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A look inside the Brooklyn Public Library's efforts to improve public access

Inside the Brooklyn Public Library's efforts to improve public access
Inside the Brooklyn Public Library's efforts to improve public access 02:45

NEW YORK -- New York City library systems are among many institutions facing cuts next year in an effort to manage the city's finances. The cuts are forcing many branches to close on Sundays starting mid-December.

The Brooklyn Public Library has some lesser-known programs that help thousands of New Yorkers who never have to walk into a library building.

Several days a week in Greenpoint, one might come across Librarian Lauren Comito pulling a cart full of books through the streets. She designed and built the cart, which she lovingly nicknamed Nellie.

"There's this history and tradition of horseback librarians, particularly in the US, where in the during the Great Depression, librarians would ride mules and horses through the Appalachian Mountains. Going from place to place, bringing the library to people who couldn't get to it otherwise in sort of isolated settlements. And since our branch is closed, we are a little bit isolated from the other libraries," said Comito, who is the branch manager of Leonard Library.

One can find Lauren and Nellie in coffee shops, breweries, and even migrant shelters across the neighborhood, loaded with dozens of books, WiFi, even take-home crafts for the kids. Greenpoint resident Antonio Sanchez popped in to sign up for a library card.

"I was doing chores and I saw when I was leaving, and I was like, when I come back, I'm going to check it out," he said.

The idea came to library staff after the Leonard Branch temporarily closed at the start of this year. It's set to remain closed until fall of next year, so they wanted to figure out a way to bring the library to the community.

Nellie is just one way the Brooklyn Public Library has taken its services outside the four walls of a building. Studies from the CUNY Graduate Center have shown that 73% of the American population lives within one mile of a public library.

However, for John Spence, who is in an assisted living facility in Coney Island, proximity isn't the issue.

"I have a walker and it's very difficult for me to walk and take transportation of places. So it's like, almost impossible for me to go to a library," he said.

Spence spends hours a day reading. A steady supply of the library's Books By Mail, for free, makes it possible.

"It's like a lifeline to the outside world. Instead of being in a nursing home's four walls, you can go wherever you want," Spence said.

Over in Red Hook, librarians spend several hours a week hosting a bookmobile in Coffey Park, next to a school and the nearby Red Hook Houses.

"We closed for a full scale renovation due to a kind of flood resilience after Hurricane Sandy, and it's really important that we remain a presence in the community even while we're closed for this renovation," explained Gretchen Alexander, adult services librarian at the Red Hook Library.

Efforts like these help to bring library access stats even higher. Sonia Alcantara-Antoine, from the Public Library Association, says the role these institutions play has become even more critical.

"One of the things that we do in public libraries is we really strive to eliminate barriers to access and to be able to serve our communities equitably. We meet people where they are," she said.

Library Leaders say they will have to find new ways to cut costs to make up for the nearly $24 million deficit, and they still donate now exactly which programs will be affected.

Have a story idea or tip in Brooklyn? Email Hannah by CLICKING HERE.

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