Manhattan Library: New Look, New Attitude

By Shelley Broxton

The name was a facade. Sure, they carried a small selection of books. They also had current issues of TIME magazine and stacks of The New York Times and Wall Street Journal for the entire month. They were part of the decoy. Sooner or later, students saw the truth. Most of them just didn’t care.

Monday through Saturday, the Manhattan campus elevators sporadically transported students up to the seventh floor. They would exit to an empty lobby, walk to the end of the hall, and make a left at the vending machines. The second entrance on the left, a few feet past the door marked Boys Restroom, was their destination. Once students crossed the threshold and walked through the anti-theft device system, they were detained by the gatekeeper.

“I.D. please,” came the politely demanding voice from behind the circulation desk. Regulars got by with a smile. Others had a harder time but access was never denied to a student.

The bookshelves started just beyond the check point. Despite the lack of material, there were additional mid-size shelves in the middle of the room. They complemented the higher bookshelves along the walls. They ran from the front of the room to the back and used to end in the middle of computer lab. This is where most of the students flocked.

Once the computer lab was full, students would start to fill the front of the room. There were four additional Dell computers, several round tables, a few violet plush lounge chairs, and two semi-private glass offices. One of the offices was usually dark and empty. It was used as a conference room. The other was the office of the librarian.

The rest of the staff remained inconspicuous. They took naps in the lounge chairs, let their iPods blare, snuck bites from their Subway sandwiches, texted on their Blackberries, took advantage of the unlimited Facebook time, and participated in the commotion with the rest of the group. After all, they were student workers.

It was almost perfect. If only they had removed those useless bookshelves in middle of room and added a pool table. It would have eliminated the confusion caused by the few selfish students who couldn’t see beyond their own nose. They should have just thrown a 56 inch Sony flat screen on the wall. Then those nagging nerds would have stopped complaining about not being able to focus. They would have appreciated the place for what it truly was: a recreation room.

But no, somebody was stuck on this word “library” and went with that idea.

“The changes made were geared towards making the library more welcoming,” says the circulation supervisor, Marta Coulter. “Having signs that said, ‘no food’ and ‘no cell phones’ seemed a little unfriendly.”

Retraining the library staff to greet students with “Hello, will you need access to a computer today?” should have been enough to boost the morale. Instead, they decided to get cute.

They totally revamped the damn thing.

“Our goal is to transmit the spirit of the learning commons model to the Bronx and Manhattan Campus, through the integration of technology, services, and knowledge discovery,” says the director of libraries, Mustafa Sakarya. “We continue to promote a vibrant atmosphere of collaboration and conversation.”

But thanks to the new partitions, built around the computers, students have already started talking less and studying more.

“I love the new cubicles,” says Marvin Dorismond, who is a sophomore majoring in physical therapy. “They offer more privacy and fewer distractions.”

Dorismond never complained about how things were before the renovation. Already he has been spoiled by the new look. Now he feels entitled to an opinion. “They just shouldn’t have taken space away from the students to accommodate the staff,” he adds referring the new reference desk located front and center of the library.

The library staff is well aware that some returning students may have become a little territorial but feel they will come to appreciate the librarians for wanting to be more accessible to them.

“We no longer have to sit in our office with our backs turned to the students, and they no longer have to feel they are disturbing the librarian with their questions,” says Donneer Missouri, part-time librarian, who doesn’t feel the reference desk will be much of a concern. “The reference desk will be the first point of contact for students looking for research.”

Missouri says it only draws attention when all the computers are booked.

“Monday through Thursday you can’t find a computer in here,” says new freshman student, Jeff Brown, majoring in education. He doesn’t mind the ones doing work, but he does mind the ones who are just lost in cyberspace. “Some are just sitting on Facebook. They aren’t doing anything productive.”

Brown doesn’t believe the new computer log- where students add their name to a waiting list- will work. “There should be a time limit too. At least a timer placed on social sites,” he suggests.

Sakarya agreed. With the huge increase in students this semester, there is a demand for extra computers. After all Mercy has already done, they still intend to do more to accommodate these demanding overachievers.

“We are still in the planning stages of creating a laptop loaner program,” says Sakarya.

But will it be enough to satisfy the spoiled bunch of motivated students they are breeding? These pesky patrons will only want more, and there is a limit to what they should be able to expect from a public computer.

“Students should understand these are not personal computers,” says library staff Rosalie Robinson, majoring in paralegal studies. She reminds Mercy College that once a student logs off a computer, the work will automatically erase. “It’s important they save it to a personal disk drive and not Mercy’s computer.”

It seems “work” is all anyone can talk about since the place has been remodeled. The computers were taken from the back of the library and placed on new pod stations toward the front and middle of the room. All the round tables have been replaced by longer tables more suitable for studying. The new tables also offer built in electrical outlets for students with laptops. The larger violet plush lounge chairs have been replaced by smaller green chairs. They are still comfortable for sitting, but the desktop attached makes them less comfortable for napping.

What used to be the computer lab is now divided into two separate rooms. One side is the new location for the Learning Center. It used to be tucked away on the sixth floor. Now students can conveniently make appointments for tutoring. The other side is known as the Quiet Room. It has been newly furnished with a couch, more green seats, a work station with high chairs, and plenty of electrical outlets. Students took one look at the new improvements and took them seriously.

“I was tired of coming in here and having to tell other students to be quiet,” says Lawrence Washington, a new transfer student who is majoring in psychology. “When you walk through that door, you should know you’re in a library.”

After hearing of the old library model that was in place just last semester, Washington was better able to appreciate the work in progress. “Occasionally there is a serious lack of respect from some of the students. But I guess Rome wasn’t built in a day.”