After 62 Years, a Branch Library Returns to Chinatown

Nicole Huang, a Tufts graduate student, checks out a book in Chinese at the Chinatown Boston Public library on Saturday. Feb. 5, 2018. Photo by Ying Wang / BU News Service.

By Yanxuan Li
BU News Service

Boston – When the municipal building which housed Chinatown’s library was razed for “urban renewal” in 1956, Stephanie Fan was still a child.

“I remember that brick building vividly,” Fan said before the ribbon-cutting on a temporary branch library in China Trade Center Saturday. “I used to read Andrew Lang’s fairy-tale stories there. I’m so glad we’re finally bringing back the library service to Chinatown. It’s like a fairy-tale ending.”

The ground-floor of the 1,500-square-foot library has 2,500 items including books, newspapers and DVDs in both English and Mandarin. The space also has 20 laptops and free Wi-Fi.

David Leonard, the president of Boston Public Library, said not all programs are bilingual now, but they will all be offered in Chinese at some point later.

The branch library is temporary but is part of the Boston Public Library system, which means patrons can order items online from other BPL locations and have them delivered to Chinatown.

“It’s crucial to have a temporary library service while we are trying to build a permanent one,” Leonard said.

A final report of the planning study for the permanent Chinatown branch lists four sites but it is not definitive. Leonard said it is expected to take four or five years until the permanent branch is finished and in service.

Caroline Rubin, chairman of Friends of Chinatown Library, said she hoped this branch could serve as a gathering place for the community and could help preserve the traditional culture.

Rubin described the exodus of original residents in this neighborhood, most of which are from Asian populations.

Benny (left) reads a book with his father at the newly opened public library in Chinatown on Saturday. Feb. 5, 2018. Photo by Ying Wang / BU News Service.

“You can’t deny what is happening in terms of gentrification,” Rubin said. “I grew up going to the Chinatown Library in San Francisco and I want my son to be able to have that same opportunity here in Boston’s Chinatown. At least he can have this as part of his experience of growing up in this neighborhood.”

Chinatown has been struggling to maintain Asian residents in recent years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2000 to 2015 Boston’s Asian population increased from 7.5 percent to 9 percent. In Chinatown, it dropped from 69 percent to 44 percent.

The shift from affordable residencies to high scale apartments, condos and commercial properties has driven out longtime residents of Chinatown, whose average annual income of $14,000  is well below the city’s overall average income of $37,288.

Baolian Kuang, a resident of Chinatown for three years, moved to Brighton last year due to housing prices.

“I have a daughter,” Kuang said. “I can’t afford to live [in Chinatown] anymore. The rent now is almost three times of that four years ago.”

Kuang and her daughter were among the several hundred enthusiastic attendees at Saturday’s opening, which started with an address by Mayor Marty Walsh and ended with him cutting the green ribbon with neighborhood residents.

“So many Chinatown residents have waited decades for this day,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said during the address. “The opening of this space marks our commitment to ensuring all neighborhoods have the resources and support they need.”

Kuang said she plans to periodically go back to Chinatown just to spend some time in the library.

“It’s the thing that connects different groups of people here,” Kuang said. “Everyone in this neighborhood faces different problems but they all agree on one thing. We need a library.”

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