Beyond the Renovation: The Other Exciting Changes at The New York Public Library

Monday, June 3, 2013
by Dr. Anthony W. Marx, President and CEO, The New York Public Library
Nearly two years ago, I arrived at The New York Public Library with only a sense of the opportunities and challenges that awaited me. While you’ve likely read about the renovation of our landmark building at 42nd Street, this project is only part of a larger plan. There is no question that we must invest in our library system at a time when use of our facilities and collections, both physical books and virtual resources, is skyrocketing, and by building capacity in targeted areas, we can and should have a transformative impact on our City, the nation and the world.
From taking advantage of technology to better distribute and share information to piloting new ways to serve New York City’s most vulnerable residents, over the past 18 months we have begun to introduce innovative new programs and projects that will directly impact and benefit the diverse patrons who rely on our resources and services each and every day.
First, and perhaps most timely, as announced in an op-ed in The New York Times last month, we have taken bold steps to represent library patrons in the brave new world of electronic publishing, convincing all of the “Big Six” publishers to sell e-books to libraries. While some of these agreements are in pilot stages, we are testing a variety of innovative models that will help the libraries and publishers find sustainable models for lending books in a digital age.
Second, while the physical changes at the landmark building on 42nd Street may have received the most attention, key programs that are driving our plans for the renovation of the main branch are the same ones that we will continue to push out to millions of New Yorkers through our 87 neighborhood branches. While community libraries have traditionally been recognized as lending institutions, today fewer than half of the Library’s users come to borrow materials. Instead, they embrace their local libraries as community learning centers — places where they can read and study, use computers and attend free classes and programs.
Among these programs, two stood out in having vast potential if we could expand our service capacity: classes in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and technology training. Over 80 percent of students in both programs reported having no other alternative than the Library for learning English or how to use a computer and navigate the Internet. In both cases, classes were always oversubscribed; in fact, we used to turn away thousands of applicants from our ESOL program each year. In just the last six months, we doubled our ESOL programming capacity and we aim to increase it tenfold in the coming years, helping tens of thousands more non-English speaking New Yorkers improve their economic situations, help their children succeed in school and become engaged citizens. We have also tripled our technology training capacity in just nine months, and we aim to increase it at least fivefold, with new tech lab spaces being planned at locations throughout the system.
Just as striking is our potential to impact New York City’s schoolchildren. Each day, tens of thousands of schoolchildren visit their local libraries, many appearing like clockwork after school. To give students more opportunities to achieve academically, we are expanding out-of-schooltime learning opportunities through several new pilot programs. Starting this fall, at selected branch libraries we will offer enhanced access to textbooks, research materials, laptops, and critically needed one-on-one and group homework help. To help these same students in the hours that they are in school, we will continue to invest in MyLibraryNYC, an innovative program that helps schools to tap into the vast resources of the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Library catalogs, supplementing the materials available in public school libraries by more than 17 million books and other items. Under our leadership, this effort joined the forces of the New York City Department of Education and our fellow library systems in Brooklyn and Queens to break down bureaucratic walls and offer students and teachers unprecedented access to key materials they so desperately need.
We’re working to greatly expand and enhance patrons’ visits through new and engaging programs. Support for these key initiatives will ensure that NYPL can continue to innovate, providing patrons from all corners of the globe with vast opportunities to expand their minds and transform their lives.
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