Southeast Neighborhood Library, one of three Carnegie-funded libraries in D.C. and the second neighborhood library built, proved to be one of the library system's busiest from its opening on Dec. 8, 1922. The one-story brick building, designed by noted library architect Edward L. Titlton, sits at 403 7th St. SE on an irregularly shaped site in the Capitol Hill National Register District, purchased with $8,360 from Congress, and bolstered by $67,000 in construction funding from the Carnegie Corporation.
The library opened with a collection of some 5,000 volumes and 75 periodicals. It was expected that the collection would be frequently supplemented by deliveries from the already overcrowded central library, which at that time contained nearly 250,000 volumes. The branch was set to be open most weekdays from noon to 9 p.m., on Wednesdays from noon to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The staff consisted of branch librarian Frances S. Osborne, a children's librarian, an assistant, a page and a janitor.
The Southeast library was immediately successful, with an average daily circulation of 550 books during its first two weeks of operation. A growing concern was the demand for juvenile literature; at the time of its opening, the library had only a modest collection. Nearly 1,400 extra books had to be transferred to Southeast from the Central Library to meet the demand. By the end of June 1923, after only seven months of operation, the library had circulated 86,822 books and registered 3,904 patrons.
The book collection had grown during the same period from the initial 5,000 volumes to nearly 8,000 through purchases, gifts, transfers and borrowed books. On Jan. 4, 1937, the Southeast Branch experienced its largest one-day circulation count—1,777 books. The library quickly took on an important community and educational role within the neighborhood, offering a quiet and safe place for school children to study after school hours. The large meeting rooms also provided a centralized location for community meetings.
After World War II, the branch served a population of 20,419 persons within a half-mile radius. The area surrounding the library was generally residential with a busy retail district nearby. Since its opening, however, the neighborhood character of the community had slowly been encroached upon by the construction of government buildings on Capitol Hill. In 1947, the area served by the Southeast Branch encompassed 12 public schools, four parochial schools, the Friendship Settlement House, Providence Hospital, the Naval Gun Factory and the Marine Barracks.
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