Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tour of the Brooklyn Public Library by Larissa Kyzer, Assistant Organizer NYLM

On June 3, 2009, following the LibCamp ‘unconference’ at Brooklyn College, a dozen intrepid NYMeetup members attended a tour of the Youth Services Division and Multilingual Center in the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch. This was the first Meetup event that I have been responsible for arranging, and perhaps surprisingly, only one of the first events that I have attended as a member. Stephanie has asked me to share my experiences planning this event and a little about the tours itself, and I am happy to do so.

My first NYLibrarians Meetup Event was an extensive tour of several divisions and services within the Center for Jewish History. I was delighted at the opportunity to get a ‘behind-the-scenes’ view of such a vibrant and specialized library--one which I may not have ever found myself visiting had I not been for the tour. Afterwards, Stephanie asked the group for feedback on future events that she was interested in scheduling—in particular, she wanted to know if there was any interest in scheduling events in Brooklyn, such as a tour of the children’s library at the Brooklyn Public Library.

As a fervent Brooklynite and a library school student who has been considering the merits of young adult librarianship, I found both prospects appealing. I contacted Stephanie, who generously offered to allow me to make arrangements for a Brooklyn tour myself. The prospect was initially a bit intimidating, but I was exceptionally pleased with how straight forward the planning process was, and the opportunities that scheduling this tour afforded. For one, I was able to schedule a tour which appealed to my own personal interests—young adult librarianship and multilingual services in a public library setting. Secondly, it compelled me to reach out to active and talented librarians who, as we found during our tour, were exceptionally willing and excited to share their experiences and diverse collections with other librarians and MLIS students.

Our tour started in the youth services wing with David Mowery, the head of Youth Services. The Youth Services Division is composed of both a large children’s library and a recently-renovated Young Adult section. At 6:00 PM, the library was an active, energetic place, with children and parents perusing the stacks, making use of the computers in the youth-dedicated ‘Tech Loft,’ and studying. Highlights included viewing the rotating artwork that is on display in the section, a discussion about limited funding and its effects on youth programming, and information about how to best utilize the most popular, but least resilient items in the YA section—Manga (Japanese comics).

Following our tour of the Youth Division, we met with Frank Xu, the head librarian of BPL’s Multilingual Center. Though operating on a tight budget in a somewhat cramped corner of the adult fiction wing, the Multilingual Center manages to serve an incredibly large and diverse population of recent immigrants and Brooklyn residents for whom English is not a primary language. The center specializes in assisting individuals find practical resources (such as job-finding aids), collects current fiction and literature extensively in five languages (and somewhat less extensively in eight additional languages), and provides ‘conversation-roundtables’ in a variety of languages including English, Spanish, and any other language they can find volunteer teachers for. The staff—a small group of librarians who are exceptionally gifted linguists (one librarian, we were told, speaks over five languages; most speak at least three)—works together to ensure that the largest possible group of patrons is reached. For instance, the staff ensures that all information on the website is translated into as many languages as possible, organizes a popular reading series with international authors, and travels to public libraries and book fairs throughout the world to purchase popular contemporary materials that are being read in their home countries.

As a whole, the tour reinforced for me many of the wonderful qualities of public libraries, and especially of the Brooklyn Public Library. Upon leaving, however, a few things in particular struck me. For one, that the public library system reaches such an incredible variety of patrons—children, teens, recent immigrants, scholars, students. And as such, no vein of librarianship, even within the public library system, is quite the same. Secondly, that at this time, when we need our public libraries more than ever, they are making small miracles with the limited resources at their disposal.
Larissa Kyzer

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