In 2018, Hester Street and the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) began working together to develop and implement a community engagement strategy for three BPL branches undergoing major renovations or changes. Engagement events and activities will inform the design and programming of the new Adams Street Library in DUMBO/Vinegar Hill as well as ongoing renovations to the Central and New Lots branches. Building on our comprehensive community engagement processes in 2017 for BPL’s new Sunset Park library, our team is working in collaboration with local service providers, community groups, librarians, and elected officials throughout Brooklyn.

The Hester Street team is working with BPL staff to strengthen partnerships and build relationships with local community-based organizations, stakeholders, and the 3000+ Farragut House residents that the new library branch will serve. HST’s engagement approach will center issues of segregation and inequity between the high- and low-income areas of DUMBO by addressing challenges and opportunities related to neighborhood connections, branch culture and identity, targeted programming, spatial design and access.

We are using a spatial analytical lens to map demographics, social/physical barriers and opportunities, program amenities and potential stakeholders. Throughout the process we are tracking zip codes and individuals engaged to identify gaps and adjust engagement strategies to promote inclusive and equitable decision-making. The new library branch provides an opportunity to use proactive, strategic and thoughtful engagement to elevate resident voices that have been historically marginalized and to inform the future of BPL library design.

Community engagement for the New Lots Library’s renovation and expansion provides an opportunity to discover, lift up and build on the rich history behind the neighborhood and library site, which is situated atop an African burial ground containing the remains of enslaved people. The Hester Street team is working with a longstanding local partner – ARTs East New York (AENY), whose mission is to inspire a community through arts and culture – to set a sustainable pattern of resident-led development.

We are leveraging AENY’s deep knowledge of the neighborhood to ensure that the engagement celebrates culture, promotes civic engagement and offers multiple opportunities and avenues for meaningful community input. In addition to respecting the neighborhood’s historic and cultural aspects, Hester Street is using observational analysis and patron data overlaid with socio-economic data to create an outreach strategy that looks creatively at the gaps and opportunities to target hard-to-reach groups that could benefit from current and expanded library services.

The Central Library is the gem of the Brooklyn library system. The renovation of the Central Library will create new and improved amenities such as a Civic Commons, Popular Library, Adult Learning Center, Career Center, Teen Center and more, providing an opportunity to amplify the great work of the historic Brooklyn anchor. We are working closely with Central staff to understand their ideas and concerns and allow them a central role throughout the process.

Hester Street is crafting a community and data-driven approach for the Central engagement. CAMBA, our outreach partner for this branch, has deep roots in the surrounding areas of Crown Heights, Flatbush, Prospect Heights and Prospect Lefferts Gardens. Through their many programs in the area, CAMBA reaches more than 45,000 individuals and families each year, including 10,000 youth. We are leveraging these connections to teens, job seekers, working families, low-income individuals and new immigrants to hear from residents and stakeholders about how the renovated library programs can best meet their needs.