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Brooklyn Historical Society is now BPL’s Center for Brooklyn History

October 2, 2020 Raanan Geberer
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The Brooklyn Historical Society, a well-known Brooklyn institution since 1863, is now Brooklyn Public Library’s Center for Brooklyn History.

While plans to combine the two institutions were announced in February, the new arrangement officially went into effect on Friday. In particular, the Brooklyn Historical Society’s archives will be combined with BPL’s Brooklyn Collection, currently housed at BPL’s central branch at Grand Army Plaza.

During the next few months, teams from the two institutions will begin moving the library’s Brooklyn Collection to the Historical Society’s landmarked building at 128 Pierrepont St. in Brooklyn Heights, creating the largest collection of Brooklyn history in the world. The library system is preparing to reopen the collection in 2021, and the material will also be available digitally at all BPL branches.

Heather Malin, who previously served chief operating officer of the BHS, will serve as director of the Center for Brooklyn History. She has been with the BHS for four years, and previously worked for a variety of organizations in management, fundraising, development, strategic planning, analysis and leadership capacities.

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Deborah Schwartz, former president of the BHS, will work with the Center as a consultant during the next six months, Malin told the Eagle. In addition, Natiba Guy-Clement, who has overseen BPL’s Brooklyn Collection, will become the Center’s assistant director of collections and public service.

Heather Malin, the new director of the Center for Brooklyn History. Photo: Will Swarts

The historic Pierrepont Street building, which houses museum exhibits as well as the archives, is temporarily closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While some other New York City museums have opened, Malin explained that it “doesn’t have many large, open spaces” that could facilitate reopening at this time.

When the building is reopened, all Brooklynites will have free and open access to the collection and the building itself.

“The Center for Brooklyn History will democratize an astounding archive of our collective past, help us understand our present, and shape our city’s future,” said Brooklyn Public Library President and CEO Linda E. Johnson. “Brooklyn Historical Society’s collection will now be free and accessible to Brooklyn Public Library’s cardholders in every neighborhood across our borough.”

“Not only will the Center offer access to the most significant and inclusive collection of Brooklyn artifacts, manuscripts, materials, and oral histories, it will also draw upon the diverse voices and perspectives of Brooklynites to contribute to the many narratives that have made Brooklyn what it is today,” said former BHS President Schwartz.

Until 1985, the Brooklyn Historical Society was known as the Long Island Historical Society. The building itself dates to 1878-81 and has been described as one of the city’s historical treasures.

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  1. Trevor Harris

    This merging of unique resources makes huge sense. Kuddos to all
    concerned. And, as a side comment, wouldn’t it be thoughtful and
    informative to recognize the Othmers for their contributions to BHS.