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.
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.
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.
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.