Library Starts New Chapter

You won’t need to be an avid reader to make good use of Roosevelt Island’s new library.

Last week, representatives from the New York Public Library (NYPL) presented the plans for our new branch, revealing a space that more than doubles the Island’s current library in both square footage and resources.

Room to Grow

New Library Floor Plan
(Click to enlarge)

The NYPL used Islanders’ responses to their presentation in fall 2014, and the online survey that followed, to help create the final floor plan designed by Smith-Miller & Hawkinson Architects. The new branch will make use of 5,465 square feet on the ground floor of 504 Main Street. Compare that to the current library’s 2,200 square feet. “Currently, there are a lot of books but not a lot of room for people,” said Risa Honig, Vice President of Capital Planning and Construction. “[Now] we can host events or meetings.”

Space to use for programs and community events was very important to Islanders, ranked only behind access to standard library resources, in the results of the online survey. Christopher Platt, Vice President for Library Services, said they received 456 responses to the survey, with all but nine of the responders using the library on a regular basis and 30% of responses coming from Island parents. The NYPL estimates 44% of Islanders have a library card. According to a statement issued by the NYPL, 91% of survey respondents listed access to books, information, and expert librarian help as their top priority, followed by “programs for children and teens (46%), exhibitions and lectures (40%), access to public computers and technology (39%), and spaces to research, write, study, and learn new skills (over 30%).” According to the survey, the changes that would have the most value to the community were increased access to technology and a larger children’s area, each receiving a rating of 4.1 out of 5 for importance.

The plans for the new library include a designated “teen space;” a separate, closed-off, 640-square-foot children’s room; and a 670-square-foot community room that will be used for classes during the day and adult programs in the evening. The community room can also be used as an additional reading room, and will be equipped with an assistive listening system for meetings and events.

Other highly rated features incorporated into the final design include a “Grab and Go Area” to quickly return checked-out items and browse new releases; a larger magazine and periodical section; and an area for displaying Island artifacts, history, and information. The library will be fully disabled and stroller accessible, and will have a stroller parking area by the entrance.

New Library Entrance
(Click to enlarge)

Multiple Islanders at the meeting made suggestions for the outdoor space surrounding the library, including a “tot lot” playground for ages 0-5 and an outdoor reading area with tables and chairs. The presenters made clear this was not a part of the construction plan. They explained that the land is owned by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC), but they had given advice and recommendations for its uses that would complement the library.

City Councilmember Ben Kallos, who attended the presentation, said a playground could be a viable participatory budgeting initiative, and also suggested additional library furniture and other enrichment items not included in the library’s construction budget.

Programming for All

Honig said they “worked very closely with Nicole [Nelson, Roosevelt Island Library Manager] to make sure she got everything she needs.” Because of the added space, “we can have programs going on in two rooms at the same time,” said Nelson. “I am extremely excited about that.” Nelson said children’s programming will focus on early literacy, while programs aimed at teens will focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. All patrons will have more access to technology, as the new branch will have 16 PCs and 24 laptops for patron use—a significant increase from the three PCs and 11 laptops at the current location.

The Island library also plans to direct more attention to English as a Second Language (ESL) programming. Nelson hopes to offer more ESL classes and is currently working with to get ESL classes for children.

Platt said the NYPL plans to reach out to Islanders again as construction nears completion so they can get a better idea of what programs should be offered at the new branch. Platt also said they were “very interested in doing some community partnerships” with Cornell and trying to figure out programs Cornell could host in the space.

Next Steps

The design phase of the project will be complete this summer, with construction starting in the fall. The library is scheduled to open in late 2017 or early 2018.

Norah Yahya, Senior Manager of Government and Community Affairs for NYPL, noted the importance of Islanders staying involved even as they wait for their new branch. “We want to make sure that we can continue to increase programming, hours, [and] staff, and the way we do that is through expense funding,” she said. “It’s important that we collaborate with our other branches [to keep the NYPL funded through the City], so please stay involved.”

Yahya said voting for library projects for participatory budgeting and participating in fundraising efforts and letter writing campaigns (the Island library’s letter-writing campaign resulted in four times the expected letters) were good ways to support the library system. Kallos and Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, also in attendance, echoed this. Kallos thanked Islanders for “engaging in a public process,” while Brewer reiterated the need to push for increased funding for libraries in general. She ended by saying the Island “had many good aspects… and I think the library is one of the stars.”

To see the presentation from this meeting and learn more about the new branch, go to .

Tags: construction Sara Maher Roosevelt Island Library Island Life

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