Months after the New York Public Library reopened most of its locations across the city, four of its branches are still closed for renovations — and they’re all in the South Bronx. The library system announced in July that it would resume indoor services, after more than a year of being shut down because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the libraries in Hunts Point, Melrose, Morrisania and Mott Haven never reopened.
The NYPL has temporarily filled the gap with a bookmobile that travels to each neighborhood, allowing residents to borrow and return books, and sign up for a library card. The sole physical library still open in the area is the Woodstock Library on E. 160th Street.
One high school senior who used to frequent the Hunts Point Library to do homework says she now has to travel six more stops on the train to get to the Woodstock branch.
“The libraries that I usually would go to, they were closed down, and I moved so they were kind of farther from where I usually live. So that’s why I started coming here,” the senior said. The Mott Haven Herald/Hunts Point Express have chosen to keep her anonymous because of her age.
The longer commute is particularly difficult this time of year, the senior said, because of college applications.
“If they [the libraries] were open, it would be much more easier for me to be able to continue all my stuff and also fill out that application, to do homework that I need to do,” the senior said. “But since they’re closed down, I have to consistently make time out of my day to come and do what I have to do.”
The NYPL bookmobile visits Melrose on Mondays, Hunts Point on Tuesdays, Morrisania on Wednesdays and Mott Haven on Thursdays, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Abigail Cramer and Dianela Estevez, two primary school teachers, bring their young students to the bookmobile in St. Mary’s Park every week to pick out books.
“It’s really beneficial because it allows the kids to see a library when everything is closed right now,” Cramer said of the Mott Haven bookmobile. Cramer and Estevez are among the hundreds that stop by whenever the van comes to town.
“It’s just a super busy area,” said Michelle Fernandez, a bookmobile librarian. “We typically have maybe 110 to 120 patrons in the 5 hours we are there.
“I think that definitely letting people know that the library is there for them, even if it’s not the physical library space that they’re used to, is a really nice service to be able to provide,” she added. “Even when people don’t check out books from us, I feel like it’s a gesture of good faith too.”
But a bookmobile has its limits, chief among them, access to community programs and educational resources.
“It’s a big impact, especially with these children and remote learning,” said Sasha Myrie, a regular library patron. “They’re not able to access a book, high school students who are seniors, who probably need an APA style book for dummies, probably didn’t have that access over the pandemic.”
The bookmobile does offer free WiFi; for everything else, the librarians have to refer residents to the closest open branch. Woodstock Library is the only one nearby.
Library staff there “have seen an increase in computer usage, holds and attendance in some of their branch programs such as their crochet club and Saturday kids movies, from patrons who had frequented Mott Haven, Hunts Point and Melrose,” said Robert Sherwood, an NYPL spokesperson.
The New York Public Library declined to explain on the record why the Hunts Point, Melrose, Morrisania and Mott Haven Libraries were all being renovated at the same time.
Amy Geduldig, another NYPL spokesperson, did say that “the renovations at Hunts Point, Melrose, and Mott Haven will support the branches’ long-term service to the community and result in important and significant improvements to the buildings.”
The NYPL said the Mott Haven Library was undergoing renovations to its heating and cooling system and the building’s windows. It is expected to reopen early next year.
The Hunts Point Library closed in August, and the Melrose Library closed in May, to undergo full renovations. Both are expected to reopen in the summer of 2023, the NYPL said.
The story was updated on Oct. 26.