Queens Library at East Elmhurst: A Neighborhood That’s Alive with Jazz and More

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By Debbi Olley Murphy, Queens Library

Originally appeared in the May/June 2010 edition of Enrich Your Life, a bi-monthly publicationof the Queens Library

East Elmhurst, a community that was carved out of the surrounding areas of Jackson Heights and Corona, is a bustling area that has seen rapid demographic changes over the years. The first people who settled in the area, eastern Europeans, have since been succeeded by Italians, African-Americans, Haitians, Asians, and others.

In 1912, Queens Library at East Elmhurst opened in its first incarna­tion — as the Louona Park Library. Over the years, it became the Northern Boulevard Library, the North Beach Library and, finally in 1972, assumed its current name and location on Astoria Boulevard.

“The community is what makes this library special,” says Community Library Manager Johnnie O. Dent, who has worked for East Elmhurst for nearly 20 years. “I’m connected with the people in the community, because I live here myself. And when they see me, they think ‘library.’” Dent prides herself on her personal interaction with library custom­ers, saying, “I like to convince people to get library cards, and I make sure they’re leaving with materials.”

Dent says that a large part of the library population consists of children, who come in after school to do their homework and participate in programs. Teens also use East Elmhurst, and have a new area dedicated solely to them. “The majority of the adults come in to use our public computers,” Dent says. “We also have a senior population, in­cluding a group that comes in every Wednesday morning for exercise classes, computer classes, and the popular East Elmhurst quilters group.”

One of East Elmhurst’s special features is the Louis Armstrong Collection, which is a mini-archive of materials related to the jazz great, who lived in neighboring Corona. Funded by a grant from the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, Inc., East Elmhurst also presents programming called “Keeping Jazz Alive in Louis Armstrong’s Neigh­borhoods,” and does just what it says. The community benefits from a variety of programs that feature jazz and other musical genres, too. In fact, a current program, called “The Jazz Age … Kids’ Style,” involves youngsters singing and creating a performance after a series of work­shops.

Dent points out that a great deal of East Elmhurst’s programming comes directly from the community. “I look for all types of programs,” she says. “We’ve had gospel singers from local church groups. And one of the Friends of East Elmhurst is an art­ist who presents an annual art show and sale, and also conducts summer reading art workshops. There are also local authors, and I’ve had them in, too.”

After significant renovation, including a brand-new Teens section, a bright, fresh interior, and additional computers, East Elmhurst reopened in September 2009. Since then, the staff has been working hard to en­sure that the collection reflects the needs of the community. Because the community has changed over the years, there are now more purchases of Spanish and Urdu materials, for example.

“Customers show a real interest when they come in,” concludes Dent. “They feel ownership.” In our cover story, we talk about our communities and their relationship to Queens Library. Customers at East Elmhurst illustrate this perfectly: this is the community’s library. Stop in and see for yourself.

Queens Library is an independent, not-for-profit corporation and is not affiliated with any other library. The Queens Library serves a population of 2.3 million in the most ethnically diverse county in the U.S. With a record 23 million items in circulation for FY 2009, the Library has the highest circulation of any public library system in the U.S. and one of the highest circulations in the world. For more information about programs, services, locations, events and news, visit the Queens Library Web site at www.queenslibrary.org or phone 718-990-0700.

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