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Shouting Match Breaks Out at Press Conference About Library Relocation

By Dartunorro Clark | October 27, 2016 5:31pm
 The branch manager Renee Russell, right, said the new space would benefit the community.
The branch manager Renee Russell, right, said the new space would benefit the community.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

HARLEM — A press conference Thursday announcing the move of a tiny library nestled in the Harlem Rivers Houses to a more spacious location quickly turned into a shouting match.

City Councilwoman Inez Dickens clashed with a constituent, who lodged accusations that the councilwoman misled the community for years about a better space for the Macomb’s Bridge Library.

“She’s a jack a-- liar,” said K. Samuels, the woman who confronted Dickens and declined to use her full first name.

Samuels is a member of the group Friends of Macombs. She said the group has advocated for years for a “multi-use” space and library for Harlem’s youth and the new space is “inadequate.”

The 685-square-foot library, at 152nd Street and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard, is slated to move to a 3,375-square-foot location across the street previously used by the YMCA at the NYCHA complex.

“I just wanted a good library for these kids not this piece of crap across the street,” Samuels said. “That place can’t hold the type of library we want.”

Dickens, in an emailed statement, denied the constituent's allegations. 

"During my time in office there have been numerous discussions with developers and property owners as we searched for new accommodations for the library. Unfortunately, none of which were to the liking of the library or the community," Dickens said. 

"You will always have naysayers who are entirely focused on their own agendas.  But when you ask the people that matter most, the resident associations of Harlem River Houses, Dunbar Houses and Esplanade Gardens, about what they think about the new library, their answer will be clear.  This is a great thing for Harlem."

Despite the brouhaha, community members and other elected officials also said the new space for the library would adequately serve the community.

The branch has been at its current location since 1944 and prior to that it was believed to be a roomy studio apartment. It is the smallest city library and the only one within a NYCHA complex in Manhattan.

The library has only 12 seats, but amassed more than 30,000 visits this year.

However, adults who frequent the library often have to leave the space early before the kids who need to use the space leave school, said the branch’s manager Renee Russell.

Now, Russell, said kids, seniors and families will have more space and access to books and computers.

“I am extremely happy to be able to tell my patrons we found a large space and that it’s still in the community,” she said.

NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye called the current space “small but mighty,” but applauded the move to the bigger space.

“This is an instance where bigger certainly is better,” she said.

The city seeded $2 million for the project through Dickens, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Assemblyman Herman Farrell. The library is in the process of finalizing a 20-year lease for the space, selecting an architect and getting community input.  

“We said this isn’t good enough, we need bigger and better and we got things done,” said NYPL President Tony Marx.