Empty Shelves: The Void a Closed Library Leaves Behind

Empty Shelves: The Void a Closed Library Leaves Behind

They say you don’t miss your water until the well runs dry. Like most community staples, people tend to take good things for granted. In Windsor Terrace lately, that includes the local library. For the next twelve months, it seems, residents will have to adjust to a library-less neighborhood that’s a little less colorful, a little less imaginative, and a lot less connected.

The library, which closed in February for extensive renovations, is not expected to reopen for at least another year. The closure has created a palpable sense of loss for local patrons who relied on the central hub for its many programs for residents from all walks of life, including book clubs, exercise classes, robotics workshops, and a gardening club.

That last club is the one most missed by Susan Braverman, a Horticultural Therapist and licensed mental health counselor who ran the library’s gardening program. “It was something that we loved doing and the neighborhood loved,” said Braverman, She described the ways the library’s garden served as a central fixture for the community, providing vegetables that they shared with neighbors and families.

But now, she says, it’s “all gone to weeds.” The garden is one of the many programs once offered by Windsor Terrace Library that remains indefinitely suspended during the closure.

The branch also served as a destination for local artists, showcasing a unique art collection that mirrored the neighborhood’s vibrant community. Ms. Braverman’s husband, Alan, is one local artist who featured his paintings at one of the library’s art exhibitions in 2015. He showed off pictures of his watercolor portraits as he reminisced on the event.

For Alan Braverman, the library’s vibrant center also served as a source of inspiration for his art. “I loved going,” he said as he described the days where he would bring his sketch pad and capture the many characters he would come across.

For its part, the Brooklyn Public Library coordinated with the community prior to the closure to discuss residents’ needs and how they could best accommodate them during the hiatus. “The library works really, really hard to make sure that we can continue services to the best of our ability while the branch has to be closed,” explained Fritzi Bodenheimer, the library’s press officer.

In January, Mike Fieni, Brooklyn Public Library’s Director of Community Engagement, met with residents to discuss the community’s needs and how they could best be met in the absence of a physical building. As Fieni pointed out, Windsor Terrace is a “pretty close-knit community,” so it makes sense that a community effort was a key force behind the continued service of essential programs, like children’s storytime and the seniors’ exercise class.

Once they were approached by Brooklyn Public Library, local organizations stepped up, including the Jewish Community Center, which volunteered to host the popular Babies and Books program once a week. Despite the change in venue, Windsor Terrace parents are still making use of the program, with 10 to 20 families gathering for storytime with their local librarian every week. The program has been going strong since April and even though the library’s reopen date is still unclear, the community center’s Site Director, Ilona Zeltzer, says the center will be happy to accommodate.

The Bookmobile delivers holds and browsing selections to Windsor Terrace residents twice per week. | Photo by Janmaris Perez for The Brooklyn Ink

Continuing patrons’ access to book holds, however, proved more challenging. Library representatives recognized that this was an important service that many Windsor Terrace patrons depend on. This need was brought up at the community meeting and the library staff came up with the idea of using the borough’s library on wheels, called the Bookmobile, to work as a hold delivery service.

So while at most libraries, you might be scolded to keep your voice down, at the Bookmobile, you’ll likely need to raise your voice over the sound of the engine as you ask a librarian for one of the many holds they deliver to Windsor Terrace patrons.

Young Adult Librarian Mel Henkle, 66, is one of several Windsor Terrace Librarians who take shifts on the visiting Bookmobile. | Photo by Janmaris Perez for The Brooklyn Ink

“The kids get a kick out of it,” said Clerical Aide Ruthanne Auerbach. While it gives bookworms a chance to still access their favorite reads and catch up with their former Windsor Terrace librarians (who rotate their mobile shifts), the Bookmobile model is in no way perfect. Patrons can only access the Bookmobile twice per week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays when it parks in front of the closed library building on East Fifth Street. “The hours are incredibly limited and inconvenient for working people,” wrote one patron on the branch’s Facebook page.

Inconveniences like these are part of the price we pay to keep our libraries running year-round, said Bodenheimer. Branches like the one in Windsor Terrace, which opened in 1969, “are open six and seven days a week, from first thing in the morning until late in the evening. They have a lot of natural wear and tear,” she said.

Bodenheimer says the ongoing renovations, which include an HVAC replacement and electrical upgrades, will ensure patrons can enjoy the library for years to come. “We want to be able to keep the library open for another 50 years.”

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