Marking the 104th day of the year, Queens Public Library (QPL) celebrated the borough’s oldest known library card holder, 104-year-old Kenneth Neilson, on Wednesday, April 14, for his long-standing engagement with the library system — first as an educator and then as an author and local community leader.
QPL President Dennis Walcott joined Neilson’s family and friends outside the centenarian’s home in Hollis for the celebration. As part of the festivities, the QPL Mobile Library drove by, bedecked with a special banner for Neilson, as part of the bookmobile’s spring mini-tour of neighborhoods around the borough.
“Throughout his life, Kenneth Neilson has shown how one person can make an enormous difference in their community,” Walcott said. “His devotion to QPL continues to amaze me. He not only is one of our most dedicated patrons, but is also committed to fostering a love of community, of reading, of writing and of learning. He continues to enrich the lives of those around him, and for this, we celebrate him today.”
Neilson was awed by the attention, banner and balloons. However, when asked how he felt about the recognition, he focused on the role that librarians play in shaping lives.
“It’s the librarians that make the building, remember. The library is a building, but the librarians are the people who make it run,” Neilson said.
With help from his local library branch in south Hollis, Neilson authored several books which today appear on the library’s shelves; led a movement to name P.S. 134 The Langston Hughes School; and organized a neighborhood block association to force the city to clean up a derelict public space (which the association then turned into a garden).
Neilson was born in Brooklyn on Jan. 6, 1917. Raised in Brooklyn, Neilson has lived in his home in Hollis since 1953. He is the author of “The World of Walt Whitman Music” (1963), “The World of Langston Hughes Music” (1982), “The Littlest Giant” (1979), “I Love Dandelions” (2007) and “Langston Hughes” (2009).
Neilson worked as a public school teacher for 30 years, including as a primary grade teacher at P.S. 108 in Richmond Hill. An enthusiastic library user especially in his retirement years, Neilson has made countless calls and visits to staff at the information desk of his local branch in south Hollis. He has visited the library numerous times throughout the decades when doing research for a book or working on a community project. Neilson holds a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College and a master’s degree from New York University.