03 OCTOBER 2017 / Seven Outstanding NYC Library Branches Awarded the “Oscars of Libraries”

The winners of the annual “Oscars of Libraries” have been selected! New York City’s most exceptional library branches were awarded top honors and a $20,000 prize at the fourth annual NYC Neighborhood Library Awards, held on Monday October 2nd, at Hearst Tower.

The awards, an initiative of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the Charles H. Revson Foundation, honor libraries for being irreplaceable pillars of their communities, offering a welcoming and safe environment, and free programs and services – all while on a tight budget. This year’s winners are: Allerton (The Bronx), New Utrecht (Brooklyn), Chatham Square (Manhattan), Lefferts and Woodside (Queens).

“It is an honor to recognize and celebrate our City’s phenomenal libraries for their vital contributions to the communities they serve,” said Julie Sandorf, President of the Charles H. Revson Foundation. “For millions of patrons – including the most vulnerable among us – libraries are their second homes, offering a place of refuge, opportunities to learn and a safe haven for all.” 

“Year after year, our libraries continue to be remarkable institutions and pillars of their communities offering crucial services and programming to all,” said Sarah Needham of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. “We are excited to congratulate this year’s winning branches whose work has truly impacted countless New Yorkers in all five boroughs.”  

During the ceremony, a short documentary by filmmakers Julie Dressner and Craig Marsden highlighted the incredible ways in which these libraries have uplifted New York City’s immigrant communities. From a first-generation American who attributes his enrollment in the Macaulay Honors College to his childhood Queens library, to a young woman who was bullied when she first immigrated to the U.S. but found a community of friends through the library, the film underscores the central role public libraries play in welcoming, educating, and improving the lives of the immigrants who come to New York for a better life. 

An additional short documentary focused on Heckscher Prize for Outstanding Service to Children and Youth winner, Grand Concourse, for their dedication and commitment to serving children and youth, like the young boy who is able to easily video chat with his uncle currently serving in Rikers. 

Watch the documentaries here. 

The winning libraries – and an excerpt from the nominations for each – follow:

Allerton Library (Allerton, Bronx) – One teen wrote about BridgeUp, an afterschool program for high school students: “For once I felt a part of something … the library has helped me find myself with well-thought out activities and programs.”

Chatham Square Library (Chinatown, Manhattan) – Teri, an immigrant and former neighborhood resident stated: “This is the library I have been going to since I was 10 years old as a new immigrant without knowing any English. At first, it was a resource center for Chinese language books, newspaper and magazines for me and my family. Now, I am a parent with 2 young children and I have come full circle to return to this library to get Chinese books to teach my kids Chinese language. Without this library, I wouldn't have retained my Chinese language, nor improved my English.” 

Queens Library at Lefferts (Richmond Hill, Queens) – A neighborhood patron shared: “For 20 years I have been coming to this library. I feel safe here, and with Unchained [LGBTQ] support meetings I now have a safe space to be myself.

New Utrecht Library (New Utrecht, Brooklyn) – Library volunteer, neighborhood resident, parent and retiree Sonia stated: “In keeping with the times, our library has skillfully adapted to the change in demographics by modifying and adding events, classes and programs to embrace our new residents. The New Utrecht Library has provided an educational and welcoming space for cultural exchanges. New Utrecht Library has truly brought our diversified community together as one.”

Queens Library at Woodside (Woodside, Queens) – Bob, a neighborhood patron stated: "One day I saw a patron in a wheelchair in tears because the elevator was out of order and she couldn't get to the second floor to attend the Korean Class. When the staff found this out, they immediately discussed it with the Korean teacher and suggested to move the class to the ground floor so the person in a wheelchair could attend the class. It shows that the staff there really care for their patrons.”

This year, two new awards were announced. The Perennial Excellence Award was presented to Aguilar, Sheepshead Bay and Stapleton for their consistently stellar services year after year, as was reflected in the high volume of nominations these branches received during each awards season. The Bronx Library Center took home the Award for Distinction in Service, honoring a regional branch for their excellent work and deserved recognition. Lastly, the Grand Concourse Library received the Heckscher Prize for Outstanding Service to Children and Youth from the Heckscher Foundation for Children, which recognizes an outstanding library that has proven its commitment to this City’s youth through special programs, classes, and events.

“Our city’s libraries play a major role in fostering literacy, especially among children who are most in need of supplementary literacy programming in their elementary school years, and in early childhood as they develop emergent and pre-reading skills,” said Peter Sloane, Chairman and CEO of The Heckscher Foundation for Children. “The Heckscher Prize for Outstanding Service to Children and Youth celebrates the many ways in which library staff dedicate their time, ideas and resources to serve our future generations through neighborhood-based children and family programming.”

The five remaining finalists received $10,000 for their remarkable service to the community. They are:

Queens Library at Bayside (Bayside, Queens)

Crown Heights Library (Crown Heights, Brooklyn)

Edenwald Library (Edenwald, Bronx)

George Bruce Library (Morningside Heights, Manhattan)

Hunts Point Library (Hunts Point, Bronx)

There were a record-breaking 24,000 nominations for the awards this year -- an increase of more than 30 percent from last year. These community nominations recognize the outstanding programming and services neighborhood branches provide in the face of serious maintenance and infrastructure challenges from chronic roof leaks to faulty air conditioners to inaccessible spaces. This year’s winnings will support each branch’s needs, ranging from new materials to additional events and innovative program expansions.

This year’s winning branches were selected by a panel of judges including acclaimed authors Francine Prose, Min Jin Lee, and Eric Klinenberg; Executive Director of the National Book Foundation Lisa Lucas; and Commissioner & CEO of Chicago Public Library Brian Bannon.

Last year’s winners have already put their winnings to good use. In Queens, Glen Oaks Library purchased furniture and sewing machines while the Arverne Library refreshed the children’s book collection, hosted a series of Zumba exercise programs and holiday workshops and purchased new test preparation books. Sunset Park Library in Brooklyn purchased art and music equipment for their children’s programming and Inwood Library in Manhattan added new charging stations, book bins, and a media cart. In the Bronx, Morrisania Library will add four new computers, a new television set for library programming, and several gaming consoles, and Jerome Park Library will purchase new seating, replace old shelving in the children’s section, and expand hands-on programming for children.

Speech by Sarah Needham, Program Officer, SNF