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.


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.