Sunday, April 13, 2014

New York Public Library—Struggling to Stay Relevant

Last post I commented on how the New York Public Library has become a gathering place for electronic enthusiasts who never feel a need to bother a librarian. Most of the patrons I observed were focused intently on computerized devices. An indication of the library’s struggle for relevancy can be found on their website. The above the fold promos are for The Beatles and Tax Day, April 15, neither of which is what one would normally associate with arguably the country’s second most important center of literature and research material. (I put the Library of Congress in first place.)



Other front-page teasers include:
“Make ‘Em laugh: Gut busting Picture Books—NYPL's Elizabeth Bird shares some picture books that will have both adults AND kids rolling in the aisles.”
“Game of Thrones is Back! Now Where is it Going?— NYPL's Shawn Donohue ponders how George R.R. Martin's hit book series will manifest on screen this season.”
“Mad Men: The Beginning of the End— NYPL's resident Mad Men blogger Billy Parrott speculates on what's to come in the seventh season of the hit show.”
“Craft BeerStevie Feliciano of the Hudson Park Library shares her adventures in beer tasting and home brewing, along with some helpful books for novices.”
The Home page includes a few traditional library themes, but they are overwhelmed by appeals to pop culture. I suppose the idea is to get New Yorkers into the library in the hope they’ll learn something they couldn’t pick up from People magazine.

The most disappointing part of the NYPL webpage was found at the very bottom: “The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter.” This is an enlightening exhibit of children’s books that promotes reading, art, and appreciation of literature.  This exhibit is exactly the type of event libraries can use to attract new patrons. It’s colorful, nicely organized, learning centric, and above all, interesting.  “The ABC of It” deserves to remain above the fold for as long as it's open.

7 comments:

  1. Visiting NYPL (or any library for that matter) must be a new endeavor for you. NYPL has always done thematic programming and offered relevant sources for mundane things like filing taxes. Where have you been? Regarding the Beatles exhibition and related programming, that is an essential part of what the Library does best. Celebrate the City and its history. You must not know or remember that when the Beatles came to the US, it was at JFK they landed. It was on the Ed Sullivan Show they played. It was at the Shea Stadium that they played their historic concert. Directly relevant programming. And even if it wasn't, programming is a basic component of all library work, anywhere. So is tackling things like taxes. Offering forms, and now, assisting patrons using things like TurboTax. Or offering sessions with qualified volunteer tax preparers for assistance. That the Library's librarians are tech savvy and adept at social media like blogging is also nothing new. Where have you been? And I assure you, all the librarians are far from sitting around collecting dust. They are busier now than ever, especially given library use is up 35% since 2008. Please, do yourself a favor and engage a librarian and ask them about what a "typical" day is. They will laugh, tell you no day is typical, then set about talking about core duties and then give examples of all the other things they do. I appreciate you wanting to write about NYPL, but I can assure you libraries have never been more relevant, precisely because of the technological revolution, something that libraries where to the first to get in on in the mid 90s.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Touched a nerve. My point wasn't that these subjects don't appeal to people, but that there are many other sources for all of them. I lament that libraries have become public spaces for technology that can be used anywhere. Shows like "The ABC of it" draw an audience and provide a unique experience that heightens the intent of a public library. That's relevant "programming," a term that makes the point of my headline.

      Delete
    2. Didn't touch a nerve, but pissed me off. Keep your eye on the prize.. Libraries are free and open to the public, library card holders or not. They are the great equalizer. Money is irrelevant, socio-economic stature is irrelevant, so are the usual race, color, creed, gender, sexuality, etal. Again, libraries are not "struggling to remain relevant," that is just absurd. They continue to do what they always have, and indeed have added layers upon layers of new services since the mid-90s. Why you don't seem them as more vibrant and more relevant than ever, is wholly beyond me.

      Delete
    3. Oh, and NYPL has primary sources, that cannot be found anywhere else. Do yourself a favor and go up to the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts and see the Beatles exhibition, and then come back and tell me where you can find it and its related programming, elsewhere.

      Delete
  2. Pardon me. That last sentence should read "...something that libraries were the first to get in on..." And frankly it was even before that, when catalogs were computerized in the late 70s-80s. The programming was clunky, not publicly accessible (card catalogs and printed catalog books were still in use), but it was the first step to where libraries are now. You might want request some interviews with people in tech services, a branch librarian, or the Library's own institutional archivist. I'd love to read that piece.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You do realize (or maybe do not) that there are 87 branch libraries scattered throughout Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, and 4 research libraries (42nd St, Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, Science, Industry and Business Library, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture), all of which comprise The New York Public Library. When you look at NYPL's website, it represents all of those libraries. Unfairly, the emphasis is on the research libraries, but there's always been a rich library/poor library struggle/competition between the well endowed research libraries and their poor branch brethren. To conclude, the 42nd St. library is not NYPL; it is merely one, albeit it, important component.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not only aware of it, but spend time in a branch that is only a half block from my place in NYC. These branches are a great service to the city.

      Delete