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District of Columbia Public Library Records

Identifier: 040
DC Public Library Archives in Dig DC
DC Public Library Archives in Dig DC

Scope and Contents

The archive contains the official records of the Washington Free Public Library and the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL). The records include photographs, slides, correspondence, scrapbooks, posters, newsletters, blueprints, maps, architectural drawings, meeting minutes, internal memoranda, audiotapes, reports, payroll ledgers, financial information, and other official files. The records document the operations and projects of the library’s directors, board of trustees, divisions, departments, central library, and branch libraries. The D.C. Community Archives is the official repository of the records of offices, divisions, departments and trustees of DCPL. The Library follows a records management program and records schedules for transfer of permanently valuable historic records to the archive.


  • Creation: 1896 - 2024
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1896 - 1970


Language of Materials


Biographical / Historical

In 1894 General Adolphus W. Greeley solicited funds for the creation of a public library in Washington, D.C. In 1897 the subscriber supported Washington Free Public Library was opened as Congress had been unwilling to fund a public library for the District of Columbia (District) since it felt the Library of Congress was sufficient to meet residents’ needs. In 1898 at the urging of Theodore W. Noyes, editor of The Evening Star, and other prominent District citizens, Congress finally appropriated $6,720 to fund a public library and the District Commissioners appointed a nine member library Board of Trustees. The Washington Free Public Library merged with the newly created Public Library and the first publicly funded library in the District opened with 15,000 books at 1326 New York Avenue NW.

Andrew Carnegie pledged $250,000 to erect a new library building for the District if Congress would provide funding to maintain the library. On March 3, 1899, Congress passed an act to accept Carnegie’s offer and set aside federally owned land at Mt. Vernon Square as the site for the new central library building. Carnegie increased his total donation to $350,000 on September 28, 1899. The cornerstone for the building was laid on April 23, 1901 and on January 7, 1903 the Carnegie Library opened with elaborate festivities which included President Theodore Roosevelt and Carnegie in attendance.

The first official branch library of DCPL was built in 1911 in the Takoma Park neighborhood with funds provided by Carnegie. However, from the earliest days of DCPL many neighborhoods had temporary or subbranch libraries operating in storefronts or schools before receiving a stand alone branch. Two more Carnegie funded library branches were erected; Southeast Neighborhood Library in 1922 and Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Library in 1925. Northeast Neighborhood Library, Georgetown Neighborhood Library, Petworth Neighborhood Library, and Southwest Neighborhood Library were all added between 1932 and 1942.

During the post-war period of the 1950s and 1960s DCPL increased services as part of the Model Cities Programs and a bookmobile was in operation to serve underserved neighborhoods. Between 1953 and 1968 branches added included the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, Anacostia Neighborhood Library, Woodridge Neighborhood Library, Washington Highlands Branch (later closed), Tenley-Friendship Library, Francis A. Gregory Neighborhood Library, Dorothy I. Height/Benning Library, Palisades Neighborhood Library, Capitol View Neighborhood Library, West End Neighborhood Library, and Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library.

In 1972 the Central Library at Mt. Vernon Square was replaced by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (MLK) at 9th and G streets, NW. The new central library was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and was eight times the size of the original Carnegie Library.

Between 1975 and 2012 branches added included Wathat T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library, Parklands-Turner Neighborhood Library, Lamond-Riggs Neighborhood Library, Juanita E. Thornton/Shepherd Park Neighborhood Library, Northwest One Neighborhood Library, Deanwood Neighborhood Library, Rosedale Neighborhood Library, and William O. Lockridge/Bellevue Library.


142 Boxes

145 Linear feet


Series 1: Audio Visual and Electronic Records, 1903-2000.

Subseries 1: Photographs, 1903-2000. This series contains exterior and interior images of the Carnegie Library at 8th and K Streets NW, the MLK Library, branch libraries, library programs, staff parties and socials, and library staff.

Subseries 2: Audio, Videotapes and CDs, 1978-2004 The series contains audio and videotapes of the DC Historical Studies Conference from 1978-1988 and 1999. Also contains CDs of a PowerPoint presentation with images and narrative of the history of the DC Public Library, DCPL historical statistics, volume 1 (1894-1994) and volume 2 (1996-2004) of indices to policies and actions decided in the Board of Trustees meetings as found in the minutes, and trustee rosters from 1896-2004, all compiled by Roxanna Deane in 2004.

Series 2: Free Public Library Records, 1898-1899. This series contains accession books, a register of borrowers, book fund record, bills, vouchers, and other records of the operations of the first subscriber-supported library in the District.

Series 3: Central Library Operations Subseries 1: Carnegie Library, Mt. Vernon Square, 1907- 1970. This subseries contains correspondence, statistics, a list of items removed from the cornerstone of the Library, reports, day books (diaries of activities), book lists, exhibit record, accession books, a payroll ledger, and budget records.

Subseries 2: Martin Luther King Memorial Library, 1950-1975. This subseries contains records documenting the preparation of reports of the consultant Booz, Allen & Hamilton on a future central library. It also contains building contracts, specifications, and details on preparation for the move to MLK. See also Maps and Architectural Drawings series for additional materials on the planning of MLK Library.

Series 4: Directors Files, 1905-1975. Series includes records of the Head Librarian/Directors of DCPL, including George Bowerman, Clara Herbert, and Harry Peterson. The topical and program files, professional achievements, and some administrative files of the directors are part of the series. Also contains records documenting the search for a new director from 1970 through 1974. See also Scrapbooks Series for scrapbooks of Bowerman and Herbert.

Series 5: Branch Building, 1965-1978. This series contains correspondence, internal memoranda, reports, statistics on the branch building program, primarily in the 1960s, as well as information on the Book Mobile. Series also contains the 2004 Master Plan for Branch Libraries. See also the Maps and Architectural Drawings series, which contains blueprints, drawings, and diagrams of many branch buildings.

Series 6: Annual Reports, 1896-current. This series contains bound volumes of annual reports from 1896-1981. [Annual reports from 1982-current are being bound].

Series 7: Departmental, Division and Branch Reports, 1943-1979. Series consists of reports from Departments and Divisions to the Director. Series also includes bound volumes from 1920 to 1955 of Complete Reports and Statistics with reports and statistics of branches, divisions, and departments of DCPL.

Series 8: Board of Trustees Records, 1896-1978. This series contains Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes in bound volumes from 1896-1978. [1979-current are being prepared for binding] It also includes Trustee agendas and relevant attachments (reports, correspondence, etc.) for Trustee meetings, correspondence with and from trustees, and documentation on Goals and Hearings of Trustees. Indices to the minutes from 1896-2004 are available for use in printed and CD format.

Series 9: Project Files, ca. 1960s. This series contains reports, correspondence, studies, and contract records which document major projects undertaken by DCPL and mandated by city government or federal law. Projects include Model Cities, RIF, EEO, Anti-Poverty program, Labor distribution system, Management Improvement and various community programs.

Series 10: Scrapbooks, 1896-1956. Series contains 49 scrapbooks containing photographs, memorabilia, program flyers, booklets, clippings, letters, and other documents about events and activities of the library, generally annually. Also contains Clara Herbert and George Bowerman scrapbooks.

Series 11: Employee Awards Programs, 1955-1973. Contains records documenting the Employee Recognition program from 1955-59 and the Incentive Award program from 1963-1973. Also contains an Incentive Awards Manual.

Series 12: Procedural Orders, 1967-1972. Contains orders recommended by DCPL staff and passed by the Board arranged in sequential number of procedures followed by the D.C. Public Library system.

Series 13: Administrative Orders, 1948-1970. Contains orders recommended by DCPL staff and passed by the Board arranged in sequential number of administrative functions of the D.C. Public Library system.

Series 14: Questionnaires, 1947-1972. Contains 10 three-ring notebooks of questionnaires and responses by patrons about the services of the library.

Series 15: Washingtoniana Division Records, 1920-2005. This series contains official files and records of the activities, programs, policies, and staff of the Washingtoniana Division of DCPL, established as an official division in 1926. The records include daybooks, records of gifts, clippings about the division, a scrapbook, program publicity flyers, book lists, and operational records. Series also contains brochures, flyers, posters and some records from planning of the annual D.C. Historical Studies conference jointly sponsored by the Washingtoniana, the Historical Society of Washington D.C., and the George Washington University from 1972 to current. Videotapes and audiotapes of the conference are in the AV Series.

Series 16: Statistics, 1946-1995. This series contains reports and raw data on statistics for circulation, patron visits, and use of branches and the central library. Most of the data is from 1946 through the late 1970s. See also Reports series for additional statistics. Historical statistics compiled by Roxanna Deane are available in the Audiovisual and electronic records series.

Series 17: Publications, 1997-current. This series contains publications primarily prepared by the Marketing Department, formerly Library Services and Program Office, of DCPL, including program posters and flyers, staff manuals, staff bulletins, flyers, and the monthly calendar.

Series 18: Maps and Architectural Drawings, 1903-2003. This series contains blueprints, architectural drawings and renderings of the Carnegie Library, the MLK Library and most branches. It also contains rendering for a proposed renovation of MLK in 2003.

Series 19: Communications Department Recordings, 2021-. This series contains digital audiovisual recordings created by DC Public Library's Communications Department documenting major library programs and events. These primarily include author talks, musical performances (including Go-Go and punk shows), library Board meetings, and interviews.

Custodial History

Material were transferred to the Washingtoniana Collection as part of a regular library retention policy.

Processing Information

Basic archival processing procedures were applied to the collection when it was processed.

District of Columbia Public Library
An inventory of District of Columbia Public Library at DC Public Library
Finding aid prepared by Faye Haskins.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the The People's Archive, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library Repository

901 G Street NW
4th Floor East
Washington DC 20001