$9.48 M Library Opens In Long Island City
It took a long time and there were a few delays, but the Queens Borough Public Library branch at 21st Street and 38th Avenue was officially ready on Friday, June 15, and it was time to call politicians, library officials and the general public together for the grand opening ceremony.
On that day, watching the crowd growing and gathering in front of the $9.48-million building, one man standing in the doorway turned to another and asked, "Can you believe the hype?" Perhaps he thought a jaundiced view was necessary for the moment, but he also sounded a bit respectful. A few minutes later, the Approaching Storm Marching Band, teenagers in blue capes and chrome Roman helmets, marched from a side street staging area to the front of the building and went into an athletic drums-and-cymbals routine, assisted by teen girls doing energetic dance steps. When they marched away the crowd cheered, and stood to watch politicians and officials cut a red ribbon and formally open the building. All filed in slowly, proceeding to the main reading room until it was filled wall-to-wall. In the front of the room, Queens Borough Library Director Thomas W. Galante asked everyone to stand while Lauren Dawson sang the National Anthem, and that proved a second occasion for cheering. At later points in the ceremony, children from P.S. 111 (right next door to the library), P.S. 84 and P.S. 166 drew applause when their singing included "The Greatest Love of All" and "America the Beautiful". Students of the Goodwill Industries' after-school program were also enthusiastically hailed as they played African drums.
Galante introduced Borough President Helen Marshall, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan and City Councilmember Eric Gioia, then praised two public officials absent from the proceedings, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, for restoring the six-day schedule to the city's libraries. He said Quinn, who had been on schedule to attend the opening, had made restoration of the six-day schedule a top priority. At the time of the grand opening ceremony, Quinn was leading the City Council through its vote on the budget that included restoration funds. Gioia also should have been in the Council chamber instead of at the library opening, but left for the voting session only after declaring how excited he was that the library was at last open. He recounted anecdotes about how much libraries have meant to him all his life and how much they mean to countless children and adults. To Galante and the librarians in the room, he said: "You've changed lives today. I don't know how many, but you've changed them."
Others reminisced about the significance of libraries in their respective childhoods also. David J. Burney, commissioner of the city Department of Design and Construction, said that as a child in England he had heard that books were on their way out. "How wrong that was!" he averred. "They kept the teens out of the library when I was a teen- now they're all over it." Marshall, praised by Galante for pulling in $36 million for Queens libraries and $4.6 million for this one in particular, recalled going to the Tremont branch of the New York Public Library in The Bronx during her childhood days. It was a long trip, she said, regarding this new library by comparison as readily accessible to the children of today. Children in all times, she said, have had a special relationship with books. But while she would agree with Burney that books have survived, she alluded to other library services when she said, "Why have libraries survived? Because they've kept up with the times." For this one, part of keeping up with the times includes having 21 desktop and a dozen wireless laptop computers, and radio frequency identification (RFID) self-service kiosks for checking out materials without waiting in long lines.
When introduced by Galante, Nolan cited the person she called most responsible for the new library's existence: George Stamatiades, extensively involved in the Long Island City and Astoria communities and the person getting the strongest applause whenever his name was mentioned at any time during the day. Nolan said that putting a library in the neighborhood and replacing the two inadequate libraries in rented quarters in the Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses was his quest, though political figures and officials didn't always share his zeal. "Sensitivity to the community's needs is so often lacking in government," Nolan noted. Persistence prevailed, however, and Stamatiades was, fittingly, the day's final speaker. He called the library "the largest investment by New York City in this community" and forecast that the community was in for a period of positive growth "and the library will be at the root of it". His closing statement was a suggestion: "When you see a librarian, a really polite hug and kiss [are] in order."
Facts are also in order. The new library is located at 37-44 21st. St. in Long Island City. It was built by the architectural firm of Raymond Gomez & Associates and cost a total of $9.48 million, garnered by Bloomberg, Marshall, Gioia and Nolan. It is two stories high, with 7,000 square feet of program space on each floor, making it more than three times the combined size of the Queensbridge and Ravenswood libraries, which have been converted into family literacy centers. One notable section, cited by Nolan as perhaps the most important part of the building, is the adult learning center on the second floor. The center's purpose is to help adult new readers and new English speakers gain literacy and improved English proficiency. Additionally, the staff teach computer skills, foster career development and assist with health care and family issues.
Outside, the building incorporates a sculpture into its 21st Street facade. "Diagonal Sonata/Asymmetrical Inversion" is made of terra cotta slabs into which several truncated quotes, equations and lines of poetry from Dante, Einstein and the Upanishads, among other sources, have been sandblasted and etched, apparently so haphazardly that hand standing might be required to read some of them to completion, or at all. The artist, Toshio Sasaki of Japan and Park Slope, has left memorable wall reliefs in other parts of the city, such as "First Symphony of the Sea" at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island; and also designed "Inversion of Light" as an entry in the World Trade Center Memorial competition. "Diagonal Sonata/Asymmetrical Inversion" was his final work; he died of cancer on March 10. Attending the library opening was his widow, Myo Sasaki, who referred to the work as "his legacy".