Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Adding Classes and Content, Resurgent Libraries Turn a Whisper Into a Roar

New York Times

The Inwood Library in northern Manhattan is quiet, air-conditioned and open every day. Credit Alex Wroblewski for The New York Times

Matthew Carter’s summer hideaway is not in the Hamptons, the Catskills or on the Jersey Shore. It does not require a car ride or a small fortune to keep up.
Mr. Carter, 32, an adjunct professor of music at the City College of New York, simply holes up at the Inwood Library in northern Manhattan with his research books. It is quiet, air-conditioned and open every day.
“I’m a total leech of public libraries,” he said. “It’s my summer hangout. It’s where I spend the majority of my time, and where I’m most productive.”

Joan Burress, center, and Benjamin Bythe, right, give instruction during a Sahaja Meditation session at the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library. Credit Emon Hassan for The New York Times

It is also a place where he has a lot of company.
Far from becoming irrelevant in the digital age, libraries in New York City and around the nation are thriving: adding weekend and evening hours; hiring more librarians and staff; and expanding their catalog of classes and services to include things like job counseling, coding classes and knitting groups.
No longer just repositories for books, public libraries have reinvented themselves as one-stop community centers that aim to offer something for everyone. In so doing, they are reaffirming their role as an essential part of civic life in America by making themselves indispensable to new generations of patrons.
Story time at libraries in Manhattan and the Bronx is now so popular that ticket lines must be formed, while coding classes have waiting lists in the thousands. A library in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, runs a fully equipped recording studio that can be reserved at no cost; many libraries in the borough lend laptops and portable wireless devices to those without internet access at home.
In Queens, which has a large South Asian population, a library in Jamaica offers sewing classes in Bengali for Bangladeshi women, some of whom now earn a living as seamstresses. Libraries in Flushing and South Jamaica teach social media skills to small-business owners. Nationally, public libraries are redefining their mission at a time when access to technology, and the ability to use it, is said to deepen class stratification, leaving many poor and disadvantaged communities behind. Sari Feldman, president of the American Library Association, said library workers had shown people how to file online for welfare benefits and taught classes in science, technology, engineering and math to children who could not afford to go to summer camps. 

“All libraries are having a renaissance,” Ms. Feldman said. “We’re seeing that libraries have really stepped up to take on roles that are needed in a community.”
New York City’s 217 public libraries have rebounded in the past two years amid an infusion of city dollars, after years of budget and service cuts. An outpouring of support from library lovers has served as a reminder that the institutions are a crucial part of many lives.
A recent contest to recognize neighborhood libraries underscored their vitality: 18,766 online and paper nominations were submitted in one month, up from about 4,300 when the yearly competition was started in 2013. Nearly every library was nominated at least once. Some received hundreds of nods.

One young man wrote that he was homeless when he started going to the Arverne branch of the Queens Library, where the staff not only helped him study to become a security guard but also hired him to work as a mentor to teenagers. Today, that man, Richard Johnson, has two jobs and his own apartment.
“Ever since becoming a member of the Queens Library, I have been bettering my life,” he wrote in his statement.
The city’s three library systems — the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Library — have intensified their efforts to mobilize the public. An exhibit at the New York Public Library’s landmark building on Fifth Avenue last year highlighted Andrew Carnegie’s 1901 gift of $5.2 million to build a network of city libraries, in a pointed reminder that the city had promised, in return, to pay for their operation and upkeep.
In the past two years, more than 250,000 people, including the author Judy Blume and the musician Patti Smith, have signed on to a letter campaign in support of the libraries. Library workers have held story time on the steps of City Hall, and showed up at budget hearings in bright orange T-shirts emblazoned with the words: “Keep Investing in Libraries, Keep Investing in New Yorkers.”

With its satellite libraries, inmates at the Rikers Island jail complex can now read books to their children at outside neighborhood branches, like this one at the Macon Library in Brooklyn.
The message was heard. In the 2016 fiscal year the libraries received $360 million for operating costs, $33 million more than the year before — the largest increase in recent times. For the 2017 fiscal year, which began on Friday, city financing for the libraries increased slightly to $365 million. But in a more significant victory, city leaders agreed to preserve past increases in future budgets, the difference, say, between getting a one-year bonus or a permanent raise.
City Councilman Andy King, who represents northeast Bronx and is chairman of the Libraries Subcommittee, said previous years of budget cuts had left the libraries on life support. “I’m glad we’re in a financial position to let the blood flow again,” Mr. King, a Democrat, said. “Libraries are a lifeline, which we can’t afford to ever let fall again.”
Tony Marx, president of the New York Public Library, which has 92 branches in the Bronx, in Manhattan and on Staten Island, said library officials no longer had to worry about plugging budget holes and could instead focus on building services and programs. They have hired 120 more staff members, including 67 librarians for children and young adult literature alone. They have spent $1.1 million on books and materials and expanded seats in early literacy programs for toddlers.
“We’re a mere year into this reinvestment, and the results are immediate: longer hours, more librarians and thousands more seats for education programming,” Mr. Marx said.

No comments:

Post a Comment