Early History And Organization

The first library in Queens was organized in 1858 in Flushing on a subscription basis. Incorporated in 1869, it became a free circulation library in 1884. In the 1890s, several other communities started local library service - Steinway, Hollis, Queens Village, Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, Long Island City, and Astoria. These seven libraries formed the nucleus of the present Queens Library. Three (Long Island City, Steinway, and Astoria) were members of the Long Island City Public Library, chartered in 1896. The Queens Borough Public Library was incorporated in 1907.

The city contributed support to most of the seven libraries. Preferring to deal with one group rather than seven, the city held several conferences to consider consolidating the administration of these independent units. In January 1901, all of the libraries except Flushing joined to form the Queens Library. The charter granted to the new system by the Regents of the State of New York was worded to extend the service area of the old Long Island City Public Library to the entire borough. Operating funds were provided by the City of New York.

Shortly after the formation of the system, Flushing joined, as did a new library founded in College Point. Funds totaling $240,000 donated by Andrew Carnegie were used for the construction of seven new libraries in the most heavily--populated areas of the borough. Four of these buildings (Astoria, Poppenhusen, Richmond Hill and Woodhaven) are still in use.

In 1906, a traveling library office was set up to extend library service to under-served, less-densely populated areas. Its primary function, at first, was the placement of collections of from 100 to 600 volumes in various Queens locations. These locations were chosen on the basis of the ability of the owner of the facility to provide space, to administer the collection, and to insure use by the public. By 1910, use of these collections had grown to such an extent that a Traveling Libraries Department was established. In addition to collections, stations were established in stores and offices, and trained librarians were on hand to provide service to the public. In 1914, stations were established in schools, and by 1915, prison service was also offered through a station.

The Department of Work with Children was created to supervise and direct all aspects of children's work in the agencies. Training classes, story hours, and radio programs were developed. In 1919, the Department of Branches and Apprentices was created, combining responsibility for work with children, management of staff, and supervision of branches. In addition, the department head was responsible for operating the Library's Training School. By 1923, this new department ceased to function and the Department of Work with Children was reinstated. In 1926 the Traveling Library Department became the Extension Department and its service units were re-classified as sub-branches, school stations, community stations, and collections.

In order to provide library service to the many areas still without it, bookmobile service was added in 1930. Hospital service began in 1933 and was further extended in 1937 when shut-in service was inaugurated. Meanwhile, service to schools had grown so that it became necessary, in 1930, to create a Department of School Libraries. By 1934, collections were supplied to 16 schools, and trained librarians were on duty at all times. This service continued until 1944 when staff shortages and lack of funds forced its elimination.

The Queens Library has shown a longstanding concern for the welfare of its employees. On June 25, 1937, with the City of New York, it elected to have its staff covered by the New York State Employees' Retirement System. On July 9, 1945, employees were covered by the New York City Career and Salary Plan. The Library has been unionized since April 16, 1969. Library staff may choose to be represented by District Council 37, Local 1321, of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, A.F.L.- C.I.O.

The Extension Department and the Department of Branch Administration merged in 1956 to form the Extension Services Department with responsibility for the development of all public services outside of the Central Library building. All sub-branches were raised to full branch status. Professional staffs were assigned, hours of service expanded, book collections enlarged and cataloged, and other steps taken to place all branches on an equal-service footing. A review of the new department's activities led to the elimination of collections in schools and gradual discontinuance of the use of bookmobiles for school service. The name was changed to Community Library Services in 2005 to better reflect the full-service capability of each library.

Library Building and Capital Improvement

Central Library

The original Central Library on Parsons Boulevard in Jamaica was opened in 1930 and expanded with WPA funds in 1941. It was a splendid four-story Renaissance Revival building. In spite of its elegance, it was too small for the demand and was replaced by a new, more spacious facility in 1966, through the persistent efforts of the Library Director, Harold W. Tucker. The city-owned building at 89-11 Merrick Boulevard, Jamaica, has the distinction among the three city library systems of having most public services on one floor. The building was renovated and expanded in 1989. A multi-year phased renovation project from 2012 – 2014 will help Queens Library keep up with growing demand for library services. The Children’s Library Discovery Center opened in 2011. It is a 14,000- square foot Children’s Library which concentrates on math and science topics. It includes hands-on exhibits and library materials that entertain while they educate in a child-friendly.

Community Libraries
Although not the first Queens Library facilities, the Carnegie-financed libraries which were built between 1904 and 1924 were unquestionably the most distinctive. The $240,000 donated by Andrew Carnegie was used for the construction of seven new libraries in the most heavily--populated areas of the borough. Four of these buildings (Astoria, Poppenhusen, Richmond Hill, and Woodhaven) are still in use. They are characterized by their stately solidity and expensive decorative details. The Carnegie-era Flushing Branch was razed to make way for a more modern building in the 1950s, and the Far Rockaway Branch was destroyed by fire in 1962. Library branches were added slowly as the borough’s population expanded. By 1946, Queens Library had 44 branches plus the Central Library and a very active bookmobile. The 1965 federally-funded Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) spurred an ambitious capital building program by making federal funds available to build libraries in communities that were underserved. LSCA only provided 10% seed money. The balance required City funding. The City was in a serious fiscal crisis which persisted throughout the administration of Mayor Lindsay (1966-1973). Many new libraries that had been approved under Mayor Wagner's administration (1954-1965) remained unbuilt, unfinished or unopened until the late 1970s or early 1980s. In 1965, twelve branches were on the list that had been approved but could not be built. Cost-consciousness when those branches were eventually built reduced them to the most sparse, utilitarian design, branding them with the derisive name of "Lindsay boxes."

In the mid 1960s, additional LSCA funds were granted on an emergency basis to finish the new Central Library and the Flushing and Far Rockaway Branches, which were desperately needed but stalled because of lack of funding. The 1990s began a truly successful renaissance in library building, thanks in large part to the support of Borough Presidents Claire Shulman and Helen Marshall and the City Council. Unwavering support to literacy and education resulted in the funding and opening in 1998 of the 76,000-square foot Flushing Library. The flagship facility houses a branch library, an Adult Learning Center, the International Resource Center, a state-of-the-art auditorium and exhibit space. It is the busiest branch library in New York State. In 1999, new Langston Hughes and South Jamaica Branches opened for customer service. Additionally, the Borough President’s office and the City Council provided funding for new branches in Cambria Heights (opened 2006) and Long Island City (opened 2007). Legislators at all levels of government allocated $269 million for capital library construction in the years 2005 – 2013. It has allowed the library to renovate and expand sorely overcrowded and outdated facilities. Renovations include the installation of self-check out and 24/7 self-check in equipment and the creation of Cyber Centers and teen areas. New library buildings are underway for Far Rockaway and Hunters Point. In Oct. 2012, an unprecedented storm severely damaged four Queens Library buildings in the Rockaways. All were subsequently rebuilt.

Innovative Services to Children And Youth

One of Queens Library's major innovations was the establishment of its "Operation Head Start" program which began in March 1965. Made possible with federal funding through LSCA (the Library Services and Construction Act, later changed to LSTA), it was designed to introduce preschoolers to books. Staff provided picture book hours and parent programs in community libraries in educationally disadvantaged areas. In 1967, the library inaugurated "Library-Go-Round", a bus that made designated stops in areas where children were unlikely to be taken to a library, offering much the same service as "Operation Head Start". It was expanded to include the "Tell-a-Tale Trailer" for older children and the "Teenmobile" for young adults, which also served prisons and drug rehabilitation centers. Cuts in federal support ended "Operation Head Start" in 1972 and all vehicular special services were discontinued in 1976 until the Bookmobile re-emerged 2006. Queens Library, however, continued innovative programs to promote childhood literacy with Toddler Learning Centers and family literacy programs.

In October of 1994, the Connecting Libraries and Schools Project (CLASP) began in School District 30, eventually expanding throughout the borough. Its job was to form a close liaison between schools and libraries. In Fiscal Year 2001, CLASP served 156,300 students. CLASP was suspended following severe budget cuts in 2001. In 1989, Queens Library piloted a Latchkey Program in response to the growing problem of unattended children in the library, apparently sent there after school because parents perceived the library to be a safe haven with adult supervision. Latchkey and Homework Assistance Programs were given in approximately half of Queens Library locations. Major funding for monitors, homework help materials and recreational programs came from corporate and institutional donors. The concept was folded into an upgraded BOOST (Best Out of School Time) program in 2005. BOOST provides a framework for better trained Activity Assistants in the community libraries, as well as more enriching activities for the children. All Queens Library locations participate in the BOOST program. Online one-on-one tutoring provided inside the library is a feature of the enhanced BOOST program, and a big boon to the borough’s students. In 2012, Queens Library joined New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library in piloting MyNYCLibrary. Through that program, school librarians have access to the Queens Library catalog and may order materials for their classes, delivered directly to the public school.

Queens Library has been a leader in using technology to improve both information delivery to customers and back-office operations. In 1978, Queens Library had the City's first computerized circulation system. Computer Output Microfilm (COM) catalogs supplanted the card catalog. Later, standalone CD-ROM catalogs became the norm. In 1990 a second generation circulation system was installed. With a newer data communications network, a few reference databases such as the World Book Encyclopedia were provided to the branches as early as 1991. In 1992, the circulation system was linked to a network of other, similar systems for the purpose of exchanging cataloging records. The library's catalog became available on the Internet in May, 1993, and was accessible from anywhere in the world. In September, 1993 a text-based Online Patron Access Catalog (OPAC), dubbed InfoLinQ™, was installed in Central Library to test its feasibility. Support by the City Council made it possible to expand the OPAC system-wide. Ever since then, upgrades to the library’s core software systems have allowed us to maximize online services to library users in Queens and around the world. This has been accomplished through partnerships with premier technology firms worldwide.

Information Technology Powers Library Business Operations

Queens Library has been a leader in using technology to improve both information delivery to customers and back-office operations. In 1978, Queens Library had the City's first computerized circulation system. Computer Output Microfilm (COM) catalogs supplanted the card catalog. Later, standalone CD-ROM catalogs became the norm. In 1990 a second generation circulation system was installed. With a newer data communications network, a few reference databases such as the World Book Encyclopedia were provided to the branches as early as 1991. In 1992, the circulation system was linked to a network of other, similar systems for the purpose of exchanging cataloging records. The library's catalog became available on the Internet in May, 1993, and was accessible from anywhere in the world. In September, 1993 a text-based Online Patron Access Catalog (OPAC), dubbed InfoLinQ™, was installed in Central Library to test its feasibility. Support by the City Council made it possible to expand the OPAC system-wide. Preparations are underway to switch to a new generation of Integrated Library System in 2007. In addition to supporting enhanced catalog features, it will pave the way for improved customer service features.

The face of information delivery changed with the expansion of the Internet. In celebration of Queens Library's Centennial on March 19, 1996, the Library unveiled its own web site. It permitted access to the library's catalog, commercial research databases, fast links to select Internet sites and more. The catalog was available with English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean interfaces. Every Queens Library had internet access by the end of the fiscal year. In November of 1996, a new service of selected international Internet sites was made available for customers who speak languages other than English through WorldLinQ™, which was developed through a grant from AT&T. Electronic information delivery has continued to progress. By 2006, wireless Internet access was available in every library location, as well.

Since 2007, library customers can access Queens Library's catalog and research databases from their homes, schools or offices; can take workshops in computer and software use can read a selection of electronic books ("e-books") in English or Chinese without ever coming into the library, download music and videos and more.

Information Technology Empowers Customers

In January 1999, the Cyber Center opened at the Central Library. It featured 48 workstations for customer use, narrowing the gap between technology "haves" and "have-nots" in Queens. Partnering with corporations and foundations permitted expansion of this valuable service throughout the system. Grants from the Gates Foundation, for instance, funded the Far Rockaway Small Business Resource Center which opened in 1997, as well as smaller Cyber Centers in other community libraries. In 2013, customer-use computers are among the most popular library services. Every Queens Library has customer-use computers. More access points are a priority when renovating libraries.

In 2003, Queens Library began experimenting with a new way to serve its customers. By allowing technology to take over much of the repetitive clerical work, such as checking out of materials, staff were freed up to spend more time interacting with customers and helping them locate and use the library’s resources. In 2005, Queens Library developed proprietary self-service kiosks, which operate using Radio Frequency Identification chips (RFID) that are embedded into each library item and into the library borrower’s card. The kiosks allow customers to check out all types of library materials, pay fines and fees by cash, check or credit card, check their library accounts and multiple other routine business functions without staff intervention. The new system cut lines in libraries dramatically. The self-service system is being rolled out and is operational in most Queens Library locations. Additionally, 24-hour self-service check-in units are being installed, beginning late in 2010. They will be installed all over Queens in the coming years. As engaging as the self-service kiosks are, the important change is that it frees staff to do what they do best: serve customers, act as Information Guides to the library’s electronic and print resources, help with school work, and interact with the community

In 2012, Queens Library began lending e-readers to customers. In 2013, they began to loan tablet computers and other technology enabled devices. In 2014, a pilot program lent free mobile hot spots.

More Than Books

Queens Library has continued its long history as a leader in developing specialized services that meet identified community needs, as the following examples illustrate:

  • Free literary, cultural and informational programs are favorites with library customers. From author talks to puppet shows to flamenco dancers to classical concerts, more than 700,000 customers attended 37,500 programs in 2013.
  • A special emphasis is placed on goal-oriented programs that promote wellness and lifelong learning. Queens Library gives thousands of workshops that improve technology skills and
  • The importance of global information was emphasized further with the opening of the International Resource Center in 1998, as part of the Flushing Library. It houses information on the economy, geography and culture of the world, with a special emphasis on economics.
  • The Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center was the realization of a grass-roots effort to create a community library that would reflect and celebrate the heritage of African-Americans. The Library Community Action Committee of Corona-East Elmhurst approached Queens Library for help in obtaining an LSCA grant, and Langston Hughes opened its doors in April 1969. In 1987 the library came under the system's aegis and is funded through the Library's expense budget. A new state-of-the-art building opened for public service in 1999.
  • The New Americans Project (NAP), established in the early 1970s to assist new immigrants through popular collections of materials, programs, and services in their native languages, has served as a model for other libraries. NAP's first formal collection was in Spanish, begun in 1986. Chinese was added in 1988; Korean in 1991; six Indic languages in 1994; and Russian in 1996. Smaller collections in 19 other languages, such as Haitian Creole or Polish, are purchased for branches where the need exists.
  • In 1998, the first Queens Directory of Immigrant-Serving Agencies was compiled and published by the Library’s New Americans Program. It is the only resource of its kind, listing available social and human services and cross-indexing them with their linguistic capability, so a library customer can find legal advice or medical testing or child care in his preferred language. A Database of Community Service, listing similar services for all residents, was also compiled. Subsequently, both directories were made available electronically. They were joined by www.bienvenidosaqueens.org, an online directory to immigrant services for Spanish speakers.
  • ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes, originally administered by NAP but part of the Adult Learner Program since 2001, have been received with special enthusiasm in this rapidly-changing borough. More than 3,000 students annually receive free, formal classroom instruction, while many more use the Adult Learning Centers for self-study and to practice English conversation with volunteer tutors.
  • In 1977, Queens was the first public library in New York City to establish a literacy volunteer program (the Adult Literacy Program), which provides free individual and group instruction to persons 16 and older who read below the fifth grade level, or who want to improve their fluency in English in dedicated Adult Learning Centers. Pre-GED classes are also available, as are combined ESOL/Literacy classes. Family Literacy Programs and Health Literacy became part of the Adult Learner Program in 2002. They represent new approaches to teaching English to speakers of other languages, along with practical, instructional content and vocabulary.
  • Since 1981, the Library has maintained special services (including materials, equipment, programs, and information/referral) for senior citizens and people with disabilities. In 1991, these units were combined under the Programs and Services Department. Collections of large print books are rotated to nursing homes. Books are mailed to the homebound by request. The Mail A Book Program also holds interactive programs for the homebound through telephone conferencing and the internet, bringing much needed socialization and intellectual stimulation. Multi-lingual books on select topics are made available to prison libraries throughout New York State via Interloan.

Serving The Global Community

Queens Library is committed to the global exchange of information, to facilitate collection development, and to serve the information profession as a whole. Queens Library signed agreements of interlibrary cooperation with the Shanghai Library in 1996 and the National Library of China in 1997. Other international library partnerships include the Bibliothèque publique d'information, Paris, France and the Biblioteca Pública y Complejo Cultural Mariano Moreno, Bernal, Argentina. They permit the exchange of personnel, library materials, and exhibits and greatly facilitate collection development in languages other than English. Queens Library was named a Sister Library with the August Cesarec Library, Zagreb, Croatia by the White House Millennium Council. Queens Library is also a Sister Library with the Mayakovsky Central City Public Library in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Ensuring a Strong Future

Queens Library views fulfilling its role as a primary destination and information as extending beyond merely lending books and other library materials. An ever-changing roster of needed programs currently includes hiring high school and college students to help library customers use technology or to tutor children, providing expanded literacy services to adults, after-school programming and more. These special programs fall outside the scope of the public funding stream.

In 1986, the Queens Library Foundation was established to raise supplementary funds from private, corporate and foundation sources. In 2011, the Queens Library Foundation raised more than $4.5 million.

Planning to serve future generations of Queens residents is an integral part of library operations.

Read the Queens Library System Plan of Service 2017-2021

How Queens Library Excels

Queens Library has been first in circulation in New York State since 1985, the Library maintained the highest circulation of any city library in the country since 1985 and among the highest circulations of any library in the nation since 1987. Factors responsible for this growth have included technological innovation, use of merchandising techniques, and strong outreach programs, and the development of community library collections relevant to the needs of individual neighborhoods. The system serves a population of 2.2 million through its Central Library and sixty-two community libraries.

Queens Library's circulation has continued to increase exponentially:

1896 - 1905: 1,305,982

1906 - 1915: 9,164,234

1916 - 1925: 18,586,436

1926 - 1935: 29,198,858

1936 - 1945: 35,651,185

1945 - 1954: 36,180,736

1955 - 1964: 71,392,548

1965 - 1974: 73,888,353

1975 - 1984: 61,355,977

1985 - 1994: 123,313,971

1995 – 1999: 78,492,243

2000 - 2005: 84,500,000

2006 - 2010: 110,000,000

In Fiscal Year 2006, Queens Library broke all records by circulating more than 20 million items in a single year, topping it with 21 million in Fiscal Year 2007.

As new methods of information delivery technology develop, however, circulation will be only one of several indicators of the quantity and quality of public library service Queens Library provides.

Throughout its history, Queens Library has innovated ways of serving the information needs of its publics, as the Borough itself changed. Staff and administration, under the leadership of the Board of Trustees, have every expectation of continuing that tradition. Queens Library will be as relevant in the next century as it was in the past century.


Queens Library has been recognized nationally as a role model and innovator, earning it many recognitions and awards. They include:

  • 2016 LibraryAware Community Award (2nd Place), given jointly to Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library and Queens Library for role in promoting/implementing IDNYC
  • 2016 American Library Association - Ernest DiMattia Award to Kelvin Watson
  • 2015 American Library Association – Gale Cengage Learning & Reference Services Award for the "Where in Queens" Mobile website
  • 2014 New York Library Association – Public Libraries Section “Best Practices” Award for Google tablet lending program.
  • 2014 New York State Broadband Champion, Most Innovative Broadband Project for custom Google Tablet interface.
  • 2014 ALA/Information Today “Library of the Future” Award for custom Google Tablet interface.
  • 2014 Queens Chamber of Commerce Building Award for new Glen Oaks Library and Renovations to Bayside
  • 2013 Library of Congress Literacy Awards – QL’s Literacy Zone Welcome Centers recognized as a “best practice”
  • 2013 Mayor’s Excellence in Design Award, new Far Rockaway Community Library
  • 2013 Urban Libraries Council “Top Innovator” Award for response to Hurricane Sandy
  • 2013 “Helping Hand” Award from NYC Small Business Council, for role in recovery after Hurricane Sandy.
  • 2012, Excellence in Design Awards from Queens Chamber of Commerce for re-design of Central Library Cyber Center.
  • 2012 Mayor’s Excellence in Design Award, Addition to the East Elmhurst Community Library
  • 2012 Municipal Arts Society MASterworks Award for the Children’s Library Discovery Center.
  • 2011, Excellence in Design Awards from Queens Chamber of Commerce for new construction (Children’s Library Discovery Center) and renovation (Queens Library at East Elmhurst)
  • 2011, NYLA/Mary Bobinski Innovative Public Library Director Award to Thomas Galante.
  • 2011, NYLA Outstanding Services to Libraries Award presented to Andrew P. Jackson, Executive Director of the Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center of the Queens Public Library.
  • 2011, ASCLA/KLAS/NOD Award for Queens Library’s Mail A Book Program with interactive programming
  • 2011, Queens Chamber of Commerce Building Award for Whitestone Reading Garden renovation.
  • 2010, Marshall Cavendish Award for Excellence in Library Programming for Queens Library HealthLink, given by American Library Association 
  • 2010, Elizabeth Futas Catalyst for Change Award given to Loida Garcia-Febo, Assistant Coordinator, New Americans Program & Special Services 
  • 2009, Library Journal’s Library of the Year Award
  • 2009, Finalist, E Pluribus Unum Award for programs encouraging the integration of immigrants. Given by the Migration Policy Institute.
  • 2008, Multicultural Award for Outstanding Service to Immigrant Communities, given by the Ethnic Services Round Table, NY Library Association, to Fred Gitner, Coordinator.
  • 2008, Joseph F. Schubert Award for Library Excellence (first runner-up), for Queens Library HealthLink
  • 2008, Excellence in Design Awards, new Glen Oaks and Elmhurst community Libraries.
  • 2007, NYC Art Commission Award for the design of the new Queens Library at Glen Oaks. 
  • 2007, Nylink Achievement Awards in two categories for a program to bring multilingual library materials to inmates in New York State Correctional facilities through Interloan
  • 2007, WebFeat President’s Award for Innovation for integration of WebFeat with DRA Classic
  • 2006, Webby Award from International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences for homeworkNYC.org, a homework help website
  • 2006, WebFeat President’s Awards for Innovation nominee
  • 2005, Nylink Achievement Award for MARC:Detrans, software that machine-translates catalog records from transliteration into Cyrillic 
  • 2005, Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies, American Library Association’s Exceptional Service Award, for service to multilingual populations in Department of Corrections custody.