By Kniffel, Leonard
American Libraries , Vol. 34, No. 1
The cash-strapped District of Columbia Public Library, the sorry state of which was documented during 2002 in the Washington Post, may have found its champion in Ralph Nader. The consumer activist and former presidential candidate hosted a $10,000-a-table benefit dinner at the Carnegie Institution December 11 to rally philanthropists and business leaders around the library.
"If I don't do it, no one is going to do it," Nader told American Libraries, lamenting the abysmal state of support for the library. Less than .07% of the city's budget goes to DCPL, he said, noting that the system had 200 more staff members in 1976 than it has now.
The initial goal of Nader's campaign is to raise $350,000 for an 18-month improvement blitz, beginning this month, that will include repairs to the system's 27 branches. Nader also wants to gain long-term political and community support for boosting the library's budget and for new activities focusing on children, the arts, and literacy.
A man of little personal wealth, Nader told AL he hopes to do for DCPL what Vartan Gregorian did for the New York Public Library. Now president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Gregorian, as NYPL president from 1981 to 1989, was able to turn that library's funding situation around by making it chic to be a library supporter. Nader said he also wants to give the library a voice in D.C. government.
"Somebody of his stature will open doors for us," DCPL Director Molly Raphael told AL. She said the project was "a tremendous opportunity" that Nader proposed to her after reading about the library's plight last summer. She said he sent 250 new gift books and asked that they be spread around the system, and then called two days later and began formulating his plan.
A lifelong library patron and nearly 50-year D. …