On Thursday, Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) held the grand unveiling of its remodeled central branch, with new spaces designed to give back to the community they serve. 

The central branch features five new public spaces: a Civic Commons Center, the Major Owens Welcome Center, a New and Noteworthy Section and a Business and Career center — all designed by architect Toshiko Mori.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, BPL CEO Linda Johnson thanked the community, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council members for all their help in remodeling the library after its 80-year history. 

Brooklyn Public Library Photo: Yannise Jean

“The restoration honors the past and also looks with great excitement towards the future,” Johnson said.

“This is the first of four planned phases of renovation. It’s been designed as our city recovers and continues to reckon with racism and stark economic inequities  and equality, there could not be a better time to welcome Brooklyn back to its library.”

One of the highlights of the remodel is the Major Owens Welcome Center, dedicated to the “Librarian of Congress”, the late Major Owens.

Before going on to become an accomplished congressman, Owens spent a decade working as a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. The exhibition space, which is dedicated to the Congressman’s life, features the synopsis of one of his novels, A Peacock Elite, a draft of his poems — which he called rap poems — and photos from his life. 

His sons Chris Owens, Geoffrey Owens and Millard Owens spoke highly of their father and his love of literature, and read poems he wrote about his love of books and his appreciation of the women in his life — his mother and the many librarians and teachers dedicated to spreading knowledge. 

Congressman Major Owens Photo: Supplied

“He was a champion of labor, a champion of the disability community, a champion for peace and justice and he became the rapping representative,” Owens said.

“He delivered raps and poems on the floor of Congress because of his larger mission to popular education, bringing these ideas out to the people, hence his love of libraries, the pillars of democracy,” he said, adding Owens wanted to ensure that knowledge remained in the public sphere, against trends of privatization.

As part of its initiative to bring in more librarians of color to an industry that is dominated by white women, the Brooklyn Public Library will also be launching a scholarship to diversify the librarianship.

The scholarship will enable the recipient to study for the Master’s in Librarian Science at a CUNY university with no cost to them.

“We want to ensure that our library is as diverse as the bureau we serve,” Susan Marston, a member of BPL’s board of trustees, said. “I hope that the program becomes a model for other libraries across the country and inspires similar shifts in organizations we all care about.” 

Besides supporting the libraries push towards diversity, the new spaces are designed to be accessible to all of the public with new entrances. In an area in the Civic Commons Center, staff will assist the public with passports, immigration services and IDs, and there will also be a new computer lab. 

The center branch, along with 12 branch libraries, will be open to the public on Monday, May 10th, with limited computer use. 

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Yannise Jean

Yannise Jean is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in publications like Okayplayer and Well + Good. Follow her on Twitter @yjeanwrites.

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