Brooklyn Heights Mom, Jenna with her two daughters, Piper age four, and Tegan, age two and a half, in the new children’s section of the Brooklyn Heights Library. “We’ve been so excited for the Brooklyn Heights Libary to open.” When asked how often they would use the location, Jenna answered, “All the time.” Photos by Beth Eisgrau-Heller
After years of construction and delays due to COVID-19, Brooklyn Heights has a brand new library.
The new branch, at 286 Cadman Plaza West at Tillary and Clinton streets, opened with a ribbon cutting on Wednesday attended by Brooklyn Public Library honchos, elected officials, library staff and friends, and fourth-grade school children from nearby PS 8.
The reaction was enthusiastic as attendees took in the sun-drenched main lobby, aka the “Reading Room,” with its double-height ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. This main level is filled with book shelves and reading nooks, and features a “Reading Circle” with curving tiers of seating. The basement level is designed and furnished for the area’s many young children. There is also a multi-use auditorium below grade.
The mezzanine level, which overlooks the main lobby space, is designed for teens and includes a gaming room with two very large screens. There are also two conference rooms on the mezzanine level, each outfitted with one of the six beloved limestone bas reliefs removed from the former library. (The other four reliefs, by Italian sculptor Clemente Spampinato, will go into a new garden outside the Walt Whitman Library.)
The library occupies the lower three floors of the newly-constructed 38-story luxury condo built on the site of the former Brooklyn Heights branch. The condo’s entrance will be on the Clinton Street side of the building at a new address, One Clinton Street The tower was designed by Marvel Architects and developed by The Hudson Companies Incorporated.
Though smaller than the facility it replaces, at 26,620 square feet the new library still has more public space than any other branch in Brooklyn, with the exception of the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza.
Johnson: A milestone
“Today we celebrate a milestone, completing a vision to turn an outdated library into a bright and inspiring space for the 21st century,” said Linda Johnson, President and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library. She added, “Not only are we delivering a beautiful new Brooklyn Heights Library, we have generated funds for the renovation of nine other branches, benefiting our patrons throughout the borough and marking the most important moment in rebuilding since the Library was founded 125 years ago .”
Johnson said the $52 million from the sale of the former city-owned property brought not just the new library, but 114 units of affordable housing to Clinton Hill, “which is already inhabited.” It also brought a new library to DUMBO, another planned new library to Sunset Park in a building that will involve affordable housing, and other benefits.
“Each project is very individual. It has to do with the land that we have and the community that we serve,” Johnson told the Brooklyn Eagle following the ribbon cutting. “In this case, we were delivered what is called the core and the shell, and we had to work within the walls. But as the base building was being designed, we were very much a part of that process. We really wanted to make sure the space was light-filled — and it is. It’s really beautiful and bright.”
‘I’ve got goosebumps!’
Rachael Tiemann, managing librarian at the Heights branch, was visibly moved by the opening and thanked her staff by name. “I’m shaking — I’ve got goosebumps!” she said. Tiemann said the library was a second home for her and many others in the community, including people with no other home. She told a story about helping a man apply for a job. Meeting him later, he told her, “M’am, I got the job!”
Fourth-graders from PS 8 were front and center as Johnson cut the ribbon. PS 8 fourth-grader Lilli Mills received applause as she said, “I read 8,054 minutes in a month during our PS 8 Read-a-Thon. That’s 434 hours or five-and-a-half days around the clock. That may seem like a lot of time, but I like to read. Reading is fun for so many reasons, and not just because my class won a pizza party.”
Newly-elected Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso called the new library a “unicorn type of project” because it helped other neighborhoods as well.
Reynoso praised former City Councilmember Stephen Levin for pushing hard for the deal that eventually yielded bonuses for the community. “He fought for the best possible outcome,” Reynoso said.
“This is a welcoming, beautiful space,” Levin told the Eagle. He said he still remembers the feeling he got in his childhood library from him. “That will stick with me forever. And this is the kind of space that will stick with kids forever.”
The space for a 5,000-foot STEM lab for District 13 is in the process of being turned over to the School Construction Authority, Levin said.
The library in DUMBO negotiated by Levin as part of the deal “is a beautiful space as well,” he said. “And providing funding for libraries throughout the borough — it was the right thing to do.”
Lincoln Restler, who took over Levin’s spot on the City Council, enthused that the new library was “breathtakingly beautiful. It’s the most gorgeous library in New York City.”
He acknowledged that “getting here was a bumpy ride,” referring to the strident opposition put up by some in the neighborhood who were unhappy with the sale of the city-owned property to a private developer.
Restler praised Deborah Hallen, president of the Friends of Brooklyn Heights Library who “stood by the plan because it was right for the community and right for Brooklyn,” despite the development negatively affecting the view from her own window.
“Patience and hard work and dedication got us to this beautiful library,” Hallen told the Eagle. “And promises kept.” The Friends group will “still be making import issues known to the community and to elected officials. We will still be raising funds for the chess club, for the LEGO club. We will still be giving them money to purchase books, audio tapes, artistic events and book events.”
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon said getting to this point was “a long road,” and acknowledged “people who feel loss” of the former library. However, she said, “Here we have a magnificent space that will be their home. I’m blown away by the thought and care that went into this library. This is a great day for our community.”
Simon added, “Sometimes promises are not fulfilled. This time they were.”
Brooklyn Community Board 2 Chairperson Lenny H. Singletary said, “Not only is Brooklyn Heights receiving a beautiful new library branch, but neighborhoods and residents across Community Board 2 are also benefiting from this project… This is about community. The collaboration has been fantastic.”
Johnson also gave kudos to the Brooklyn Heights Association, which played a major role in shaping the development of the library.
“We are especially excited about some of the more unique elements like the dedicated teen lounge and gaming area, and the large community meeting room,” BHA Executive Director Lara Birnback told the Eagle. “Knowing that many other neighborhoods across the borough are direct beneficiaries of this project is really gratifying and was one of the central reasons we threw our support behind this project in the first place.”
The library stocks paper books and downloadable E-Books, said Gary Conway, manager of Technology Support at BPL. There are 24 laptops for use inside the library. People can use the self-check terminals to check out their books, though they can also go to the main desk to check out. “Most people self-check,” Conway said. “It’s easier.” The library also has photocopiers that scan and scan to email (and also copy), he said.
BPL’s Assistant VP of IT Michael Herzog told the Eagle that the access points for the wi-fi are quite high due to the double-height ceilings. “They cover the whole area very well, so the wi-fi is very good and broadband is good here.” Besides the gaming screens upstairs, a large screen on the ground floor in the back will have a constant flow of information for patrons, he said.
The library’s hours are: Mondays 10-6 pm; Tuesdays 1 – 8 p.m.; Wednesdays 10-6pm; Thursdays 10 – 8 pm; Fri 10-6pm; and Saturdays 10-5 pm