Despite outside appearances — including a foreboding, boarded up front door — renovations inside the are in full swing.
Much of the planned work centers on improving access, particularly for those with disabilities.
“Making [the library] even more accessible to the public,” said a library spokesman, “is part of our commitment to the community.”
The Park Slope Library, which was designated a New York Historic Landmark in 1998, started out as a small collection of books located inside the Litchfield Villa in Prospect Park. After a stint in two storefronts on Ninth Street and a generous grant from Andrew Carnegie, the library was installed in its current location in 1906 when construction was completed on a brand new building.
According to the Historic Districts Council, a non-profit that is working to establish a thematic district of Carnegie Libraries with the National and State Registry, the Park Slope Branch is one of 67 such libraries constructed throughout New York City in the early 1900s. Fifty-seven of the Carnegie Libraries remain standing today, 53 of which continue to be used as libraries.
The Park Slope Branch was designed by architect Raymond Almirall and — like many of the Carnegie Libraries — has a distinctive Classical Revival style, which, according to a report from the Landmark Preservation Commission, eschewed ostentation in favor of ornamentation limited to columns and carved entryway stone.
But despite its lovely architectural details and several previous renovations, the building was in desperate need of further modernization when it was closed for renovations in October 2009. At that time it was scheduled to remain closed for a period of two years.
From the Library’s own time-line of completed construction, the work appears to have gotten off to a somewhat slow start. Since that time, however, an interior elevator, which complies with the requirement of the Americas with Disabilities Act, has been installed, as have ADA-compliant restrooms — which will surely be a vast improvement over the spooky ones previously on offer. Excavation and concrete pouring for an ADA-compliant exterior ramp has also been completed.
Scheduled to be completed by July 2011 are the installation of new exterior and interior ADA-compliant ramps and railings, installation of new exterior doors at the main entrance, as well as an ADA-compliant door adjacent to the ramp entrance. The heating, ventilation and air-conditioning upgrades will also have commenced by that time, which should help avoid unexpected closures due to extreme weather.
That leaves new floor and interior finishes and furniture to be installed between July and October 2011. Improved lighting will also be a big focus. According to the library, the new lighting “will not only improve the light level, but also the quality. This is important, particularly in our Carnegie buildings which require a level of design detail.”
Also on the agenda are new self-checkout stations. Already in use in several Brooklyn libraries such as Highlawn, Macon and Fort Hamilton, these systems are intended to improve the efficiency of the customer experience.
All of these improvements will surely be welcomed by local library users. When they will begin enjoying them, however, remains unclear. Library officials were unable to confirm, as of this writing, whether the library will open on schedule in October 2011.
In the meantime, there’s always the bookmobile, which has been serving the Park Slope community during the Library’s renovations.
It is parked every Monday (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Wednesdays (1 p.m. to 6 p.m.) on Eighth Street near the corner of Sixth Avenue — though at least one neighborhood resident has complained of the book mobile not being there at the designated time on more than one occasion.
It may not be a Classical-Revival building with a Carnegie pedigree, but the people who staff the book mobile are terrific and there’s a small, but decent selection of books on board. Not to mention the fact that — in this age of downloads to kindles or uploads to iPhones — there really is something delightfully retro about a good, old-fashioned library on wheels.