- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library will mount an exhibit of art works by local black artists and devote an entire division to black history, art and culture starting Monday.

Librarians are still upset that the tradition of using the entire library to celebrate National Black History Month, which begins today, was not followed this year.

"We are trying to make the best of what we have, but it is not what we really wanted," said Alice Robinson, head of the library's black studies division, who has worked at the library for 31 years.

Mrs. Robinson said more space and more exhibits focusing on the "black experience" are customary during Black History Month.

"We usually have the Level A galleries in the basement, much of the second floor and the third floor, really the whole library," she said.

The Level A areas traditionally are reserved for paintings and sculptures by black artists, but as The Washington Times reported yesterday, librarians said exhibit coordinator Elena Tscherny did not schedule space for them this year.

They also said she informed them that the library's policy is not to give special consideration to race in scheduling exhibits, sparking a tense situation between the executive staff and black librarians. The librarians said Mrs. Tscherny, who could not be reached for comment, had neglected decades of tradition by not reserving the space.

Devoting the entire library to the recognition of black history and culture during February has been a practice for almost 30 years.

"It has always been our tradition to recognize and be sensitive to all months where culture and history are recognized," said Judy Zebonkin, chief of the biography division.

The library, located at Ninth and G streets NW, will put up paintings and sculptures by local black artists in the Business and Technology Division and along the building's front windows on the first floor. The business division is being used to compensate for the failure to schedule any displays of black art works during this month in the Level A galleries, the library's largest public space for art exhibits.

D.C. library marketing Director Monica Lofton said the library had been in the process of making space available to show black art and cultural exhibits before the Wednesday meeting took place.

"We had already committed to displaying works by local black artists along the entire band of lower-level windows facing G Street and in the Business Division," said Mrs. Lofton, who has been on the library staff for nine months.

The Washington Times yesterday reported that a scheduling oversight, discovered a week ago, left limited space for Black History Month exhibits in the library this year. The sudden change touched off a heated exchange during a meeting Wednesday between librarians and the administration.

Librarians were offended when they learned the basement levels would house the Bachrach photography exhibit until Feb. 26. The photographs by Louis Bachrach and his company are historical treasures, said librarians and technicians union representative Charles Hicks. But the staff was upset because only 13 blacks were pictured in the more than 220 photographs and did not make a good presentation for Black History Month.

Mrs. Lofton said the Bachrach exhibit was supposed to run in September, but "the company requested two extensions one before and one after September 11 and that is why the exhibit was used in February."

Mrs. Lofton said the business division became available when a partnership between the King Library and the Small Business Administration, to create a one-stop information and planning center for people starting new businesses, was put on hold.

The SBA's funding for the program was cut this year, Mrs. Lofton said.

Paintings and sculptures from D.C. artists Michael Brown and Uzeke Nelson will go on display Monday. The library also will exhibit acrylic and watercolor paintings, and handmade quilts and pillows made by students attending the Marriott Hospitality High School.

"Mr. Brown's paintings will be seen in the first-floor windows throughout the month," Mrs. Lofton said.

Although the librarians were pleased that the administration made an effort to maintain the King Library's tradition, most are disturbed that the change was allowed in the first place.

"We feel that because this library is named for Doctor King we should certainly devote all of its resources to recognize Black History Month and January the month of Doctor King's birth," said Eleanor Dore, a white librarian who was a civil rights worker in Tennessee in the 1960s.

Mrs. Dore, 60, heads the King Library's poetry division and has worked there 27 years. She said the library should make every effort to recognize every month devoted to the accomplishments of Americans.

Mrs. Dore said 90 librarians, a third of the library's staff, attended the Wednesday meeting.

"I think we are all on the same page, including D.C. library Director Molly Raphael, but this is what happens when things get too bureaucratic," she said.

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