May-June 2020

A new chapter

How the library in downtown Bethesda is staying relevant in the age of e-books, smartphones and Alexa

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One of the significant post-refresh improvements to the Bethesda library was the addition of glass-walled rooms in the rear, four that are designated for collaboration and the largest one for quiet study. Rooms may be booked a week in advance through an online system and are often used by clubs or groups.

Inside Room 4 on a Thursday afternoon, seven people sit around the rectangular table, all writing: some steadily, others contemplatively. But for their gray hair, they could be high school students.

“OK, let’s start reading,” says Michael Scadron, the leader of a group called the Freedom Writers, now in its 10th year. He points to Nancy Derr, a Bethesda resident who’s working on a novel about Russia’s Czar Alexander III. Derr reads what she’s written in the last half-hour, and when she finishes, the others offer praise or gentle suggestions.

“We used to meet at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda and paid a fee for the space,” Scadron says. “When they started a renovation last year, we moved to the library, and the rooms are light, the staff is welcoming and…we don’t pay a fee.”

As they file out of the room, a young woman carrying a briefcase and what appears to be a court stenographer’s machine waits to enter. She explains that she’s there to take a deposition for a client’s court case. “Could you tell me,” she asks, “what’s the cost to book this room?”
“Oh, it’s free,” a writer in the group replies. “You just need a library card.”

Steve Goldstein is a freelance writer and editor and the former bureau chief in Moscow and in Washington, D.C., for The Philadelphia Inquirer.