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.



Red Hook – Small Library, Big Ideas!

Red Hook Public Library is situated in Red Hook Village, Dutchess County, New York State, the population of the village is under 2000, the library serves a population of approximately 4000 with out-lying areas. Red Hook Library is run by director Erica Freudenberger and a team of two full time staff, seven part time staff (between 10 and 20 hours) and five pages. Pages are teenage staff, aged 14 + who work 3-5 hours per week, after school, weekends and holidays, they earn the minimum wage. There are also 12-15 volunteers giving a few hours each, they usually help with shelving but may help run or lead activities.


This small library is based in an historic octagonal building, with limited space the team have found plenty of innovative ways to engage with their community. Red Hook Library has been nationally recognised for the work they have done, it has been designated a five star library by the Library Journal and was a finalist this year in the Best Small Library of America Award.

Although only just over 4000 square feet, there is space for a children’s library, a tween room, a teen area, adult library, study areas, three public computers and a children’s learning garden.


Red Hook is a municipal library which has a Board of Trustees. The Trustees act as governors of the library, dealing with finance and policies, they are appointed by the Mayor of the village. Erica reports to the trustees at the monthly board meetings. The library is funded by local taxes. The funding system means that residents vote in local elections for the amount they are prepared to spend on their library. This means that in order to secure appropriate funding it is imperative that the library demonstrates it’s value to the community.

Red Hook Board of Trustees meeting

Red Hook Board of Trustees meeting

As one of the Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) cohort Red Hook Library have been working hard on their community engagement activities, much of the programming is based on experiential learning. The amount of programming they achieve is truly impressive. On average they put on about 15 programmes per week. Usually the planning is done in 6-8 week cycles. Programmes include:

  • Romp and Stomp – pre-school
  • Toddler FUNdamentals – playing and developing fine motor skills
  • Petite Picasso – art for pre-schoolers
  • Story time – pre-school
  • Spinning yarns – knitters group
  • Libratory – STEM based maker sessions, after school
  • Crafternoon – for grade school children
  • Lego Club
  • Curators of the Lost Art – hands on art history and practice, after school grades 6-9
  • Minecraft
  • Two monthly book groups – adults afternoon and evening
  • Colour Club – adult colouring
  • Teen Tech Help – Saturdays, help with digital devices by pages and teen volunteers 10am-2pm
  • Farmers Market – Children’s craft activities and stories weekly at the village Farmer’s Market
  • Homeschool Discovery Zone – for homeschooled children and families
  • Learn conversational Italian – 8 week course for adults – beginner and intermediate classes
  • Learn Japanese for fun – introductory course for adults and high school students – volunteer led
  • Latin for teens – volunteer led
  • Shakespeare Discussion Group – monthly
  • Job Search Clinic- partnering with local career centre
  • Health Exchange Navigators – private sessions with navigators – partnership
  • After school sessions held at the High school library – currently web design and graphics – weekly partnering with school

In addition to these regular sessions there are many one-off adult evening events usually led by members of the community sharing their skills. These talks and workshops have included bee-keeping, gardening, brewing and maple tree tapping.

Hispanic Heritage Month organised by the library at the Farmers' Market

Hispanic Heritage Month organised by the library at the Farmers’ Market

Children's craft at the Farmer's Market

Children’s craft at the Farmer’s Market


Erica and the Mayor of Red Hook at the Farmer's Market

Erica and the Mayor of Red Hook at the Farmer’s Market

Erica and some of her team at Red Hook Farmers' Market. LtoR Dawn, Fiona, Erica and Jacob

Erica and some of her team at Red Hook Farmers’ Market.
LtoR Dawn, Fiona, Erica and Jacob

The work that Erica and her team do is inspiring, they work extensively with partners, including the nearby University, Bard College and the High School. There is a monthly meeting with village organisations and businesses “Red Hook Together” where there is an open dialogue and organisations share what they are doing, giving further opportunities for partnership work. Programmes are often held out of the library in community venues because of the limitations of space but this allows extensive outreach work, for all ages, and increases the visibility of the library and their work. Erica is constantly talking with her community and many of the events they deliver have been suggested by community members keen to share their skills.

Red Hook Library is thriving with over 150,000 visits and 11,000 attending programmed events in the last year as well as increased issues. Erica is convinced that the book issues will take care of themselves if you have people attending the programmed events. This library is highly valued by it’s community.

A final couple of points that may be useful for UK libraries when considering activities and events. At Red Hook and the other libraries that I have visited so far, there are no charges for any of the programmed events or courses, everything is offered for free.

The libraries are also open for longer hours, early evening is the busiest time. Red Hook is open 10am-7pm Monday – Friday and 10am-4pm on Saturdays. Many adult events are later in the evening after the library is closed. The staff work flexible shifts to accommodate out of hours programmes. Provision of library services outside the standard working day can only help engage the community with the library.

The Future is Programming!

After visiting Hartford I went home with Erica Freudenberger to her very beautiful house in Catskill. Erica had very kindly offered to put me up for a few days and introduce me to librarians in the Hudson Valley region as well as show me her own fascinating library at Red Hook – which will get a blog post all of it’s own.

On Thursday Erica took me along to the Mid Hudson Library System (MHLS) Future of Programming Workshop, in Ploughkeepsie.

I should start by explaining that library programming has a different context in the States, it means organising events and activities rather than something to do with computers. In the United States many public libraries have Programming Librarians with the responsibility of creating and organising all activities and events run in libraries.

The MHLS consists of 66 public libraries and It was great to be introduced to key library personnel from the area.

In the United States, much like in the UK, there is a downward trend in footfall and circulation. Programming, for all ages, is a growth area and is a way for libraries to further a core activity of facilitating knowledge creation. The workshop aimed to promote increasing community connections through programming.


The session was introduced by Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, MHLS Co-ordinator for Library Sustainability. Rebekkah explained the importance of focusing on community needs rather than a library’s needs and wants. Libraries need to help build communities by continually looking for new ways and ideas to meet ever changing community needs.

Janie Hermann

The first speaker was Janie Hermann, Public Programming Librarian at Princeton Public Library, New Jersey. Janie told us how adult programming had been minimal at Princeton, however programming for all ages has grown in recent years and the library now offers over 1,700 public programs per year. The programming team is cross-departmental with Janie being the full time lead but 14 other team members each participating for a variety of hours to produce a wide range of events. She said that there had been a culture shift and there was now more emphasis on programming at Princeton Public Library than anything else.

Key tips Janie made were:

  • Just because something is free – you don’t have to offer it. Running events and activities is never free, staff time needs to be considered. Set goals and objectives for events.
  • Find a balance – what is too much and what is not enough? Princeton runs events 5 – 6 nights per week, this offers free entertainment to customers and residents.
  • Princeton sends out a weekly newsletter ‘ This Week in the Library’ at 7am every Monday. This enables people to set their calendars every week,
  • Think thematically, programming in quarters so people can take part in a series of events
  • Check that the collection can back up and support the programme.
  • Work with the collection development librarians, do an author’s books circulate in your libraries?
  • Do some blue sky thinking with your team – nothing is too outrageous, be adventurous, it doesn’t mean that every suggestion has to run.
  • Play Pause Rewind Delete – weed your programmes just like a collection. Look at partnership programmes annually, get rid of what’s not working to make way for the new.
  • You have to be flexible and spontaneous.
  • Take ideas from the community – listen to your community.
  • You need to have good PR, good staffing and a programming budget.

Some of the successful programmes put on by the Princeton team include:

  • Election Night at the Library – big screen
  • World Cup football – big screen
  • Rubik’s Cube competition
  • Royal Wedding guests – dressing up and big screen
  • Opera at Princeton – partnership with University
  • Environmental Film Festival – invite entries, screen films
  • Student Film and Video Festival – children to 24years
  • How to  – skills sharing festival
  • Civic Hackathon – designing apps for the town

Erinn Batykefer

The second speaker was Erin Batykefer, co-founder of The Library as Incubator Project and Programming Librarian at New Canaan Library. Erinn suggested that we need to re-frame what we do in the library, to connect people to information. The purpose of libraries is to exchange information and books are not the only way to do this. The reference section is no longer relevant we now have more up to date information on the Internet but we should also recognise that sometimes information is held in people. Libraries should see the people we serve as collaborators in the information exchange.

Erinn’s view is that programming should be treated as collection development. The events calendar needs to be representative of the community. Libraries should respond to suggestions from the community and provide events in a range of formats. Ideally thematic suites of programmes should be created so people have the opportunity to join at multiple points.

Erinn’s key areas to consider when organising a programme calendar are: Subject, Format and Diversity. Examples at Canaan Library include:

  • Skill Shares – e.g. knitting and crocheting, intergenerational, peer to peer learning, the library acting as facilitator.
  • Workshops – e.g. paper making workshop
  • Classes – e.g. IT, WordPress bootcamp followed up by monthly blogging get together.
  • Lectures – e.g. Birds of Prey, Bee Keeping
  • Author talks – partnering with schools and colleges

Erinn’s tip for ensuring diversity in the programming schedule is to ‘shelve’ programmes in Dewey. She does this simply by putting programmes under subject headings and colour coding the subjects. If the programme calendar is in a range of colours, diversity should be achieved.

Hudson Valley Libraries – early adopters, investing staff time in programming

The final session looked at three MHLS libraries that successfully use extensive programming as part of their core service.

Erica Freudenberger – Director of Red Hook Public Library

Patti Haar – Director of Patterson Library

Sue Ray – Director of Catskill Public Library

Some of the great suggestions and ideas shared by these librarians were:

  • Use your community’s skills – library as a facilitator
  • People like to be asked to share their skills
  • Listen to your community and do it for them
  • Serve the entire community not just those who use the library
  • Use community spaces for events – get out of the library, leave the building and meet people
  • Collaborate – run programmes with school librarians or local groups
  • take story times out of the library – visit local businesses, learn about baking, police, fire services
  • Successful programming takes commitment, funding, time and food – always serve some food
  • Programming is about experiential learning
  • The library is a venue facilitating knowledge creation
  • It will take time to build a public following
  • Don’t charge for anything
  • CANI – constant and neverending improvement
  • Hire the right people with shared vision and values
  • Proper outreach – there is no limit!
L to R Erinn Batykefer, Janie Hermann, Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, Frances Tout.

L to R Erinn Batykefer, Janie Hermann, Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, Frances Tout.