Metro

City opens temporary library branch in Chinatown

Michael Ruan, 5, looked at books at the new Boston Public Library temporary branch inside the China Trade Center.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Michael Ruan, 5, looked at books at the new Boston Public Library temporary branch inside the China Trade Center.

As a child, Stephanie Fan pored over Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books at the Chinatown library branch — a brick building on Tyler Street that was torn down for urban renewal 62 years ago.

But as a reader who yearns for happy endings, Fan said she never gave up on seeing library services return to the neighborhood. On Saturday, her wish came true.

“It’s like a fairy-tale ending,” Fan said as the city cut the ribbon on a temporary branch library on Boylston Street. “It’s happy.”

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The opening marked the first time Chinatown has had library services in its backyard since the demolition of the former branch in 1956. It also fulfilled a promise Mayor Martin J. Walsh made during his 2013 campaign.

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“A lot of people have fought for a library in this community for 50 years,” Walsh said. “This library is for all of Chinatown.”

The 1,500-square-foot branch, which is on the ground floor of the city-owned China Trade Center, has 2,500 items, including books, newspapers, and DVDs in English and Mandarin. The space has laptops and WiFi and offers youth programs like crafts and story times, library officials said.

Opening festivities on Saturday morning drew a throng to the atrium, where dragon dancers, drummers, and musicians playing dulcimers entertained visitors.

“It’s just so incredible to see it finally come together after so long,” said Long Lin, 21, a Northeastern University student who grew up in Chinatown and advocated for the branch. “Whenever I drop by Chinatown, I’ll definitely stop by.”

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Nancy Huang, 22, said she plans to log many hours at the site because her school, Urban College, is in the same building.

“I grew up having to walk from Chinatown to the Copley library to borrow those books,” she said.

With the opening ceremony going on behind them, children and their parents remained engrossed in books at the new Boston Public Library branch in Chinatown.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
With the opening ceremony going on behind them, children and their parents remained engrossed in books at the new Boston Public Library branch in Chinatown.

The city said it spent $1 million on the space and set aside about $350,000 to operate the site, which will be open Monday through Friday. Patrons are allowed to order items throughout the library system, including the Central Library in Copley Square.

The library system is hiring a Chinese-speaking branch librarian to lead the five-member staff, said David Leonard, president of the Boston Public Library.

It was crucial, he said, to give the neighborhood a temporary branch while the city tries to establish permanent library services in Chinatown. The branch is expected to be open for three to five years.

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“The community never stopped advocating for the return of an actual branch to Chinatown,” Leonard said in an interview on Friday. “It was important to do something now.”

Last year, the city set aside $100,000 to develop long-term plans for library services in the neighborhood.

The effort resulted in an 156-page report that examined the possibilities for a branch that would serve Chinatown, Downtown Crossing, Bay Village, the Leather District, and part of the South End. The report identified four sites that could accommodate a library, but said the list wasn’t definitive.

Carolyn Leung Rubin, who leads the Friends of the Chinatown Library, said the neighborhood has rapidly gentrified in recent years and needs a central gathering spot where all residents would be welcome.

“It’s one way Chinatown can maintain its history,” she said. “We don’t want Chinatown to just be a facade.”

The city report about library services in Chinatown said recent building in the neighborhood has been geared toward higher-income residents who can afford market-rate housing.

Of the nearly 2,000 residential units approved in Chinatown between 2007 and 2016, only 31 percent were affordable, leading to increased numbers of white and non-Asian residents in the neighborhood, the report said.

“This has produced a bifurcated community in which the different groups have little sense of common community and common interaction,” the report said. “Long-time residents fear that further gentrification will transform the character of the community.”

Jia Rong Li, 21, who was born in Guangzhou, China, said he got involved with the push to establish a library when he was a teenager and a member of the Chinatown Youth Initiative.

Even then, Li said, gentrification was taking its toll on the neighborhood.

“This community is shrinking,” said Li, a Harvard University student. “This is a space where we kind of anchor the community.... People who have moved out of Chinatown can still feel a part of it and they can still come and visit.”

Chinatown resident Shirley Chin visited the branch with her son 5-year-old son, Logan Dunn, who picked out several books, including “Curious George Plays Soccer.” Logan said he wants to visit the library again.

“He found his books really easily,” Chin said. “He loves reading.”

The new building is the neighborhood’s first public library since 1956.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
The new building is the neighborhood’s first public library since 1956.

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.