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Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch will get a $135M upgrade

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The revamp will create spaces for learning off the page

The Brooklyn Public Library’s imposing Central Branch will get some 21st-century friendly upgrades as part of $135 million revamp over the next two years.

“We are focused on broadening the definition of what it means to be literate,” Linda E. Johnson, president and chief executive of the Brooklyn Public Library system told the New York Times. “A hundred years ago, it was transactional: You borrowed a book, in English. You took it home. You brought it back.”

That, however, is no longer the case. Today, libraries not only act as a revolving door for the voracious reader, but also as a lifeline to classes in topics like ESL and computer literacy. Those extracurricular activities are needed all the more in Brooklyn, where a third of the borough’s households speak a language other than English. The revamp will create spaces for learning off the page.

“One of the problems is none of these libraries were built when anyone was thinking about technology. Being literate today means being digitally fluent,” Johnson told the Times.

Some of the building’s off-limits areas will be converted into useable public space: Two levels of stacks and other rooms once used for behind-the-scenes tasks like putting protective covers on the books will be converted into a new “experience space” where kids will be able to learn about things like robotics and 3D printing, among other things.

But the “experience center” will come later in the renovation process. First will come less exciting (but necessary) upgrades to the building’s heating and air conditioning systems, and new elevators. Early upgrades will also include the relocation of the “popular library,” where the most circulated titles are stored, from a remote mezzanine to right off the entrance and the creation of the Major Owens Welcome Center, named after the 12-term Brooklyn congressman and onetime BPL librarian.

To date, only $35 million of the needed $135 million is accounted for, enough to cover the revamp’s first phase. Of those funds, $10 million comes from the De Blasio administration, $2 million from the borough president’s office and City Council appropriations and donations, and the remaining $23 million has been squirreled away by the library. The remainder will be raised in later stages.