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The littlest library

Deanwood kiosk fills the need for education and community

(Published February 28, 2000)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

It’s easy to miss the Deanwood library kiosk when driving along Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue NE. If you blink, you’ll drive right by it. But slow down, look closely and you’ll see it there, in one corner of Lady Bird Park, next to the McDonald’s near Minnesota Avenue.

It looks like a cross between a phone booth, a bus stop and a hot dog stand, but one thing it does not look like is most people’s idea of a library.

At just about 120 square feet, the Deanwood kiosk can easily fit in most people’s living rooms. Inside, it has three lazy Susan shelves that hold about 6,700 books, sampling everything from Homer to Goosebumps. There’s just enough room left over for two chairs, a small magazine rack and the desk where Edith Davis sits every day.

Davis has been the librarian there for the past three years and is credited as the person most responsible for bringing the kiosk back to life. When she came to work at the kiosk, it had been closed for nearly a year. She said when she first got there, all the books were on the floor and there were pigeons living in the ceiling.

She said when she was finally able to get the little library ready for public use, the trickiest part was letting people know it was open again. She’d put up posters on the door for various holidays and flyers for reading programs she would start. But it was slow going in the beginning. Sometimes she would get only one person to come in the whole day long.

Davis is the fourth librarian to work at the kiosk in its 24-year history. The kiosk was supposed to be a temporary measure, while the system built new branch libraries. In the early 1970s the city was re-examining which neighborhoods needed branch libraries and how to build them affordably. Part of that program was the kiosks. They were intended to be low-cost facilities that would supplement the regular library system while new branches were being built.

The Deanwood kiosk was the first to be built, followed by one at Barry Farms and another in the Parklands neighborhood. The Parklands kiosk was replaced by the Parklands-Turner Community Library, and the Barry Farms kiosk was closed after the library at Garnet C. Wilkinson Elementary School opened. But the Deanwood kiosk still stands, a temporary solution to a quarter-century-old problem.

Davis acts more as grandmother and teacher to the children who come to the kiosk. She makes up quizzes and word search puzzles for them, encourages them in their reading, takes them on fishing expeditions in the adjacent park and even on occasion feeds them. She’s gotten the McDonald’s next door to donate coupons for hamburgers that she gives out to kids for every book they read. She points out that she makes sure the kids read the books before they get the coupons.

"There’s a need to nourish the minds as well as the bodies over here in this neighborhood," she said.

Davis clearly enjoys working at the kiosk, and she even credits the daily interaction with the neighborhood children for alleviating some heart problems she had a couple of years ago. The daily walks around Lady Bird Park on her breaks don’t hurt either, she acknowledges with a smile.

But she said the library could use some improvements. First on her list of improvements would be more space. She said if more than five people show up at one time they can barely get around each other.

Davis would also like to have a computer for the children to learn on, but she knows that trying to get that approved by the library system could take a couple of years. In the meantime, Davis said she’s hoping someone will donate a used computer to the library. A computer would not only help the kids learn new skills, but it could also help Davis at her job. Because she has no computer, she has to manually keep track of all the checked-out books in a hand-written spiral notebook. As small as the library is, it circulates more than 5,000 books a year, which is a lot of books for one person to keep track of.

Davis said she also would like to have a real restroom with real plumbing. The kiosk is outfitted with an electric toilet that can be flushed only once an hour. That’s not very practical when the library is filled with children, she noted, so she has to send the kids to the McDonald’s to use its restrooms.

Sam Bost, who is the president of the Friends of the Deanwood Kiosk, said the city should build a permanent branch library in the neighborhood. He said in the mid-1970s, the city had even gotten land donated at 48th Street and Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue for the purpose of building a branch there. But the city never built it.

"How do we say we’re making children a priority if we continue to have this for a library here?" Bost said, glancing around the kiosk. He said he and the Friends will continue to donate items and their time to the kiosk, but he wishes there were no kiosk -- just a real library.

Davis said she doubts she will be around to see a new library get planned for the neighborhood, though. Now 55, Davis said she’ll probably retire from the library at 60.

"You’re going to leave, Miss Davis?" 5-year-old Tiffany Bryant asks her, suddenly concerned.

"No honey, that’s a million years away from now," Davis says, trying to comfort her charge.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator