This story has been changed to reflect the following correction: Two children were misidentified in this story. They are Josiah and Christopher Corker.
SCHENECTADY -- During the bitter cold in early January, a teenager rode his bike a mile up State Street, trekking from Hamilton Hill to the nearest library.
But he didn’t make a habit of it. And most of the other teens who were regulars at the Hamilton Hill library branch have not visited other libraries at all in the month since their library abruptly closed.
The Carver Community Center closed in December and with it came the closure of the small library renting one room inside the center.
At first library officials didn’t see any problem. They are finishing the design of a new library near Hamilton Hill, slated to open at the end of the year and replace both the Hamilton Hill and Duane branches. Now that Hamilton Hill had closed early, they figured patrons could go to other libraries until the new one is ready.
But children are finding it difficult to get to the two closest library branches. It’s more than a mile to the Duane branch on State Street. The Mont Pleasant branch is closer, on Crane Street, but it’s on the other side of two busy roads with no crosswalk. Parents said they don’t feel comfortable letting young children walk to either location alone, but both branches close at 6 p.m., making it difficult for parents to walk their children there after work.
At Mont Pleasant, librarians have seen a couple children who had been going to the Hamilton Hill branch. At Duane, Youth Services Librarian Kaela Wallman has only seen a few, and only occasionally.
Library Director Karen Bradley is watching Duane and Mont Pleasant branch statistics to see if computer usage spikes, so she can move some of the Hamilton Hill computers to meet the increased demand. But so far, the branches haven’t seen much change, another indication Hamilton Hill library users have not moved to either branch.
“We have to consider people who cannot get to the library,” Bradley said after a month had passed. “There were not a large number of people utilizing that library, but they were a core group of steady users.”
She now believes the library system must create a temporary library in or near Hamilton Hill.
“This is top priority. Let’s get going. Let’s do something. There’s big needs,” she said.
She added that she was impressed by some children’s efforts to get to other libraries, particularly that bicyclist.
“You remember how cold it was,” she said. “Just the idea of this young man riding his bike to be there. His library must mean a lot to him.”
They’re generally not coming for the books. They’re looking for computers.
Many inner-city library users do not have computers at home. In addition to book literacy, those libraries are becoming tutoring centers for computer literacy.
“It’s the great digital divide up there,” Bradley said.
This week, one girl at the Duane branch was learning how to use a mouse by playing a dress-up game on a computer. She didn’t even know the word for the device she was using.
“You know, the thing,” said Dejanae Patterson, 11, gesturing. “You need the thing for the game.”
At home, she has a touchscreen phone but no computer.
Bradley is well aware of the need to provide computers so children can learn how to use them.
“It all comes down to the technology. That’s the great need in that community,” she said.
The Henderson family also has no computer at home, but that wasn’t a problem. Christopher and Josiah Corker, ages 10 and 8, used to visit the Hamilton Hill library every day it was open. They would play computer games and occasionally check out a DVD, they said.
It was easy to get there: They attended the after-school program at Carver, just downstairs from the library, and their mother would take them there when she picked them up.
Now she walks them across the busy intersection of Crane Street and Chrisler Avenue so they can spend an hour at the Mont Pleasant library every few days.
It was an eye-opener for her boys, who had gotten used to the very old furniture at the Hamilton Hill library.
Christopher Corker said he much preferred Mont Pleasant, which just got new furniture. He doesn’t miss the Hamilton Hill library at all.
“Carver’s like a bad library. They talk mad loud. Here, it’s quiet,” he said. “They run, and they’re supposed to not run.”
Bradley said young children from the community center often ran through the library, unsupervised.
But other patrons said they missed the Hamilton Hill library, mainly because it was easy to get to.
“I loved that library,” said Jade Jackson, 11. “I walked there all the time.”
There will be two community meetings to discuss what the public wants in a temporary library, as well as what they want in the new library.
The first meeting is Saturday at 10 a.m. in the McChesney Room at the library’s main branch, 99 Clinton St. The second is Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the same location.
Children said they want computers within easy walking distance, but computers can’t simply be set up in any location. It’s not as easy as wheeling in a bookcase or setting up an outdoor literacy program. The site would need electricity, Internet access and probably infrastructure improvements to support the power demands for a series of computers.
“Setting something up is a lot more work,” Bradley said. “What can we improvise? What do they need the most? That’s what I want to hear.”
She’s already arranged to tour some locations for possible library space.
“We have to offer some kind of services and programs. We have to think outside the box,” she said.
But not everyone wants a temporary library.
John Karl, president of the Friends of the Library, which raises money for the library system every year, is opposed to the proposal. He said librarians were assaulted and their cars vandalized when they worked at the Hamilton Hill library. Police and sheriff’s deputies sometimes had to walk them to their cars, he said, citing a report he wrote five years ago.
But police and the county sheriff could find no records of any such problems in the past three years.
Karl said a library in the neighborhood would be too costly partly because of the need for security. He also said there wasn’t money or need for a temporary library.
“Use of Mont Pleasant or Duane in the interim is not going to be that big of a detriment,” he said. “We have no funds. And we have books that have not been taken out in years.”