Visiting Public Libraries in NY & DC
May 3, 2017 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Very-Big-Boss wants to visit Public Libraries as part of a learning trip in NY & DC. Help!


My very-big-boss is visiting Washington D.C. and New York in mid-July later this year, and has expressed interest in visiting public libraries around the areas. To give some context, I work in the library field, and he's the minister that oversees our country's libraries and archives.

My limited Google-Fu has thrown up the Library of Congress and NYPL as two options, but I'm not sure if there are others worth considering, or information I'm missing out (e.g. interesting events happening in July, or notable initiatives or things we could ask about). I've also looked through previous AskMeFi questions, although some have broken links :(

Any advice (or contacts) would greatly be appreciated :)
posted by appleses to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The central building of the DC Public Library is currently closed for a multi-year renovation, but you may want to consider visiting one of our branch libraries, where you can really see our very vibrant, heavily used library system in action. If you want to MeMail me w/more info, I can get in touch w/some of the librarians I know there and see who would be in charge of setting up an official visit.

DC also has a large number of institutional, corporate, and academic libraries - can you tell us a little more about your boss' areas of interest?
posted by ryanshepard at 8:33 AM on May 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Try the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC; in NYC, the Morgan Library and the NY Society Library. The last one is a membership library but some parts are open to the public.
posted by GrammarMoses at 8:35 AM on May 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

You may find this link useful. NYPL has a few libraries that are functional museums with rotating exhibits. The Schwarzman Building is the beautiful midtown building everyone thinks of when they imagine big city libraries. The Performing Arts Library is right by Lincoln Center, so if the boss is into that sort of cultural excursion it's a good pre-show stop.

If you make it out to Brooklyn, the central library in BK is called Grand Army Plaza, and it's at one of the entrances to our beautiful Prospect Park. Most of BPL's events happen there.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 8:36 AM on May 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

(The ones I've recommended are primarily exhibition spaces for rare collections, but are open to the public for viewing/reading -- not so much for circulation. I hope that's appropriate.)
posted by GrammarMoses at 8:36 AM on May 3, 2017

Best answer: I'll also add that the Flushing branch of the Queens Library blows my mind every time I visit - you can stand in one place on a Saturday and often hear 3-4 different languages being spoken, and the collection reflects that. It's a monument to unassuming, everyday, functional multiculturalism.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:38 AM on May 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Would the National Archives also be of interest to your boss?
posted by needled at 8:39 AM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Grolier Club in NYC is sort-of open to the public; non-members have to make an appointment to visit. It's a fantastic space and a great collection for anyone interested in the history of the book.
posted by orrnyereg at 8:44 AM on May 3, 2017

For DC area, you might also consider the public library systems in the near suburbs, such as the Montgomery County Public Libraries in Maryland, or Fairfax County Public Library in Virginia. The D.C. area is more than Washington, D.C.
posted by needled at 8:50 AM on May 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: New York City has three separate library systems: NYPL, Brooklyn and Queens. I used to work at the Queens Library. Their exhibits and collections may not be as distinguished as NYPL (though they do have a very nice archive), but they have one of the highest circulation rates in the nation and they have done amazing work to promote literacy, education and opportunity for immigrants and non-wealthy people. Their website does not make it easy to find contact information for any queries not related to standard circulation or program services, but reach out to either of the people on this page and I expect they would be very happy to meet with your boss and give you a tour.
posted by DeWalt_Russ at 8:59 AM on May 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to everybody for responding so far :) Love the responses, and am happy to hear even more ideas!

I don't work directly with very-big-boss, but some of the areas of interest he's talked about before include:

-Libraries as social spaces with collaborative learning, sense of community
-Partnerships with private and people sectors

So the purpose isn't not so much "bring me around to the pretty libraries!", but more of big-picture ideas, trends, innovations that he can take back and say "Hey, these libraries were really bold and forward looking. Is this something our libraries want to do, or think about too?"

Not limited to individual library-level ideas either, but also things that may be compelling on a nation-wide scale too. For example, I found this quite interesting, and I suspect he might be similarly keen.

We're also opening new libraries (and refurbishing old ones), so very-big-boss may be interested to meet with the people involved in the strategic planning for DC's MLK Jr Memorial Library's revamp.

The multiculturalism of Queens Library sounds interesting, since we have four national languages (reflected in our collection) here. Will google more on that!

Ryanshephard: thanks for the offer, will MeMail you after hearing more :)

Re: the Archives...I think my archives colleagues would be better placed to handle Archives visit options, so I won't be focusing on that. Thanks for the suggestion though...will definitely put it in as an option!
posted by appleses at 9:12 AM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One more Queens Library contact suggestion for you, appleses: Their International Relations division:

Queens Library serves over 2 million customers in the most ethnically and culturally diverse county in the United States. Queens Library has long been a pioneer in partnering with libraries in other countries in order to exchange professional knowledge and to facilitate obtaining library materials in other countries in languages other than English. Queens Library has signed agreements of inter-library cooperation with the Shanghai Library, National Library of China (Beijing), Bibliotheque Publique d’Information (Paris, France), Integrated Care Society (Cairo, Egypt), National Library of Korea (Seoul), Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec and V.V Mayakovsky Central City Public Library (St. Petersburg, Russia). Other agreements are in negotiation.
posted by DeWalt_Russ at 9:25 AM on May 3, 2017

Best answer: The public library system in Howard County, Maryland is voted one of the best in the US. It is not that far from DC, but transportation would need to be arranged. They are located between Baltimore and DC.

Howard County library website:
and their site listing their recent awards:
2013 Gale/LJ Library of the Year: Howard County Library System, MD

Montgomery Public Libraries, in Montgomery County, Maryland has been going through lots of branch renovation in recent years. They seem less innovative than Howard, but are closer to DC.
posted by bessiemae at 9:26 AM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I brought up suburban library systems in the D.C. area, because these suburbs are home to diverse immigrant populations, and the library systems have been serving these populations. e.g. languages of books and periodicals,
posted by needled at 9:29 AM on May 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: DC librarian here. For DC public library, you'll want to contact the administrative offices. A foreign dignitary in charge of libraries would likely warrant meeting with the executive director of DCPL, Richard Reyes-Gavilan. Even though the main branch is closed, the DC library system has many branches and some have a great deal of history behind the buildings. Reyes-Gavilan would also be incredibly qualified to discuss the types of topics you mention above.

There are a few ways you can contact the administrative offices.

Your best bet is to use their contact form, available here.

They are available by phone at 202-727-1101.
posted by donut_princess at 9:34 AM on May 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

In the NYPL system, I recommend visiting the Schomburg Center.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:38 AM on May 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I work at Queens Library, Flushing. We can arrange a tour for you. We just got a new children's room!

Flushing and Central in Jamaica are the two really big Queens libraries, though Central is newer and fancier over all. Queens is the most diverse place in America based on where people are born (Queens is almost 50% foreign-born, some neighborhoods are approaching 70%) and based on languages spoken-- there are more than 43 languages spoken in Queens, most of which we have a collection for (most of which is in Flushing!)

If you are contacting Queens, "International Relations" is a pretty good bet but you should really contact the main number at Central in Jamaica, and see who can talk to you about the overall strategic plan and multiculturalism. Just call the main number and explain what you need. Memail me if you want me to get you in contact with someone in leadership.

NYC as a whole has a lot of initiatives that the three library systems participate in, including the NYC ID (free picture ID for everyone who lives here; helps people access services, can be used for free museum memberships as a welcome gift to new NYC residents), the universal Pre-K (free Pre-K for all NYC children regardless of income), the immigrant services (legal help, ESOL, GED prep) and summer meals for children (free school lunch during the summer) and while we do all of it at Flushing, I know the other systems have their own versions. The citywide initiatives are really kind of amazing compared to other library systems I've seen. I don't know if there's anyone in city government who would want to visit with you, but you should know about the city resources since they inform a lot of what we do.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:42 AM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Big Boss should definitely stop by the Reading Room in Bryant Park. It's not an NYPL program but is an interesting combination of books and public spaces. Also, many of the major NYC parks are funded and managed through public-private partnerships, so if that's an area of interest, you might consider adding some of them to the itinerary.
posted by yeahlikethat at 10:44 AM on May 3, 2017

Best answer: The American Library Association has an International Relations Office. Seems like they would be good at linking up representatives of foreign governments with the American library world.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:53 AM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One of the more recently renovated libraries in the NYPL system is 53rd Street library which opened to replace Donnell last June. The space was specifically designed to be "collaborative" and it might be worth a gander. It's also across the street from MOMA so that's nice. It's one of the more recent NYPL efforts at being a social center.
posted by rdnnyc at 11:24 AM on May 3, 2017

Best answer: If the boss is taking the train between D.C. And NYC, Baltimore City's Enoch Pratt Library is a short walk from the train station AND it's the system that was lead by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. I heard her speak last month about libraries as public epicenters, including providing digital access, so looking into the LoC Hayden's public appearances may be of interest.
posted by childofTethys at 11:54 AM on May 3, 2017

In DC, the Smithsonian has a large library system, which is used by the public as well as the staff; fact sheet (pdf); SI Libraries on twitter.
posted by gudrun at 12:44 PM on May 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

You could spend several days in Brooklyn and not get to all the branches. I ducked into one for non-cafe wifi recently and it was, interesting. The shared charging of usb devices was confusing, when one fellow picked up a random phone I exchanged "looks" before I realized it was a sharing/friends situation, and the call I struggled to not blatantly listen in on to the local precinct about a relative situation was heartbreaking. So dynamic.

In DC absolutely get a Library of Congress library card, just that, an experience! Sub level and corridor off of mystery tunnel, tiny office of characters, just great fun!
posted by sammyo at 2:55 PM on May 3, 2017

Ah, sorry, one may need to be a US citizen to actually get a library card.
posted by sammyo at 2:57 PM on May 3, 2017

You might be able to arrange a visit to NYPL Labs, "an interdisciplinary team working to reformat and reposition the Library's knowledge for the Internet age."
posted by moonmilk at 5:23 AM on May 4, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you all for sharing your time and knowledge! Some very useful leads.

This is my first Ask MeFi post after registering 3 years back. After seeing the responses, I started cackling maniacally to my S.O. about how this was the best $5 I had ever spent. She told me I was an idiot, but she's already known that for a while.

Thank you everybody once've all been very helpful!!
posted by appleses at 6:15 AM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Arlington Public Library has an interesting model in the Connection pop-up library, which is a small library with a highly curated/limited selection of media, some non-media resources (tool kits, board games), and normal library services (holds, computer, wifi) housed in a smallish storefront space in a shopping center set in the middle of a mixed-use work and residential neighborhood. The library is closer and more accessible to downtown DC than many DC neighborhoods are, so don't be put off by the fact that it's technically in another city.
posted by R a c h e l at 10:58 AM on May 4, 2017

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