D.C. History Center to share Carnegie Library space with Apple

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Apple is proposing no major changes to the exterior of the historic Carnegie Library building at 801 K St. NW. (rendering courtesy of Apple)

by Katherine Rivard

Washington is filled with two types of people: those committed to preserving history at the  incredible museums and universities, and the many politicians and policy wonks, excited to shape the nation’s future. This same mix of past and present will soon collide at one of the city’s most historic buildings — the Carnegie Library in Mount Vernon Square. As of today, the building is slated to re-open to the public in mid-May 2019 and will be home to an already much anticipated Apple Store… and the D.C. History Center.

Naturally, the new Apple store has garnered much excitement, creating a new avenue to tech help and supplies without a trek into Georgetown. But it is the D.C. History Center that will bring a valuable addition to the city for both visitors and locals, Apple-product owners, and the curious at large. Owned and operated by the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., the D.C. History Center seeks to create exciting new ways for visitors to develop a “sense of identity, place, and pride in Washington, D.C.” With one of the city’s most extensive D.C.-centered collections, the Center is the main means by which the Historical Society furthers its mission: interpreting and presenting the city’s diverse stories for the public.

The Center will have 3 new spaces for exhibits and will allow visitors to delve into the history of the building and Mount Vernon Square. Touching artifacts gets a “thumbs-up” as visitors will be able to interact with pieces of Carnegie steel, the building’s bricks, and even Guastavino ceramic ceiling tiles. Rotating exhibits will highlight local history in the other two galleries.

The use of the Society’s website and a mobile app will further enhance visitor experiences, as visitors will be able to scan images or sculptures with their phones to reveal even more content in the palm of their hands. Meanwhile, the Center will continue the Historical Society’s regular educational programs, which have something to offer everyone from third graders, to college students, to adult learners. Apple will add to the educational experience with “Today at Apple,” a program that works in sync with the Center.

Beyond providing resources and exhibits for the public, the D.C. History Center’s new home will allow the Historical Society to better preserve its many artifacts and documents. Cool storage facilities and an environment-controlled building mean that the Center will now be able to borrow materials and collections from other repositories. In turn, more materials will translate into more comprehensive storytelling and a better visitor experience.

For those less interested in history and more interested in architecture, the building will be more fully open to the public than ever before. The book stacks were only available to librarians during the building’s time as the Washington Public Library, as its collections were largely “closed stacks.” Now, this area will be accessible on two floors. The library, which was dedicated in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie, holds its own historic significance as the first non-segregated public building in D.C.

While the building’s restorations are made possible by Apple, the work of the Historical Society is a private and independent 501(c)(3) educational and research organization, which manages to continue its mission thanks to donations from individuals, foundations, city agencies, and corporations. Today, the Historical Society’s Executive Director, John Suau, is excited for a new chapter in the society’s history, one which will create a wider audience: “We’re thrilled [about the new D.C. History Center]; it’s a great opportunity to bring the collections to an audience that is young and technologically inclined.”

A society armed with laptops and smartphones, we are capable of doing research with the tap of a touchpad, but the Historical Society continues to thrive thanks to the dedication of its staff and the incredible pieces of history they preserve. The new D.C. History Center will no doubt be a testament to their continued hard work, making the area’s history more relatable and accessible to a greater number of people than ever before. So, whether you’ve cracked your iPhone screen, you’re working on a history project, or you’d just like to see the inside of one of D.C’s most beautiful and historic buildings, the chance to re-experience the Carnegie Library and D.C.’s history will be all yours in just a couple months.