About this CUNY Adjunct Incubator Project

As part of a research project supported by the CUNY Adjunct Incubator, Sarah Coluccio, an Adjunct Lecturer in the English Program at Queens College, is developing a research project "Private Lives, Public Literacies" which examines archival documents, case studies, and current library programming to not only learn how the New York Public Library was an invaluable resource to patrons at the turn of the 20th century, but also how those lessons can be utilized to improve the libraries of today.

This project aims to explore the history of literacy as it relates to the New York Public Library (NYPL), which serves Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx. (Brooklyn is served by the Brooklyn Public Library or BPL, and Queens by Queens Library, known as QBPL.) New York’s public libraries were founded in the second half of the 19th century to serve the general public and provide them with access to books and other materials. Within the first several decades of its official opening in the 1890s, NYPL was offering programs such as Story Time, where librarians read to and with young children, and ESL classes for non-native English speakers. They also worked in conjunction with schools to offer class visits to branches, acquainting children with library services and providing designated space and time for students to do research and get assistance from librarians. Special collections of books and other materials in multiple languages were offered, as were reading programs for children who did not speak English. Bookmobiles served as traveling libraries for under-served and low-access neighborhoods, so that all those who wished to be able to read (or learn to do so) could, regardless of living situation, income, or literacy level.

Today, these services are offered ten-fold at every public library location in all five boroughs, along with programs to prepare patrons for citizenship, academic, and professional exams, adult and children’s ESL courses, homework help and tutoring, resume building workshops, GED classes, and much more. While it’s clear that the public libraries of NYC have always been about more than just reading, providing a myriad of educational and literacy services to members of the general public essentially from their inception in the late 19th century, they have also come a very long way in just over 100 years.

This project is part of the CUNY Adjunct Incubator and is co-sponsored by the Center for the Humanities and the Gittell Urban Studies Collective at the Graduate Center, CUNY.