proudly continue its valued cultural and intellectual role in the very heart of Washington D.C.,” said Wayne Ratkovich, president of The Ratkovich Company and chair of the ULI advisory panel for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library building assessment project. “Technological advances pose some challenges and opportunities for the library, and we sincerely hope the panel’s work will assist the city’s leadership in capitalizing on the opportunities.”

In partnership with the DowntownDC Business Improvement District, the DC Public Library commissioned the Urban Land Institute to do an assessment of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library building. ULI organized an advisory services panel of national experts in the fields of architecture, urban planning, commercial and residential development, finance and library sciences to conduct a week-long review. As part of their evaluation, the eight-member panel, comprised intentionally of experts from outside the District to maintain objectivity, interviewed about 70 community, business and elected leaders, toured the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library building, and reviewed demographic and trend data. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library building assessment cost $120,000.

“The recommendations in the report represent another important and crucial step in determining the best course of action for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library,” said DowntownDC BID Executive Director Richard Bradley. “We are honored to be working with all the partners involved and are dedicated to continuing the momentum to determine the best course of action for the Library and thecity.”

The ULI final report is available on the Library’s website at and reference copies will be available at all D.C. public libraries in the coming weeks.


Report: A copy of the report can be viewed here
Images: Historical and contemporary images can be downloaded here.

About the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Building

World-famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was commissioned to design the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library building and ground was broken at 9th and G streets, NW in July 1968. Constructed of matte black steel and bronzed-tinted glass, the building cost about $18 million and provides 400,000 square feet of floor space on four floors above ground and three underground levels. The building opened to the public in 1972 and is designated a historic landmark. It serves as the city’s central library.

20 Comment

  • So we might get a chance to judge a pop-up on it?

  • orderedchaos

    Either lease out part of the space for co-tenancy (option one) or just sell the whole thing (the best option).

    Would love to see them take on the Franklin Building at 13th & K for the new library.

  • Folks in this town really have made “cognitive dissonance” an art form.

    The MLK library is broken. It’s greatest use is as a bum urine sponge. The building is a maintenance nightmare and is a useless low density, untaxable option for what is now the most expensive real estate in the District of Columbia. Instead, we spend the better part of a decade discussing it in perpetuity and fund study, after study to tell us again what we already know.

    Sell it to the highest bidder to build some more Class A office or apartments with street retail that will benefit the neighborhood and the city.

    The land underneath the building is worth 40-50 million dollars alone, and an office building utilizing the full FAR currently allowed would bring in the city another couple million a year in property tax.

    Ok, so what do we do with the library?

    I am glad you asked. We put the city library back in the building it used to be in, and that is currently shuttered because of lack of use. The Carnegie Library at Mt. Vernon SQ.

    Not only was it built to be a library, it is a gorgeous building in a great part of town that has easy metro access.

    It is currently “used” if you can say that, to house the Historical Society of DC, which is closed until further notice (and has been for awhile). It is occasionally rented out for party space, but the building is unfortunately an unused fiscal pit.

    It was renovated in ~2002 so it doesn’t need any serious money (5-10 million to restore its original inner floor plan) and is large enough to accomodate the ~200K requirements set out by ULI and to accomodate the useful parts of the DC Historical Societys exhibits.


    1. The city has sold a massively expensive maintainence nightmare and profited ~50 million
    2. The city gets super prime central business district land back on the tax rolls, profiting millions per year inperpetuity.
    3. A beautify Carnegie library gets its mojo back after a decades of disuse.
    4. The city gets a great central library.

    • I could get on board with that. However I have a feeling because of the name – the MLK library will remain as is for a while.

      • The man’s got his own statue on the mall. Perhaps we can name another building, have a nice celebration and photo op with the Mayor, and be done with it.

    • That would be a good option provided that current library building is declared a historical landmark. It’d be a shame to lose that building.

      While beautiful central libraries are nice – I would rather see the money continued to be spent in neighborhoods to make accessign literature, information, literacy and other programs easier.

      • Current library building is horrible. So what that van der Rohe designed it? It’s a boring black box. If a noted architect didn’t design it, no one would care. I see no redeeming architectural value at all.

    • I agree with everything in your post, but I’m afraid that any talk of moving the library will cause this situation to drag on indefinitely. At this point, I think that best we can hope for is that it gets shuttered due to an outbreak of cholera from the unsanitary conditions that surround it.

  • Agree with Joker that the library should move back to Mt Vernon Square. The current building should just be sold – it’s full of wasted space.

  • Having worked in that building I can say that it is a depressing dump, poorly suited to being a library. It, like most of the DC government is also a monument to inefficiency and petty power mongering obstructionist do nothings. But I have to say the library’s almost communist disregard for capitalism and efficiency makes it the last stand for the little man downtown. However marginal that stand may be. I’m sure the little man will be better served by a newer modernized library but those obstructionist do nothings are better at their job than one would suspect.

    • How does the library exhibit a “communist disregard for capitalism?”

      • i think because it’s free.

      • “almost communist disregard for capitalism and efficiency” you forgot the almost. And you should go by sometime and see for yourself. It was a complement by the way.

        • I’ve been hundreds of times. I know I’m in the minority but it’s actually one of my favorite buildings in the city. I just don’t think that the buidling almost exhibits a disregard for capitalism. I’m still not sure what that could even mean.

          • A roof top cafe with an external entrance and private ownership could make them a lot of money so could special events in the lobby.

  • “Technological advances pose some challenges and opportunities for the library…”

    Uh, what? How are they pinning the library’s woes on technology? How about the lack of funding and total city inaction for decades that have directly resulted in the sorry state it is today. Windows boarded up, weary interior, poor resource availability, etc.

    Perhaps the reports address this, but I didn’t see any mention of the library being used as a de facto homeless shelter during operating hours. The overhang adjacent to G St NW makes it the ultimate stoop under which to hang out. It used to be much worse when the United Way building was next door.

    Sell the building to a private developer with a stipulation that the building’s exterior be kept to its original design.

    The entire library should move to a building that was designed to be a library. You know, like the Carnegie Library building at Mt. Vernon Square sits unused for 85% of the time.

  • I can’t even go in there because it smells so strongly of piss.

    • that’s not fair. it’s just the elevators and stairways that smell like piss. oh, and the entire outside of the building.

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