Brooklyn Heights Faces Loss of Community Library

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During the week, local moms and nannies take their toddlers to the Brooklyn Heights Library. (Photo: Valerie Prass)

During the week, local moms and nannies take their toddlers to the Brooklyn Heights Library. (Photo: Valerie Prass)

The children’s section on the first floor of the Brooklyn Heights Library looks more like a daycare center, than a study place. Moms and nannies from around the neighborhood meet here regularly, while their toddlers ramble through the bookshelves pulling out as many books as they desire, from picture books for babies to Harry Potter tales.

“I take the children here almost everyday. I like this place and it is important that the kids get used to reading at an early age,” said Nadia Mehenni, a 47-year old nanny of two girls living in the neighborhood.

The Business and Career library, located on the ground floor, is much calmer. But it’s just as busy. Here, students and adults check out business books, work on their resumes, and spend hours reading about how to write perfect cover letters or how to best prepare for a job interview.

From Monday to Saturday, the Brooklyn Heights Library, located on 280 Cadman Plaza West, is well visited. Yet the Brooklyn Public Library’s management announced recently that it plans to partly shut down and relocate most of the institution’s branches throughout the borough. The end result will shrink the Brooklyn Heights community space from about 60,000 to only 15,000 square feet.

At a library trustees’ meeting held last Tuesday, Vice President of Government Relations of the Brooklyn Heights Branch Josh Nachowitz claimed that the decision was announced due to the funding shortfall the library is facing.

“The building has many flaws. Reparation costs are estimated at $9 to $10 million. The repairing of the air-conditioning system alone is estimated at $3.5 million,” said Deborah Hallen, secretary of the Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Library.

Many libraries throughout the United States claim to have trouble keeping up with the budgetary costs associated with technological progress and a shift towards digitalization. Through the Internet, books can easily be downloaded on personal computers and tablets and don’t have to be bought or lent out physically. Ownership of tablets rose drastically in the U.S. over the past few years. According to a study published by the Pew Research Center in early October 2012,  22 percent of adults in the country own tablets.

But many library visitors don’t own computers or tablets. “The toddlers that are coming here don’t use computers or iPads,” said Hallen, who has been a member of the Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Library organization since 1993. “Kids want books they can touch and play with. They want to feel their texture and pages.”

“This is a pity. If there are funding cuts, education is the first thing that suffers,” said nanny Mehenni, who is originally from France.

Many of the adult visitors at the Brooklyn Heights branch this week said they couldn’t afford their own devices. They said they visit the library to gain access to specialized business books and to use computers to work on cover letters and resumes. “I have been jobless for the last couple of months and I come here to prepare my job application material,” said Juan Hidalgo who lives in Cypress Hill and has a diploma in accounting. Michael James, a 55-year old Brooklyn resident who currently lives in a shelter and is looking for a job also said he comes to the library to scour through newspapers and use the library’s computers.

Many library visitors this week expressed their disappointment over what they feel is limited support for their local libraries. “The Arlington branch is closed on the weekend. That makes no sense” said Hidalgo. “ Most of the kids and teenagers are in school during the week. They want to visit the libraries on the weekends.” said Hidalgo. “Mayor Bloomberg just pledged $350 million to Johns Hopkins University and a Brooklyn library gets nothing?”

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