By Kohar Bayizian
When I recently stopped in at the Queens branch library in Bayside on Northern Boulevard and 215th Street, I was amazed at the transformation it had undergone in just the handful of months I hadn’t been there. There were more videos, including foreign ones, more newspapers and magazines, and more new recent paperbacks (and not just the juicy bestsellers but the serious, literary kind).
And there were lots of teenagers — at the computers, at the tables, at the classics/homework section. It was incredible and wonderful. So we’re not just at the malls and the movies — we’re in the library, too.
Residents of Queens are lucky to have such a great network of borough libraries. There are 63 branch libraries in all. Its collection — almost 10 million items — is the second largest of public libraries in the United States (I’m looking into which is the largest). Last year alone, it circulated about 17 million items (books, videos, etc.), more than any other library system in the United States, and about that same number of visits were paid to Queens libraries.
Apparently the first library in the borough was set up in — you guessed it — Flushing in 1858. It was a subscription library, which means you had to pay a small fee to borrow a book (you always read about these in 19th century novels). A quarter of a century later, it turned into a free service and in the 1890s blossomed into seven additional libraries.
In 1901, these libraries were officially organized into the Queens Borough Public Library System and were funded by the city. Even as more permanent libraries were being established, “traveling libraries” were formed to get collections into less populated parts of Queens. So things really developed steadily and quickly into what is now a very large and busy system.
Unfortunately, one of the transformations I noticed that wasn’t so progressive was the shorter time the library is open. I guess money is tight. But I remember not so long ago there was talk of trying to keep libraries open longer to give teens a safe, educational place to hang out, read and go online. Oh well.
Speaking of online, when you go to the Queens Library Web site, you read about the “2.2 million book-hungry people” who are served by the library. I’m happy to hear our borough has so many residents hungry for books.