The Queens Jewish Link and its feature article “KGH Civic Petitions for Library Reopening” set into motion a series of events that led to a press conference this past Thursday afternoon, May 6. Those gathered felt that their work was not quite done with regards to getting the library back open, and invited NY1 News to share their plight citywide. City Council Member James Gennaro also deemed the library’s continued operation as a NYC Health & Hospitals site unnecessary, considering the drastic decrease in positive COVID case numbers.
Those gathered ranged from Shevach high school girls eager to return to the library to study, to seniors, housewives, and working moms. “Only by showing that the library is important to us will the Head of the Library and the Mayor listen,” said one young mother to the Queens Jewish Link.
Friends of the Library-KGH Division led the effort to assemble the crowd, and the KGH Civic Association was a proud co-sponsor. Trudy Garfunkel, Ethyl Haber, Janet Harmeyer, Jennifer Martin, and Barbara Richter were some of board members representing Friends of the Library, and Civic board members present included Charles Henry, Sifrah Hollander, Jennifer Martin, Gene Richter, Rabbi Hayim Schwartz, Alan Sherman, and Phyllis Zelkowitz.
Community advisor Alan Sherman feels passionately about the need for a local library. “With the lack of a bookstore in our neighborhood, we need a library where people can touch and read a book,” explained Sherman. “Electronic reading just doesn’t cut it for us here in Kew Gardens Hills, especially for those of us observe Shabbos and Yom Tov - and that’s a majority of this neighborhood.”
Following the meeting, news spread that the three New York City library heads were meeting with the City Council to arrange a potential mid-July reopening. However, the media report failed to mention that those branches operating as testing sites would be included.
Jennifer Martin expressed a new concern. “The library has been nearly completely emptied and a reopening will require lots of work. We must work to ensure that this process begins soon and is swift.”
Some in attendance recalled the time during this branch’s renovation when a Main Street shop housed the library, but a library spokesperson shot that idea down in a statement to the QJL: “Unfortunately, adding an alternative site is not feasible at this time.” Some claim that there is no sizeable space, but others feel there is adequate availability.
Mrs. Yaffa Hartman attended the rally and said, “My granddaughter is now old enough to be able to walk to the library. Her family deserves this option.” Citing other concerns, Hartman added, “Many of my friends do not drive or cannot venture to other branches and rely on our KGH library for their leisure reading. With over 1000 signatures on our petition, isn’t it time we get our library back open?”
Many of those gathered also pointed to a joint statement that Gennaro and Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal released and thanked the duo for addressing their concerns.
“Our community has waited patiently as the library was adapted to address the need for testing locations for COVID-19, but as we move towards higher vaccination numbers and lower hospitalizations, we and the community strongly believe the need for this library to continue as a testing location has ended, given the abundance of COVID-19 testing locations within walking distance of the library,” read the release. “We understand the Queens Library is currently bound by a contract with the Administration to have the Kew Gardens Hills branch serve as a COVID-19 testing center through June 30, 2021. As we neared June 30, we call on the Queens Public Library to NOT renew the testing site contract for this site -- or to use it as a vaccination site -- but instead have it join the other libraries that have resumed full service to the public.”
During the press conference, one could see testing taking place, as a short line appeared over the course of the afternoon. “We must understand that COVID is still a thing, and I applaud this testing site remaining active through June,” said Ethan G., an Orthodox attendee.
By Shabsie Saphirstein