Queens Public Library marks 125th anniversary with time capsule burial

Queens Public Library, elected officials, and P.S. 171 students bury time capsule at Astoria branch
P.S. 171 students Tasniha Islam and Willian Lema, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, and Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott bury the time capsule outside the Astoria library. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

In celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Queens Public Library (QPL), Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer joined QPL President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott, staff and P.S. 171 students for the burial of a time capsule at the Astoria branch on June 7.

The time capsule, which will be unearthed and opened in 2046, contains a laminated letter from Dennis M. Walcott along with handwritten messages from Richards and Van Bramer, letters from P.S. 171 students, a QPL mask as a reminder of the COVID-19 pandemic, a QPL lapel pin, a historic photo of the Astoria library signed by its staff, blueprints of the construction project and a laminated invitation to the 125th anniversary gala.

It also contains a USB flash drive with a welcome message from QPL President Walcott and videos about the library’s history, as well as events and programs the library posted during the pandemic.

Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott delivers remarks before the time capsule burial at the Astoria library. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Walcott gave a quick history lesson at the event. He pointed out that the current Astoria library building, located at 14-01 Astoria Blvd., was built in 1904 and was one of the four remaining Carnegie libraries funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

The lifelong Queens resident said he took great pride in the Queens Public Library system and was excited to celebrate the 125th anniversary with a time capsule burial.

“It’s really just commemorating the history of the library and also planning for the future of the library. But most importantly, it’s for the people who will open up the time capsule in the future,” Walcott said.

P.S. 171 students Tasniha Islam and Willian Lema with their principal Lisa Stone at the time capsule burial at the Astoria public library. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Richards — who paused to quickly do the math and realized that he would be 63 years old in 2046 — thanked QPL for helping Queens residents overcome the isolation many experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic with virtual programs and books.

“Books and libraries certainly helped our students escape, kept them up to date with school and, more importantly, made us feel less alone,” said Richards, before addressing the students from P.S. 171, who he said were tasked with a great responsibility.

Queens Borough President Richards delivers remarks before the time capsule burial at the Astoria library. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“You will be able to send a message that you persevered after a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and that we did not just go back to normal, but to a new normal,” Richards said. “A new normal where we have learned to respect each other in messages told in books from the beginning of time.”

Van Bramer, who serves as the chair of the City Council’s Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations Committee, admitted that he gets emotional at events like the time capsule.

The council member, who served as the Chief External Affairs Officer of the QPL from 1999 to 2009, gave a shout-out to the entire staff, especially the custodial staff “who sweep and clean and mop and take out the garbage, because I was raised by a janitor, and I know how important all workers are.”

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer delivers remarks before the time capsule burial at the Astoria public library. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Van Bramer, who is also running for Queens borough president in the June primaries, recalled when he received his first library card at the Broadway branch, making him feel like an adult because he had a card with his name on it.

“I don’t know what that children’s librarian thought what I would become because I was pretty quiet when I was that age. But I was reading, which is the most important thing, and I was learning, and I was growing,” Van Bramer said. “So I want to thank all of those folks who helped to make me what I am today.”

Tasniha Islam and Willian Lema, the fifth-grade salutatorians from P.S. 171 in Astoria, read the letters they wrote for the time capsule.

Islam’s letter described life during the COVID-19 pandemic and how she imagines life will be in 2046. The fifth-grader, who plans on becoming an astronomer and author, expressed that she was concerned about global warming, rising sea levels and envisions that by 2046 humans will have evacuated Earth and live on Mars.

P.S. 171 student Tasniha Islam reads her letter before it is added to the time capsule. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

She also thinks that technology will advance further — Apple will have introduced the iPhone 46, cars can float on water, and a huge city will be built underground, for instance.

Lema, who sees himself as a businessman driving a Tesla and supporting his family and the poor in 2046, hopes that cancer will be eradicated and believes robots will accomplish all household chores.

P.S. 171 student Willian Lema reads his letter before it is added to the time capsule. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Richards and Van Bramer read the letters of two more students, who also hoped scientists found a cure for cancer and that robots would be popular.

Sharing the letter of one of the students, Richards read, “Robots are very popular amongst this generation. They could help humanity. For example, they can clean oceans from pollution, and robots would be able to do anything and even help you out, like to take your dog outside or even deliver things.”

Amused, Richards added, “This generation doesn’t want to do anything.”

Queens Borough President Richards presents QPL President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott with the proclamation commemorating QPL’s 125th anniversary. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)
The time capsule and the items it will hold before it is buried at the Astoria library. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Before the burial of the time capsule, Richards declared June 7 as Queens Public Library Day and presented a proclamation commemorating the nation’s second-largest library system — with 66 locations throughout Queens — serving the country’s most ethnically and culturally diverse area.

Walcott also announced that more events celebrating 125 years of instilling a love for reading are in the works.