You’ve Got a Friend at the Tenley-Friendship Library

Inside the library

By Melissa Kunstadter, President of the Friends of the Tenley-Friendship Library

This week is National Friends of Libraries Week, and in recognition of the importance of local libraries and their friends, I want to say a few words about the Friends of our Tenley-Friendship Library which sits at the heart of our community.

Who among us isn’t a friend of the library? But joining the Friends of the Tenley-Friendship Library takes that friendship to another level, through modest annual dues and volunteering time and energy. Friends groups, of which there are 24 in the District of Columbia and thousands nationwide, are an extension of the local library, supporting it through auxiliary programs, volunteer efforts, fundraising, and, when needed, advocacy.

The Tenley-Friends has the distinction of being the first Friends group founded in D.C. In 1973, a group of parents at Murch Elementary School and other community members banded together to protect the children’s room at the library, which was in danger of being relegated to a small, noisy space on the first floor – not suitable for the youngest library patrons and their families. Founding Tenley Friends member Ann Louise Cowan recalls that the parents took their protests downtown, ultimately succeeding in keeping the children’s room on the second floor of the original library in its much loved space. From this effort the Friends of the Tenley-Friendship Library was born.

Library Stacks

Library stacks at Tenley-Friendship.

Advocacy on behalf of our local libraries and the library system as a whole is one of the most important reasons we Friends exist. During the early 2000s, the Friends played a critical role when, as long-time member Carolyn Long recalls, the city was “wrangling” over the necessity for Tenleytown to have its own stand-alone library, and later over the design of a new library. The original library closed in 2004, and the library we know today didn’t open until 2011.

It was advocacy to the D.C. Council, says another long-time member Mary Alice Levine, that got our new library built; she remembers partnering with Girl Scout Brownies to distribute flyers around the neighborhood to increase awareness of our library’s perilous status. The concerted efforts paid off. “I feel happy every time I see our handsome, light-filled new library building that is being used every day by children and adults for all sorts of purposes,” says Long.

Today the Tenley Friends has a board of nine officers and at-large members, and enjoys a membership of more than 200 households and individuals. We strive to be responsive and supportive to our local library and community, as well as be of service to the greater D.C. Public Library system.

The Tenley-Friends' well-stocked book room is on the 2nd Floor of the library.

The Tenley-Friends’  well-stocked book room is on the 2nd Floor of the library.

Each summer we support the DC Library’s Summer Reading Program for children; and this year we are funding the launch of the Library’s Makers-in-Residence program. The “makers” teach in the Fab Lab at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library downtown and conduct workshops at the Tenley branch throughout the year.

In our community, the Tenley Friends support our excellent librarians and staff in their various programs, for example: funding a special building-with-Legos project for kids, providing refreshments for the teen-tutoring outreach program, and investing in an Accu-Cut die cutting machine for the branch. The Friends’ Author-Lecture Committee puts together an impressive monthly series of book discussions by local authors of current non-fiction.

We recognize that our library is very much in the public eye. Over the years we’ve appreciated that the library remains a place to find books, but has also grown into a community center and cultural hub at a busy crossroads in our city. Through the Garden Committee, which works with friends from the neighborhood and sometimes local school children, we have renovated and maintained the gardens and tree-boxes around the library.

Flowers planted by the Tenley Friends

Flowers planted by the Tenley Friends.

The efforts of the Tenley Friends are funded by membership dues as well as sales of gently used books, which are donated by members of the community. Visit the ever-available and frequently replenished book cart on the second floor, stop by the Friends Room on the second floor, or join us for one of our book sale events throughout the year. Our selection is eclectic and readers of all ages are sure to find something to enjoy.

As we look forward, the Tenley Friends plan to do more outreach and programs for seniors, and we’d love to do more with the artistic talents of our neighbors, perhaps utilizing our expansive wall space for art shows. In the old Tenley Library we had a piano. Wouldn’t it be great to have a piano again to showcase the talent in our neighborhood? These are just some of our ideas, and we want to hear from the neighborhood about what you want to see at the library, too.

Our Tenley Library is a busy place and the Tenley Friends are an active group. We are always looking for new members and other volunteers to join with us in advocating to keep our library budget strong, helping with book sales, gardening, community outreach, and our author lecture series. We’d love for you to become a member, and would be delighted to show you what we do. Please email the Friends of the Tenley-Friendship Library at [email protected] or find us on Facebook. And don’t forget to visit us on the second floor of the library!

Photo credit: All photos courtesy of the Friends of the Tenley-Friendship Library


Editor’s Note: The timeline for the debate over, closing of, and reopening of the Tenley-Friendship Library has been updated in this article. The original posting contained errors, which have been corrected and for which we apologize.