Literary Landmarks: Brooklyn’s Central Library
Weekend afternoons are meant for fun. An afternoon at the library doesn’t sound like it fits into that category—but then again, the Central Library in Brooklyn isn’t just a library. It is the hub of the Brooklyn Public Library system, a building designed to look like an open book. And as any avid reader will tell you, an open book is always ripe with adventure.
Poised atop limestone stairs, the Central Library is imposing upon first glance. You have to walk up to the entrance to truly understand how grand it is. The concave entry is adorned with fifteen bronze statues of famous American literary characters and personalities, from Walt Whitman to Moby Dick. The outdoor plaza is a nice spot to sit and try to name them all, but for the more daring, the indoors awaits.
For a library, there is a distinct lack of books when you enter. Instead, the foyer holds a passport center and an idNYC center with a pair of exhibition cases. Going straight ahead will take you into the grand lobby, which houses the library’s café and information desk. In order to tame that feeling of being overwhelmed, stop by as ask one of the library volunteers for a map and recommendations! They’re more than happy to direct you to a computer lab or a specific part of the library for certain books.
The actual books are divided among the top three floors. Each section is unique and easy to navigate with the assistance of signs. Boasting views of Prospect Park and Grand Army Plaza, it is ideal both as a studying place and for a moment of solace in a busy city. There is ample seating in each section as well as in front of the library. It has been made easily accessible with elevators, escalators, and stairs. The library has vast collections of books but the Central Library in particular houses the Brooklyn Collection. Located on the second floor, it’s rich on research materials and archival documents pertaining to Brooklyn. For the newspaper enthusiasts, the collection boasts the full 1841-1955 run of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The library is also dotted with many relics that pay homage to Brooklyn and America as a whole. You never know what you might stumble across! While looking for a book on the Italian language, I came across a Reynolds’s Political Map of the United States (1856) from the Library of Congress.
The lower level of the Central Library houses the Dr. S. Stevan Dweck Cultural Center, which opened in 2007 and hosts all kinds of events from author talks to live music. In fact, my first trip to the Central Library was to hear Erik Larson talk about his newest book, Dead Wake. Since it was late at night, I didn’t get a chance to explore the upper levels but I recall thinking that it was one of the fanciest libraries I’d ever been to. It’s an incredibly modern space made for large gatherings, ideal for the host of public programs that the library boasts.
The library itself is a part of New York City history in its own right. The Central Library became a New York City Landmark in 1997 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. This year, the Brooklyn Public Library won the 2016 IMLS National Medal for Museum & Library Service—the nation’s highest honor for any library. Perhaps this is why it doesn’t feel so much like your traditional library—it’s really a central part of the community.
Fun: 4. It’s entirely possible to come here and spend a short amount of time taking in the sights and sounds. It’s also entirely possible to spend a day roaming the stacks, seeing a film screening, attending an author signing or swing dancing on the plaza. Good for tight schedules and lazy afternoons alike!
Cool Factor: 4. Take your nose out of a book and look for the cool little artifacts scattered around the halls, trip down to the art exhibits or grab a bite at the Four & Twenty Blackbirds café in the foyer!
Affordability (on a publishing salary): 5. Did I mention everything is free? FREE!
NYC Experience: 5. This is a treasured Brooklyn icon. It’s next door to the Brooklyn Botanical gardens, Brooklyn Museum and Prospect Park—on the weekends, there’s even a farmers’ market! Can’t get much more Brooklyn than the Central Library. It provides a well-needed respite from Manhattan and there’s something here for everyone.
This article was contributed by YPG member Shannon Cornelius. For more information, visit our Contributing Writers page.