BY BROOKE SMITH
After five years of operating without a budget and a hiring freeze, the Ridgewood library is finally able to build up to be the community center its supporters want it to be.
This past January, the library completed the last phase of the $3 million renovations that took place over six years. This was followed by a massive recruiting process, which added new faces Alicia Hasson, Tina Choi, Rebecca Rubenstin, Mary Soraghan and Samantha Small.
“For years, we had people leaving the system or retiring without being able to bring new people in. We had to provide much more with much less,” library manager Vesna Simon said. “We now have young people with new ideas from a different generation. The library has no limit now.”
All of the librarians have a game plan for what they would like to see happen in library and in their individual departments. Hasson, librarian for the teenagers, is planning to start more after-school programs for the middle school group she oversees.
“I’m hoping to start a Teen Advisory Board with one to two representatives from each grade, to tap into their ideas and create programs that will interest them,” she said.
These librarians are out to show that the library is more than just a place to take out books and can never be considered obsolete.
“The library is still a vital part of the community,” Choi said. “Although you can access these books and resources on the Internet, the library brings the community together and is accessible to everyone despite their income.”
The melting pot can be seen even as far as in the youngest library group. Soraghan, who is the librarian for infants through sixth-graders, sees many different cultural groups coming together. Since the library’s children center was renovated and more programs were added including extended Mother Goose reading time and more frequent arts and crafts, new faces have been trickling in.
“We see many Coptic Christians who have just moved here from Egypt and are getting used to the American culture. Many of these young children are even able to teach me some Arabic,” she said.
These new community members bring with them new talent. With the artists that are now emerging in Ridgewood, Rubenstein hopes to “merge the love for painting and art with the love for reading and learning.” She holds art programs like her Poetry Art Club, where the class will listen to poems, then in turn create paintings to reflect the imagery evoked by the poetry.
Take a walk into the Cyber Center with Small and you can see the role technology plays in bringing the community together. The new cyber center was the last phase in the library’s renovations. They recently moved all the computers out of the main floors among all the books to one location. This provides a quiet space to work for both readers and computer users. Funding also contributed to the new technology available to the public. The library now has accessible laptops as well as hotspots and Nexus Google Tablets that can be borrowed for up to three months for no fee. The library also provides eBooks for members, which allow them to take the library home with them.
“The library serves as a center for cultural integration,” said President of the Friends of the Ridgewood Library Thomas Dowd. He hopes the library staff will be able to better serve the new immigrant community. With many of the English as a Second Language classes the library offers, it is the first stop many of these new community members make when getting acclimated to Queens.