New Library Officially Breaks Ground

In her remarks, Lorraine Lasker, Island resident and former RICLA board member discussed the vision for the original Roosevelt Library, "a library manned by volunteers, stocked by donated books, and with a membership fee suited to a diverse community." Photo from NYPL.

New York Public Library (NYPL) and Department of Design and Construction (DDC) officials joined a group Island residents including Lorraine Lasker, a former Roosevelt Island Community Literacy Associates (RICLA) board member who spoke about the genesis of our community library, and local elected officials, including current city council member Ben Kallos and former council member Jessica Lappin, to break ground on the New York Public Library’s new Roosevelt Island Branch, located at 504 Main Street. The $7.8 million project – funded by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Member Ben Kallos and former City Council Member Jessica Lappin – will more than double library space on Roosevelt Island. The project, being managed by DDC for the Library, is projected to be completed in late 2019.

Eager Islanders and officials mingle to celebrate the groundbreaking. Photo by Gloria Herman

The Plan

The NYPL used Islanders’ responses to their presentation at a community meeting in the fall of 2014, and an online survey that followed, to help create the concept for the new space, designed by Smith-Miller & Hawkinson Architects. The contractor is XBR, Inc., headquartered in Astoria, Queens.

The project will convert the first floor of 504 Main Street into a new, energy-efficient 5,200-square-foot New York Public Library branch and will provide new accommodations for the community, unavailable in the current one-room library. A 670-square-foot community room will be used for classes during the day and adult programs in the evening. The community room can also be used as an additional reading room and will be equipped with an assistive listening system for meetings and events. A 640-square foot children’s room is also part of the plan, with glass doors and a glass partition to maintain a sense of openness inside the new facility.

Other highly rated features incorporated into the final design include a “Grab and Go Area” to quickly return checked-out items and browse new releases; a larger magazine and periodical section; and an area for displaying Island artifacts, history, and information. The library will be fully disabled- and stroller-accessible and will have a stroller parking area by the entrance. Entry will be into an open, flexible space with shelving for books, computer work stations, a reading area, a designated “teen space,” and a circulation counter.

Rendering of inside of library, courtesy of NYPL

The new branch will be fully ADA accessible, with a canopy to enhance public safety and a vestibule with automatic doors. The area surrounding the entry will be re-landscaped to include new plantings, an exterior book drop and bench seating that will also serve as a local bus stop. Support spaces will also be provided for staff, with a private area, librarian’s office, and janitor and IT closets.

Rendering of library's exterior, see vestibule and new landscaping. Courtesy of NYPL

The design meets LEED Silver standards for environmental sustainability, with new, high-efficiency HVAC and other mechanical equipment in the basement and on the roof. The library will also incorporate automated LED lighting and low flow plumbing fixtures and will make use of sustainable materials with minimal levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Community Input

The NYPL held a town hall in the fall of 2014 and followed up with online surveys to assess Islanders’ wants, needs, and desires for their new space, as part of the Library’s “Building for You” community engagement program. Christopher Platt, Vice President for Library Services, said they received 456 responses to the survey, with all but nine of the responders affirming that they use the library on a regular basis. 30% of responses came from Island parents.

At the meeting, residents were asked for their thoughts and ideas on what new programs and services are right for the Island community. Requests included space for classes and community events, assistance archiving old Island records, and copies of Island View, its former newspaper. Borough President Gale Brewer started the conversation with a reminder: “Don’t forget about the books!” she said. “That’s what a library is all about.” Lasker called for a special collection featuring the writings of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, that ultimately she was able to help establish herself, when RICLA donated its remaining funds to the Island library earlier this year, for that exact purpose, prior to closing.

Space to use for programs and community events was very important to Islanders, ranked only behind access to standard library resources, in the results of the online survey. The NYPL estimates 44% of Islanders have a library card. According to a statement issued by the NYPL, 91% of survey respondents listed access to books, information, and expert librarian help as their top priority, followed by “programs for children and teens (46%), exhibitions and lectures (40%), access to public computers and technology (39%), and spaces to research, write, study, and learn new skills (over 30%).” According to the survey, the changes that would have the most value to the community were increased access to technology and a larger children’s area, each receiving a rating of 4.1 out of 5 for importance.


The Island’s first library was founded by Herman and Dorothy Reade, a couple who moved to Westview from Forest Hills in April 1976. They obtained space from their building management. Islanders donated books and volunteer hours, and the library operated without funding for nine years. It grew in popularity until the Reades knew they would need to expand. In 1985, they approached RIOC and were given the space at 524 Main Street that the library occupies today. At the time, it was operated by Lasker’s group, RICLA, as a non-profit. NYPL picked it up as an official branch in 1997. When the Reades’ original library was in operation in the early 1980s, the Island had a population of about 5,500.

NYPL now estimates serving over 81,000 patrons here this year, according to Amy Geduldig, Manager of Public Relations. When the library moved to its Main Street location in 1985, it had an inventory of 40,000 donated books. In the last fiscal year, the Island branch circulated nearly 100,000 materials.


The Island’s elected representatives have stepped up to improve the Island library’s facilities. Former City Councilmember Jessica Lappin secured $5.7 million between 2009 and 2013. Funds were also provided by her successor, Ben Kallos, by the office of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and by the Manhattan Borough President's office. This funding allowed the Roosevelt Island branch to sign a lease for the first floor of 504 Main Street (at the south end of Roosevelt Landings) on July 1, 2013.

Library staff, including manager Carlos Chavez pose with Roosevelt Island Historical Society President Judy Berdy, courtesy of NYPL

At 5,200 square feet, the new property will be more than double the library’s size.

The expansion of the physical space is a step forward when it comes to improving the library, but the purpose of a community library extends far beyond the storage of books.

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