Immigrant Sunset Park Library employee recognized for 22 years of service

April 30, 2019 Jaime DeJesus
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A beloved Sunset Park Library employee’s impact will live on.

On April 17, 64-year-old Indian native Kokila Frank was honored in front of family, friends, neighbors and colleagues ahead of Community Board 7’s monthly meeting when Councilmember Carlos Menchaca presented her with a proclamation for her 20-plus years of service to both the branch and the Sunset Park community.

“When people talk about the library, they talk about you,” Menchaca told Frank. “When they talk about the future of the library, they talk about you and the dedication you gave — not just as a volunteer but as someone who understood the value of what a library is.

“It’s not the four walls that make a library. It’s the people,” the pol went on, “and that spirit is going to be alive and well forever because you have instilled that expectation about this service.”

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Frank was honored to receive the award.

“I was surprised,” she said, adding that she felt “very honored” to be recognized by the City Council. “Even my family was very surprised and thrilled.”

Her husband, son, daughter-in-law, two granddaughters and sons in-law were in attendance.

Frank migrated from India to America in 1975 following her marriage. A year later, she landed a job on Wall Street at brokerage firm Oppenheimer & Co., where she worked for close to 10 years. As her family grew, she decided to leave her position.

“I was a stay-at-home mom for about 14 years,” she said. “When it was time for them to go to school, I took them to the Sunset Park Library almost every day.”

She would also bring her church family to the branch, she said. “I loved my library.”

Her passion only grew when she saw a flyer looking for volunteers in 1997.

“I asked the branch manager at the time and they all knew me because I was a regular visitor, and the branch manager asked, ‘Why don’t you work here?’” Frank explained.

And so, keeping her children in mind, she started to work part-time.

Frank turned down several offers to work at different branches to stay at the Sunset Park library, where she picked up a full-time job just two years later, in 1999.

Frank’s love for the library came from her desire to help others.

“My main thing is that I was an immigrant,” she said. “If you visit the Sunset Park Library, you can see that most of us are immigrants here.

“Early on, this was a Norwegian and Scandinavian neighborhood. Little by little, they moved out and [other ethnicities] started moving in,” Frank went on. “A lot of [the immigrants] didn’t speak much English. In my school in India, I studied English so I was so happy to help a fellow citizen here in Sunset Park with the language.”

She would often recommend books to help them, she said.

Although technology has changed the way children learn and adults consume content, Frank believes the branch will always play a special role in the lives of Sunset Park residents, especially when its refurbished building opens to the public.

“There is still importance,” she said. “Even though there is technology, not everyone has Wi-Fi, especially in this neighborhood. Some people can’t afford the internet and the library is a means where they can come [and use it]. In the old building, we had only eight computers and four for children. Now, in the interim branch, we have 36 laptops.”

There are also Wi-Fi hotspots that students can check out throughout the school year if they don’t have internet access at home.

“Even before we moved to the interim library, we were still in the top 10 branches of highest borrowing libraries,” Frank added.

The goodbye was a sad one for Frank, but one she says she is ready for.

“I wanted to retire 10 years ago, but because I love the library so much, and I love my staff, I ended up here for another 10 years,” she said. “Right now, I want to start the next phase of my life. I have two granddaughters and I want to [spend time with] them.”

Frank, who will turn 65 this September, plans to remain visitor.

“I love the library and, once the new one opens, I’ll be there every day with my grandchildren.”

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