Recalling the beginning of his illustrious career, actor/playwright Ossie Davis fondly described the Harlem Branch as “the only home I had … the very temple of my existence, my craft, the place that trained me, the first institution to welcome me.” The Harlem Branch has been welcoming community residents since 1826, when Harlem was an isolated village. The library was one of the first to be incorporated into the extensive New York Public Library branch system. Andrew Carnegie’s gift supported the construction of a new building, which the branch has occupied since 1909, designed by the noted architectural firm McKim, Mead and White. This three-story classical building is wheelchair accessible and features large arched windows and an elegant marble staircase.
A $3.92 million full renovation in 2004 was made possible by The Overbrook Foundation through The New York Public Library’s Adopt-a-Branch Program. Adult and young adult reading rooms occupy the first floor. The children’s room is located on the second floor, with a separate story-hour area for children’s programs. A soaring 74-seat auditorium on the third floor offers free films and other programs and is available for use by the community. The lower-level houses a Center for Reading and Writing, which provides small group and one-on-one literacy instruction for English-speaking adults, ages 16 and older.