Observation of the 58th Street Public Library

The 58th Street branch of the NYPL is one of their smaller locations. My observation took place midday on a weekday. Some patrons did appear to be stopping by during a lunch break, quickly picking up hold materials before leaving. However most patrons did linger in the library, many for the entirety of my observation.

Physical Library Space

When you walk into the library it is all one room. To your immediate left are a handful comfy chairs and behind that a small children’s area. This has two small tables with three or four chairs around them, and a very small open area. Then on the left are the stacks. To your immediate right is the reference desk. This library does not have self-checkout, so it is the only location to check out materials. (There is a book drop in the vestibule of the library so you can return books without entering the main space.) Beyond that, on your right are a dozen or so computers, which can be checked out for 45 minute intervals, and the DVD collection. Straight ahead of you there are some more comfy chairs, two long communal tables to work at with outlets built in and hold/reserve shelves which line the back wall.

One of the first things you notice about the space is that it is designed primarily for adult patrons. There are mostly places to sit and read/work individually. Some parents/caregivers have modified the space to suit their needs. An empty space in front of the reference desk, where the line forms when the demand is higher, is taken over by unofficial stroller parking. There isn’t enough space in the children’s section to store any belongings and have space to move around.

Use of the Space

Patrons at the time of the observation seem to be coming to the space to either work independently or pick up holds from the hold shelves. Only a handful of patrons even visited the stacks during their time in the library. Those working either at the computers or communal tables didn’t visibly have physical library materials with them. Over the course of the observation there were two older patrons who read periodicals that the library had on display. But only two patrons visibly had library books at their spaces. And only one of them spent time reading their book. Patrons primarily took advantage of the computer/Wi-Fi/digital resources that the library offers, as opposed to books or periodicals.

This library fulfills a very important role as a ‘third space,’ somewhere that is not home or work/school where people can congregate and just be. For example, there were many retirees, who came here to spend time outside of their homes. While not apparent from the layout, according to their website there is also a second floor, which houses a space that can be reserved for community events/needs as well as their tech classes.

Library Staff

During my observation I saw four different members of staff working the reference desk. Only one of them was a women. Considering the stereotype of the middle age white female librarian this felt noteworthy. Additionally two of the men were people of color. This felt important because as you look around the library, they have a diverse range of patrons. Having a body of staff that reflects your patron-base allows them to best serve their patrons, and be aware of any special needs or considerations their patrons might have.


This is not a high-tech library that is going to have a maker space or a lot of automated systems. However there are small areas where they could probably integrate more digital services. The addition of a self-checkout station would allow patrons who are just picking up materials, and not asking questions, to quickly get their business done.

There also felt like a need for a more designated child friendly space. Some patrons verbally complained about the strollers left in front of the reference desks. Many also made faces when navigating around them. While space is at a premium in a library of this size, the reading area next to the children’s area could probably be rearranged to have space for the strollers. Then those seats could be moved to another area of the library.

Another option would be to take advantage of the second floor space. Maybe when there aren’t events up there have the space open for children to use. That way there would be space for them to run around or read aloud without disturbing the people working downstairs. However I have not seen that space so I don’t know how difficult that would be or if there is a computer set up that would make that difficult.

Metadata for All Initiative – Event Review

Metadata for All!

I attended “NYC Open Data’s Metadata for All Initiative: Project Presentation” hosted by the Metropolitan Library Council on September 25th for my event review for INFO 601-04. This event presented the Metadata for All Initiative’s results after six months of working with New York City Open Data. The Sloan Foundation  sponsored the project, which was completed in partnership with the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, METRO, Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics, NYC Open Data Team, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn Public Library, Queens Public Library, New York Public Library and Tiny Panther Consulting.

The initiative aimed to help make New York City’s Open Data, which includes more than 2,100 datasets, more accessible to general users through the improvement of metadata standards. Tiny Panther Consulting, a team of data librarians founded by Julia Marden, was brought on board to do a pilot study on how to make the top 100 used datasets more user-friendly. They studied this through discussions with relevant governmental departments, workshops in all five boroughs and the creation of templates for certain metadata documents.

Metadata Improvements

In order to best assess the current metadata quality, Tiny Panther created a dataset documentation checklist. (This was provided as a handout for the audience.) The checklist contained a rubric that verified the overall usability, user guide, and data dictionary. The goal was to determine if a user would be able to understand what was in the dataset, and maybe more importantly was is not in it.

The data dictionaries function like a Rosetta Stones for the dataset and are required for users to understand what is actually in each dataset – for example what all of the rows and columns mean. However currently only 90% of the datasets had a dictionary, and there wasn’t a standard template for them, so they are of varying quality.

In addition to improving the data dictionaries Tiny Panther recommended the creation of user guides tailored to each dataset. These guides would provide a context for the data, let you know when it was last modified, clarify what which data was raw or added by the city, in addition to many other factors. Tiny Panther found that many of the documents associated with datasets used inside lingo that would not be comprehensible to user who were not employed within the departments that created the dataset. The three proposed user guides were provided as handouts as well.


The most successful aspect of this event wasn’t directly about the initiative. What made this event most noteworthy was its audience. The event was not directed towards librarians and information professionals, who probably already buy into the idea of accessible metadata. About half of the audience was comprised of government workers. (This is based on a show of hands conducted early in the presentation.) These are the professionals who create and maintain the datasets, and did not necessarily have a background in information studies. It was very impactful to hear their points of view. A few members of the panel were representatives of departments Tiny Panther worked with, and discussed their impressions of the challenges around the project. The audience was given an opportunity to ask questions about the project as well.

The only way the metadata standards can be maintained across all of the datasets is if they understand why it is important. They are the ones that will be doing this extra work, on top of everything else they are responsible for. It is not as if each department has a data librarian whose sole role is to maintain their open data. Although there is probably enough work to do that it could be a full-time job! I think the presentation was accessible to them, and hopefully demonstrated the power and utility of comprehensive metadata.


I will be keeping tabs on NYC Open Data, checking what the metadata looks like, as well as the actual data, over the next few ‘data dumps’ to see how their metadata evolves. Open data is a very exciting tool for civic engagement, but only if users can understand what the data are actually telling them.