By James Arvantes
Photo caption: Barbara Gauntt, (pictured center), branch manager of the Cleveland Park Library, with some of her employees
Editor’s Note: Very sadly, just a few days after this story was posted, Barbara Gauntt died on November 4, 2018 after an extended illness. Her legacy at the Cleveland Park Library will not be forgotten.
The DC Public Library System has taken steps to increase staffing at the Cleveland Park Library, which has faced a dramatic surge in demand since reopening on June 16.
In the past few weeks, library officials have added a support person to the library’s 15-person staff and are now in the process of hiring a full time employee, also known as a full-time equivalent, to the library, said George Williams, media relations manager for the District of Columbia Library System.
In September 2017, the Cleveland Park Library closed for a nearly two-year $19.1 million rebuilding project that significantly expanded both the size and scope of the facility. The rebuilt library has more meeting and study rooms, has three floors of usable space, and features two outside balconies and an outdoor reading garden. Before closing for renovation, the Cleveland Park Library was the busiest neighborhood library in the city.
Officials expected an increase in library traffic when the new facility opened in mid-June, but the increase far exceeded expectations, said Barbara Gauntt, Cleveland Park Library branch manager.
“We expected an increase, and we planned for an increase, but nothing like we got,” said Gauntt. Fortunately, with the addition of extra staff, the library is no longer understaffed. “We are now better able to support the increase in business,” she said.
Library Usage Soars
Gauntt estimates that the number of people using the new library has increased by at least one-third since reopening in June. Williams said the increase in the use of library services is “a combination of the facility, the books that we offer, our programs as well as the space itself,” he said.
It is also important to remember that the library’s service area stretches well beyond Cleveland Park, encompassing Van Ness, Woodley Park and other neighborhoods.
In July and August, over 30,000 people visited the library, checking out more than 30,000 library materials, according to statistics furnished by the library system. At the same time, the number of study room reservations jumped from 120 in June to 463 in August while meeting room reservations increased from 35 in June to 168 in July and 146 in August.
“Those numbers tell us we have a really successful library,” said Williams.
But those numbers also “tell me that we do more business here in a month in the new library than some of the DC libraries do in 12 months,” Gauntt said.
The city’s biggest and busiest library, the Martin Luther King Library, is closed for renovation until 2020, and as result, the Cleveland Park Library now has the biggest supply of free meeting room space in the city. Library personnel often receive requests for meetings of 100 people or more, a challenge that adds to the demands on library staff.
A Great Place
Aside from the strain and demands the staff has faced from the unexpected jump in library use, the increase has been “wonderful,” demonstrating the allure and the success of the new facility, Gauntt said.
Chris, a Cleveland Park resident and a frequent visitor to the library, agrees with that assessment. “I love the openness, the big windows,” said Chris, a certified public accountant. “I also love the Wi-Fi. It is just a nice place to be.”
Chris visits the library about three times a week to read and work. He likes to sit at a table on the second floor near the big windows, looking at on Connecticut Avenue. As a frequent visitor, he agrees that the new library is busier than the old facility.
“The study rooms are always full even when I come during the week,” he said. “But even if it is crowded, it is a nice place to be.”
Paula, an International Relations major at American University, also enjoys the ambience of the library. When the weather is good, Paula tries to find places where she can study outside. On a bright, sunny day in October, Paula sat at an outside table on one of the library’s two balconies and typed away on her laptop computer, finishing some schoolwork.
A Cleveland Park resident, Paula only recently discovered the neighborhood Library. This was only her second visit, but she will soon become a regular. “This library is quiet and it has outside space, which is really nice.”
In recent years, some pundits have speculated that libraries are no longer necessary – that they are fast becoming obsolete, said Williams. But the Cleveland Park Library is disproving that theory on a daily basis.
The Cleveland Park Library provides “an opportunity for us to serve people and to show that libraries are incredibly essential to modern living,” he said.