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Public libraries can fill the bookstore void

A well-funded national endowment could not only help

A well-funded national endowment could not only help upgrade libraries but also encourage Americans of all ages to make better and more frequent use of them. Photo Credit: iStock

In a huge boost to city residents, families and schoolchildren, Queens library branches will once again be open six days a week starting next month -- after a decade when most were shuttered on the weekends.

That's especially important at a time when the borough's familiar chain bookstores continue to close their doors. Barnes & Noble's recent decision to close its Forest Hills and Bayside stores, the last of its franchises in Queens, led families to lament the loss of more than just bookstores. Each also was a community gathering place, and a spot for story times, activities, get-togethers and opportunities to read together.

The closing of chain bookstores isn't new; many independents have shut down, too. Both have been victims to online sales. There are still some great bookshops around. But the consistent alternative spot where New Yorkers can go to read, learn and gather is clearly the library.

Libraries always have been critical resources. For-profit bookstores upstaged them with creature comforts and a cachet as gathering places. Now, the local library branch can once again become a dynamic neighborhood centerpiece where children, teens, and adults go first.

The city must do its part, too. Its last library operating budget was $26 million short of the libraries' ask. That funding must be restored next year so branches can do even more. Add more capital dollars for much-needed expansions and renovations, too.

The libraries must become more welcoming for all and build on what they've started. The central library in Brooklyn houses a Four & Twenty Blackbirds cafe and the Queens Central Library in Jamaica plans to open its own cafe. If done right, creative changes could spread to smaller branches, perhaps with coffee cart set-ups or other innovative, communal concepts. They'd be revenue generators and would encourage patrons to stay. Some libraries have opened spaces for teens. Those efforts should spread.

Add comfy chairs, areas where tweens and teens can gather and gab (more than the typical quiet rules allow), and, most important, more books and other media, and you've got an old gathering place made new.


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