New York Public Library (NYPL)
I started off my visit to New York City at Mid-Manhattan Library on Fifth Avenue. The library is a six storey building of approximately 25,0000 square feet, situated virtually opposite the central flagship library, The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The Mid-Manhattan Library is open for longer hours than any other of the 91 NYPL locations, it is open for 88 hours per week, with extended hours until 11pm on Mondays to Thursdays. The library houses NYPL’s largest circulating collections including an extensive World Languages Collection catering for over 50 languages. The library also houses NYPL’s Picture Collection, about 1.5 million pictures clipped from books and magazines and organised in subject order, broken down by decades. I was shown around by Managing Librarian Billy Parrott.
On the top floor the Mid-Manhattan has a large space where it hosts free author talks and lectures, at least three to four evenings per week, and other adult programme events such as weekly film shows on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
The library is one of the biggest centres for the New York City Identification Card (IDNYC). This scheme is run in the library by the City and has proved hugely popular. The free card is for anyone who lives in New York and can prove that they have an address regardless of immigration status. It is accepted as ID for entrance to City buildings, opening a bank account and can be used as a library card. It also gives one year’s free entry to many cultural institutions.
There are 50 free computer classes held per month on the fourth floor computer lab. These range from the basics, to using the Cloud, social media, using apps, safety and maintenance and much more. Classes are usually 2 hours in length and are delivered by librarians and informatiion assistants, whoever has the skill set to run a class. Registration for classes opens one week prior to the class, customers are allowed to register for three classes per month. Because the classes cover most topics and are so frequent, customers are usually signposted to a class rather than extensive one to one help being provided on a daily basis. Very quick instant computer help may be available if time allows but most of the floors are only staffed by one member of library staff at any one time and a security guard.
The library also uses pages (entry level shelvers, usually young people), circulation staff on the ground floor and welcome volunteers at the entrance.
Some programmes are delivered by partners, for example the SingleStop sessions offer help and advice on healthcare, health plans, citizenship, and the nutrition assistance programme. The after school programme, the innovation lab (creating blogs, podcasts and videos) is run by a central NYPL team of specialist educators, they work closely with the schools and students can earn school credits for completing the programme.
Other programmes run by the library include contemporary classics book discussions, each one on a pre-set title and the English Conversation Hour, held twice weekly as a drop in, for anyone who wants to practice their English.
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
At the Central library – the one with the famous lions, Patience and Fortitude, I met up with Michelle Misner (Manager of Library Services Coordination), Carolyn Broomhead (Research Community Manager), Maura Muller (Volunteer Manager) and Susan Rabbiner (Assistant Director of Exhibitions).
Maura manages volunteers for the four research libraries and the 88 branch libraries, volunteers can only assist staff not replace staff. Volunteer roles include tour guides, literacy tutors, ESOL tutors (English for Speakers of Other Languages), knitting and crocheting, events, shelving, welcome desk, map division, special projects e.g. pre-prep and digitising, homework help mentors and job coaches. When volunteers are needed for specific tasks or extra help in the branches Maura often emails volunteers to see if anyone is available. NYPL has high numbers of volunteers, fluctuating between 1,100 and 1,500. However many are high school students who volunteer for 20 hours as part of their school community service. This means that there is a high turnover of teenagers which can put extra pressure on staff with volunteer training, to combat this problem Maura and a group of volunteers produced a video on how to shelve. There are also often corporate volunteering days, giving businesses the opportunity to take part in some community work whilst encouraging team building and giving the libraries some corporate sponsorship. These types of volunteers are encouraged to watch the training video prior to their volunteering day.
Volunteers in the research libraries may often belong to the Friends of the Library, they are often retired and donate money to the library. Volunteers in the branches may be teenagers doing their community service for school or volunteers in social housing who give 8 hours a month community service in exchange for lower rents. Maura and a retired librarian volunteer handle all of the recruitment and selection of the volunteers but the training is provided by the individual departments where the volunteer is placed.
Carolyn co-ordinates programmes and services for the research libraries with a focus on expanding the use of the research collections and also works with the outreach team encouraging branch and general public use of the research collections. Carolyn and her team often work outside of the library in the universities supporting graduates and students in the city. She also promotes their digital collections and the hope is that eventually all of the digital collections will be open access across the world.
One of the projects running is the Community Oral History Programme, this is operating in the branch libraries and has proved very popular. Volunteers are collecting oral histories of the community and these are then put on the NYPL website. The demand for this project has been so high that they are now looking to expand it using the research collections to support memory circles, and also link it with the ancestry databases and the map and photography collections.
Susan explained about the exhibition programming at the Schwarzman Building. In the main gallery there are usually four exhibitions per year. Within other exhibition spaces they hold flash exhibitions which are put on at short notice, responding to news and events, for example the death of someone famous or celebratory anniversaries. The exhibitions use items from NYPL collections. Exhibitions play a really important role in getting people into the library, they are the main way that the general population, who are not researchers, learn about the library’s extensive collections.
At the end of the day Michelle gave me a tour of the very impressive iconic building. Unfortunately the Rose Main Reading Room is currently closed for repair but we were able to view the rest of the building which includes reading rooms, study centres, a large children’s lending library, historic collections, a library shop and cafe.