The Astoria site, located at 21-45 31st Street, has begun a $3.9 million renovation that includes technology improvements, new roof, three-stop elevator, new entrance ramp, and renovated children’s room and bathroom.
Funding came from the mayor, the borough president, the City Council and the Assembly. The project is expected to be complete by next October.
According to Queens Library President Dennis Walcott, the Steinway branch benefited from a new computer area and ADA improvements in 2010.
The library, named after famous piano maker William Steinway, was first founded in 1890 to serve immigrants in the neighborhood. It was one of three original branches of the former Long Island City public library system.
“Over the years, the population has grown and changed,” Walcott said, “but it has still maintained the diversity in its immigrant history.”
Borough President Melinda Katz said the branch has served the Astoria community for generations. The current 12,500-square-foot building was built in 1955.
“The library changes with the communities around them,” Katz said. “As new communities come in, the libraries respond to those differences and needs, either with technology, languages or cultural celebrations.”
Astoria’s local elected officials, Councilman Costa Constantinides, State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblywoman Aravella Simota, all grew up using this specific branch. Constantinides said he regularly brings his young son to the Steinway library.
“This library is my library, the library where I grew up,” he said. “The library so many residents here in this part of Astoria have used for generations, and are now bringing their kids and families.”
The councilman added that this is the perfect time to reimagine the whole library to make sure young parents with strollers, seniors, and customers with disabilities have access to everything the library has to offer.
Both he and Simotas allocated money to install solar panels on the new roof, which will be the second phase of the project.
Gianaris said libraries are no longer just about books on shelves. Rather, they play a critical role for immigrant communities looking to access services and resources.
“The reason this became my library was because my father would make regular use of this library when I was growing up,” he said.
Marie Torniali, chair of Community Board 1, added that she raised her daughter at the branch, and now takes her grandson to the site.
“I’m very appreciative of the elevators that will be here because I’m not as young as I used to be,” she said.
The branch will close for one week beginning August 13 for preliminary work. It will close again later this fall for construction, and mobile library service will be provided.
According to branch manager Danielle Gifford, the elevator will be a big help for people in wheelchairs or pushing strollers, who usually can only get to the main floor.
Another positive change is that the renovated site will have a 24/7 book return slot. Currently, the book slide is only open in the morning when a custodian is present.
Gifford said all of the changes are needed because Astoria is a growing neighborhood.
“We need to accommodate all the newcomers and all of the people currently here,” she said.