Rochelle Newman

Lower East Side Library: A Love Affair

How the neighborhood’s civil rights ethos was lived out in a branch library. 

IMG_4697On November 18th, 1966, I got my first library card. I had just turned six. We lived on New York’s Lower East Side and our branch was the Seward Park Library. Built in 1909, the red and grey four-story brick building stood near the intersection of East Broadway, Essex Street and Canal. Unless it was raining or really cold, the Seward Park Library was an easy walk from our apartment on Grand Street off the FDR Drive. The Children’s Library was on the second floor. My parents followed me as I ran upstairs to the librarian’s station. When I had her undivided attention, I announced, “I’m getting my own library card.” She pulled out her stampers and a red ink pad and got to work. Then it was my turn. I concentrated on writing my name in big block letters. When I finished, I held the little yellow square card flat in my hands, careful not to bend the corners nor smudge the ink, the way I held my hamster babies when they were old enough to touch.

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