Court Square rallies for permanent home for library
by Benjamin Fang
May 10, 2019 | 707 views | 0 0 comments | 77 77 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Citigroup built its iconic Long Island City tower in 1989, the company negotiated a benefits agreement with the community board and local representatives.

According to Lisa Deller, first vice chair of Community Board 2, the first ask and concession was a community library, which has paid an annual rent of $1 to occupy space on the ground floor.

“Since 1989, the library has been a hub of this neighborhood,” Deller said. “It was here before all of these buildings were here.”

Initially, the library was only 2,000 square feet. Alison McKenna-Miller, library manager at the Court Square branch for the past eight years, said the space was “not much bigger than an apartment.”

Still, they made the most of it. The branch began offering storytime in January 2012. According to McKenna-Miller, librarians had to offer the program when the library was closed. They even used a ticket system to prevent exceeding the fire code limit of 55 people.

In 2016, the Court Square branch expanded to a 3,200-square-foot vacant space next door. The move allowed the library to open a badly needed children’s room and meeting room for programming.

Today, McKenna-Miller said, their weekly Toddler Time and Mother Goose Time programs have become “door-busters.” The library schedules two back-to-back sessions every week to meet the demand. About 60 people, including children and caregivers, attend each session.

The branch also hosts baby and toddler playdate programs, which entail open play and socialization.

“With so many new families moving into the neighborhood, it’s a lovely way for them to get out of their apartments, meet new families and make new friends in a relaxed environment,” McKenna-Miller said.

To expand their services outside the confines of the physical space, Court Square librarians came up with a “Bookcycle,” a mobile library that reaches the surrounding community.

They have conducted storytime at Murray Park, the ferry landing and places like the Floating Hospital and Socrates Sculpture Park.

“This library has become so much more than a place where people come to borrow books, use computers and attend programs,” the library manager said. “This is also where they meet friends, spend quality time with their children, where they feel safe and feel at home.”

With the sublease set to expire on August 31 this year, Queens Public Library reached an agreement with Citigroup to extend the lease until March 2020.

Library CEO Dennis Walcott said the six-month extension is just a “temporary reprieve.”

“This is not a be-all, end-all,” he said. “I see this as a golden opportunity to not just talk about the library as it exists now, but the library of the future.”

Last Wednesday, Court Square parents and children joined Walcott and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer for a rally outside the branch. They celebrated the lease extension, but also highlighted the need for the library to have a permanent home in the neighborhood.

“This happy day also serves as a reminder that we will not stop pushing and fighting for continued public library service in Court Square,” said Meghan Cirrito, president of the Friends of Court Square Library.

Van Bramer blamed Savanna, a real estate fund that purchased One Court Square in 2014, for threatening to “kick out” the library.

“That is unacceptable and outrageous behavior,” he said. “They have an obligation not just to their bottom line, but to the people, and especially the children, who live in this community.”

The councilman called on Savanna to “come to the table” and work with the library to give the branch a permanent home.

He said that home doesn’t necessarily have to be within One Court Square, although the “easiest solution” would be to have an even bigger space in the building.

“But because Savanna has been such a bad corporate neighbor to begin with,” he said, “all options are being explored, including moving to another location.

“Savanna can be part of the solution, not the problem,” Van Bramer added. “So far, they’re not part of the solution.”

Deller called on both the city and the development community to come up with a solution to save the beloved Court Square library.

“Now that we’ve created tremendous value for real estate and business interests here, it’s time for everyone to step up,” she said.
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