October 17, 2017

Brooklyn Public Library Branch Reopens with African-American Center

By Norman Oder

  • Carnegie library built in 1907
  • Restored interior includes “First Five Years Space”
  • New African American Heritage Center

The Macon Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library reopened last week after a two-year, $2 million renovation that has burnished this 101-year-old Carnegie building and paid homage to the African American heritage of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.
One of BPL’s 18 Carnegie libraries, the Macon branch has seen restoration of oak paneling, fireplaces, and wooden benches, plus new furniture and historic lighting. Self-check machines have been added, even as a vintage dumbwaiter still moves books among three levels in the two-story library. The interior is just over 12,000 square feet.

While the branch now has a “First Five Years Space” to serve infants and preschoolers, probably its most notable feature is the new African American Heritage Center (AAHC), directed by Donna Fleming (right in the photo with Donna Hubbard, BPL’s Assistant Director of Neighborhood Services). The AAHC, housed in an old staff room, includes historic photos, reference and circulating materials emphasizing black culture, and genealogy services, thanks to ancestry.com and an affiliation with the African Atlantic Genealogical Society. Hanging in the library are quilts on loan from Edward Bostick, providing an interesting accent on historic photos.

A special collection in the AAAHC is Preserving Footsteps, which focuses on the history of the neighborhood and highlights the works of children’s book author and illustrator John Steptoe (Stevie, The Story of Jumping Mouse), who grew up using the library. 

More than 500 donors, including individuals, businesses, and institutions, contributed more than $100,000 for materials at Macon, and Brooklyn’s Independence Community Foundation offered a $100,000 challenge grant. The library clearly fills a need; when LJ visited, even before the reopening, a local student wandered in and asked to use a computer.