Observation- Larchmont Public Library: The Provisions of a Small Local Library

Despite having consistently been a resident of New Rochelle, I have had a long-lasting connection with the nearby Larchmont Public Library. As a senior in high school I volunteered there, but quite a bit has changed both physically and technologically since I was last there on a regular basis. Extensive renovations were made in 2016.

The circulation desk is straight ahead as you walk in. Beyond that is the newly added and beautifully constructed Technology Commons, an open space with computers and tables. This serves as an excellent location for such a center. It is in close proximity to the circulation desk which always has at least one person there to assist patrons. I went on a Sunday, which usually is a relatively quiet day and most of the librarians are not there. Nonetheless, there was one man there who had quite a few patrons approach him for technological assistance. He maintained his affable demeanor throughout his exchanges with the patrons despite having quite a few people approach him. One patron’s issue seemed to be persistent and he returned repeatedly to the librarian for help. I did not detect any sense of frustration from the librarian despite the patron getting rather flustered. The librarian simply set him up at a different computer and the issue seemed to have been resolved.

Surrounding the Technology Center are enclosed areas designed for private tutoring sessions. Overlooking the Technology Center is a balcony area which hosts the adult fiction books. On the floor below is the adult non-fiction section. There is a diminutive art gallery (the Oresman Gallery) on the way to the Burchell Children’s Room which was completed in 2010. For a small public library which only has 100,00 items, there are many services which are offered.

Slightly unusual for a public library of its size, there is quite a lot of French items. The Children’s Library  has an entire section of French books and there are an abundance of French options in the adult sections as well. There is a regular French/English story time offered on Sundays. Larchmont has historically had a large number of French speaking residents. The Lycee Franco-Americain de New York is right next door to the library. It is clear that the library has this community in mind when developing the collection and organizing the programming.

The library has been wheelchair accessible since 1995, although this is possibly an area where there can be room for improvement. On the bottom floor, there is a wheelchair lift next to the staircase so as to accommodate the physically handicapped. However, it can be a bit of a pain to use. In order to operate the lift, one needs to have a key which must be obtained from the circulation desk. It would probably be simpler to have a ramp instead.

Another issue I overheard someone complain about was that the book drop was underneath the computer kiosk for searching the catalog. It is possibly a slight inconvenience and perhaps not an intuitive place for it to be, but to be honest, I found the complaint to be rather petty. Still, I suppose it is something worth considering when creating an information space.

I was also surprised by the number of research resources that are provided at the Larchmont Public Library. There are four full-time reference librarians and one part-time reference librarian (she actually used to be the assistant director of the library and my supervisor). The reference librarians are not there on Sundays, but there is permanent use of the online resources, which include materials on Arts and Literature, Biographies, Genealogy, Health and Science, History, Business and Law, Social Science, Newspapers, Serials etc. I was astounded by how much this small public library has to offer.


Event Reflection-WLA Immigration and Library Service in 2018

This event, held at the Westchester Library System Headquarters in Elmsford, NY, consisted of a panel discussion with Carola Bracco, executive director of an organization assisting immigrants in Westchester County called Neighbors Link; Karin Ponzer, the organization’s legal counsel; and Karen LaRocca-Fels, Director of the Ossining Public Library.

For an event of only 90 minutes, a lot of ground was covered. Much attention was given to challenges facing the library system in connection to the increase of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, in Westchester County. Aside from the language barrier, immigrants were reported to be hesitant to use the library services because they perceive the library as a government institution which might turn them in to ICE . Another source of worry is the few examples of hostility from the residents toward immigrants. As an example, prior to an event the WLA held in conjunction with the Ecuadorean Consulate, an anonymous phone call was made threatening to call ICE.

Before addressing more local issues, Karin Ponzer, the legal counsel for Neighbors Link, began with a overview of recent developments in national policy affecting immigrant communities. She noted that there is no constitutional right to stay in the United States unless one is a U.S citizen. This is as true with asylum seekers as it is with economic migrants. Supposedly in the interest of national security, benefits have become increasingly denied to immigrants. Ms. Pozner lamented that the Attorney General has been interfering with the judicial branch to rewrite law so as to extend the authority of the Federal Government. She concluded with remarking that current restrictions on immigrants are worse than they were after 9/11.

One of the primary issues discussed was the challenges surrounding immigrants obtaining library cards. Currently, one is required to provide a picture I.D, however many immigrants are not carrying photo IDs with them for fear of being stopped by ICE. One of the solutions offered was that immigrants could get Westchester County IDs for $18.00. This would necessitate going to the county clerk’s office, which some immigrants may be wary of doing. If was further suggested that libraries may be able to become qualified to give these IDs themselves. This would require a change in legislation at the local level, but it was indicated that this would not be exceedingly hard to do. The panelists emphasized how important it is for immigrants, irrespective of their status, to be able to use the library services. Libraries have been a reliable place for immigrants to gain information on the Immigration Protection Act and education in technology.

The panelists also suggested that  a policy be introduced in the unlikely event ICE entered the library to apprehend anyone suspected of being undocumented. Ms. Ponzer reviewed some of the  current ICE policies. At the moment, though it may change, ICE’s current policy is that it would not enter educational facilities (including libraries), funerals and weddings, and places of worship. Ms.Ponzer noted that the library is required to comply with the police because that is a matter of criminal law, however, because ICE operates under civil law, libraries have fewer obligations. ICE would need a judicial warrant before the library is legally bound to cooperate fully. In contrast, an administrative warrant, which is easily distinguishable by how it looks, is not legally binding.

This discussion reflects an issue of paramount importance for the information profession in general. David Bawden and  Lyn Robinson, in their book Introduction to Information Science, state that  the “main areas of concern within information ethics include…universal access, information poverty and the digital divide” (237). Ensuring that immigrants have access to the library is essential for addressing the issue of information poverty and providing universal access.