Worthington native recognized for D.C. library work
WASHINGTON --When Ginnie Cooper accepted the post as chief librarian and executive director of the District of Columbia Public Library, she knew it entailed some big challenges, particularly in dealing with the institution's crumbling facilities.
That was almost seven years ago. She has since overseen 14 library renovations, and with three more in the works, her devotion to the process has attracted the attention of more than just other librarians.
Cooper recently received the 2013 Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture from the American Institute of Architects, recognizing "the role of elected officials, public administrators and institutional leaders, who through laws, policies or advocacy encourage the production of high-quality architecture," according to the AIA website. "As the leader of the District of Columbia Public Library, Cooper is credited for the recent renaissance in library construction and renovation in the nation's capital."
Cooper's road to the D.C. library system began in Worthington, where she grew up, the daughter of the late Lawrence "Coop" and Ione Cooper.
"Everything that I am has come from my time in Worthington," credited Cooper in a telephone interview. "We build step by step on what comes before, and the library there was critically important to me, as well as the education that I got there. I'm a junior college graduate. I really feel Worthington deep in my roots."
Upon graduating from Worthington High School in 1963 and her years at the local junior college, Cooper studied library science, earning a master's degree from the University in Minnesota. Her library career included stints in Washington County, outside the Twin Cities; the Kenosha Public Library, Kenosha, Wis.; the Alameda County Library, Fremont, Calif.; the Multnomah County Library, Portland, Ore.; and the Brooklyn, N.Y., Public Library.
"I have been privileged to do really wonderful work in my career as a librarian, and do things that you would never have expected," she said, adding with a laugh, "such as cleaning out the toilets ... and working on designing some really wonderful buildings."
This isn't Cooper's first architecture-related award. During her time in Portland, she was also honored by the regional AIA organization.
"I was their lay person of the year," she said, "which basically means you are not an architect, but you play with them well. But of course, getting this national award was totally unexpected. I was especially thrilled because it recognizes libraries as part of the fabric of cities in such an important way."
The D.C. system encompasses 25 neighborhood libraries and a central library in Washington.
"We have rebuilt or are in the process of redoing 17 of those neighborhood libraries, and we have money for the next four," Cooper detailed. "But the most exciting news involves the central library, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, designed by Mies van der Rohe. We now have the money to move forward to redo this landmark building."
Rejuvenating the library facilities has been a rewarding undertaking for Cooper, although it's really a small part of her job as chief librarian.
"I've been helped by a lot of good people who really wanted to make it happen," she said. "With good luck and hard work, we're quite a different library than we were seven years ago," she said. "I've been truly honored to be able to work with architects -- star-chitects who are nationally and internationally known --but what really matters is what happens inside the library."