As the New Rochelle Public Library (NRPL) neared its hundredth anniversary, harsh economic shifts pushed its funds to a perilous brink. But in 1993, just before the library’s centennial, grassroots organizers came together to protect and transform the Queen City’s crown jewel. This spring, the New Rochelle Public Library Foundation celebrates the 25th anniversary of its commitment to the city’s most cherished institution.
“To my mind, the Foundation is a unifying force in the city,” says Patricia Anderson, who directed NRPL for 30 years. “It called public attention to the library as a symbol of pride through the entire community.”
Through Foundation fundraising and advocacy, the library flourishes into its second century. Today, NRPL is one of Westchester’s largest and liveliest libraries, at once a theater, music center, local-history museum, art gallery, bookstore, social-services center, and digital-media lab.
One early project was to create an online catalog for the public, ahead of the curve in the pre-Internet era. Foundation efforts collect and preserve unique records of Westchester’s local history. Theater, dance, and live-music programs continue to expand, deepening New Rochelle’s long-standing affinity for the performing arts.
Youth-focused projects have been among the most successful, from the 1997 renovation of the Huguenot Children’s Library to the recent creation of a digitally advanced Teen Center. Championing public computer and internet access paved the way for expanding the library’s ESL program, which now serves more than 4,000 students per year.
The library and Foundation’s milestone anniversaries call attention to everything the library represents: free and open access to information; a communal meeting place and community lifeline; and, for New Rochelle, the social and cultural heart of a city.
At an upcoming gala in May, the Foundation will celebrate its future and honor three of its founders: Leslie Demus, Lynn Green, and Bill Handelman, all of whom remain active on the board. “It’s amazing to look at what’s grown from the seeds [we] planted,” Demus observes. “It’s not just a building, but a place where everybody in the city, regardless of our differences, can find a home.”