Observation: Ridgewood Community Library

Ridgewood Library buildingThis week, I visited the Ridgewood Community Library, a branch of the Queens Library. Even though this is my neighborhood library, I had never spent time there except to pick up books I’d had transferred. The library is a fairly small branch housed in a beautiful brick building built in 1929. It was the first branch of the Queens Library to be constructed with funds from the city rather than from Andrew Carnegie. Renovated most recently in 2011, the library is fully accessible, with elevator access to every level. It is clean and well lit, with lots of natural light on the main level.

Ridgewood Library plaque


After entering the building at street level, I went downstairs to see the large meeting room for events, as well as a dedicated children’s room, which houses all of the children’s material. This room has its own circulation and reference desks, computers, and bathrooms.

The indoor book drop is located on this level just outside of the children’s room. The outdoor book drop is located down a ramp next to the main entrance, which allows for 24-hour book return. Both book drops use a computerized system with a retractable metal flap that opens when materials are placed on a conveyor belt. This system usually works smoothly, but I have had issues such as the machine being out of order or not sensing books that I placed on the belt.

I next went up one level from the entrance to the large main floor of the library, which houses the teen and adult sections. At the circulation desk at the center of this room, as well as the one in the children’s room, checking out books is fully automated, with a touchscreen monitor and a pad that senses library cards and books. This system is fairly straightforward to use, although in my experience, it’s not always clear how to complete the checkout process, and I’ve seen other people having difficulties as well. I think that instructions for checking out could be relayed more clearly on-screen.

The reference desk on this floor is positioned by the back wall toward the middle of the room. At the reference desk, patrons can sign up for the 20 teen and adult computers located in a balcony area, which offer free internet access, Microsoft Word, and limited free printing. A desk near these computers provides technical support. There is only one single-occupant bathroom for the entire floor, although I do appreciate its being labeled with the inclusive term “all-gender.”

This branch has different hours every day of the week, and is closed on Sundays. Ideally, it would have more consistent and longer hours to better serve patrons. I visited on a Tuesday, when it’s only open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. I asked the librarian at the reference desk if this issue was budget-related, but he explained that Tuesday has always been a short day due to staff training in the morning. The reference librarian did mention austerity measures currently in place that affect how many new materials the branch can acquire. The library’s programming, fortunately, is robust and seems to reflect the diverse population it serves. On its website, I saw a wide array of free programming, including kids’ Jeopardy, English as a Second Language (ESOL) lessons, a class on dealing with stray and feral cats in the neighborhood, a Financing Your Education session, and Flamenco dancing.

This branch is also impressive for its collections in languages that reflect Ridgewood’s immigrant population. In the adult section, there are designated shelves for languages including Albanian, Polish, Serbian, and Spanish. There is also a “New Americans” section geared toward immigrants, with videos, books, information pamphlets, and ESL materials. The literature near the circulation desk advertising library and community resources is printed in many languages. Having lived in Ridgewood for more than five years, I can attest to the large Eastern European and Spanish-speaking populations.

Ridgewood Library New Americans area


When I arrived at 1:30 p.m., the library was very quiet. Once school let out though, the teen section filled up and became loud and boisterous. Conversations reached the point of yelling, and because there weren’t enough tables or chairs, some students sprawled out on the floor. Since the teen and adult sections share the main floor, this noise filled the entire area and made it difficult to focus or hear the reference librarian as he answered a question.

While I think it’s great that teens are using the library, a more separate teen area like the younger children have would be ideal, as it would allow the rest of the library to remain a (reasonably) quiet environment. The reference librarian on the main level said that it can be a challenging place to work just because it does get so busy and loud. To me, these issues speak to the ever-present tension between providing access to everyone and ensuring that all groups of patrons have a good experience at the public library, all while dealing with space and budget constraints.

It seems like the best option for addressing the high volume of patrons at the Ridgewood branch would be to expand the building or move to a new location. Alternately, perhaps an additional neighborhood branch would help to address some of these issues. Of course, this is dependent on funding from the state and city governments as well as private sources. This blog post from YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) gives recommendations for dealing with noise and disruptions from teens after school when expanding isn’t an option. Suggestions include rearranging shelving and furniture to create noise barriers, opening up meeting rooms for teen use after school, and scheduling programming and activities for teens during this time.

Overall, while the Ridgewood branch faces challenges, I do think it’s doing a great job of targeting materials, programming, and resources to the needs and interests of the community it serves.


Innovative Practices in Academic Libraries

On Friday, September 28, 2018, I attended an event entitled Innovative Practices in Academic Libraries, hosted by the Greater New York Metropolitan Area Chapter of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRLNY). Presenters reported on initiatives or studies in their respective institutions intended to increase engagement of staff and students or consider little-explored research angles. Since I am considering a career in academic libraries, I was curious to hear current professionals in the field describe the impact these innovations had in their institutions.


Using Slack to Improve Staff Engagement – Matthew Pavlick and Lauren DeVoe, Columbia University Libraries

Pavlick and DeVoe described the benefits and challenges of implementing the instant messaging program Slack among staff in their department. In discussing their reasons doing this, they described the lack of communication among different areas of the department before the introduction of this service, which created silos of information. In introducing Slack, Pavlick and DeVoe wanted to increase staff engagement and communication, encourage creativity collaboration, and streamline processes. Slack provides the flexibility to have individual as well as group conversations, and allows for the creation of different “channels,” that is to say, labeled threads of conversation kept separate from one another. Slack conversations are also fully searchable to allow for later information retrieval. The informal nature of Slack made it so that employees didn’t have to interrupt their workflow by physically getting up to ask a question, where they might then be worried about interrupting their colleague’s own workflow.

Although Pavlick and DeVoe described a largely positive experience in implementing Slack, they did mention that accessibility challenges may arise, wherein certain staff members, especially older people, may have trouble adopting this new technology. Others may simply be resistant to it because they don’t want to be burdened further additional forms of communication. Pavlick and DeVoe chose to make implementation of Slack optional for members of their department, but they would like at some point to make it mandatory and expand its use to their entire division.

Slide from Pavlick and Devoe's presentation (via ACRLNY event archives)
Slide from Matthew Pavlick and Lauren Devoe’s presentation (via ACRLNY event archives)


Augmented Reality Library Orientation: Planning the “Case of the Missing Laptop” Scavenger Hunt – Samantha Kannegiser and Bill McNelis, Berkeley College

Kannegiser and McNelis related that, since Berkeley College has two campuses several blocks from each other in Manhattan, each with its own library, students are often unaware of or not taking advantage of the unique offerings of both libraries. Additionally, they mentioned the concept of library anxiety, which might keep students from exploring potentially valuable resources, and the fact that some students are first-generation college attendees and may not know about library resources in general. For these reasons, they felt that, as part of student orientation, they needed a way to showcase and explain library resources without having to take students from building to building themselves. Before the introduction of this augmented reality library orientation, library staff had been present at the general orientation, and students had to participate in a mandatory class that gave information on all of the libraries in each of the eight Berkeley campuses, but there was no dedicated orientation activity taking place inside the actual Manhattan libraries.

Kannegiser and McNelis decided on an augmented reality library orientation in the format of a scavenger hunt. They came up with a storyline about a missing laptop that the students needed to find using augmented reality clues. Each clue would take them to a different location in the libraries, where they would scan a “trigger image” using the HP Reveal augmented reality app to enable an informational video to play. The video would describe the resources at that location and provide clues for the next step of the hunt. This new form of library orientation has not yet been implemented in a widespread manner, but Kannegiser and McNelis hope that it will provide a fun alternate way to impart knowledge about each library’s resources.

Augmented Reality orientation brochure
Augmented Reality orientation brochure (scanned from copy distributed by Samantha Kannegiser and Bill Mcnelis)


Marginalia, Value and Meaning: a Study – Richard Mako, Queensborough Community College, CUNY

As part of his research, Mako decided to study the marginalia created in books belonging to the library at his institution. While the marginalia of famous people are often studied at great length, people don’t usually consider the meaning behind the marginalia of “regular” people. Mako decided to focus on the fiction section at his library, choosing ten books at random to analyze. He tallied instances of different types of marginalia in each book, including writing words or phrases, underlining, highlighting, encircling or boxing, and other symbols. He stated that he found a total of 2,963 instances of marginalia in these ten books, with 536 different symbols. Mako discussed the potential meaning behind these marginalia, and the possible motivations of students in making these notations, especially knowing they would have to return these library books.

While I found this presentation intriguing, I found it curious that Mako did not once mention the ethical or moral aspects of defacing library books in this way. While he discussed students’ motivations in making certain kinds of markings, he did not mention their motivations or thought processes in choosing to write in library books to such an extent as to interfere with other patrons’ reading experiences. I did bring this up during the question and answer period, but another event attendee disagreed with me, saying that she liked how Mako presented his findings in a manner divorced from ethical implications and more as one might study an art piece.

marginalia slide
Slide from Richard Mako’s presentation (scanned from copy distributed during event)



Overall, I found these presentations to be valuable contributions to the field of academic libraries. The presentations on Slack and library orientations provided ideas on how to energize and empower both staff and students in the library environment. The final presentation highlighted (no pun intended) the issue of how students use libraries and library materials. While I am not yet sure whether I will enter the academic library field after graduation, with these thought-provoking presentations in mind, I will be keeping an eye out for future ACRL events.