History to come alive at Sunset Park library

A grant to the Sunset Park library will help shine a light on the neighborhood’s history.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) — an independent federal agency that provide grants to cultural institutions, such as museums, archives, libraries, and other venues — has awarded a $12,000 Common Heritage grant to three Brooklyn libraries, including Sunset Park’s own branch, 5108 Fourth Avenue, as well as Bushwick and Canarsie, to study their neighborhoods’ transformation over decades of immigration.

The period to be studied begins with the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 for 50 Years of Integration: Personal Impacts of Demographic Changes on Shifting Neighborhoods in New York City, which is a year-long project that will help residents document the history of their neighborhoods and the changes they have undergone.

The NEH Common Heritage grant will allow the library system to build on its existing partnership in the Culture in Transit project, which archives neighborhood history by offering digitization events at smaller libraries and community organizations throughout the city.

Longtime residents of the neighborhoods will have the opportunity to share their memories and memorabilia during a series of community events that will begin this fall. Participants’ stories, photographs, documents and other artifacts will be preserved as a digital archive of the personal impacts of demographic change on their respective neighborhoods.

“We invite community members to bring photography, flyers, restaurant menus and everything that documents the daily life in the neighborhood,” Ivy Marvel, manager of special collections for Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), told this paper. “We will set up a system that has mobile scanning kits that consist of laptop and camera stands for smaller libraries and the communities they serve [to facilitate the digitization of documents that are shared at the events].”

Thanks to the information preserved through digitization, said Marvel, “People can learn about that community from all over the world.”

In addition, photography of people from around the neighborhood, such as those having a neighborhood block party, will be on display.

“It’s significant to other people’s future how we live in our daily lives right now,” Marvel added, elaborating on demographic changes and the cultural melting pot of certain neighborhoods. “In Sunset specifically, you have a large Asian American population but also Mexican Americans as well. It’s a unique neighborhood because of the diverse people living there.”

The grant will also support community history programs that will give participants a wider view of the historical trends in their neighborhoods. Scholars will incorporate each library’s special collections and the materials contributed by neighborhood residents in presentations at library branches and at two capstone events in Brooklyn and Queens.

“In a borough that is no stranger to change and transformation, 50 Years of Integration takes the long view, examining the impact of sweeping national policy at the neighborhood level,” BPL said in a statement. “We’re grateful to the NEH and our partners at Queens Library for their support of this project, and we look forward to working with residents of Bushwick, Canarsie and Sunset Park to tell the story of late-20th and early-21st century immigration to New York City.”

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