Temporary library closing surprises community

BY Aline Reynolds

The New York Public Library will be closing its Chatham Square branch for nearly six weeks for repairs; it’s an unpleasant surprise to the Chinatown community.

The branch, located at 33 East Broadway, will shut its doors on Saturday, October 2 and reopen Monday, November 15. Workers will be replacing the building’s roof and making repairs to its façade.

“We’d rather make sure everyone is 100 percent safe, so we feel that closing the building is the best possible decision,” said Marie Coughlin, branch manager at the Chatham Square Library.

Patrons are encouraged to use the Seward Park Library at 192 East Broadway or the New Amsterdam Library at 9 Murray Street in the interim period. The branch schedules class trips with P.S. 1, P.S. 2, P.S. 124, P.S. 126 and a few neighborhood day care centers. Each class section is entitled to one class visit per month, when staff librarians read aloud to the students and talk to them about library services. The librarians also assist the children after school.

“They’re super comfortable talking to us and asking us for help on homework,” Coughlin said.

“That’s a shame. The staff is helpful. They show them how to choose books on their level,” said P.S. 2 London Meyer Principal Brett Gustafson, who was surprised by the news.

Gustafson regularly sends classes from each of the school’s five grades to the library. “And they usually don’t charge the kids a late fee, as long as they bring the books back,” the principal said.

Christy Lui, who teaches second grade at P.S. 2, called the library a “crucial resource” for her students. “I’m quite upset to hear this. It’s like a second home for them,” Lui said, carrying a packet of N.Y.P.L. membership cards for her students, who frequent the library after school for help with research and homework.

“I’m so bummed!” said P.S. 1 Alfred E. Smith Principal Amy Hom, whose school also has a “good relationship” with the Chatham Square staff. “We take our parents there for computer skills assessment,” in addition to the student class trips, she said.

Borrowing rights will be suspended until the library re-opens, but Coughlin said she and her colleagues might supply a limited number of books to students during visits to the schools.

“It’s a major change for schools around here,” she said. “We’re going to try to make sure they’re not as inconvenienced as much as they think they might be.”

Adult patrons who frequent the library weekly are also upset about their favorite N.Y.P.L. branch closing. Hankey Campbell, 31, travels all the way from Far Rockaway, Queens to use the library twice a week. “I like to hang out here and see if they have titles that my branch doesn’t have,” he said.

Amy Leung, a student at ASA College for Special Needs, studies in the library three times a week. “I like the environment,” she said, and added that the library is quiet and has comfortable seats.

Leung lives in a cramped, one-bedroom apartment on Catherine Slip in Chinatown.

“I’ll have no place to go to study,” she said.

Coughlin said she would be posting signs throughout the four-floor building this week to notify patrons of the temporary closing. Due to the high number of Chinese-speaking patrons, many of the signs will be translated into Chinese. Coughlin and her staff will also be spreading the word through visits to neighborhood schools and organizations, by word of mouth and via an electronic notice on the branch’s website. “It’s pretty major, so we want to publicize it the right way,” she said.

The Chatham Square branch, which opened in 1903, had previously been closed between 2001 and 2004 for major interior renovations.