Even though Ginnie Cooper retired a few months ago as DC’s chief librarian, her work in renovating practically every branch in the DC Public Library system is still going. Mayor Vince Gray and library officials yesterday cut the ceremonial ribbon on the Northeast Neighborhood Library after a $10 million renovation that preserves much of the building’s pre-war look but with infrastructure upgrades to accommodate modern library users.
The library, which closed for repairs in fall 2012, is the first DC government building to undergo an overhaul while maintaining its historic interior. New reader tables, equipped with enough ports and plugs to accommodate any device, are replicas of the original furniture the library featured when it opened in 1932.
Because the remodeling of the 17,000-square-foot building at 403 Seventh Street, Northwest, had to be approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board, DC Public Library couldn’t simply gut the place. Openings were made in some walls to increase the amount of communal and meeting space while preserving wood moldings and archways. Many of the original walnut shelves that line the walls in the reading rooms are still intact, too.
The most significant architectual change is the removal of the staircase from the front of the building to a glass-enclosed addition that also includes a handicap-accessible entrance. The basement is also completely redone with offices and a 100-seat meeting room. Previously, says interim chief librarian Joi Mecks, the basement had become so dingy, library staffers went to great lengths to avoid working down there.
The Northeast Neighborhood Library is the fourth-oldest building in the city’s library system, and the 15th branch to be built or renovated since 2007.