As New York begins to reopen, Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) unveiled the first phase of its Central Library revitalization, both restoring a majestic landmark and creating new spaces to serve the next generation of library patrons.
“The most extensive renovation in Central’s history honors its past and looks with great excitement toward its future,” said BPL president and CEO Linda Johnson. “We’ve efficiently and artfully reclaimed significantly more space for the public, where millions of patrons will soon be able to browse books, log onto computers, refine their resumes, register to vote, and much more.”
BPL partnered with renowned architect Toshiko Mori to both restore the Library to its original grandeur and transform Central Library into a more flexible modern building for today.
The design both returns space formerly used for administrative needs back to the public and anticipates how people might use the library in the future.
“BPL’s mission of providing knowledge for free to everyone is now enhanced by increased physical and visual access to its resources,” said Mori. “Led by their own curiosity, the public can explore the library’s vast collection and experience a sense of discovery and wonder.”
With more than 1.3 million visits per year, Central Library is among the busiest buildings in the borough. Phase one of the multi-phase redevelopment created four new spaces for the public to enjoy
• The new Civic Commons is an easily accessible, dedicated hub for organizations and services that facilitate participation in public life, featuring a new dedicated entrance on Flatbush Avenue.
Home to Central Library’s Passport Services Center, IDNYC office, a rotating community partner office, and a computer lab, waiting patrons will find a common reception area offering seating and free WiFi. In the future, the space will host civic events.
• The Major Owens Welcome Center will provide a first point of access for Brooklynites as they enter the branch through the library’s famous gilded entryway, framed by 15 bronze sculptures of famous characters and authors from American literature.
The welcome center will process check-outs and returns, and direct patrons to services throughout the branch, just as the library did when the building first opened 80 years ago..
Owens, who represented New York’s 11th and then 12th Congressional districts, worked as a librarian at Brooklyn Public Library in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In his 12 terms representing Brooklyn, he was known as the “librarian in Congress” and dedicated his career to providing access to education.
Across from the Major Owens Welcome Center, patrons can view an exhibit on the Congressman’s life, including never-before-seen photographs of the Congressman, handwritten and typed speeches, publications, campaign flyers, and more.
“Major Owens believed that education was the key to civilization and that libraries were the key to quality education,” said Chris Owens, eldest son of the late congressman and founder of RememberTheMajor.com. “He also considered the Brooklyn Public Library system to be his professional birthplace and home.”
• In the “New & Noteworthy” book gallery just off the grand lobby, patrons can find the latest fiction and nonfiction titles, from best sellers to lesser-known books thoughtfully curated by librarians.
At 1,190 square feet, New & Noteworthy can hold approximately 2,000 books along with space to read amid natural light from the large windows overlooking Grand Army Plaza.
Overhead, a striking custom-designed metal ceiling sculpture with specialty lighting invites curious readers to spend time exploring the collections in the room.
Funding for New & Noteworthy was provided by Susan and David Marcinek. Susan Marcinek, who serves as the chair of Brooklyn Public Library’s Board of Trustees, is also funding a new program called Pathways to Leadership, which will provide full scholarships for Black, Latino, Asian, Native American, and Pacific Islander members of BPL staff to earn master’s degrees in library science.
“It’s part of BPL’s commitment to dismantle structural racism and bias wherever it exists, and I hope it becomes a model for other libraries across the country,” said Marcinek.
• A new and greatly enlarged Business and Career Center is a reserved space for job seekers and small business owners. Drawing on a long tradition of helping the community in times of economic trouble from World War I to 9/11 to Hurricane Sandy, BPL offers an array of services and programs for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and job seekers.
Trained business librarians are on hand to help with everything from resume review to navigation of local, state and federal government aid programs.
The space includes custom-designed wood counter seating, four private meeting rooms, seven conversation nooks, a co-working area with laptops for loan, and two large seminar rooms, including one with automated presentation equipment.
More importantly, the Business and Career Library connects via a new glass-enclosed staircase to the popular Shelby White and Leon Levy Info Commons on the first floor.
Opened in 2013, it is among the most popular spots in the library, with a recording studio, seven reservable meeting rooms, computers, open space for students, gig workers and anyone who needs a quiet space to work, with plenty of outlets for all.
Phase one of the revitalization also restored the library’s lobby to its original grandeur, including restoration and refurbishment of the historic oak wood paneling, newly poured terrazzo flooring, and installation of new lighting.
In the second phase of the renovation, beginning in 2022, the library will update the collection wings, create a new teen center and provide for an expanded and modernized adult learning and literacy center.
“Beyond housing some of the world’s greatest cultural and educational resources, the Brooklyn Public Library is the resource hub for Brooklynites,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “With this new investment, the Brooklyn Public Library can better serve the public, making it easier than ever before for New Yorkers to engage civically, cultivate their small businesses, and expand their careers in their own backyard.”