Since it opened in 1904, the Tompkins Square Branch of the New York Public Library has served as an important community resource.
Situated on East 10th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B, the building itself was designated an individual landmark by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission 1999. We are happy to report that the entire block of East 10th Street was just recently designated by the city as a historic district as well.
The history of the Tompkins Square Branch goes back to 1901, when steel magnate Andrew Carnegie donated$5.2 million to the city to help build a network of branch libraries across the five boroughs. The Tompkins Square Branch was the ninth Carnegie Library built in the city and was designed in a restrained Classical Revival style by Charles McKim of the well-known firm of McKim, Mead, & White.
The library’s designation report notes that the nearby institutional buildings helped influence the siting of the library – these include the then planned P.S. 64 to the east, the (now landmarked) public baths a block north on 11th Street, and the Boys Club Building on Avenue A and 10th Street.
The library reached out to the local community from its beginning — at the time the large German population was giving way to new immigrant groups like Italians, Eastern-European Jews, and Poles. The library held one of the most extensive Polish book collections in the city, and used its specially-built community rooms for meetings and classes for the public.
The New York Public Library Digital Gallery houses a great collection of English language course posters from 1920 (see below) that show the diverse communities that the library sought to serve. Today the Tompkins Square Branch continues the tradition of community education and offers programs like picture book readings for toddlers, yoga classes, and manga drawing workshops.