Visitors to Westchester’s newest library in downtown Harrison can finger-paint with light or create an origami masterpiece. They can play Madden NFL 16 or put on a puppet show. They can listen to the Metropolitan Opera or debate the latest foreign policy issues. The library’s exterior hasn’t changed much, but, inside the Harrison Public Library, there are things people might be surprised to find in a place where the silence once was broken only by the hushed turning of pages.
The all-new Harrison Public Library, which opened last month and is freely available to Harrison residents and non-residents alike, was designed not as just a repository of books, but as a place where every part of the community could come together. “We envision the Harrison Library as not just the center of our community, but as a reason for everyone in Westchester—and beyond—to visit our town,” says Harrison Library Board President Dave Donelson. “Harrison is a richly diverse place, and the library expresses that.”
During the $3.6 million yearlong project, the interior of the Richard E. Halperin building on Bruce Avenue in Harrison was completely gutted and reconfigured. The renovation produced new spaces and facilities for learning, entertainment, and socialization—not to mention video gaming, TV production, robotics, a portable wind tunnel, and, yes, plenty of books and quiet places to enjoy them.
The children’s area was doubled in size and soundproofed, so kids can check out the wind tunnel, explore the crawl-in birdhouse, or gather around the 42-inch interactive learning table without disturbing patrons in other parts of the building. Other attractions in the new Javitch Children’s Discovery Center include a puppet theater, off-line touch-screen computers with age-specific software, kid-safe tablets, a dedicated gaming nook, and a table at which kids can finger-paint with light.
Kids finger-paint with light at the library’s smart table.
The floor plan of the entire library was opened up to let in more natural light, and, wherever possible, shorter shelving units were installed to let the light infuse the space. There are dozens of cozy seating areas for reading and conversation throughout the library. Two spacious new rooms are in the Marmot Teen Center, one for socializing and the other for studying, gaming, and other enrichment activities.
“Programs define a library,” says Library Director Galina Chernykh. “So we have scheduled dozens and dozens of them to use our new meeting spaces and serve the many different interests of our patrons.” Three new rooms were designed for quiet study and meetings of various sizes, and the community room’s acoustics and furnishings were upgraded. “In addition to a nonstop slate of children’s programs, we present authors, academics, musicians, artists, and many types of performers.”
Travel talks, genealogy lessons, and an exciting series of discussions led by Iona College faculty members called “Inquiry and Discourse” are among the new offerings. The library will also offer live Sunday afternoon music performances, beginning with a four-part Latin, hip-hop, and jazz festival as well as HD streaming of Metropolitan Opera performances.
Participatory programs will be a big part of the new library’s agenda, too. You can write a memoir with William Jay Wertheim, a social worker and creative writer; exercise both your writing and acting skills in “Performance in Practice” with playwright/stage-director James B. Nicola; and learn Chinese watercolor techniques under the guiding eye of artist Milai Liang.
The library’s flexible new Learning Center will offer classes and workshops on everything from using e-book readers to producing television programs; TV cameras and lighting and mixing equipment were added along with Mac computers and Adobe Creative Cloud software. Need to know how to set up a spreadsheet? Not only are there classes to teach you, but there are also laptops to learn on. And if you want to enhance your life in a low-tech way, check out the library’s knitting and crochet classes.
One of the Harrison Library’s most popular activities—language learning—has been expanded in the new facility. The library offers opportunities to practice English to small groups of speakers of Chinese, Spanish, French, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, and German, but now the library also schedules introductory classes in Spanish, Japanese, and Russian for English speakers as well. The Kiyoko Brown Japanese collection provides the largest selection of Japanese language books and other material in Westchester while inspiring numerous programs including origami, calligraphy, tea ceremonies, and Japanese cuisine. The library’s location in Ma Riis Park makes it an important participant in the Harrison Japan Spring Festival that draws thousands of visitors from the New York City metropolitan area.
The renovation was funded in more or less equal parts by the Town of Harrison and more than 500 private donors spearheaded by the Halperin family to memorialize Richard Halperin, a prominent Harrison resident and supporter of philanthropic causes. “With this transformation, our town finally has something to be very proud of that will benefit literally every single constituency: children, teenagers, seniors, the unemployed, entrepreneurs, and homeowners,” says Ross Halperin, Richard Halperin’s eldest son and leader of the fundraising project.
While some more popular programs require advance registration, all Harrison Public Library presentations are free and open to all. For more information, visit www.harrisonpl.org.