Vol. 12, No. 19 October 7 - 20, 1999



     
 

Community Fights Library Closing
Woodlawn Temporary Space Plan Has Locals Demanding Same

By JORDAN MOSS

Furious over the short notice given by New York Public Library (NYPL) officials that the Mosholu branch would be closed for eight months during its renovation, and resentful that alternative space is being found for the Woodlawn branch while it undergoes similar work, community leaders are demanding that a temporary Norwood site be acquired.

"We're not prepared to have our children give up an academic year with no library, and we want some kind of alternative space, and that should have been discussed months and months and months ago," said Don Bluestone, executive director of the Mosholu Montefiore Community Center and a member of Community Board 7.

While shuttle bus service is being provided three days a week to the Fordham branch, Bluestone said that was not good enough. "Busing children to the Fordham branch is not acceptable to the children of this community."

Councilwoman June Eisland said she has identified "convenient and accessible space," for a temporary location and was pressing the matter with top library officials. "I've been pushing like crazy," Eisland said.

The Mosholu branch closed its doors on Sept. 23, with only about two weeks prior notice given to patrons. However, Woodlawn residents have known for months that their branch was slated for renovation beginning in November, according to Connie Reilly, president of the Woodlawn Taxpayers Association, and the NYPL is in the process of identifying an alternative location. Architectural drawings for the renovation, which is expected to take one year, were even displayed at the branch, Reilly said.

Mary Elizabeth Wendt, an NYPL official in the Bronx, gave several reasons for the apparent double standard. First of all, library officials originally thought the work at Mosholu was going to be completed over a much shorter time period time until they got word from the city's Department of Design and Construction, the agency overseeing the project, that it would take several months. Wendt cited poor communication between DDC and the NYPL. "There is a communication problem and I think the community has every right to be upset," Wendt said, "but since the construction is coordinated through DDC, we don't have control. And if they don't give us information, we don't know about it." She added that the NYPL "hadn't made contingency plans because we didn't know it was going to be that long a project."

In addition to the lack of information from DDC, Wendt conceded that because there are currently a large number of library renovation projects underway in the Bronx, she may have not monitored the situation closely enough. "I probably did not catch on exactly what the scope of Mosholu was either."

Even if the lines of communication were flowing properly, Wendt said that an alternate location for Mosholu may have not been in the cards. She cited other Bronx library rehabilitation projects, some of which involved temporary locations and others that didn't, usually depending upon the length of the work. Citing another reason more comprehensive contingency plans were made in Woodlawn, which lies just to the north of Woodlawn Cemetery, Wendt said Woodlawn is not as accessible to other locations by public transportation.

Wendt confirmed that her office is investigating alternative locations in response to the community's protest and is consulting with Eisland on the matter.

Meanwhile, community residents are keeping up the pressure. At press time, Wendt was scheduled to attend a meeting of the Bedford Mosholu Community Association on Wednesday, October 6.


Two Libraries at a Glance

The Woodlawn branch of the New York Public Library occupies a storefront on Katonah Avenue, while Mosholu is a full-size branch on East 205th Street in Norwood. According to Mary Elizabeth Wendt, an associate director in the NYPL's Bronx office, in Fiscal Year 1998 (which ran from July 1, 1997 to June 30, 1998) circulation (number of books taken out) at Mosholu was 103,137; at Woodlawn it was 61,583. Mosholu staff answered approximately 45,344 reference questions during that same period and Woodlawn librarians responded to 41,054 patron queries. At Mosholu, 169,444 people came through the doors during FY 1998. In Woodlawn, 131,047 people visited the library.

Mosholu will be getting a book detection system, a new elevator, and a community room upgrade. It will also undergo facade work and receive new windows and doors.

The Mosholu renovation will cost over $460,000. The Woodlawn work, which Wendt said would involve a "renovation of the whole library space," will cost more than that, though Wendt did not have the exact figure immediately available.

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