COOPER HEWITT DESIGN JOURNAL — Fall 2016 — written by Julie Sandorf — “Whatever agencies for good may rise or fall in the future, it seems certain that the free library is destined to stand and become a never-ceasing foundation of good to all inhabitants.” —Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie, whose magnificent New York City mansion is now home to Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, bestowed a legacy extending far beyond East 91st Street. Between 1893 and 1919, Carnegie funded the construction of 1,687 public libraries across the United States, including sixty-seven neighborhood libraries in New York. Carnegie’s prolific philanthropic activity left an everlasting physical, social, and intellectual imprint on community life, as relevant today as it was a century ago.
Today, New York City’s 207 neighborhood libraries attract over 40.5 million visitors annually—more than all of the city’s professional sports teams and major cultural institutions combined. New York City’s public library system comprises three units: the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL); Queens Library; and New York Pubic Library (NYPL), which serve the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Together they constitute the city’s single most important resource for lifelong learning, serving to acculturate new generations of immigrants, and amplifying and supplementing the education of children from the youngest ages. The branches offer new media and technology to over three million New Yorkers without access to high-speed internet service, while continuing to serve an essential role as repositories for books and information. Free programs such as NYPL’s TechConnect and career and resume help provide assistance to people of all ages. Libraries are civic hubs for cultural life—offering live performances and author readings, and acting as neighborhood art galleries and creative maker spaces for all ages.
Above all, branch libraries are ideally suited to what architecture critic Sarah Williams Goldhagen calls “third places—offering vibrant, informal, attractive, noncommercial community places where people of any age, class, gender, race, religion, or ethnicity can gather and obtain access to resources vital to full participation in contemporary life.” Located in every single neighborhood, New York City’s branch libraries are an invaluable resource—our civic squares of community intellectual, social, and cultural life.
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The Fall 2016 Cooper Hewitt Design Journal will be available online in early 2017. To view their past issues, please click here.