|By JEREMY OLSHAN
intersection of Main Street and Kissena Boulevard is a meeting of the minds.
Over the past century, while the corner has changed from dirt, to cobblestone, to
concrete, one constant has remained: books.
Since 1891, this has been the site of the Flushing
branch of the Queens Borough Public Library. On June 20, 107 years, and three buildings
later, the much anticipated, new and improved Flushing branch will open.
The entrance of the new Flushing branch of
the Queens library has a world travel theme.
Tribune Photo By Jeremy Olshan
The new four-story building which is, several times larger
in stature, and much sleeker in design than it predecessor, became necessary as the
community filled the building daily, in numbers far beyond its capacity. But the new
branch is more than a larger version of its predecessors, it represents a dramatic shift
in the form, function, and philosophy of the library in our culture.
"It is a crossroads," said Gary Strong, director of the Queens Borough Public
Library. "In a global community, it is a crossroads of cultures, languages,
traditions, and all that is wonderful about Queens."
The new library, which was made possible by some $35 million in capital funds from
Borough President Claire Shulman, is now the flagship of the largest public library system
in the country.
Libraries Old And New
The public library of the past had to contend with making limited resources accessible
to the many. The public library of the future will be charged with helping the many to
manage the seemingly unlimited resources of the information age.
But just as the new library looks toward the future, it to also hearkens back to the
When one thinks of libraries of old, they tend to conjure up images of dusty shelves,
card catalogues, and stodgy librarians whispering, "quiet please."
What has been forgotten is the fact that the library is one of the bastions of
Knowledge is power, and at public libraries, knowledge is free and not just in
the economic sense.
When the Queens Borough Public Library was first created, books were still relatively
scarce. They carried both practical and symbolic importance, that is hard to imagine in a
time when books are as commonplace as bubble gum.
In fact, before most of the branches were built, "bookmobiles," would deliver
books to children and adults at locations all over the borough.
The library has also always been a beacon for immigrants, in their efforts to both
learn the language and customs of America, and in their efforts to retain their own. And
as the times and population of Queens have changed, the library has made a point of
changing with it.
The Adult Learning Center will assist immigrants in learning to read, speak, and write
English, through seminars, and individualized programs.
The International Resource Center will provide information on cultures around the
world, with an emphasis on international business. This is expected to draw people from
all over Queens, and the rest of the city, because many of the holdings will be items
unavailable anywhere else. The center is currently building its collection of Chinese,
Korean, Spanish, Russian, Hindi, Gujarati, and Hebrew books and periodicals.
"We are driven to change because of the make-up of Queens," said Strong.
"A library has to be relevant to its customers or it will not continue to exist. Many
libraries continue to do things the way they did 20 years ago, but Queens changes every
Public Library Space
Essential to the design of the new Flushing library are wide-open spaces, including
community meeting rooms, and a 227-seat state-of-the-art auditorium.
With its tall "glass curtain" facade, the new building is not only
provocative, it beckons the passerby to look inside with wonder. In many ways it
represents the end of years of neglecting the importance of public space.
At 76,000 square feet, the Flushing library is ten times the size of an average branch.
The building was designed by Todd Schleimann of Polshek and Partners as a new civic
"We did not want a box," said Strong. "We want people to wonder what is
inside of it."
In a time when public space is often confused with retail space, when children do their
homework in the aisles of Barnes and Noble, the notion of a place for the community to get
together and exchange thoughts and ideas sounds like an ad for a utopian fantasy. But in
actuality, this is at the very heart of the purpose of the library establishing a
dialogue within the community.
The librarys facilities also include an expansive childrens section, with
computer workspace designed specifically for them, a young adult section, two exhibition
areas with kitchens, seating capacity for 300 people, and "quiet rooms" for
Wheres the book?
Another thing that makes the new Flushing library stand out from its predecessors is
the preponderance of computers. The card catalogue has long since been replaced at city
libraries, but at the new Flushing Branch, the all four floors are wired for the Internet.
In addition to the 80 computer stations, with high speed, T-1 connections, library
users with laptops can plug right in from their desk. There are also connections to dozens
of on-line databases, including WordLinQ, the librarys multilingual electronic
Also, both the auditorium, and several of the smaller meeting rooms are wired for
teleconferencing, so members of the library can participate in global seminars and
Critics of this new technology contend that the book gets lost in all of the wires. But
the librarians at the new Flushing branch disagree.
"Actually, one of the positive things about technology is that it is a tool that
helps people connect to books," said librarian Margaret Scrage.
The technology also brings to the library resources that would not otherwise be
available. "With electronic media, we can provide current information much faster
than we ever could, on paper," said Strong.
Libraries Love A Parade
A parade will commemorate the opening of the branch at 9:15 a.m. on June 20. Then,
throughout the day, dozens of performances, activities, and workshops will be held to
welcome the community to their new library. Call 990-0705 for more information.
Flushing Branch of the Queens Borough Public Library