Friday Question of the Day – Do You Use the Library? Which is Your Favorite?


This is a reader request:

“Which public library in DC is best? I find I tend to like Georgetown Public Library just for the chance to get away and be in another atmosphere, I find it more contemplative and less crowded than most. Or is it just me thinking that it is and that most libraries are relatively the same? I really find the MLK Library downtown a tendency toward human confusion when there is no need to be, I wonder what others think which library in town is the best overall.”

Ed. Note: I’m curious how many folks have an opinion on this – I always imagined that it’s geography based – whichever one you live closest to. I guess an interesting poll will be to see how many folks use the public library in general? What do you use it for – old school books, magazines, movies, tablets/downloading, activities, kids stuff?

53 Comment

  • I tend to check out events and activities on the email newsletter that is sent out… so I go to a few based on what they have going on. Other than that, I think it is location based. I tend to reserve online if there is a specific book I want and just get it delivered to my local one.

  • Linc Park SE

    I use the library weekly. Ive been to many different branches and Im pleasantly surprised at how nice some of them are. NE is good for laptop use, plenty of space- and also good DVD selection. SE for when I need to print something – their copier always works. There’s a really quiet branch in SW, and a huge new one by Benning Rd/MN Ave and a small new one in Rosedale. They have a huge selection of online lending and one day Im going to try the 3D printers at MLK. I think the library system is one of our better DC services. Oh yeah – and also books- good selection of books.

  • I’m a huge fan of the DC library system. The electronic lending library is so great now that I rarely go into branches for hard copy books. When I do, I often put them on hold via the website and have them delivered to my local library rather than heading to a different location. That said, I’ve had “home” libraries in five spots across NW, NE and SW and loved all but MLK.

  • andy

    I am an obsessive user of the iPhone overdrive app with my DCPL account. I constantly have 10 books or audiobooks checked out and tons of thing on hold. They do a pretty good job of stocking things I want to read. Though when I go through the new acquisition I’m surprised at the sheer numbers of romance novels that they get. It’s got to be 1 romance novel for every singe fiction book or something like that.

    • Overdrive and e-libraries are great! I use DCPL and a few others. Many folks have access to other e-libraries through their employer, agency, or alma matter–you just need to explore a bit. Also, Amazon Prime has a great lending selection as well.

    • I LOVE the Overdrive app. It makes it SO easy for me to get books when I don’t have time to stop by to pick something up. Of course, not everything is an e-book, but enough that I find myself reading about 2 books/week.

    • emvee

      Yup, this. I went into the Shaw Library to get my library card and now exclusively borrow via Overdrive. I owe this to all the Popvillagers who encouraged me to download it!

  • Love the library in the Scottish Rite Temple on 16th Street. The collection is kind of specialized but there’s something about walking by the Sphinxes through those doors into the dark quiet. MLK is a zoo but I love it anyway.

  • This is admittedly a personal problem but I am not a huge fan of any library because I get terrified whenever I think of the where/when/how and associated cleanliness of a random book that has been in some number of houses and bathroom sessions…

    • You are crazy. This is why they invented Purell!

    • Although I wouldn’t say this is crazy but it is a bit odd and you might want to get that checked out.

    • If you’re concerned about the cleanliness of books then sweet lord you better not go near anything you haven’t personally sanitized. Also you should never handle cash – think of all those hands that your money has touched….

  • I don’t ever go to the library to find a book by browsing, like I did when I lived in Arlington. But the overall collection of the library is great. I regularly put things on hold and have them delivered to my local library (Woodridge temporary library).

    • I did really love the Arlington library system when I lived there. The central library had a great new book section that rarely disappointed

  • HaileUnlikely

    I attend meetings pretty often at multiple libraries, most frequently Mount Pleasant. I haven’t checked out books from the libraries in a while now, mainly just a function of being a lot busier and spending less time reading. I didn’t get internet access at home until 2008 or 2009, and often went to the Takoma or Shepherd Park library to do work that required internet use before that.

  • I think it is great that DC has been upgrading its libraries over the past decade, but if I had to identify the Districts biggest problem, its MLK Library.

    It is the DC Central Library. It is supposed to the be “flagship” library in DC, but having been in most of the ~26 branches at one point or another in the past 10 years, I can say it is anything but flagship.

    It has become DC’s. largest, unofficial homeless shelter. DC literally run a homeless shuttle that drops off homeless people right at the front door every morning at 9:00 am just before the place opens. The Library facility folks literally hose down the sidewalks outside, morning and night to wash away all the urine. You walk in the front door, and the air in the place has a strong and unmistakable unwashed smell. You walk in to the left into the open area with all the computers, and the smell dang near knocks you over. Granted, its been about a year since I walked into the MLK, but last time I did, counted ~65 people in that room, and 2/3rds were homeless.

    This isn’t a bash against the homeless. I think the city needs a strong safety net for the homeless. I just don’t think the city should be warehousing them in what is supposed to be the flagship library in the District. I’ve been to the Central Libraries in NY, Chicago, Boston, SF, and a few others in foreign cities around the world in my life, and never seen there the issues DC has with its central library.

    • justinbc

      I go by there pretty regularly when I’m having lunch near Gallery Place, the smell hasn’t changed at all.

      • MLK was my home library for 3 years and it didn’t bother me that much. I didn’t notice the smell inside (outside, yes) and think they have a good collection of books and also nice exhibits in the foyer. Granted, it’s the only DC library I’ve spent much time in, so maybe I just didn’t know any better. Moving to Navy Yard soon, anyone have recommendations for libraries in that area?

    • I’ve lived in Chinatown three different times in the past decade and found the constant presence of people hanging around outside – combined with the smell – so completely offputting I never once set foot in MLK. One evening last year, I was walking past and randomly decided to stop in. I was impressed by the variety of programs they put on, the technology available, and the sheer number of books – I used to go to Arlington’s Aurora Hills branch down by Pentagon City, but they’ve really gutted their physical collection there, which makes me sad.
      Anyway, I’m stunned DC now allows patrons to renew materials up to *10 times* (provided there are no holds), which makes the 30-day grace period before they charge overdue fines even more excessive. Their hold system is aggravating though – if there’s a hold on a book, the self-serve system refuses to allow you to check it out, no matter how many copies might be available elsewhere in the system. The actual circulation staff can allow the checkout, but having to deal with both checkout methods for one item is an unnecessary aggravation.
      Ideally, of course, there would be somewhere else for the homeless to spend their time (like actual homes! or at least a daytime center). But that isn’t likely to change, and the library is limited legally in what it can do to address some of the concerns from other patrons. I do wish people would stop peeing out front, though.

  • Farragut

    I thought I’d be able to answer the initial question (which library in DC is the best), but I’ve just realized that I don’t know–I actually have only been to 6 or 7 branches, and only 3 of those regularly. These days, I rarely browse for books, I just put in hold requests and pick them up from my local branch (or I use the electronic interface).
    I use the library for books and movies for the most part. I’m not sure how many people realize that all the libraries in the area have DVDs now for movies and TV shows.
    And I think I’ll take this opportunity to recommend people consider getting additional library cards for the surrounding counties–as DC residents, we have a reciprocity agreement with Montgomery, Prince George’s, Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William, and Loudoun Counties, as well as the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church, and they all over their own benefits. For example, for some books (ebooks especially), the wait lists can be incredibly long, so if I’m dying for something, I’ll put in a request at all the libraries I have access to (7 total) and see who gets it to me first.
    PG County Library also has a wider selection of TV shows, and a better system. The library systems in the area tend to do 1 week loans for DVDs, but PG County will allow 3 weeks if you’re getting a TV show (which they check out as a single item); DC’s TV shows are checked out by disc, which can be annoying.
    If you have access to one of the Maryland libraries, you also have access to Marina, which is an interlibrary loan program that covers most of the counties in Maryland AND is the only ILL program in the area I know of that is FREE (most of the true ILL programs have a small fee), which is great for some of the weirder or more obscure books that I just can’t otherwise get a hold of.

    • skj84

      You’d be surprised how many people don’t know about the library card access. I made it my goal to get library card in DC, VA and MD.

    • Interesting — given what you say about the PG County library system (“wider selection of TV shows”), I need to look into getting a card there. I can’t figure out what the D.C. library’s DVD-acquisition philosophy is — they often don’t have DVDs I’d expect that they would have.

  • I check out books fairly regularly from the NE branch. I hold items via the website and have them delivered to the NE branch too, but on occasion as I walk through the city I’ll pop into other branches just to check out the selection.

  • justinbc

    The only library I’ve ever been to in DC was the MLK one for their annual “information on your house” walkthrough. I just really have no use for them in general.

  • pcat

    i got an adult card at the DC main Library – the original one, not MLK – when I was 10. My father was tired of taking adult books our for me. I had to write a book report and meet with the Chief Librarian to get her permission. My mother was a librarian in PG County. We went to the library every weekend — and teased her by saying we were going to the “real” library — that is one downtown.

  • I LOVE the library. I use Cleveland Park on the regular – the librarians know us by name – but I’m also a huge fan of the Overdrive app that works with my Kindle app on the iPad. Once you get the hang of it, it’s incredibly easy to borrow books.

  • The MLK library is my home library, so I use it when I want to check out some light reading. I also have check-out privileges at the Georgetown University Library (in exchange for a $300 annual “donation”) for academic reading, and I regularly head over to the Library of Congress (that’s a public library, too, right?) for the really obscure stuff, and to read old newspapers.

  • Great question, I love the DC public library! I think it’s good to switch things up so I rotate between Mt. Pleasant, Shaw, MLK and Petworth, which are all in easy biking distance. And for those of us who love bikes and libraries, check out this: This year’s ride happened earlier in June, but there’s always next year.

  • I love the public library! I occasionally go to MLK if I’m in Chinatown, but otherwise just use my local branch, Woodridge, and the overdrive e-library option. I love the little Woodridge library – such a nice atmosphere – friendly librarians, kids participating in chess clubs, and a pretty good DVD selection, too. I haven’t actually visited any other branches. This thread will be a good guide to libraries to visit!

  • I use the library! Although now I mostly borrow e-books to my Kindle. I don’t have a favorite branch, whatever neighborhood library is closer to me is my favorite. That being said the Georgetown branch is beautiful and is perched on a hilltop park where you can sit outside and read while enjoying the view of the river and Rosslyn.

  • I love the DC library system and have been trying to make a point to check out all of the libraries. As of right now, the Mount Pleasant branch is still my favorite – so beautiful and love that they open the windows and you feel surrounded by community, books, and the city.

  • MLK – great kids area.

  • I get books out all the time and put them on hold at my local branch. I’m surprised that more people don’t do this. Free books! And good new ones too, I managed to check out Neal Stephenson’s new novel very soon after it was released.

  • Libraries are a regular weekend stop for us. Anyone with kids should get a library card (well everyone should really). Each library has regular story times that are great. The children’s librarian always has great recommendations for books (think random questions like, empowering comic books for young girls and picture books where the main character rides a bike, etc).

    Our favorite libraries are geographically convenient to us: NE Library on Maryland Ave NE, Rosedale Library on Gales st NE, and the Dorothy I. Height on Benning Rd.

  • I love our local library in Mt Pleasant. We don’t often make it to other libraries with this one being a block away, but the kids section that got redone with the renovation is fabulous and they have so many kid-centered activities that are good for rainy days/weekends. And we always have a stack of books from the library at home. I also LOVE that I can borrow books through my kindle, which is so very convenient–and the hold/transfer system works great too when there’s something I want to read myself

  • I love DCPL’s little Takoma Park library. So quiet and cozy.

    • Agreed… and it’s the oldest branch in the system! The Takoma branch of DCPL celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011.

    • Agreed! The branch is also the oldest building in the system — it was built in 1911 — and it has some nice architectural touches to boot.

  • Egad

    I have a 4 year old and we are at the Mount Pleasant library every week. Aside from borrowing books and having a great selection of children’s literature in Spanish, the library also hosts fun kid’s programs and activities. The Saturday morning lego playtime is a big hit with my family.

  • I mostly use it for ebooks for my Kindle. If there is a long wait for a book I want to read I’ll get the IRL book delivered to Lamond Riggs the library closest to my house.
    Having moved to DC from Mont Co I can say DCPL is significantly better stocked on ebooks and IRL books that I’ve been wanting to read. There were significantly longer waits and less of a selection of ebooks in Mont Co.

  • The new Rosedale library is great. Where else can you check out some new books and then swim some laps?

  • I love the DC library system – Tenley is my home library, so it’s the one I visit most, but I even like MLK for all it’s weird quirks. I really appreciate the ability to put a hold on something and have it delivered right to my local library so I don’t have to go across town to pick it up, but when I just go in to browse I usually start with the new fiction shelves and always find at least one or two good books to check out.

  • I usually put items on hold and have them delivered to the Petworth Neighborhood Library.
    Originally I joined the library with the MLK branch as my “home” library. However, their circulation staff are often sullen and sometimes incompetent. I had too many cases of books/DVDs I’d returned not getting checked back in properly and staying on my record. And in one case, the circulation clerk didn’t properly scan the library card for someone who was checking out after I was, and that person’s book ended up being listed as checked out to me! (Fortunately, she returned it on time.)
    I first visited the Petworth library when it was in a temporary trailer facility. I was so impressed with the staff — the guy took a look at my hold record, and said something like “Oh, I see you have ‘The Wire,’ disc 1 on your list. I think we have a copy of that here; let me see if I can find it for you.” (The library’s system for putting holds on multivolume DVDs is screwy, or at least it was at the time.) I couldn’t believe it — library staff actively trying to help me?!? Soooo much better than MLK.

  • I love love love the library! I use the hold system to have books sent to my local library in Cleveland Park…I find that at times when the library system says a library has a book, the book may not be there. I also am a huge user of the overdrive system for ebooks. I’ve also gone to other neighborhood libraries if I’m in that area such as West End, Georgetown, Mt. Pleasant, and Shaw. Also, I’m excited they are renovating the libraries! So many of them, like my neighborhood one, are out of date and need rebuilding or renovating.

    My only pet peeve with the library system is MLK. My last visit to MLK, a man followed me through the adult book section harassing me and there was no librarian, library staff, or security in that section that I could ask for help. I’ve also heard things about the stairs and the elevators so I avoid the stairs there and only take the elevator by myself. That might sound like an overly cautious person…but after the incident with the man following me, I’d rather take my chances.

  • Placing books on hold and having them sent to the closest library (Mt Pleasant) is great – I started reading much more because it was so convenient.
    I also love the Little Free Libraries that I see around the neighborhood – another great source for new reading material (and place to take books I’ve already read)

  • I love DCPL! I download e-books and since we live in Edgewood/Brookland I take the kids to Shaw (favorite for design), Lamond-Riggs, and Woodridge Interim libraries for story times, playing, and picking out books.

  • I go to the Mt Pleasant location because it’s nearest, but I desperately miss living next to Watha T. Daniels because the staff there are soooooooooo much better at their jobs and more pleasant to interact with.

  • As a DC resident, I like many of the neighborhood libraries for their sheer convenience, but also want to put in a plug for Silver Spring’s brand-spanking-new library (it opened last weekend). It’s worth checking out, even if you never went to the old one so you don’t have a comparison to know how very much better the new one is. It’s big and bright and will clearly be very flexible to evolve as needed over coming decades. Plus there’s a Kefa Cafe outlet in there.

  • I love the library! SW is my home one. When I first got my library card it was Foggy Bottom (and I went there to view my bar exam results since they had a printer and I could take a copy home), and I used to work really close to Shaw. In my opinion, Petworth, Southeast, and Georgetown are the prettiest. Shaw and Anacostia are very similar to each other. There’s one in SE (Francis A. Gregory) that I’ve never been inside but i love the exterior. As others have mentioned, the ability to request books and have them shipped to the home branch is pretty amazing. Don’t have kids yet but when babysitting I’ve loved the play areas at each library we’ve been to. And the free ASL classes at MLK are fun. At one point I was really into attending and had made it out of the intro level…wish I had the time to go back and refresh.

  • To @sproc, yes the public can access the library in the Scottish Rite Temple but this is not a normal public library. It houses very specialized collections and naturally is very heavy on Freemason history and anything to do with it but it has a Abraham Lincoln collection like I’ve never seen before and if you’re a Civil War fanatic it rates a visit. Not really a place for children.

  • Mostly I use online services – downloading audiobooks or e-books to my Kindle. If I want audiobooks on CD for a road trip – Chevy Chase branch has the best selection in marvelously easy-to-use slide-out drawers. Cleveland Park is o.k. for CD books as well. The new Tenleytown library is the absolute worst. There just aren’t many books! And audiobooks are literally on the floor. You have to kneel down and look sideways.

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