Movies and TV shows would have us believe that the library is nothing more than a boring place to get books and be shushed by angry librarians, but here in Brooklyn, our library system is the exception to the rule. The Brooklyn Public Library is essentially the Narnia of libraries, and if you look beyond the stacks of books, you’ll find a wide array of programs, classes, and resources that can help teach you to do some really cool things, or even help you achieve your dreams.
“The era of shushing at libraries is long gone,” added BPL spokesperson Madeline Kaye. “Libraries as institutions have moved well past the old transactional relationship which had patrons checking out books and reading them in a carrell or at home. Libraries now are home to immigration services, idNYC, bike the branches, art classes, jazz concerts, Pharrell even made an appearance at the Dweck Center this year. They’re cultural hubs that extend well beyond the stacks.”
Perhaps a young, savvy Brooklynite like yourself wasn’t aware of the mighty power that lay behind the doors of the Brooklyn Public Library? Well, let us help you out. Here are some cool things the library can help you do, and some equally cool people who did them.
Launch a startup
Have an idea for a business you’ve been dying to open? The library can help you with that! Just ask Jaclyn Carter, who launched her greeting card business, Love Jac, with the help of the library’s PowerUP! Program. PowerUp! is a competition for aspiring business owners around Brooklyn. The program gives contestants free access to library resources and services to help them write business plans for new businesses, and the winner gets $15,000 in startup capital.
Carter competed and ended up winning second place (a $5,000 prize) to start her company, starting off selling her cards at markets like the Brooklyn Flea, and eventually moving on to wholesale business and an online store. Carter attributes her success to the library programming that got her started.
“[The PowerUp! program] gave me a deadline, it gave me these resources, like a finance class, a marketing class, a general business 101 class that I could take and learn what I actually needed to do,” she told us.
Once Carter made it to the competition’s final round, she had to present her business plan in front of a panel of library judges.
“I really thought it was going to be like Shark Tank and they were going to be so mean… but they couldn’t have been nicer….They want you to succeed and really wanted you to create this company.”
Best part? You don’t have to win or even compete in PowerUp! to gain access to the resources Carter describes above. The business classes offered are completely open to the public and completely free.
Snag an affordable rehearsal space
Looking for a place to hold your band practice or dance rehearsal? The Williamsburgh Library’s Spaceworks program — celebrating its first anniversary this year! — is a great resource for struggling artist types who are seeking affordable rehearsal and studio space to hone their craft. Spaceworks has locations both at the Williamsburgh (yes, it’s spelled that way) Library and in Long Island City, and offers subsidized rental rates as low as $12-$18 an hour.
“It’s kind of a small miracle for musicians, dancers, and actors too, that they’ve created this truly affordable rehearsal space,” said musician Tom Shaner, who started using the Spaceworks program at Williamsburgh Library after he (along with roughly 200 other artists) lost his rehearsal space to Williamsburg’s never-ending real estate boom. Sigh. Ain’t gentrification grand?
Shaner expressed gratitude for the positive, cultural environment that Spaceworks provides for artists and the community.
“With [the] Williamsburgh Library, you have a beautiful old building where you can check out books for free, but also upstairs are real working, rehearsing dancers, musicians, actors,” he said. “That’s a damn cool building, binding together many positive threads of New York City’s aspiring cultural life. It’s easy to bemoan all the real, hard economic realities of life in NYC, but it’s important to be glad and grateful when you become aware of all the things made available for the public good.”
In addition to using the space to rehearse with his band, Shaner said that he’s also used the Spaceworks facility to mix some of his last record and edit his videos.
In order to reserve a practice space above the library, you’ll have to apply for a free Spaceworks card. Any active artist with a permanent residence in NYC is eligible to apply. Once you’re approved, you’ll be able to use the online booking tool to reserve a space and have access to enter the buildings. Yep, it’s that easy.
Become an American citizen
That’s right my friends, the Brooklyn Public Library can even help residents become citizens of the United States. Kim Best has lived in the U.S. since she was six years old, but only recently became an official citizen, with the help of the library’s citizenship classes.
The BPL’s classes help would-be citizens improve their English and prepare for their citizenship interviews by providing an overview of the topics covered on the naturalization test.
Best said she was impressed with how thorough the classes were, especially since they’re available to the public totally free of charge. She credits the classes with helping her to obtain her citizenship.
“I don’t know if I would have done as wonderfully well like I did if it wasn’t for the library,” she said. “When I got that letter saying I passed, I just thought, “Thank you God, for that library.’”
Citizenship classes are offered to the public during morning, evening, and weekend hours. Best is even heading to Washington DC next month with Brooklyn Public Library President & CEO, Linda Johnson, to accept the Institute for Museums and Library Services National Medal, which the BPL was awarded in 2016 for their outreach services, “from immigration help to mobile libraries for the elderly.”
Best now makes use of the library in other ways: she brings in her 10-year-old son for Homework Help and family programming at the Central Library’s Dr. S. Stevan Dweck Cultural Center. Best also recently took her first poetry writing workshop at the library, and plans to start attending them regularly.
“It’s really the heart of the community,” Kim said about the BPL. “You’re going to learn, you’re going to accomplish, you’re going to grow.”
The BPL changes lives, people! The above are just some of the cool resources the library has to offer. To find out more, visit the BPL’s website, check it out on Facebook and Twitter or sign up for its newsletter.
Oh, and while you’re at it, follow Kelsey on Twitter: @sodywater