By Sarina Trangle
Dozens gathered to mark the Ridgewood Library’s 85th anniversary Monday and toast decades more of page turning in the oldest city-funded branch in the borough.
Maryellen Borello, president of the Friends of Ridgewood Library, prepared several posters showcasing the 20-12 Madison St. library’s evolution, from a mobile literary venture to a storefront to the current multi-story brick building.
“The library was started because the community got involved and went to the mayor and went to the Board of Alderman, which is basically what the City Council is today,” Borello said. “And the same thing happened with the Friends. The Friends came into being to increase service back to six days a week.”
She said the Ridgewood library began in 1910 when merchants voluntarily hosted it by offering up a shelf or two and a space for a librarian to sit and check out material. High demand ushered in a chartered storefront branch near Seneca and Greene avenues, Borello said.
The limited circulation could not contend with Ridgewood’s voracious readers. They formed a committee and began petitioning the mayor and Board of Alderman for a permanent library branch, which the city financed and opened Oct. 15, 1929. Borello said it was the first library in Queens not built with money from the industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
Paul Kerzner, also a member of the Friends group that advocates for the Ridgewood branch, said he was surprised to learn demand was so high that the branch required the construction of an annex about 15 years later.
“It almost doubled in size in 15 years. And when they built the extension, it matched the exterior almost perfectly. Most people can’t tell the difference,” he said.
The branch underwent a few renovations over the years. And in the ‘70s the city’s financial hardships led to slashed library budgets and far fewer hours in Ridgewood.
Borello said the Friends initiative began in the ‘90s by patrons determined to revive the branch’s six-day-a-week schedule. They ultimately succeeded and continued clamoring for city support.
“We’re always advocating for enough money for materials,” Borello said. “The budget was very small this year.”
Kerzner said he was thrilled to see more than 70 attendees pack into the branch he has used for six decades.
“Ridgewood has always been an immigrant community. When I was a kid, kids were speaking German and Italian… and now it’s Polish, Romanian and Spanish,” he said. “But they’re still reading English books and becoming Americanized very quickly. That’s the great melting pot story.”
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.