Monday, July 9, 2012

New York Public Libraries

Libraries are some of the greatest resources that a city can have.  You can borrow books and movies, use their reference section to look up things (note:wikipedia doesn't have everything), enjoy the air conditioning on a hot day, use their computers or bring your own and use their free wi-fi.  The best thing about the free wifi is that the staff does not come around to give you the evil eye if you sit around too long watching movies, surfing the net or running a small business.  As long as you do not exhibit any objectionable behavior and mind your own business, no one really cares what you do at the library.

Just as any institution with multiple branches, some libraries are better than others.  Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the neighborhood location.  Allow me to rate the 5 branches that I have frequented over the past month.  Ratings have absolutely nothing to do with the books or movies that are available to borrow, rather it has to do the the people who frequent the library.

The Battery Park City Branch -- You may think that because it is located in a posh neighborhood, that this one would receive the highest rating, but you are mistaken.  The library is located in very nice building and it seems very clean inside, but when you enter the library, there is a very strange odor.  Also, the clientele seems to vary between the borderline homeless, students and people with children.  Thankfully (for the children), the children's section is located far away from the adult reading section.  It has nothing to do with the amount of noise, rather it has to do with some of the questionable adults who frequent the library.  The second floor reading area seems clear, and I think it is because the borderline homeless usually come in to use the internet, or they do not bother to walk up the steps to the second level.

New Amsterdam Branch -- Located a few blocks north of the Financial District, one would think that this storefront branch would attract some of the more common library users.  Again, borderline homeless are asleep at the reading tables of this one floor library branch, but at least there is no strange odor upon entering this establishment.  There is a small children's section near the front of the library, but I do not know what parent would want to wade through all of the sleeping giants to get there.

Chatham Square Branch -- Right in the center (a little right of center) of Chinatown.  This branch is composed of three floors with the children's section on the upper floor and a reading room in the basement with some Chinese language reference material.  For the most part, the basement is quiet, but crowded.  The first floor and second floors are complete mayhem with kids running around playing first person shooter games on the computers and parents speaking very loudly in Chinese to other people or their children.  For some reason, the whole idea of a library is lost on these new immigrant Chinese who believe that holding a conversation across the room of a library is considered appropriate behavior.  This branch is nothing more than a place for hard working parents to drop off their kids in a relatively safe environment so that they can go to work with peace of mind that their kids are not picking up bad habits (did I mention that they are playing first player shooting games and holding conversations with each other across a room).  I would give this an extra point because there are no smelly homeless people here.

Seward Park Branch -- Located about 5 blocks north of the Chatham Square branch, this is another area where the immigration population tends to gather, but unlike the Chatham Square Branch, the atmosphere is much calmer here.  I believe that it is because there are three separate floors with considerable barriers that make this possible.  The first floor is mostly reserved books and movies, with a few tables for the occasional web surfer.  There is a youth community lab near the back, but no one really goes in there.  The children's section is on the second floor and is relatively large.  For some reason, it is much less chaotic than the Chatham Square Branch, one can actually read a book to their children without being interrupted by people yelling across the room to each other.  The third floor has a nice quiet area for students to study, people to read and bloggers to rate other neighborhood libraries on their laptops. 

Mulberry Street Branch -- This is located in a nice neighborhood and seems like it was a converted warehouse of some sort.  Composed of three levels going down. Again, movies on the first level with some banquette seating and little cafe tables for you to plunk down your laptop.  I did see a homeless guy sleep in the corner, but the security guard is quite vigilant and makes sure that no one goes near him.  The first level down is the children's section which is small and kind of maze like, but it works.  The second level down has a teen/youth section for studying and socializing and then a separate adult reading area for those who seem to be working on business plans, studying for professional exams or just surfing the web on their laptops.  Other than being in the sub-basement of a warehouse (very Silence of the Lambs), it is okay.  This branch gets style points and good library points.

If you are looking for a good library experience, you may want to consider the following:
--Find a library with multiple levels.  This is to avoid those who are borderline homeless or those who generally do not bathe.  They tend not to make a trip up or down stairs for reasons only they will know. 
--Avoid libraries where the clientele do not understand the purpose of a library.  It is not a daycare center where you can drop off your kids. 
--If it smells bad on the first step in, then it's not going to get any better.

I hope that your library experience will be a productive one.

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