Volume 74, Number 3 | June 8- 14, 2005

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Victoria Ruggiero and her daughter Jade Ruggiero, 7, used the Jefferson Market Library’s basement reference room last week. The library plans to turn the space into a teen lounge.

Hey, this is a library! Turn up that music video!

By Lauren Dzura

Rumors and lack of information regarding the possible remodeling of the Jefferson Market Library on W. 10th St. and Sixth Ave. have left some community members feeling uneasy about the well-being of the historic building. Plans are for the reference room of the library to be transformed into a lounge for teenagers with the goal of attracting a younger generation to the stacks.

Susan Kent, director and chief executive of the New York Public Library’s branch libraries, decided to develop the lounges in New York’s libraries. Kent moved from Los Angeles last September, where they already have the teen spaces. Providing teens a specific place in libraries has become a national trend, according to Frank Collerius, branch librarian of the Jefferson Market Library. The Donnell Library Center on W. 53rd St. already has a teen lounge that is very successful, according to Collerius. Although the setup of the lounges varies depending on the location, they are specifically designed to accommodate the teen lifestyle. At Donnell, the teen room has more comfortable furniture, study rooms, times when music is played and a television set that plays music videos.

The Jefferson Market teen lounge will be similar to Donnell, Collerius said, but the plan is to “let the public determine how we serve them,” as far as specific plans go.

The teen lounge is slated for the basement reference room, most of the materials in which will be moved to the second floor, which is the adult floor. All of the resources available now in the reference room will still be accessible after the remodeling. The basement of the Jefferson Market Library can be reached by going down a spiral staircase that leads into an almost dungeonlike space, complete with arched entranceways, low ceilings and brick walls, an atmosphere that seems custom made for a lounge.

However, everything is still in the planning stage. Architects have looked at the space and made sketches, but there is no formal plan or construction date yet. This lack of an official announcement left some community board members concerned about the renovation.

Martin Tessler, former head of Community Board 2’s Institutions Committee, who recently stepped down from the board, found out about the remodeling through an Internet class he was taking in the basement reference room. Tessler does not know why the community board had not been notified of the plans at all.

“This never surfaced. It’s not being done in secrecy, but no word has come out that they’re working on plans,” Tessler said.

Another community board member, Doris Diether, is worried about the reconstruction of the historic building because the plan does not necessarily have to be approved by the community board. Diether said there are enough places for teens to congregate and the library should be for everyone.

She is also afraid of a change because of the building’s historic significance. The Jefferson Market Library was erected between the years of 1875-’77 and served the community as a courthouse and a holding area for prisoners on their way to jail. A tower projects high above the building and the bell that summoned volunteer firemen still rings in the tower. After seeing trials of a number of notorious murder and criminal cases, the building ceased to be a courthouse in 1945 and remained deserted until 1961 when Mayor Robert F. Wagner declared that it would be preserved and converted into a public library. Giorgio Cavaglieri was the architect chosen for the project and six years later renovations were completed and the library was opened in 1967.

“The original architect who redid the library was careful about not disturbing the inside and did a spectacular job,” Diether said.

Collerius does not want to destroy the historic value — he said, for example, the arched doorways won’t be changed — but says that teens usually have to coexist with adults, so it would be nice to have a place just for them. Collerius also thinks the lounge could turn teens into lifelong library members.

“Teens that use the space now will use it in the future as adults,” he said.

Although some current and former community board members are privately expressing worry over this project, Collerius said that in talking to individual library users no one seems too upset.

“Regulars thought it was a good idea; no one wants to forget the kids,” he said.

Collerius said that the library is grateful for the amount of support it gets from the community board and they are not trying to hide anything. The project will go before the community board at an appropriate time, he added.

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