The Brooklyn Public Library is a cultural icon. For decades, it has stood as a symbol for bridging cultures, races, and age groups. The library teems with a diverse mix of people seeking business information, leads on securing the next job, educational computer games, an adult literacy class, or just a warm, friendly place to sit and talk with others.
A community of 2,300,664 residents, Brooklyn is the most populous of New York City’s five boroughs. It is a culturally diverse community where more than 90 languages are spoken. Increasingly, it is a borough of immigrants; 29 percent of the population is foreign born. Some 40 percent speak a language other than English at home, and for 18 percent that language is Spanish. Close to a million people are bilingual or non-English speaking. Some 64 percent of the individuals 25 years and older are high school graduates; nearly 17 percent are college graduates. The median family income is $30,033, with 514,163 persons living below the poverty level.1
Brooklyn Library managers view their institution as a traditional public library and describe their mission as supporting the public’s information, recreation, and hobby needs. Within this environment, CDs, videos and CD-ROMs circulate, cookbook collections grow, and a carefully stocked and visually appealing job information center is always busy. Staff members report especially high use among senior citizens and children. The library reflects the diversity of the population by purchasing collection materials in 60 languages. The system provides services at a main library, 58 branches, and a special business library. Also, Brooklyn is the only system in New York City that operates a bookmobile. In 1994, the library collection included 4,655,894 items, the library circulated 9,494,209 items, and staff answered 6,796,946 reference questions. In 1994, the library received support of $21.23 per capita. The library is unusual in that it is a private nonprofit corporation, an independent organization within the city. According to the library director, this means that there is no higher body to blame. The library must solve its own problems and establish and administer its own policies.