Brooklyn Public Library celebrating 125 years

March 7, 2022 Theodore W. General
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The Brooklyn Public Library is celebrating its 125th anniversary year. It was approved on May 1, 1892, by an act of the New York State Legislature to establish and maintain a public library and reading room in the then-independent City of Brooklyn. However, it took a little longer to get it off the ground, which occurred on Nov. 30, 1896 when the Brooklyn Common Council of the City of Brooklyn passed a resolution creating it. 

The Bay Ridge branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Photo courtesy of Facebook

In 1880, in the township of New Utrecht, a group of ladies decided to start the Bay Ridge Reading Club and held their meetings at members’ homes and the elite Ridge Club. In 1888, the ladies of the Reading Club established the Bay Ridge Free Library, which was located in a first-floor room of the Bay Ridge Athenaeum on Second Avenue (now Ridge Boulevard) near 70th Street. They began advocating, fund-raising and searching for a location to build a standalone new library. Their desires were answered when E.W. Bliss, a prominent businessman and wealthy landowner, agreed to donate the funds to purchase a site on the corner of Second Avenue and 73rd Street.

In 1894, Bay Ridge and the entire Town of New Utrecht were annexed by the City of Brooklyn. Nonetheless, the new library’s cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1896 and it was completed and formally opened in December.

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The Bay Ridge Athenaeum. Photo courtesy of Bay Ridge Historical Society

In 1898, Brooklyn was no longer an independent city and now was one of New York City’s five boroughs. In 1901, the Bay Ridge Free Library, along with the Fort Hamilton Library, became part of the growing Brooklyn Public Library system.  The old Bay Ridge Library building was demolished in 1958 and a new two-story modernistic library building was built at the same site and opened on May 24, 1960.  

The present-day Brooklyn Public Library has 61 branches, with one in every neighborhood. BPL is the nation’s 16th largest public library system. Linda Johnson is the current president and CEO, and Nina Collins  at the helm of the BPL’s Board of Trustees. Locally, the chief librarians are Yvonne Zhou at the Bay Ridge branch, 7223 Ridge Blvd., and Morris Denmark at the Fort Hamilton Branch, 9424 Fourth Ave.

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