- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2002

D.C. librarians are furious with a decision not to recognize Martin Luther King and other black historical figures in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library's public art galleries during February, which is National Black History Month.
Staffers said exhibit coordinator Elena Tscherny, who scheduled no exhibits of black history or culture, told them the library's policy is not to give special consideration to race in scheduling exhibits. Mrs. Tscherny was not available for comment yesterday.
The decision touched off a tense battle between the executive staff and black librarians, who say Miss Tscherny neglected decades of tradition by not reserving the space.
"I found out there was no space made available on Monday, and I set up a meeting the next day with staff members," said D.C. Public Library Director Molly E. Raphael, who addressed the staffers' concerns in a closed-door meeting yesterday with members of the library's board of trustees.
Mrs. Raphael said there is no such policy, adding it has always been the case that in February the library has made space available for black history exhibits.
King librarians were offended when they entered the Level A public gallery in the basement of the building and saw the Bachrach Photography exhibit, "Washinton's Millennium Leaders through the Bachrach lens," which is set to run until Feb. 26.
Only 13 blacks are pictured in the 225 photographs on exhibit. The company, founded by Louis Fabian Bachrach in 1868, has photographed every U.S. president since Abraham Lincoln, and some of its photos date to the late 1890s.
"The lack of sensitivity on the part of the administration disturbs me," said Charles Hicks, union president for librarians and technicians. He said the historical importance of the Bachrach exhibit is clear, but the black librarians are offended that it will be shown for the entire month of February.
The level A areas are traditionally reserved for paintings and sculpture exhibits by black artists and "for some reason the library failed to do that this year," he said.
Mr. Hicks said Mrs. Raphael promised to use the west end windows facing 10th Street for some art exhibits by black artists and to hold a reception at the library to honor the artists during the month.
The Business Division will also give up space for more exhibits, Mr. Hicks said.
This year the King library has its usual monthlong schedule of programs, book readings and speaking engagements. But the staff expected, as is tradition, the public gallery spaces to be available for local black artists as well.
The King library will kick off Black History Month Feb. 1 with an exhibit in the Washingtonian Division entitled "Breaking the Color Line in the Nation's Capital."
That event will be followed up on Saturday with the Women In Sisterhood For Action Inc. event and the U.S. Postal Service's presentation of the Langston Hughes Black Heritage Stamp to the District. The Postal Service presents a new stamp at the library every year.
King library trustee Phillip Pannell said he does not think there was anything malicious about the oversight. But he added that the library's marketing department and the trustee board should have headed off the situation.
"We should be sensitive enough and be aware to make an effort to reserve the space for Black History Month," Mr. Pannell said.
Some of the staff said Mrs. Tscherny, who has been at the library about 10 years, took it upon herself to create the policy and made a point of booking all of the spaces ahead of time.
Alice Robinson, who heads the library's black studies division, wrote a letter to Mrs. Raphael last week explaining the problem. She discussed the Level A space availability with Mrs. Tscherny two weeks ago and was told by the exhibits coordinator that the spaces had been booked.
"I have been here for 31 years, and we have always reserved those spaces for black art and cultural exhibits in February," said Miss Robinson.
"The problem is it has never been anyone's job to ensure that we have a sufficient level of black history exhibits during the month," said trustees board member Alexander M. Padro.
He is hoping to establish a mandatory number of exhibits and available space at the King library.
"This problem should never come up again," Mr. Padro said.
Mrs. Raphael said although she does not disagree with Mr. Padro's view, such a mandate could lead to other race and gender groups being offended or left out of the library's activities.

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