I’m fascinated by the level of security at NYC academic libraries. Notice I didn’t say disturbed by. I understand the reasoning on many levels. Here at Pace, most of the downtown school is housed in the same building. This includes dorms. So, you have to get past two security guards to get to the library or anywhere in our building. I get this. There are multiple floors of dorm rooms above us and if I were a parent with a kid here, I’d want the campus to be very careful with my child’s safety.
NYU’s Bobst Library is notoriously tough to get into unless you are a student, staff or faculty member. I say tough; but, really it is almost impossible. I have heard Columbia and the various other schools here all have similar policies.
My first job out of library school was at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. Anyone could wander in there and use the resources, get help from the reference desk and generally hang out. I suppose that still holds true today. My only rebellious thoughts on the prevalent policies of NYC libraries is that I sense that it sets the library staff up to be suspicious, questioning and stingy with their resources. I haven’t witnessed that attitude but I have heard some stories, even prior to working in NYC myself.
Even in public libraries that deal with the safety issues that come with urban libraries we must find ways to balance caution with a willingness to help openly. I think this is most difficult in libraries where there is an expectation of safety and orderliness. I worked in one urban public library where we all just had a slightly heightened awareness of what was happening at all times. In an odd way, this allowed us to serve everyone equally.
This open door policy is something about the public library world that I will miss. While at Middletown, a man complained to me about another patron because he claimed she was hogging all the newspapers. I offered to retrieve any issue he wanted and he kept saying, “That’s not the point.” What bothered him was that there was a regular patron, who had an appearance and some behaviors that were outside the norm of what he expected in our community and she liked to sit with a pile of papers and read them. I suspected he felt uncomfortable approaching her for the paper which is why I offered to retrieve it. He thought she should be banned from the library for paper hogging. But, he just didn’t want her in the library because she made him uncomfortable. I was able to gently tell him, “This is a public library. Everyone is welcome here.” I’m going to miss that.