February 17, 2018

Lucia Chen | Movers & Shakers 2004


Free and Beautiful


Lucia Chen combined her two passions – organization and beautification – in her recent project, creating an online version of the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) legendary picture collection. Artists ranging from set designers to filmmakers have long used the collection, housed in the Mid-Manhattan branch. NYPL was able to broaden the collection’s reach with the help of a user’s bequest and an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant.

The project – a first for NYPL’s branch libraries – serves as a benchmark for future digitization efforts. “If we don’t reach all the corners of the world, we’re not using our resources to the best of our ability,” Chen declares.

Chen left a teaching post in China 15 years ago to join her husband, an overseas student in New York, “to look for a life that was free and beautiful.” She enrolled in a doctoral program to become a museum curator or administrator (“the Bobst Library [at New York University] was my heaven”) but felt she might have to find a more practical career. At the local library, she bumped into a former college classmate who had become a librarian and who advised her to do the same.

Chen soon entered the busy world of NYPL, where she’s been promoted almost every two years. She worked at Chinatown’s Chatham Square Branch as both reference and children’s librarian, then became head of Mid-Manhattan’s art collection.

Yes, the well-known research library across the street is more beautiful, she acknowledges, “but Mid-Manhattan is more down to earth, more democratic. I feel librarians need to give people easy access. I come away feeling that ‘I’ve improved my humanity today.'”

At home and at work, Chen invokes feng shui, trying to make space as productive as possible. She’s worked on a now-stalled (because of budget woes) effort to plan for a revamped Mid-Manhattan. “Within this framework, our job is to make the branch as good as we can,” she says.




Current Position: Associate Chief Librarian, Mid-Manhattan Library, NYPL
Degrees: MLS, St. John’s University, New York, 1993; Ph.D. in Art Education, New York University, 1996
Project: Created Online Picture Collection for NYPL (digital.nypl.org/mmpco)
Contribution to the Field: Library Journal Asian art reviewer