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A Deep Dive Into America’s Largest Public Library System


 

The Brooklyn Public Library is one of the most democratic civic institutions in the city, serving residents from all walks of life. Brooklyn Public Library, which was founded in 1896, is one of the country's largest public library systems, with almost 700,000 active cards. Brooklyn Public Library is a recognized leader in cultural offerings, literacy, out-of-school-time services, career development programs, and digital literacy, with a branch library within a half-mile of the majority of Brooklyn's 2.6 million residents. In a borough with vast economic disparities, where basic necessities typically take precedence over cultural enrichment chances. According to the American Library Association's 2014 Public Library Data Service Statistical Report, BPL ranks third in the country for public programs offered and program attendance among public libraries. In 2016, the Brooklyn Public Library received the IMLS National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation's highest accolade for museums and libraries, in part because of its Outreach Services department's efforts to serve Brooklyn's most disadvantaged communities. The Brooklyn Public Library was established in 1892 by an act of the state assembly that directed the independent city of Brooklyn to "construct and maintain a public library and reading room." The library system grew in tandem with the boroughs it serviced when Greater New York was consolidated. Thanks to a $1.6 million investment from businessman Andrew Carnegie, library development exploded in Brooklyn in the early twentieth century. His legacy may still be seen today in the borough's neighborhoods, as 18 of Brooklyn's 21 original Carnegie libraries are still operational. These structures are architectural treasures, grand and beautiful, and many are located in residential districts. The establishment of branches to serve both new and underserved neighborhoods boosted library service in the mid-twentieth century. Many of the new libraries were built under Mayor John Lindsay's administration and are distinguished by their efficient, no-frills architecture and open floor plans. With 59 facilities serving a borough of 2.6 million people, the Brooklyn Public Library is now one of the nation's largest library systems. With a collection of four million materials and an annual attendance of nearly nine million, the Library is one of New York City's most important civic, cultural, and educational institutions.

 

Queens Public Library

 

The first subscription library in Queens was established in Flushing in 1858. It was founded in 1869 and converted to a free circulation library in 1884. Steinway, Hollis, Queens Village, Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, Long Island City, and Astoria all launched local library services in the 1890s. The present Queens Library was built on the foundation of these seven libraries. The Long Island City Public Library, founded in 1896, had three members (Long Island City, Steinway, and Astoria). In 1907, the Queens Borough Public Library was established. The majority of the seven libraries received funding from the city. The city convened multiple conferences to propose unifying the management of these independent divisions, preferring to deal with one group rather than seven. All of the libraries in Queens, with the exception of Flushing, merged in January 1901 to establish the Queens Library. The Regents of the State of New York granted the new system a charter that stated that the former Long Island City Public Library's service area would be extended to the entire borough. The city of New York donated operating cash. Flushing joined the system shortly after it was formed, as did a new library in College Point. Andrew Carnegie provided $240,000 for the construction of seven new libraries in the borough's most densely inhabited regions. The Astoria, Poppenhusen, Richmond Hill, and Woodhaven buildings are still in use. A traveling library office was established in 1906 to provide library service to underserved, sparsely inhabited areas. Its principal purpose was to place collections of 100 to 600 volumes at several Queens locations at the beginning. These venues were chosen based on the capabilities of the facility's owner to provide space, administrate the collection, and ensure public access. By 1910, the popularity of these collections had escalated to the point where a Traveling Libraries Department had been created. In addition to the collections, public service stations were set up in businesses and offices, with experienced librarians on hand to assist the public. Stations were constructed in schools in 1914, and prison service was also provided through a station by 1915.

 

New York Public Library

 

This amazing institution began while New York was establishing itself as one of the world's most prominent cities. New York had already overtaken Paris in population by the second half of the nineteenth century and was rapidly catching up with London, the world's most populous metropolis at the time. Fortunately, among the people of this expanding and sometimes brash metropolis were men who saw that if New York was to become one of the world's great centers of urban culture, it needed a magnificent library. One of the most prominent was former governor Samuel J. Tilden (1814-1886), who left the majority of his fortune to "build and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York" when he died. New York already had two important libraries at the time of Tilden's death, the Astor and Lenox libraries but none could be considered really public institutions in the way that Tilden seemed to have envisioned. The Astor Library was established because of the generosity of John Jacob Astor, a German immigrant who was the wealthiest man in America at the time of his death. He left $400,000 in his bequest for the establishment of a reference library in New York. Both the Astor and the Lenox libraries were in financial trouble by 1892. Its trustees were forced to reassess their goal due to declining endowments and growing collections. At this point, John Bigelow, a New York attorney and Tilden trustee, conceived an ambitious scheme that would unite the resources of the Astor and Lenox libraries, as well as the Tilden Trust, to become The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. Bigelow's idea was praised as an exceptional example of individual generosity for the public welfare when it was signed and agreed upon on May 23, 1895.

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