“Everybody remembers their first Queens Library experience,” said Dennis Walcott, president and CEO of the Queens Library. He can still remember getting his first library card on a class trip to the St. Albans branch as a child. Years later as the Queens Library president, he works towards expanding that same system he entered into so long ago.
Walcott is a Queens native, who was born and raised in St. Albans. He was educated through the Queens public school system, attending P.S. 36 in St. Albans, I.S. 192 in Hollis and Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows. Afterwards he received his bachelor degree in sociology, and a master degree in Education from the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Later on he went on to earn his master degree in social work from Fordham University in 1980.
Walcott has been rooted in Education and public service his entire life, starting his career as a teacher in South Jamaica. He went on to work as the deputy mayor of Education and Community Development from 2002 to 2013. During which time he worked towards the coordination of both the Department of Education (DOE), New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the Department of Youth and Community Development and the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education.
The Queens Library board of trustees appointed Walcott to the position in March of 2016, “We are confident that Dennis Walcott has exactly the right skills and depth of experience to lead the Library through the challenging years ahead,” said Board Chair Carl S. Koerner and Vice Chair Judith Bergtraum, who served as chair of the Board’s Search Committee.
However, the new head of libraries for the borough faced some challenges in the beginning including a sizeable financial mess left by his predecessor, Thomas Galante. According to DNAinfo Galante was pushed out of the seat after he, “had been under fire for months for his salary and spending, including $140,000 for renovating his office at the library’s main branch in Jamaica.”
In the years since, Walcott has uplifted the libraries public image. Now, library funding is being used for the renovation of nearly 100 separate projects across the 65 branches.
According to the Queens Library site, “City capital funding has averaged $26 million in each of the last five years. State funding has been approximately $1.3 million per year.” Renovations are funded by the mayor, borough president and Queens council members.
Noteworthy recent projects include the creation of the Far Rockaway library, and the Hunters Point library in Long Island city.
The libraries were opened with donation from Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilman Donovan Richards, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, State Senator James Sanders Jr. and the de Blasio Administration.
As Queens is “The World’s Borough,” Walcott places a significant amount of importance on diversity. “One of Queens Libraries top priorities is to provide exceptional service to all of our customers, whatever their background, interests or circumstances.”
Coming up this month is the second anniversary of the Lunar New Year Parade in the Flushing library. Walcott remembered the large response from the public last year. “It was really amazing parade, it was cold as can be but it didn’t stop people. I can remember vividly but we had an excellent turnout of staff and volunteers who marched, but there was also an excellent turnout from the public who were out there in numbers that were four rows five rows deep,” said Walcott.
As a former educator Walcott also emphasized the importance of being a trusted source of information for the public. “The goal of the library is sharing information, and reinforcing that for the public so they know where to get that information.”
Additionally, Walcott championed the adult learning program, which provides english learning classes, Pre-High School Equivalency (Pre-HSE) classes, TASC Testing (formerly the GED), National External Diploma Program (NEDP), citizenship preparation and technology training.
He also spoke highly of the STACKS after-school program which offers children structure and unstructured programming every day to help them develop emotional, social and academic skills.
While Walcott does not have a specific goal for the future of the Queens Library, he wants it to grow more accessible to patrons. Sitting in his public office at the Queens Central Library, Walcott remembered walking through this same building as a teenager. “I used to come to this library when I was in high school when it first opened. We had our 50th anniversary celebration two years ago now, it was just a great reminder of how this library started.”