Washington Heights branch library reopens

Haitian-born Michele Garoute Michel eyed the brand new renovated Washington Heights branch of the New York Public Library with beaming approval. She lives just down the street from this five-floor boxy red brick building at St. Nicholas and 160th St. that was a community resource when she was raising her two sons, now grown.

“I used to take my children here, a lot, when they were little. It was rundown and dark, really dark,” she commented. “Now, it’s so bright with the light from the windows. It’s inviting.”

While attending the reopening festivities, Michel spotted some of the new technology accessible in the library,

The branch now has 25 personal computers, 16 laptops, and 24 Macintosh computers available to the public. “It’s up to date for the current lifestyle, the 21st Century,” she observed. “It’s good for the kids, access to the internet, the superhighway, with information at their fingertips.”

Looking at the filled new bookcases in the children’s section, she added, “And, they have the option with books, too.”

The children’s section occupies the building’s entire second floor–3,300 square feet–the third largest children’s section in the entire library system.

“I’ve been living in this neighborhood for over 25 years. This is so good for the children,” Michel said.

Computers and books are equally available for adults. One 50+ year-old, a Washington Heights resident originally from Cote D’Ivoire, attended the reopening. “I use library computers in looking for a job,” she said, commenting how she would like to learn more on their use.

The Washington Heights branch joined the NYPL in 1901 and moved into the St. Nicholas building designed by Carrere and Hastings, 100 years ago.

Closed four years for renovation, at a cost of more than 12 million dollars, the branch has expanded public space and has better accessibility for patrons including an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) elevator connecting public access floors and an outdoor ramp.

During the formal presentation, Borough President Gale Brewer said, “The fact of the matter is, when you have this kind of light, no matter where you live or where you go to school, you want to come to the library.” Brewer has always been interested in technology and expressed the need for increasing Wi-Fi access in the neighborhood.

An excited Robert Jackson, former City Councilman whose district included parts of Washington Heights, read from Dr. Seuss’s “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut” to children from nearby schools who were attending the festivities. A chorus from P.S. 4, which is across the street, entertained and the children from the school’s Honor Society read personal testimonials why the library is so important.

Public education advocate City Councilman Ydandis Rodriguez, representing parts of Washington Heights, particularly addressed the school children present. Paraphrasing the new mayor, he said, “We need to work hard for everyone to be a success.” Rodriguez suggested this jewel of a neighborhood library can help produce a president or another Sotomayer (Supreme Court Justice).

As he thanked the community for patience while the library was under construction, NYPL President Tony Marx underscored his happiness, “I am proud to present them with their beautiful library, equipped to support the community for years to come.” He also made sure to thank the librarians.

Finishing the formalities, PS 4 children joined neighbors and politicians to help in the ribbon cutting. Then, all visitors were invited to partake of the birthday cake celebrating the library’s 100th birthday (Feb. 26.)

The NYPL system has 92 locations in Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island. (Brooklyn and Queens are separate systems.) The library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming, and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars. Record numbers make use of the expanded options for patrons.