Letter to Arlington County Board from GCA Opposing Proposed Closure of the Glencarlyn Library
Dear Members of the Board,
The Glencarlyn Citizens Association (GCA) strongly opposes any consideration of the County Manager’s “optional proposal to eliminate services” at the Glencarlyn Library. The Glencarlyn community places a very high value on having this library branch continue its services and does not support the suggestion that the library be “repurposed for other County or public use.” Please read the letter attached.
The reasons presented by the County Manager for closing the Glencarlyn Library are that 1) the library has “the lowest number of checkouts of materials” and 2) it “is the most geographically isolated library branch in the system – primarily servicing a relatively small number of nearby residents while other more populated areas of Arlington are underserved.” GCA believes this reasoning is flawed. Glencarlyn Library is critically located to serve communities that need it.
The number of checkouts reflects only one aspect of a library’s contribution to the community it serves. Glencarlyn Library cannot be defined by its circulation numbers. GCA has not had the opportunity to compare our library’s checkout data to that of other County libraries, but we maintain that a more comprehensive view of library services is needed to understand and evaluate community contribution. Rather than being isolated, Glencarlyn Library is a resource used well beyond the immediate Glencarlyn neighborhood.
The library is utilized by students from Kenmore Middle School, Carlin Springs Elementary School, and Campbell Elementary School, which are all a short walk from the library. In addition to checking out books, these after-school patrons use the library’s computers and Wi-Fi, study at the tables provided, read newspapers and magazines available, and have tutoring sessions. Many of these students do not have access to these resources at home and live in neighborhoods other than Glencarlyn. The library is a beneficial and necessary after-school destination.
The library’s proximity to these schools promotes collaboration with the school programs and libraries. All three schools recently provided GCA with statements explaining their utilization of the library and giving strong support for maintaining this important resource in its current location. Examples cited by the schools include walking field trips to the library during the school year to learn about libraries as a community resource and obtain library cards; school visits by Glencarlyn librarians to promote literacy and summer reading programs; easy access to computers, books and DVDs for students and their families, and for teachers at the schools; and participation in the summer Traveling Trolley program that brings students and their parents to library branches such as Glencarlyn.
School staff comments provide insight into the important role played by the Glencarlyn Library. They describe the library as “a benefit to nearby residents and the Arlington community as a whole,” “an essential part of our students’ learning and an important part of the community,” “a loved and valuable resource in this neighborhood,” having “an intimate size” that is “a welcomed alternative to the larger library branches,” and “a nice oasis for our students.”
In addition to elementary and middle school students, many Arlington preschoolers benefit from the library’s well-attended activities. Twice-weekly story hour is offered to attendees of the Arlington County Creative Preschoolers program at the Carlin Hall, many of whom do not live in the Glencarlyn neighborhood. The preschoolers and their teacher walk from Carlin Hall to the adjacent library to attend story hour.
Since arriving in September, the Glencarlyn children’s librarian has doubled the number of programs (from 29 to 57) and the number of attendees (from 640 to 1195) compared to the same time period in 2018. A recent week’s schedule at the library included “Under Two’s Story Time,” “Crafts in the Afternoon,” and “Family Story Time” activities. These events are heavily attended by residents from other county neighborhoods. This demonstrates the demand that exists for such programs at the Glencarlyn location and the need to continue investing in resources for this library.
People of all ages and from neighborhoods other than Glencarlyn benefit from the library’s resources. Based on recent door counts, about 50% of the usage is by Glencarlyn residents, with Arlington Forest, Arlington Mill, Forest Glen, Boulevard Manor, Barcroft and Bluemont making up most of the remaining 50%. The library is two blocks from WMATA and ART bus service on Carlin Springs Road, a busy north-south County thoroughfare. It is also two blocks from the W&OD Bike Trail. The library provides space for adults receiving literacy tutoring from volunteers and using computers, magazines and newspapers, in addition to checking out books and DVDs.
From October 22-27, 2018, neighborhood volunteers collected data on how people use Glencarlyn Library resources in ways that aren’t necessarily captured by checkouts. One example is two large, organized library programs that attracted 36 and 44 attendees. The volunteers also noted people using the library computers and Wi-Fi, sitting and reading library materials, and browsing the library collection.
An advantage of Glencarlyn Library is its easy accessibility for the elderly and disabled. The library is easy to access by car, and parking is convenient and close. The library has no stairs. The County has invested in sidewalks around the library to encourage walkability and safety. Senior citizens who no longer drive can walk to the library. The library garden, maintained by the Master Gardeners, adds to the appeal of this location. It also serves as a demonstration and teaching garden for surrounding schools and communities.
GCA reminds the County Board of the historical significance of the Glencarlyn Library. It was the first library in Arlington County, established when Civil War General and former Missouri Congressman Samuel Burdett bequeathed his personal library, land and money for building and maintaining a library in Glencarlyn. The library and the adjacent historic structures of Carlin Hall, the Ball-Carlin Cemetery, and the Ball-Sellers House, form a Village Center in which the neighborhood takes great pride. The library is not just a building, but rather a legacy demonstrating over 100 years of commitment to the library’s role in the community.
In conclusion, GCA strongly agrees with the County Manager’s opening paragraph in the section of his County Board message titled Putting Library Resources Within Reach of More Arlingtonians:
“Libraries are a critical community resource. In addition to providing access to print, digital publications, and media, libraries are gathering places that provide a welcoming atmosphere and comfort to all, especially those in need. Moreover, librarians are often trained to serve as community navigators connecting people with information, opportunities, and assistance.”
If other areas in Arlington are underserved, GCA wholeheartedly supports funding to provide additional library resources. We cannot think of a better justification for a tax increase than making a “critical community resource” more widely available. But we strongly object to accomplishing this by reducing services that are highly valued and well-utilized in the Glencarlyn location, thereby under serving our current library community. GCA understands the need and desire to expand services on the West Columbia Pike corridor. Glencarlyn Library should be the hub of these services. Do not destroy what you have, build on it. Envision how Glencarlyn Library will play a vital role in the development and enrichment of the West Columbia Pike corridor AND continue to serve the many communities and residents it currently serves.
President, Glencarlyn Citizen’s Association