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Community-led Chinatown library facility to close Feb. 25

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  February 13, 2013 09:13 AM

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Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com

Chinatown residents and others packed the Chinatown Lantern Reading Room at its opening on April 21, 2012.

The Chinatown Lantern Reading Room will soon close, leaving the neighborhood once again without a lending library, the committee for the Chinatown Lantern Educational and Cultural Center announced Monday.

The reading room inside the Oak Terrace apartment complex at the corner of Oak and Washington streets, opened last April 21, will close after saying good-bye with a final celebration on Feb. 25.

In an e-mail to supporters, the Chinatown Lantern committee said the reading room “was conceived as a short-term pilot to test its viability as a library-related program for the Chinatown community.” The committee said maintaining the facility beyond its trial period required time and resources that would impede its goal of establishing a permanent cultural center.

Organizers said last year they hoped the 800-square-foot reading room would be the seed for a Chinatown cultural and educational center of up to 20,000 square feet that would include an art gallery and performance space, as well as a reading room.

The temporary reading room was funded by a $50,000 one-time grant from the Barr Foundation and $100,000 from a private donor.

The Boston Public Library maintained a branch in Chinatown from 1896 to 1938 at 130 Tyler St., the present-day location of the Tai Tung Village housing complex, and then a reading room at that address from 1951 to 1956.

The municipal building on Tyler Street was demolished in 1956, apparently to make way for the elevated Central Artery, though the route was later changed to run east of that site.

After the demolition, Chinatown briefly received visits from a bookmobile, but it was without a library for more than half a century, except for a three-month period from late 2009 to early 2010 when the Chinatown Storefront Library operated in the Archstone building on Washington Street.

Speaking at the opening ceremony last year, library supporter Stephanie Fan said when Chinatown community members approached the BPL to discuss reestablishing a branch in the neighborhood, they were told it would take 5 to 10 years before they could even discuss it, because they needed to demonstrate community need and secure financing.

“That was 12 years ago,” Fan said. “And a lot of things have changed in those 12 years.”

The global recession hurt the abilities of municipal governments to add services, Fan said, while the growth of Internet access made some traditional uses of libraries less necessary.

“But the one that has not changed is that this community still believes in a library, because libraries are not just a repository for books,” Fan said.

In 2008 the BPL completed a 300-page site study for a Chinatown branch library but lacked funding for further steps. With no sign of a city facility on the horizon, leaders from the Chinatown community set to work on creating one.

The reading room offered a rotating collection of more than 8,000 books and magazines in English and Chinese. A collaboration with the public library made additional titles available.

In its 10 months of existence, the reading room served more than 5,000 visitors and offered 16 courses in computer literacy and English conversation to more than 100 students, the committee said. It offered more than 60 hours of programming for children and youth and lent books to 250 library card-holders.

The committee said the Asian Community Development Corporation, which owns the Oak Terrace housing complex and provided the space for the library, hopes to continue using it as a resident reading room. It is seeking residents of the complex to volunteer to help run the reading room, which will continue to house some of the books in its current collection, especially children’s books.

The collection includes 4,000 to 5,000 books donated by former Chinatown residents Sam and Leslie Davol, who operated the Chinatown Storefront Library, and another 3,000 donated by Dr. Nelson Y.S. Kiang, a professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School.

Most of those books will be removed and stored awaiting a permanent home in the proposed cultural center.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremy.fox@globe.com.
Follow Jeremy C. Fox on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow Downtown on Twitter: @YTDowntown.

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Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com

Chinatown Lantern Cultural and Educational Center committee members, library supporters, and community leaders gathered for a group photo.

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