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Happy Birthday, Central Library!

Feb 3, 2010 4:08 PM | 2 comments

Central Library turned sixty-nine years old this week.

Entrance Hall and Empty Exhibit Cases, 1941

Circulation Hall, 1941.  No desks in yet.

Children's Room, 1941 (look familiar?)

In February 1941, thirty-four years after breaking ground on the original proposal, Central Library was ready to receive patrons.  A small ceremony with Borough President John Cashmore and other local dignitaries was held on January 31st in the new children's room (the Eagle called it "the mecca of juvenile readers").  At 2pm on February 1st, the doors of Central Library were opened for the public - without any ceremony or event.  According to the Eagle, "schoolboy" Raphael Kermish of 951 Carroll Street was the first member of the general public to pass through the grand entrance. 

The building that young Ralph toured (circulation and services did not begin until the following Monday, Feb. 3rd), was slightly different from today's Central.  For a start, services for the public were concentrated on the first floor.  All of the adult divisions shared the space that is currently used for Language and Literature.  The Young Adult and Children's services were in the same places as today, but the Children's room was separated from the rest of the building by a set of high bookshelves and it was only accessible from a separate entrance.  The third floor was used for administrative purposes, and the second floor and balcony were still unfinished (they would open eleven years later in 1952). 

Image from Brooklyn Public Library, Ingersoll Memorial, 1942

During Central's first week of operation, only the circulation area and children's room were available to the public.  It would take a few weeks before the Young Adult room, designated for high school students, and the main reading room would be ready.  One impatient patron wrote an editorial to the New York Times complaining about the lack of high school services -- but they were on their way. 

Perhaps that disgruntled teenager would have been more sympathetic if he had seen these behind-the-scenes photos of Central's first days.  The 150-person staff worked tirelessly to transform the beautiful $5 million dollar structure into a functioning library.  I wonder if that shiny new copy of Sherlock Holmes is still available for check out:

Mayor LaGuardia takes Tour

A formal ceremony was eventually held on March 29 of that year.  Mayor Laguardia, who had already taken tours during the construction phase, was on hand to officially inspect the new building.  But by that point the ceremonies were just a formality.  Central Library had been in operation for two months, serving the great Brooklyn population with pride.  


2/5/2010 6:18:20 PM #

love it!!!!!!!


2/5/2010 8:18:24 PM #

When I was a kid, I attended P.S.39 on 6th Ave. and 8th St. in Park Slope.  I was a proud member of the school chorus, and I remember singing in the main lobby of the Central Library on a special occasion.  I think it must have been the library's 50th birthday, in 1991!

Liz B.