Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
The newly modernized Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is the central library of the DC Public Library system. Originally designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and opened in 1972, it has served from that time as the city's central hub for library materials, activities, services, and programs. After a three-year closure for a complete building modernization, the MLK Library re-opened in Fall 2020 with many new features and spaces, including the Alma Thomas Teen Space. Located on the second floor, this room is dedicated solely to collections, spaces, services, and programs for youth ages 13-19. The second floor will display some of Thomas' original artwork and feature displays and programs honoring her spirit of dedication to education, youth, and the arts. Additionally, DC Public Library users can access information about Thomas' life and work through digital and print resources.
Alma Thomas Teen Center at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC
Images from inside the newly modernized MLK Library, courtesy of DCPL & PopVille
Alma Woodsey Thomas: Painter and Educator (book cover)
Backstory and Context
After a three-year modernization project taking place from 2017 to 2020, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library reopened in September 2020 with brand new spaces and features. Check dclibrary.org for updates and information about current available services & hours.
One of the new features of the MLK Library is the Alma Thomas Teen Space on the building's second floor. The decision to name the teen space after Thomas was made in honor of her commitment to education & youth in the city of DC as well as her artistic work and achievements. In a memo dated May 14, 2020, DC Public Library's executive director, Richard Reyes-Gavilan, wrote to the Library Board of Trustees with a proposal to name the teen center in honor of Thomas, in which he cites many of her personal and professional accomplishments and service to the city, saying:
"... the Library will be able to display original works by Alma Thomas and develop... programs designed to introduce students to her work, the work of her contemporaries, and to the historical context that made her success all the more remarkable...Alma Thomas was and continues to be an inspiring Washingtonian and arguably the most important painter who lived her entire life in the District. The modernized Martin Luther King Jr. Library Teen Room is the most appropriate space to honor her life, showcase her work, and celebrate her legacy and commitment to the education of the District’s youth."
This teen space features young adult fiction, nonfiction, manga, and graphic novel collections, quiet study rooms, computers, social workspaces, and audiovisual and gaming equipment. It will serve as a hub for educational and arts-based programming, celebrating the spirit of Thomas' work with young people. Thirteen original Alma Thomas artworks have been donated to the library by DC residents Susan and Dit Talley, which will be displayed on a rotating basis around the Alma Thomas Teen Space. As of Spring 2021, additional digital and physical exhibits about Thomas' life and work are in progress to be completed within the calendar year.
In addition to the Alma Thomas Teen Center, DC Public Library cardholders can access electronic and print resources in the library's collections about her life and work. These resources include:
- books (such as Alma Thomas, edited by Ian Berry and Lauren Haynes, Alma Woodsey Thomas: Painter and Educator by Charlotte Etinde-Crompton and Samuel Willard Crompton, and Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison)
- reference articles in databases like Oxford African American Studies Center, Gale in Context: U.S. History, and Biography
- online historical newspaper collections including Historic Black Newspapers and The Washington Post: Current and Historic, where one can research articles written about Thomas and her work both during her lifetime and since.
The People's Archive on the fourth floor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, whose mission it is "to connect you to unique resources that illustrate the District of Columbia’s local history and culture," also contains resources relevant to Thomas, her contemporaries, and the historical context of her life and work, including the Barnett-Aden Collection catalog from 1974. The People's Archive can be accessed virtually at dclibrary.org/thepeoplesarchive.
DC Public Library. "360° Virtual Reality Tour of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library" , Youtube. November 9th 2020. Accessed April 5th 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnSRwBv6zqY.
Byck, Daniella. "PHOTOS: Look Inside the MLK Library’s $211 Million Renovation", Washingtonian. August 4th 2020. Accessed April 5th 2021. https://www.washingtonian.com/2020/08/04/photos-look-inside-the-mlk-librarys-211-million-renovation/.
Reyes-Gavilan, Richard. Memo: "MLK Teen Room Naming Proposal", DC Public Library. May 14th 2020. Accessed April 5th 2021. https://www.dclibrary.org/sites/default/files/Document%207.2%20-%20MLK%20Teen%20Room%20Naming%20-%20May%2014%2C%202020.pdf.
Malone, David. "Transparency a key in Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library renovation", Building Design + Construction. February 22nd 2017. Accessed April 6th 2021. https://www.bdcnetwork.com/transparency-key-martin-luther-king-jr-memorial-library-renovation.
"MLK Library Now Open with Limited Services", DC Public Library. Accessed April 6th 2021. https://www.dclibrary.org/mlk2020.
"Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Modernization", DC Public Library. Accessed April 6th 2021. https://www.dclibrary.org/mlkfuture.
Byck, Daniella. PHOTOS: Look Inside the MLK Library’s $211 Million Renovation, Washingtonian. August 4th 2020. Accessed April 5th 2021. https://www.washingtonian.com/2020/08/04/photos-look-inside-the-mlk-librarys-211-million-renovation/.