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Brooklyn Public Library: an Open Book

Sep 26, 2013 1:58 PM | 0 comments

As we've recorded in the webpages of this blog before, the Brooklyn Collection serves as the defacto institutional archive for the Brooklyn Public Library.  We keep the annual reports, the retired library cards, the book plates, the program flyers, and all the other flotsam and jetsam one would expect to be generated by the fifth-largest library system in the United States, serving a population of over 2.5 million Brooklynites.  It is not often that these materials see the light of day, so we are very pleased to announce a new building-wide exhibit at the Central Library -- Brooklyn Public Library: An Open Book -- curated by the Brooklyn Collection and featuring ephemera, photographs, newspaper clippings, and blueprints documenting the history of this beautiful Art Deco monument to learning at Grand Army Plaza.


Wait, what?  That's not the Central Library, is it?  No, not exactly.  Above is a rendering of the original plan for the library, designed by the architect Raymond F. Almirall in the Beaux-Arts style that was popular at the turn of the century.  Construction on this library began in 1912 but came to a halt in 1919, leaving a gaping hole in the ground and one lone wing along Flatbush Avenue. 

The lone wing stayed in this purgatorial condition for nearly 30 years as various campaigns to raise funds to finish the library came and went.  By the time the project was finally rejuvenated in the late 1930s, the modernist aesthetic had taken hold in America, rendering the previous design woefully outdated.  The architects Alfred Morton Githens and Francis Keally were hired for the redesign, which incorporated the pre-existing wing into a new blueprint for the building -- one based on an "open book" motif.

More than the just a history of the building itself, the exhibit also includes artifacts of the daily life within the Central Library -- the aforementioned program fliers, book lists, and staff memos that record the rigors, joys, and value of librarianship through the 20th century.


In the Brooklyn Collection display cases, we feature candid and professional photographs of library staff members who have worked at Central through the years.  Many of the departments and staff members depicted here -- like the audiovisual squad, the micromaterials division, and the scores of catalogers -- are no longer a part of the Central Library.  As technologies, services and priorities change within the institution, staff are relocated, new skills are learned, and whole departments vanish.  We are lucky to have in our archives these images of Central life as it was lived in years past.

This exhibit has also afforded us the new and exciting opportunity to collaborate with Brooklyn Public Library's first Artist-in-Residence, Elizabeth Felicella.  An architectural photographer, Felicella has already built up an impressive catalog of library images in her project to photograph all of the branch libraries in the five boroughs of New York.  For this exhibit, she has turned her camera upon the more intimate spaces within the library -- the hidden nooks of the stacks, the behind-the-scenes corners of the archives, and above all else the overlooked beauty of library that lies within plain view for those with the eye and the patience to find it.  On Wednesday, October 30th, at 7:00pm we will host Ms. Felicella in the Brooklyn Collection for a reception and a conversation about her work with libraries and in our archives. 

Photo by Elizabeth Felicella, 2013.

There is, of course, much more to see in the exhibit than we can present here, and we encourage you to visit the Central Library in person to view the exhibit in its entirety.  For those who can't visit, we will be posting blogs through the next few months highlighting different subplots in the history of the Central Library, so stay tuned.

Fall Educator Programs

Sep 17, 2013 11:57 AM | 0 comments

We are pleased to announce two FREE educator programs for the fall.  The events are open to all teachers and educators from across the city and offer a unique opportunity to tour and explore the Brooklyn Collection.  Both events will take place in the Brooklyn Collection, 2nd Floor, Central Library.

Please join us for our Open Educator House on October 2, 4pm-6pm.  Tour our facilities, including the Brooklyn Daily Eagle "morgue" and other restricted areas.  View thousands of primary sources that are available to you and your students.  Access our digital collections, learn about class visits and the Brooklyn Connections program.  Take home a free copy of our teacher resource, Projects at the Brooklyn Collection: A Teacher Guide as well as some other resources you can use in your classroom.  Refreshments will be provided.  RSVP is required: call 718-230-2706 or email us at

Teacher and students in a classroom at Girls High School, Brooklyn Eagle, ca. 1960

On December 9, 9am-3pm the Brooklyn Collection is hosting a teacher professional development--Doing History: Connecting Teachers to Local History.  Meet historian and former English Professor John Manbeck (author of The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Chronicles of Historic Brooklyn) and work with our original archival documents, practice using our materials to fulfill Common Core State Standards, and develop new methods for increasing student engagement using Brooklyn's history.  Teachers will gain the confidence and knowledge they need to use original primary sources in new ways.  The session will focus on Brooklyn, but educators from across NYC are welcome.  Participants will receive a packet of resources and breakfast and lunch will be provided.  RSVP is required: call 718-230-2706 or email us at

Brooklyn Eagle, 1951.

SAVE THE DATE:  Brooklyn and the Civil Rights Movement--May 15, 2014Dr. Brian Purnell (author of Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality) will once again join us and lead a discussion about the efforts of Brooklyn CORE, which included protests, community clean-ups, fasts, a stall-in and more. 

Civil Rights Professional Development, January 2013

For more information about Brooklyn Connections or the fall events, please go to the Brooklyn Connections teacher page

Brooklyn's Vitagraph Studios: an author talk with Trav S.D., Wednesday, September 25th, 7pm

Sep 13, 2013 11:52 AM | 1 comment

The Brooklyn Collection will kick off its fall season of lectures with a look at Brooklyn's contribution to film history.  In the early years of cinema, Brooklyn (Midwood, to be specific) was one of America’s great film production centers thanks to the early establishment there of Vitagraph Studios by J. Stuart Blackton in 1907.

Above, a 1913 image of a fashion shoot at Vitagraph Studios.

Brooklyn writer Trav S.D. (Travis Stewart), author of the new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, will talk about the central role the studio played in the early industry in the early decades of the twentieth century, aided by historic photographs and film clips like the one below.

A wine and cheese reception, as well as distribution of tickets, is at 6:30 p.m. The Brooklyn Collection is located on the 2nd floor balcony of the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza. Seating is limited to 40.