Desk Set Sponsored Events, Dispatches from the Editors, Events from Other Orgs Brooklyn Public Library, Dance Dance Library Revolution, New York Public Library, Queens Library, Urban Librarians Unite
Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins
Walking towards the Brooklyn Public Library’s Love Your Library Day celebration this past picture perfect Saturday afternoon, I caught the eye of a passerby who smiled and said “Go buy a book for a dollar to support the library!” Indeed, that’s where I was headed, and partly why I was headed there, but hearing the suggestion from a stranger made it feel like an even more satisfying way to spend my afternoon. Now, she could have been a librarian or library worker. But I feel pretty certain she was a patron. One of the many patrons who turned up to sign petitions, listen to live music, buy some cheap books, and support the library. Sometimes it feels like the only people speaking up for libraries are librarians. But that’s way off. It’s not just about looking out for our jobs, or our colleagues, it’s about looking out for the millions of New Yorkers who see the value in an institution that wants to spread, share and celebrate information. Not for the price of a laptop, an iPad or a Kindle, but for free free free.
Despite what happened in Queens this week (see below), it is still important to let your voice be heard if you count yourself among the library lovers. And what better way to speak out than by throwing down vintage style with a pen and paper, and sending a postcard to the city council?
In case you are not friendly with Urban Librarians Unite on Facebook (and you really should be), here’s what our retroactivist hero Christian Zabriskie had to say:
If you haven’t heard the news 90 day notices of layoff have been handed out to hundreds of Queens Library staff. Over a third of the workforce of this year’s Library Journal Library of the year and the top circulating library system in America is being given notice this week.
Although it is tempting to give up, to throw up our hands and decry the ways of the world, we cannot allow ourselves to do so. We are at a crux in the history of libraries in New York City. Not only will dozens of libraries be closed if this budget goes through but hours on others will be so drastically slashed that the library will simply cease to be a regular part of those communities. It will go from a neighborhood resource and common area to another inconvenience in the city and people drop the library habit because it becomes simply too awkward. The kids will stop coming and parents will no longer automatically default to the library as rendezvous. That ebb and flow of the public which we all love so much will dry up.
On top of that this has the potential to be an incredible drain of library talent. A generation of up and coming library professionals, people with energy and ideas and so much potential, are being nipped off the vine just as they are coming into their professional potential. These people will either leave the profession or drift off somewhere else to some place where there are library jobs to be found, Oz perhaps or Wonderland. The point is, they won’t be with us, they won’t be serving our kids, teaching our elders, watching our forgotten. We will have to start all over again in the years to come when the budgets come eeking back, if they come back. If we have anyone left to care about getting money back for these dusty foreign stacks.
We will not go gentle into this good night. No my friends, we will keep getting out there, keep going to the rallies, and keep getting our postcards in. If they want to kill our libraries then let us drown them in our cards, shout them down, force them to see what they have the potential to lose and if, at the end of all that, the budget changes not a dime let us say that we did everything we could in the fight that was fought.
Thank you for your support. My deepest sorrow to everyone who got a letter this week from Queens and who stands to get a letter some week in the future from other Tri-Li libraries.
Photo courtesy of Urban Librarians Unite
If you haven’t sent in a postcard yet, there is still time. And the Desk Set is trying to make it as easy and stylish as possible. We are thrilled to announce that Polluted Eyeball will be screenprinting brand new Save NYC Libraries postcards at DDLR on Saturday, May 22nd. You can pick up a card, or even watch it be made, then head over the Postcard table to write your personal message to the City Council. We will deliver the cards to Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, a library ally who will present all the cards to the council.
We are super grateful to Peter at Polluted Eyeball for this tremendous addition to the party, and we hope to see you all there!
But if you can’t come, make your own postcard in support of your library and send it to:
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer
47-01 Queens Boulevard, Suite 205
Sunnyside, NY 11104
From Our Guest Bloggers awful library books, Beverly Massachusetts, Beverly Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, children's librarians, Librarians, Libraries, library management
by Emily Nichols
Librarians would leave Brooklyn, usually to go back to go back to their home state, and those left behind would wonder briefly what their lives were like now, and imagine they were easier and more dull and lonely. When my turn came, I bought a baby blue linen dress with pink buttons from a boutique in Park Slope that was (I imagined) suitable for a small town New England children’s librarian. The drama of my interview was heightened arriving at the Beverly Depot, which was featured in the David Mamet movie State and Main. The Beverly Public Library was designed by Cass Gilbert (he also designed the Woolworth Building) and it has an impressive beaux arts facade. My heels echoed loudly on the marble floor.
Beverly Public Library from the town common
For those readers who are considering a change (maybe not this year, but if/when the job market opens up) I can say it was the best possible thing for me, and I often day dream about not having done it. The transition from Brooklyn to Beverly was not easy and not dull.
What initially attracted me to my current job as Head of Children’s Services in Beverly was having a desk, phone, computer, office, and department that were all mine. In Brooklyn I was managing the school age services for something called a Cluster, a group of five branches that were adjacent on the map but had little in common besides an overwhelming need for library services. In my cluster were both Brooklyn Heights (next to St. Ann’s School and Borough Hall) and Red Hook (next to the projects with their million dollar blocks.) Managing staff and services in five locations when you weren’t any one’s direct supervisor was a daily challenge.
In Beverly I can be constant and responsible within the powerful framework of children’s librarianship. I choose books, I choose staff, I make the schedules and I select, present or delegate programs. It helps that my entire staff is more experienced and organized than I am, except the eager, thoughtful and creative teen-aged pages. The community seems to agree on what it wants from the library and is involved in fund-raising, special events, and the daily work of the library. Every year the public librarians meet with the school librarians to write the summer reading list that is used throughout the city.
favorite weeded books
Having a computer and a desk and ordering powers has made me a better librarian because I take the time to keep up with literature and reviews in a way I didn’t in Brooklyn, where programming and weeding and going to meetings were my main responsibilities. Unfortunately I also obsessively read Chowhound and mourn my lost lunch options. Lucky for me, Massachusetts is close enough that I can get to Roberta‘s when I have an uncontrollable craving.
Having a fresh start has given me what I said I wanted: more professional experience in a different setting, a desk, a closer relationship with my family and old friends. It has also given me some things I didn’t dream of: enough sleep, a new understanding of and respect for my chosen career, and a consistent writing practice through my blog.
where I walk the dog
Thank you for reading my posts this month and thanks to Maria and Sarah for sharing their space. If they ask you to do anything, say yes.
From Our Guest Bloggers, Programs of Interest 826NYC, Brooklyn Public Library, Dave Eggers, Librarians, Libraries, tutoring, Williamsburg
Image courtesy of 826NYC
The best kept secret of the Brooklyn Public Library is in the basement of the Williamsburg Branch, perched over the BQE near the projects and the JMZ train. In 2006 a Superheroes’ Union Meeting Hall decorated with posters gently poking fun at the rules and regulations of working within BPL (Looking to hire a sidekick? Don’t forget to fill out form 137X!) opened in a formerly vacant suite of three rooms in the renovated Carnegie building. The center is run by 826NYC and staffed by volunteers who provide completely free after school tutoring for children aged 6-18 during the school year.
Thirty-four percent of Brooklyn children live below the poverty line. Forty-six percent of Brooklyn residents speak English as their second language. There are so many kids in need of, well, everything, and there is a library within half a mile of of all citizens, so theoretically you can reach most of these children through existing library spaces. Rapidly gentrifying Williamsburg was selected partly because there is a significant population of creative professionals and college students in the gentrifying neighborhood to tap as volunteers. Neighborhood libraries often host one or two after school homework helpers but overburdened public librarians have a hard time supporting and retaining volunteers along with their many other duties. The tutoring center used all the resources already within the borough and the building- a safe meeting place, research materials, the kids who already hang out there, and the adults who want to help.
In one of my many many lucky breaks, I was working as a children’s librarian at the Williamsburg branch when 826 and BPL partnered to open the tutoring center. I took over as project manager partway through the planning stages- translating between the tiny nonprofit (four staff people) and the huge Library system which has a different department for every function: Finance, Volunteers, Buildings, Marketing, Grants, Events. My part was quite small, but it is easily the project of which I am most proud.
“If even one child goes to college because of this, all the time and stress is worth it.” said Gary Shaffer, a former BPL librarian who started the partnership by approaching 826 founder Dave Eggers at The New Yorker Festival. I agree. A scrappy nonprofit with extremely high profile talent behind it can move in ways that a 60 location institution just can’t- so the relationship between the two was symbiotic. Although 826 may have thought we moved slowly, the space makeover and opening took barely eight months and $16K. This is unheard-of speed and thrift for a project in a public institution.
In my dreams, every library in every neighborhood and town has a writing/tutoring center with original art by Marcel Dzama and a dedicated rotating group of community volunteers personally invested in the success of all children. If we could use the drive and inventiveness of 826 and combine it with the dedication and resources of our existing public libraries and librarians, our libraries would be more nimble, creative, community driven, and focused.
If you know anyone who is considering a library or teaching career or who simply wants to get to know their neighborhood in a new way, please suggest that they volunteer with 826NYC or their local library.
From Our Guest Bloggers Brooklyn, Brooklyn Public Library, Librarians, Libraries
by Emily Nichols
I became a librarian because Ben Steinbach swore at me and I stayed a librarian because I desperately missed my mother.
This is not the story you would get if you took me out on a first date. Dates usually say, predictably, “You don’t look like a librarian.”
“I save my Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt for special occasions.” I answer and rapidly change the subject.
If you met me at a conference I might say how my great grandfather was a librarian at Princeton. And I knew some really great women who became librarians and it seemed like a kind of amazing career. You might smile politely. And I would smile with a few too many teeth and a slightly manic air, especially if you were a middle aged woman with status in my profession. Other phrases I repeated until I believed them.
- “I love books and children, it seemed like a natural fit.”
- “I was accepted to several graduate programs in History but I decided I wanted a job that made me happy now, not in 10 years, ha Ha!”
- “The children’s department allows you to focus a lot more on books and writing than other departments where the focus is more on computers or resumes.”
Lies and more lies. It was dark haired, dark eyed Ben and his advanced vocabulary that triggered my trajectory. We were five and best friends, playing with his three legged dog in the road near his house. His father was napping in the room he used as a drawing studio and after Ben used the worst word either of us knew I left, showing more backbone in that relationship than I have since. It was three miles through dark scary woods on a dirt road to my house, but I walked the whole way. When I got to the center of town I stopped by the town library to pick up some books. With all the casual nonchalance a pudgy kindergartner could muster, I walked in. The town librarian called my parents who retrieved me from my sanctuary.
Ben and Emily
It now seems inevitable that as a confused and grieving college graduate I picked the library as my future. My hometown of Heath, MA (population 800) and Brooklyn have very few things in common. After three months in the city, I secured a job at the Brooklyn Public Library. Traversing the borough, I thought ‘this train holds more people than my entire town, more than my high school, more than my college class.’ However, a library is the library wherever you go and I settled into BPL as easily as I had the 900 square feet of the Heath Free Public Library.
Saywer Hall, Home of the Heath Free Public Library, Town Offices, and Post Office
Brooklyn Public Library's Central Library
On my second day of work in the Central Library’s Youth Wing, my supervisor sent me out to the stacks and told me to start reading. I discovered almost immediately a powerful secret. When I was reading the children’s books I could hear something I had thought was gone forever: my mother’s voice. As I turned the pages of There is a Monster at The End of this Book I could hear her as throaty Grover begging me not to turn the pages. In Rosemary Wells’ Noisy Nora I relived the naughty thrill of the refrain “Nora, said her sister, Why are you so dumb?” I was not allowed to call my brother dumb, but in a book it was allowed, and my mother would say it! When I turned the moody pages of The Runaway Bunny and heard her gentle nighttime voice reading “‘If you become a sailboat and sail away from me,’ said his mother, ‘I will become the wind and blow you where I want you to go.’” I slumped on the floor between the shelves, bowed my head to the book in my lap, and cried.
I cried a lot at work. The babies and the reading, singing, story times we put on for them scared the crap out of me, if I’m honest, which I wasn’t. People in other departments or other professions would say “I don’t sing. I don’t know how you do it.”
“It’s easy! The babies don’t care how you sound.” Children’s librarian bravado. It wasn’t easy. It was excruciating, hours of nervous churning stomach before the program followed by the fifteen minutes storytime of terror mixed with humiliation. The abject stage fright seems as silly as the bragging- storytime is not such a big deal to others, is it? During mine I could hear The Itsy Bitsy Spider in my mother’s soprano echoing behind my own ragged voice and I saw all these babies and mamas and felt stranded somewhere between the two.
Emily and her mother
The older kids were my favorites. I remembered fondly hundreds of solitary hours I spent reading The Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time, and From The Mixed Up Files of Basil E. Frankenweiler. I shared these and many new books with the kids and their parents and I stayed carefully in my prepubescent world. Sixth grade was when things went wrong for my family, so the children’s department was where I felt most at home, working with the limited range of emotions available there.
I developed a juvenile crush on a coworker and would take him down into the vintage wilderness of the four subbasements of the Central Library. Not to make out, horrors no, but to show off all the secret passages and rooms I had found. Past the morgue of the Brooklyn Eagle- huge and full of filing cabinets with clips from the paper- there was a room with a ditch that you could only cross on a board and I stood on the other side of the dark crevasse and taunted my beloved, precisely as if we were eleven.
The building is an art deco wonder, four floors above ground and four below, designed to look like an open book from the air. I swear to Dewey I once found a half floor, like the one in Being John Malkovich, with a desk, chair and telephone in a space not high enough to stand. In true children’s book fashion I heard voices coming, fled and never found it again. Deeper down I traveled a corridor crowded with dusty display cases and card catalogs. Beyond that there was a gravel floored room intended by the designers to be a subway stop but never completed. Cigarette butts, condoms, and a Polaroid photograph of a car proved I was not the first explorer.
I imagine, although I don’t know from experience, that all professions have their secret satisfactions. I believe everyone must have their own guiding passions that they fail to mention in polite conversation. Does the catalog thrum like your father’s encouraging baritone when you know you are entering records correctly? I am not a Freudian or a ghost whisperer. I know I missed my mother and I followed her voice to a good job in a wild city. And if I tell you anything else, I’m lying.
From Our Guest Bloggers, Programs of Interest Brooklyn Public Library, Juvenile Detention Centers, Literacy, New York City Department of Education
Hi everyone! My name is Lisa Goldstein, and I’m November’s guest blogger. This month I will be writing about some of the work I have done with incarcerated teens. I hope this will serve as an effective lead-up to December’s Biblioball, which will raise funds to buy books for this population.
I have been working for the Brooklyn Public Library since 2002, first as a librarian trainee while I got my MLS, and then as a young adult librarian. A few years ago I began working in a cluster of branches in the Brownsville and East New York sections of Brooklyn. A few blocks away from the Brownsville branch is the Crossroads Juvenile Center, a detention center for youth, operated by the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Most youth detention facilities in NYC are non-secure. These non-secure sites function as group homes. The residents are not on lockdown, wear street clothes, and can leave the site on supervised trips.
Crossroads is one of three secure youth detention sites in NYC. The other two are in the Bronx: Horizon, and Bridges, which serves as an intake center. In these facilities, detainees wear uniforms, are on lockdown, and do not leave the site.
Crossroads’s population maxes out at about 125 kids. Not counting the infirmary and intake areas, there are eight main halls which at full capacity each house sixteen kids. One of these halls is for females, and the rest are for males. Most residents are about fifteen or sixteen years old.
My introduction to Crossroads came from the Department of Education. The DOE operates Passages Academy, which provides education for youth in detention. Jessica Fenster-Sparber is the library coordinator for Passages Academy. When I met her two years ago, she was traveling between seven Passages sites throughout NYC in an effort to bring library services to them. Jessica helped me set up a number of visits to English classes at Crossroads, and books I brought got an enthusiastic response.
I hate that I always end up making this awful pun when discussing this outreach, but the teens at Crossroads are really a classic “captive” audience. With no access to cell phones, the internet, or friends, and limited access to their family, they simply don’t have much to keep them occupied. Books can fill that void, and can also help alleviate any anxiety, depression or boredom they may experience while in detention.
However, there is a rule that prohibits the detainees from bringing any materials from the school floor to their halls. So while the books were great for independent reading in class, they couldn’t be used for recreational reading after school.
Once school ended for the year, my visits to classes stopped. But the kids were still there. So, with the help of DJJ staff, I began to visit them on their halls, distributing books to them there. My colleague Vani began to come with me, and we quickly worked out a system that enabled us to visit each hall twice a month. Some kids stay at Crossroads for months, but most do not stay for more than two to four weeks. Because of this high turnover, as well as the residents’ healthy reading habits, we had to visit frequently. Once a month would not be enough. After over a year of consistent service, the kids and staff at Crossroads have come to accept this as a normal, even essential, service.
Next week I’ll write a bit about the Crossroads residents’ reading tastes, as well as the excellent library that the Passages staff has created at Crossroads.
From Our Guest Bloggers AbeBooks, Brooklyn Public Library, Free Library of Philadelphia, InsideHigherEd, Melville House, Philadelphia, weird book room
- If you haven’t yet checked out the Weird Book Room over at AbeBooks.com, it’s about damn time you do so. According to the fine folks at AbeBooks, this new sectionÂ isÂ ”a celebration of everything that’s bizarre, odd and downright weird in books,” and those of us working in libraries know that a frighteningly (or delightfully, depending on your mood) large number ofÂ the books floating around out there fit into this category. Their Weird Book of the Week is so ridiculously awesome that it deserves to be highlighted:Le Petomane, which translated into English becomes The Fart Maniac(!) or The Fartiste(!!!). This heartwarming book “tells the story of Joseph Pujol, who from 1887 to roughly 1914, delighted French audiences with the multi-faceted musical and impersonator skills of…well, his anus.”Â Yet more proof that French people, while often charming and delightful, are total weirdos. OK, I would probably go to see this guy too if he were still around.
- Melville House’s The Art of the Novella series is currently blowing my mind. IncludingÂ short, often forgottenÂ works by some of the heavy hitters of the Western canon: Twain, Proust, Balzac, Fitzgerald, Melville, and others. Not only have they chosen great titles, but these little books are very attractively designed. Exhibit A is The Girl With the Golden Eyes by Balzac, a tale of “incest, homosexuality, sexual slavery, and violence.” Wow!Make Levar Burton proud and pick some of these up at your local library.
- Recently, I was poking around in the catalog at work and realized that Brooklyn Public Library has a pretty killer collection of Criterion Collection films. If you don’t know, the Criterion Collection is an ongoing project that collects and releases many of the world’s greatest films with lots of extras and fancy packaging. If you want to browse our holdings, open the online catalog and do a title search for “Criterion Collection.” You’ll get 27 pages of results! Who needs Netflix? Watch a few of these and show how cultured you are at your next cocktail party.
- Is it just me, or are there way too many librarians out there who seem to be intent on undermining the raison d’etre of librarianship?Â A recent article at InsideHigherEd.com called “Libraries of the Future,” reports on a talk at Columbia University by a University of California administrator and librarian Daniel Greenstein in which he proposed outsourcing numerous functions traditionally carried out by academic librarians and cutting library staffs. I understand that budgets are extremely tight these days, but these proposals strike me as rather worrisome on their face. As I’m not an academic librarian, perhaps readers who are academic librarians could offer some insightÂ regarding Greenstein’s vision of the brave new library.
- Yo Philly!Â Congrats for organizing so effectively to make sure that this year’s Pennsylvania state budget has enough funding to keep the doors of the Free Library of Philadelphia open. Stay organized because I’m sure this scenario is going to play out again a year from now, if not sooner.