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Chinatown Community Cultural Center plans to open reading room

Posted by Roy Greene  April 6, 2012 10:54 AM

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With 8,000 donated books in hand, the Chinatown Community Cultural Center plans to open a temporary reading room in early April, one more step in Chinatown's 10-year quest to bring a permanent library back to the community.

The 700-square-foot room, sponsored by a group of organizations and individuals called the Chinatown Coalition, will be located in Oak Terrace apartments and will offer visitors a wide range of options, says Laurence Louie, the coordinator of the Public Library Campaign.

The choice of books will include fairytales for children, popular Chinese and English fiction, science and history books, and some encyclopedias. The collection will include some bilingual fairytales in English and Chinese, with an eye toward helping new immigrant parents who haven’t mastered English skills yet want to read stories to their kids.

Because space is limited, the reading room will only display 2,000 books at a time, says Alice Leung, the Chinatown Cultural Center’s start-up manager.

The collection also will include books and pictures on the history and recent development of Chinatown since the 1880s. Visitors will be able to check out books with a membership card, for which there will be no charge.

The library also will offer computer skills and English conversation classes to the community.

Leung said the reading room is a two-year pilot program to test the idea of building a larger Chinatown Cultural Center. It is the culmination of an effort begun in 2001, when the Chinatown Coalition began its push to establish a branch of Boston Public Library. That proposal was shelved because of a lack of financing.

In late spring 2011, the Chinatown Coalition changed its strategy so that it would not have to rely on the financially strapped Boston Public Library. Instead, it set out to see whether the neighborhood might be able to support a Community Cultural Center, that would include such organizations as the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, the Asian Community Development Corporation, the Chinese History Society of New England, the Chinese Progressive Association and the Asian American Resource Workshop. The reading room was born out of these discussions.

“We would like to build up a family-focused cultural center," Leung said. "We would create a bulletin board and set up a community calendar which would be much helpful for the residents here.”

Right now, the reading room is trying a different way of operating that makes more books available. It will have a Public Library deposit program, which enables the reading room to borrow books from the Boston Public Library monthly. People who visit the reading room will be able to request certain books from the Public Library they want to read.

“We are also considering bringing some eBooks to the library since, you know, it’s the time of high-tech,” said Leung. “We are excited to pioneer a new way.”

The Reading Room expects to be financially sustained through a variety of funding sources, including donations and grants, said Leung.

Residents of Chinatown spoke favorably of the program, saying the reading room should provide a comfortable environment for people to enjoy themselves.

“Right now, if we want to read some books, we can only go to the Public Library in Copley," said Michael Wong, a resident who has been living in Chinatown for 30 years. "But now, with this reading room, we can read newspapers or Chinese fiction in it. It’s our own reading room."

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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