Albany's Howe Library: classic reading

howe main photo

Grab a storybook. The chair's big enough for two.

By Akum Norder

Albany's libraries are pretty well-nigh fabulous right now.

After the restoration and expansion project that renovated three library branches and built two new ones, city neighborhoods have modern, interesting spaces to serve as both centers for information and sources of pride -- the kind of places you can build a community around.

But alongside the glass walls and contemporary styling of most branches is a bit of old Albany: The Howe Library. And it's a gem.

We went down to Howe recently to (ahem) check it out.

howe exterior, side

The renovated Howe, in Albany's South End, has been open a year now. Those graceful, soaring windows make the most of the winter light, and the woodwork gives the room a welcoming warmth. Built-in benches line the wall in the children's room. The fireplace is surrounded by tiles that tell the story of "Rip Van Winkle."

howe benches

howe tile detail

Renovations added a parking lot, and an expansion in the back included an elevator to make the place handicapped-accessible. The branch has community meeting space, study rooms, and a separate area for teens. The 2009 renovations, which included the expansion, cost $5.2 million.

Named for an Albany school principal, the John A. Howe branch originally opened in 1929. In a Times Union "Story of Albany" blog post, Mary Ellen O'Connor talks about her visits there as a child in the 1950s. She describes it as a welcoming place, full of stories that thrilled her imagination. "[T]he light that poured through the windows made the oak tables and bookcases shine. ... There was something magnetic and peaceful about the Howe. Once you got inside, you didn't want to leave."

Coming back years later to see the peeling paint, falling plaster, and water-stained ceiling prompted O'Connor to become a library trustee, and she helped shepherd the plan to renovate and expand Albany's library system. She's now president of the Library Trustees Association of New York State.

howe vertical

We deserve beautiful public spaces. With Howe, the city delivers.

Find It

The Howe Library
105 Schuyler Street
Albany, NY 12202

Comments

The renovations look great! Thanks for drawing attention to this place. We need more public spaces like it.

I'm glad that you mentioned the community meeting spaces that are available downstairs. This beautiful library is also now truly the gathering point for the South End.

Architecturally, it reminds me of 19 Dove St (at the corner of Washington) which I believe used to be part of the Albany Library System as well. When I moved to Albany 20+ years ago, I recall that it was still used as a book depository. Perhaps someone can elucidate further.

-R is correct. The building at the corner of Dove and Washington was the old Harmanus Bleecker Library. It closed around the time the main branch was opened next to the Armory. I vaguely remember the interior as being very elegant - when I was very little, there were some small art classes for children there. The corner of the building on Spring Street was the home of the wonderful and much-missed Bryn Mawr used book store.

Thanks Paula! I was having a brain fart regarding the name...senility you know.

We love our new neighborhood libraries in Albany! Our neighbors are showing us just how much they love them too. During it's first year open, the beautiful Howe Branch saw more than 100,000 people come through its doors. More than 140,000 books, DVDs, and music CDs were circulated at that branch. And more than 24,000 people used the free public computers at Howe. The new and renovated branch libraries are becoming true neighborhood destinations. Many thanks to all of the Albany Public Library supporters out there!

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