Archives At Queens Library Celebrate Centennial
In mid-October 1911, a fund of $500 was established by the board of trustees of the Queens Borough Public Library to start a collection of books, newspapers, journals and other materials on Queens County history and genealogy. The following year, a division devoted to the collection’s continuance was founded and situated at the library’s Central Branch. This April, the centenary of that division, subsequently called the Long Island Division, and, since 2010, the Archives at Queens Library, was celebrated at the Central Library on Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica, its home since 1966.
Queens Library President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Galante opened the centennial ceremony by observing that the board of trustees realized even a century ago that change in Queens was radical, and if the county’s past was to be preserved in any material way, the preservation must begin. “For, once it’s gone, you don’t get it back,” Galante observed. The archives began to take in both momentous information and trivia, initiating the ongoing process of sorting the data into a history.
A booklet published for the Archives centennial notes that over the years, large and significant collections have been added. One of the division’s great acquisitions was the Eugene L. Armbruster Image Collection. Armbruster, an amateur historian, photographer and illustrator, lived in Brooklyn and wrote an antiquarian column for the Daily Eagle. He began in 1920 to take photographs and make sketches of neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens and the rest of Long Island, believing that much of what he illustrated would soon be torn down and replaced; and much was. The Armbruster Collection has nearly 7,000 of his documents, which are a broad display of these places, many of them lost.
The Archives has also weathered some dark times. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, when only two librarians and a curator could be employed to keep the division going, the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration was able to supply two typists and a senior research assistant. “During its years with the division,” the booklet says, “the WPA Project staff transcribed church histories, cemetery inscriptions and primary documents, such as the Records of Jamaica Village and Historical Collections of the Borough of Queens. In all, WPA staff completed a total of 125 volumes.”
Galante introduced the current chief archivist, Judith Todman, who said she has been in that position for 14 years. She introduced James Driscoll, vice president of the Queens Historical Society and formerly the archives’ digital manager. She then introduced her immediate predecessor, Charles Young, manager of the archives when it was known as the Long Island Division and housed on the Central Library’s first floor. Young brought the collection up to the second floor in 1994, where it is now. For years afterward the first floor contained a gallery, the site of many exhibitions, but recently, Galante said, it has been gutted and renovated.
Galante had some general library news. He praised Queens Borough President Helen Marshall for thus far bringing in $110 million for the Queens Library’s many branches. A new library branch is going up in the Rockaways at a cost of $22 million; new branches are also projected for Elmhurst and Long Island City. He introduced Councilmember Leroy Comrie, who was instrumental in getting funds for construction of the new Children’s Discovery Center at the Central Library. Comrie is a sturdy advocate of libraries, but said he believes that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is not. He described Bloomberg’s purported attitude toward possible cuts in library funding as “just mean”.