By Marietta Briguglio, Senior Librarian, Seward Park Branch Library
A winner of the Charles H. Revson Foundation's NYC Neighborhood Libraries Award, the Seward Park Branch of The New York Public Library is one of the most beloved and heavily-used branches in New York City.
One of the sixty-five NYPL branches built through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the library opened in November 1909. The four-story brick building was designed in Renaissance Revival style by the architecture firm Babb, Cook & Welch. It stands adjacent to Seward Park, the first permanent municipal playground in the United States.
After extensive renovations, the library re-opened in 2004 with an updated technical infrastructure, new computers, and central air conditioning. Newly added ramps and an elevator bring the facility into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In its early days, the Seward Park Branch served an immigrant Jewish population. In addition to its educational function, the library offered recent immigrants a clean, well-lit, and well-ventilated space in a city of airless tenements where light and space were both at a premium. Today, the neighborhood is home to Jewish, Latin, and African American families, as well as a large, and growing, Asian population. The library serves this diverse community by providing non-circulating daily newspapers in Chinese and Spanish, as well as circulating foreign-language fiction and non-fiction collections, audio foreign language instruction materials, and popular DVDs in a variety of languages.
The Seward Park Branch is home to the one of the NYPL's most heavily circulating children's collections. Children's materials are available in English, Spanish, and Chinese. For the past five years, children have been able to attend free Math Tutoring sessions on Saturday afternoons, led by volunteer students from Stuyvesant High School. This program has been so popular with students and parents that, as of last year, it was extended to the nearby Chatham Square branch. This year, the library is hosting an After-School Enrichment Zone program, which focuses on homework help.
Our Lower East Side History Collection is unique to the branch. It includes books in Yiddish and important works of Judaica, as well as photographs documenting local history and culture from the library's opening in 1909. The library is home to the ongoing Lower East Side Heritage Film Series, which brings in an audience of film buffs from all over New York City. Curated by Sean Ferguson, the series consists of 35-mm prints from the Library's Film Collection, all with historical connection to the Lower East Side.
In 2010, the branch received a grant for the construction of a garden area in a small courtyard located on the East Broadway-side of the building. The garden area was painted, furnished, and stocked with decorative flowers and herbs. It is now open daily during fair weather - a sunny, quiet place for community members to sit quietly and enjoy lovely plants and fresh air (as well as free wi-fi). The garden's herbs are also used as part of two Young Adult STEM Programs. The first is a Teen Gardening program, for the cultivation and care of the plants. The second is Garden to Plate, in which the teens use the plants they've grown to cook, following recipes chosen by YA Librarian Anne Rouyer.
All of its services make the library an important place in the local community. Seward Park's librarians embrace their role by doing their best to educate, inspire, and strengthen its community -- one determined English language learner, one curious teen, and one joyful story time participant at a time.
Images accompanying this article were generously provided by Jonathan Blanc / NYPL.