NYPL – Bronx Library Center

The Bronx Library Center is the largest public library in the Bronx, it is a modern building of 78,000 square feet, which opened in 2006. I was shown around by Chief Librarian Michael Alvarez.


The library is open from 9am-9pm Monday-Saturday and 12pm-6pm on Sundays. The opening hours have been extended since it first opened from 8pm-9pm, the library is especially well attended in the evenings and the later opening time allows for more evening programming. Circulation is not increasing at the Bronx Library Center but attendance of programmes is very much on the rise.

There are 130 computers, a mixture of desktops and laptops, the free WiFi is used extensively. Shelving and book stock has been reduced to make way for more tables, seating and study areas, more is now spent on digital resources. During my visit it seemed that the seating areas were well used with people on their laptops, phones, gaming devices and tablets but there were very few people browsing the books.


Careers Service

The library has a specialist careers area offering classes, help with resumes (CVs), one-on-one coaching for job seekers, online resources, computers and three job fairs per year. The careers centre is open seven days a week.



Computer classes are delivered by librarians and information assistants and these are supplemented by librarians from the TechConnect programme, a central NYPL team. TechConnect offers over 80 free technology classes from the basics to coding, using Skype to photo editing, business applications to purchasing a tablet and so much more. There are also regular classes on using the catalogue and library online resources. Where possible patrons are signposted to sign up for a computer class if it seems that they need support on the PCs.


NYPL BridgeUp is an after school educational programme for at risk youth, funded by a legacy trust donation. The Bronx  Library Center is one of the five NYPL sites to host the programme. Partnering with local schools, specialist educators are employed by NYPL to work with selected young people over a five year period.

Adult Learning Centre

The library provides free adult literacy classes delivered by library staff and volunteers. It is the biggest centre for these classes in the NYPL system, the demand for adult literacy classes is extremely high and the library currently delivers 24 classes per week. It has been one of the largest growth areas for the Bronx Library Center. There are also free courses in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to improve speaking and listening in English and a young adult literacy programme.


Adult literacy class

Adult literacy class

Teen Area

The teen area is popular and welcoming, there are young staff in this area and adults are discouraged from regularly using this part of the library. Teens are consulted on what they would like to see in their library. A monthly teen council group is held and any teen can take part so they can have a voice on future programming and library services.  Current teen programmes include author events, a coding game competition, design a leather bag workshop, grafitti workshop and a travelling zoo in the library. NYPL also host regular TeenLIVE cultural, artistic and technology programmes across the branches, these are funded through a family endowment left to the library for young audiences.


Children’s Area

The childrens library has it’s own floor. During my visit children flooded into the library at the end of school to do homework and use the computers and WiFi. Homework help was available if needed. The children’s library also has it’s own room for events, story times and school visits and a smaller room for hands on maker programming, both crafts and technology. There are extensive activities available for children including video games (Xbox, PS3 etc), crafts, story times, puppetry, e-book discussions, science Tuesdays, family sessions, computers and board games. The Bronx Library Center also hosts a free after school programme, Innovation Lab, which runs at selected NYPL sites, delivered by staff and volunteers. The Innovation Labs are aimed at tweens and encourage them to deal with issues they may be facing by using blogs, podcasts and technology.



In the basement there is a large auditorium. This can be hired out to host events for other organisations but there is also a regular programme of events including film shows, concerts, author talks, poetry and presentations.



I met up with Jean Harripersaud, who heads up Adult Services at the Bronx Library Center and also oversees programming, the library has the highest amount of programming in the city. Jean ensures that there is extensive outreach and collaboration with the community. Her team take part in local festivals outside the library but they also continually go out to visit different groups to promote library services. This includes visiting senior centres, nursing homes, schools, childcare providers, detention centres, and community groups. She says that wherever possible she likes to give a quick presentation to groups or at community events as she feels that this is far more effective way of promoting library services than just having a table at an event. A new outreach development Jean is planning for the team is visiting nursing homes to read short stories to residents.

It was great to see such a busy, vibrant library, so well used by all sectors of the community. I found it interesting that although this is a large library, like other libraries I have visited there were very few library staff on the floor, usually only one person on each floor or two at peak times in each area. Peak times are the lunch hour and after school/work.  A lot more of the staff time is spent on planning and delivering programming and Michael says that most of their patrons are fairly self-sufficient when it comes to using the library spaces.


NYPL – Mid-Manhattan and Stephen A. Shwarzman Building Libraries

New York Public Library (NYPL)

Mid-Manhattan Library

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.


Managing Librarian, Billy Parrott with some of the Pictur Collection

Managing Librarian, Billy Parrott with some of the Picture Collection

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).

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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.

Research Programmes

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.

Michelle Misner and Carolyn Broomhead

Michelle Misner and Carolyn Broomhead

Hanging exhibitions

Hanging exhibitions


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.


iPad information points around the building

iPad information points around the building

Lego Patience and Fortitude in the Children's Library

Lego Patience and Fortitude in the Children’s Library

Library treasures - P. L. Travers' umbrella, author of Mary Poppins. The umbrella that enabled her to fly.

Library treasures – P. L. Travers’ umbrella, author of Mary Poppins. The umbrella that enabled her to fly.



Plane tickets booked – Library appointments made

CILIP and the ESU have issued a press release on this year’s Travelling Librarian Award so it’s a good time to give an update on my tour plans – plenty has happened in the last few weeks.

I have now managed to arrange my dates and meetings with the libraries I plan to visit and my plane tickets are all booked. I have decided to fly from Bristol via Amsterdam to Boston. Although this makes the travel time slightly longer it is far more convenient for me than flying from Heathrow and was significantly cheaper.

I will be arriving in Boston on the evening of Saturday 19th September, this will give me a day to look around and then I will be visiting the Central Library on Monday 21st September where my contact is Michael Colford, Director of  Library Services. The Central Library in Copley Square has been undergoing a major renovation project which includes a new teen area called Teen Central  – here’s a taster from The Library as Incubator Project and the Library Journal

From Boston I will be travelling by Megabus (bargain $5 ticket) to Hartford. Hartford Public Library is one of the LTC cohort. My contact here is Matt Poland CEO of Hartford Public Library. He has recently announced that he will be leaving at the end of the year but hopefully not before September. Here is Matt talking about some of the library’s community engagement projects.

Joining me in Hartford will be Erica Freudenberger, Library Director at Red Hook Public Library which is also one of the LTC cohort. From Hartford I will travel with Erica to Red Hook and the Hudson Valley. Erica has very kindly offered to put me up for a few days at her house in Catskill, she tells me that it is a perfect time to visit the Hudson Valley as it will be the fall, the leaves will be changing making it incredibly spectacular. Red Hook Public Library has been given five star status by the Library Journal and was also named as the first finalist for the 2015 Best Small Library in America Award, given by Library Journal and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. You can read more about this amazing small library and their engagement projects here. Erica is also arranging for me to give a talk to the Mid-Hudson Library System of 66 member libraries. It will be exciting to share information about our own library service, volunteers, community and outreach projects with colleagues overseas. While I am in the Hudson Valley I hope to look round some other local libraries as well.

From The Hudson Valley I will travel by train to New York. On 28th September I will be meeting up with Michelle Misner, Acting Director at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the main branch library for New York Public Library. Michelle has arranged for me to meet with Carolyn Broomhead (Research Community Manager), Maura Muller (Volunteer Manager) and Susan Rabbiner (Assistant Director of Exhibitions), she has also put aside some time to give me a tour of the building to see their work in action. On 29th September I will be visiting the Bronx Library Center and meeting Chief Librarian Michael Alvarez. Whilst in New York I also hope to drop in on the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library and the Mid-Manhattan Library.

The next part of the tour takes me to Philadelphia. My contact at the Free Library of Philadelphia is Donald Root who is Chief of Central Public Services Division. The Free Library is undergoing a transformational initiative called Building Inspiration: 21st Century LibrariesNew areas include Central Senior Services designed to serve Philadelphia’s growing population of older people.

From Philadelphia I will travel by train to Washington DC. I will be meeting Kim Zablud, Assistant Director of Public Services at DC Public Library. We will be touring round Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (Central Library), I’m particularly interested to see the new “Labs” and Kim has also arranged for me to visit some of the branch libraries. I have a weekend in Washington so hope to make some time for some tourist activities and also take a public tour of the Library of Congress – can’t really go all the way there and not do that!

The last leg of the study tour will see me flying to Chattanooga on 6th October. There are lots of exciting things happening at Chattanooga Public Library. There’s The 4th Floor, Camp Etsynooga and Makeanooga for starters. Maker spaces, community collaboration, knowledge sharing and the sharing economy have become the order of the day at the Downtown Library.  I hope to spend some time with Executive Director Corinne Hill, Library Journal’s 2014 Librarian of the Year who has been re-inventing the public library. My contact is Mary Barnett, Public Relations Coordinator and 4th Floor Ops, Mary is also making arrangements for me to meet with community partners and key staff during my visit.

The next step is to arrange accommodation. As most of the libraries I’m visiting are in city centre locations the nearby hotels are quite pricey for a long trip. Wherever possible I’m going to look for AirBnB, this will give me a great opportunity to stay with people and find out more about local areas.