Red Hook neighbors fume over 2-year library closure

Red Hook neighbors are concerned by scarce alternatives available to continue regular programing for kids and seniors once the library closes for remodeling.
Photo by Ximena Del Cerro

Red Hooks bookworms are fuming over plans to close the local library branch for two years. 

Librarians and elected officials gathered with community members to discuss renovation plans for the facility, but they were met with neighbors’ dissatisfaction over the lack of alternative spaces and availability to keep the library’s regular programming going through the closure.

Construction is planned to go from March 17 to early 2025. 

Library staff have arranged to keep part of the branch’s operations on reduced schedules at different locations around the neighborhood through the first few months of the closure, but changes to the planning are expected to follow. 

Story time, which is usually held every other Friday at 11 a.m., will take place at Red Hook Initiative community center, on the corner of Hicks and West Ninth Streets. Crafts time will take place at Pioneer Works, at 159 Pioneer St. once a week. Resume and cover letter assistance sessions are set to happen at the senior center on 120 W Ninth St. 

Librarians will also visit local schools to connect with students.

A book truck, called Bookmobile, with 6,000 books and a Techmobile, five desk computers and extra laptops, will alternate every other week outside the library on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

computers inside of the Brooklyn Public Library's Techmobile
BPL’s Wi-Fi enabled Techmobile is equipped to lend laptops for use on the trucks’ outdoor tables. The space can host up to 1o people at a time to use the five desktop computers inside the air-conditioned truck. Photo by Ximena Del Cerro

“Five hours every other week is not enough in an area that has over 8,000 residents in the development alone,” said Red Hook West Homes Community President, Karen Blondel. “It’s not fair. Other sites, like Sunset Park, had brick and mortar spaces to make up for their closures. And this would not happen across Columbus Street or at Park Slope.”

The library lent 129 laptops and the same number of hotspots to its members last December, which do not have to be returned until September. 

Community members urged the BPL staff to rent spaces that could serve as temporary libraries from neighbors, while the building at 7 Wolcott St. is under construction. Photo by Ximena Del Cerro

“There are many other spaces that could be used,” said Carolina Salguero, founder and executive director of the maritime non-profit PortSide New York. “

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Council Member Alexa Avilés partially attended the meeting and were met with demands from their constituents.

“We don’t have much here in Red Hook,” said Vanessa McKnight, Red Hook Initiative leader. “We need a commitment in writing signed by the council member and the senator, guaranteeing substantial measures so that we don’t have to tell our kids they cant read.”

Other concerns from residents included the lack of street lights around the building, which could be a safety hazard as construction work begins.

Another meeting with new information regarding locals’ concerns will be held before the closing.

“This is a work in progress and we are going to have to try to make it work organically,” said Nurys Pimentel, the library’s circulation specialist who assured attendees all staff will continue to work at other branches and around the neighborhood, providing the community with services they usually get at the reading hub.

A library designed for 2025 

The Red Hook public library has undergone two reconstructions since its opening in 1915, but the space “still looks like it did in 1982,” said Pimentel, who grew up in the neighborhood.

Architects David Leven and Stella Betts, founders of Levenbetts, the firm in charge of the project, unveiled the design for the library’s new face, interiors and features.

model of the new red hook library.
There will be a 14% increase in public space inside the renovated hub, officials said. Photo by Ximena Del Cerro.

The building is aiming to be net zero emissions, equipped with solar panels that could ultimately feed the energy grid in case of an energy surplus. 

The architects stressed their vision for a stronger connection between the community and the neighborhood, for which they want pass-byers to be able to look inside and through the library from the street all the way to the garden, which will now be accessible from inside the library. Windows will open the south, west and eat walls of the building at a waist height and bookshelves will run underneath.

The entrance will be relocated to the corner of Wolcott and Dwight Street and surrounded by a curve with plants and benches instead of the fence that currently stands. There will also be an outdoor waiting area at the back of the garden.

The new structure includes a children’s room, a teens space, a multipurpose meeting room and more bathrooms. 

The entire area suffered storm damages during Hurricane Sandy and the library renovation was planned to begin in 2020, but the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the project. A water wall will surround the new space and it’s floors will be elevated to avoid future flooding. The ceilings will also gain 4 feet of height.

For more coverage of Red Hook, head to BrooklynPaper.com.