Chinatown receives long-awaited public library

Chinatown receives long-awaited public library
The new library is in a temporary location at 2 Boylston St., but a new permanent location is planned. / Photo by Emma Rapp

By Cole Albert, news correspondent

The Boston Public Library’s Chinatown branch is only one week old, but it has already become a center for the community. Opening day had been a long time coming for residents, who have not had a library since the original building on Tyler Street was torn down more than 60 years ago.

Allen Knight, head librarian for the branch, is ecstatic about the reaction thus far.

“Everyone’s extremely happy to have a library in Chinatown,” Knight said. “They look at this place as a hub of the community, where they can bring and leave information.”

Mid-morning Wednesday, there were eight people reading in the library and three employees on duty. Community member Natasha Bailey said the new library is an important addition to the neighborhood.

“It’s going to help the community a lot,” Bailey said. “The day of the opening we had a lot of people, and they were so excited.”

Knight previously worked at the Dudley branch of the Boston Public Library and jumped at the opportunity to get a new location up and running. Coming on as a temporary hire, Knight will oversee the transition until the library is able to hire enough qualified and bilingual employees.

Much of the credit for making a new library possible, Knight said, has come from local groups that have pushed the issue for years.

“We have a great organization in the Friends of the Chinatown Library,” Knight said. “They advocate for the library and help us get the word out.”

The organization, which formed in 2001 alongside the Chinese Youth Initiative, has been speaking out on behalf of Chinatown residents. In 2013, the initiative sent more than 1,000 letters expressing a need for a library to Boston Public Library president Amy Rand. In that same year, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh signed a pledge to help their goal come to fruition.

The library’s location at 2 Boylston St. is only a temporary one, and in three to five years BPL plans to open a larger, permanent location. Librarians there are rapidly building up their collection, however, with around 80 percent Chinese language and 20 percent English language material, as well as three Chinese newspapers. As public schools let out for vacation in the spring, librarians are also preparing to launch new programs aimed at younger students and families.

Nancy Huang, a Chinese resident of Chinatown, said it will make a big difference to have a local branch.

“It makes it a lot more convenient to have books come to Chinatown,” she said. “Before, we would have to go to other libraries to pick up our books.”

The library’s head of youth services, Theresa Furbish, has planned many of the coming events, and is optimistic about their success. Along with craft lessons and book readings, there will be special events, such as a retelling of “Hansel and Gretel” by the Boston Lyric Opera. Furbish noted that many children have already come to check out the library over the past week.

“We’ve seen a lot of really little ones, especially in the morning, because a lot of families live around here,” Furbish said.

A graduate of Simmons College, Furbish worked for the early literacy program at the BPL main branch, and had already been involved in Chinatown outreach programs when she heard about the new career opportunity.

“Just hearing the story from the community and their want for a library really made me want to be here,” Furbish said.   

Though Chinatown is the largest beneficiary of the new location, she said it will help surrounding communities as well.

“The library is definitely going to become a new community center for people,” she said. “We’re kind of situated at a unique spot because we’re kind of in Chinatown but we’re also kind of in

Midtown. We’re here mostly for the Chinatown community but we really support everyone

because we’re so accessible.”

Supervising these new librarians is Pete Coco, BPL’s assistant manager of neighborhood services. Coco oversees several branches in the city, and his duties include working with patrons to find books, organizing events and circulating new reading material.

“It’s still very early, but I can tell you there’s been a tremendous amount of excitement from the community,” Coco said. “Our ribbon cutting on Feb. 3 was a packed audience, including some people who have lived in the neighborhood for so long that they used the original Chinatown library.”

Coco is an ardent believer in the positive effect literary services can have on a community and said he feels hopeful for the program’s future.

“Our motto is ‘free to all,’” Coco said. “We mean it. People come in and use our spaces and resources to make their own lives better, and that’s a really powerful thing.”

Claire Wallace and Charlie Wolfson contributed to this story.

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