The Rose Reading Room South Hall: A Few Observations

By amarti68

On November 20 2016 I went to the New York Public Library and entered the Rose  Reading Room for the first time. It had been reopened for only a few weeks. After seeing the amount of hype and press surrounding the reopening alone I was pretty excited to see how the new retrieval system worked, how many people would be interacting with the new materials available again to the public, and who would use the other resources available within the room. I observed the room for three hours on Sunday and found that many people are not there for the books now available to the public, or to use the resources found within the library itself; but for the space to use their own devices to use New York Public Library’s wifi.

I stayed in the Rose Reading room on a Sunday afternoon for two reasons: that is when I assumed people that lived in the city had the most free time, and the materials found in the rose reading room are not able to physically leave the room. This restriction forces users to remain in the room for however long it takes them to digest the material. The hours I remained in the reading room were from two o’clock to five o’clock.

When I entered the room it was divided into two sections, I chose the South Hall because it allowed tours to enter and take pictures, then leave in order to truly get a sense of how much traffic the Reading Room was receiving. I also chose this side of the room, because there was only one scanner. If someone wanted access to the materials in the room, but could not dedicate the time to fully read it, the possibility to scan the work is of great interest. I assessed every half an hour how many people were currently within my half of the room taking pictures, how many people were sitting at the tables, using their own computers, as opposed to the computers in the room itself, had books, were on their mobile device, used the scanner or copy machine, and spoke to the librarians.

For some items I check throughout the half hour, and others I checked stagnantly. In relation to the number of people that spoke to the librarian, and using the scanner and copy machine, I recorded throughout my time in the South Hall. For all other items I recorded every half hour, due to my inability to focus on them all at once and record my findings accurately.

During my first half an hour of observing, there were fifty-seven people seated in the room. There were ten people in the tourist area by the entrance taking pictures, and three people in total spoke to the librarian. There were only three people using the provided research computers, and two people used the copy machine. A total of five people had books on the tables in front of them. Thirty people of the fifty-seven had their own computers or laptops in front of them and nine were on their phones.

During my second half hour of observation there were sixty people seated, and eighteen in the tourist area. One person in total spoke to the librarian, three had books, and two were on the research computers. Independently, thirty two people were on their own computers, and nine were on their phones. One person in total used the copy machine.

From three pm to three-thirty sixty people remained seated, and thirty-six were standing in the tourist area. Thirty-four of them were using their own computers, three were using the research computers and ten people had books. Two people used the copy machine and nine were on their phones.

For the next half hour sixty people were seated and twenty five were in the tourist area. Fifty people were using their computers, and fifteen were on their phone. Seven people had books and two were on the research computers.

From four to four-thirty the number of seated people remained sixty, the tourists area had twenty-five people, fifty remained on their own computers, and fifteen on their phones. Seven had books and no one spoke to the librarian in an hour and a half.

For my last half hour of observing there were fifty people seated and twenty in the tourist area. No one spoke to the librarian or used the copy machine as in the previous half hour. Ten people were on their phones, two were on the research computers, and forty were on their own computers. Five people had books.

An important note on the low levels of usage for the scanner is that it does not do what most scanners are able. The scanner does not have the capacity to send scanned images to an e-mail address, they can only sent to USB. This is very limiting in that not everyone carries a USB drive with them, yet everyone has access to an email address. The copy machine costs ten cents a copy, this is the reason I assume there was so little use of these two resources.

I also attempted to take out books from the Rose Reading Room as a final test to see how well it performs as a lending library. I requested my books at two forty-five and the librarian dictated to me that the wait time would be forty-five minutes. In order to do so, I needed to have a library card, an address, a phone number, and an email address to fill out the form with the book information on it as well. I waited until the library closed at five o’clock that night and heard nothing about my book requests. I received an e-mail at ten o’clock that my books were then available and ready for pick up for the next five days. I never received my books nor did I have the time to return to the library and even look at them.

This kind of behavior from the largest public library in North American is unacceptable. The books I requested were not available to the public while the Reading Room was under renovation, and then the retrieval time for said books is much longer than the dictated amount. The amount of free time someone must have in order to interact with this system and be available to interact with the materials that the library houses is unrealistic for the average American living and working in New York City unless they have a certain amount of priviledge where they have hours of obligation-less time. For those well seasoned in how the New York Public Library functions, and is familiar with the long wait times, I do not see how this experience would be encouraging for a first time user’s repeat visit.

A Reflection on “Mining the Archive: A Conversation on Anti-Arab and Islamaphobia in Visual Culture”

By amarti68

“Certain stories are privileged and others are marginalized.”[1]
The archive is a powerhouse of memory and identity through materials and framing. If marginalized voices are not heard, then the world cannot remember them. Whether materials are created and/or valued is due to the social structure surrounding it. “Mining the Archive: A Conversation on Anti-Arab and Islamophobia in Visual Culture” was held on October 20th 2016 at NYU. It reflected on how acknowledgement of difference in treatment is the first step in reflecting on these issues within the United States. If marginalized groups can be acknowledged, and made important today, it will reflect in the archive of the future. The first step in understanding which direction the archive will remember this moment, is to look at how it is acknowledged now.

One example of a marginalized group in the United States is that of Arab and Islamic Americans. The “Conversation” was led by Salah D. Hassan, and Marina Budhos. Salah D. Hassan, is a professor at the University of Michigan where he does academic work on the representation of Anti-Arab and Islamophobic feelings in the United States. Marina Budhos is an award winning author who writes fiction and non-fiction work through her own lens, as an Arab immigrant herself who grew up in New York City. They both represent different lenses while looking at the same material. Hassan pointed out the political facts and statistics surrounding the Anti-Arab and Islamaphobic feelings within the United States, and the racial feelings of the average American about Arabs and Islamic Americans. He mentioned the agreement of 2014 that 60% of Americans believe that Arab peoples cannot perform their jobs if they held political office and other misconceptions that are results of visual representation. Budhos really looked at these issues from inside, she reads into this perspective, giving a voice to the victims of the visual culture reflected in the talk. Her perspective enhanced the “Conversation” by using her literary voice to depict the situations of discrimination Arabs and Islamic American communities face.

Television and mainstream visual representation was the focus of this discussion. Hassan had drawn the conclusion that the reason for such negative representation of Arabs and Islamic peoples is consistently based in specific political motives. Organized anti-Muslim feelings are tools for a political purpose, just as hate speech always has been. His research has found that historical events have little to do with the anti-Muslim feelings present in today’s America. He also found that the threat of anti-Muslim groups is higher to the general public than Muslim groups targeted for their expression. These are facts that are not accurately represented in American mainstream visual representation. In terms of the Archive, television is a medium that can be preserved easily. Framing is the issue. Through just representation in American television of Islamic peoples and Arabs, there is a different narrative than what actually occurred. Unless the Archive is sensitive to the marginalized voices, it will not accurately capture this moment in time. The Archive must frame it’s materials in a way that showcases this misconception and then the materials available, rather than feeding into this false representation.

As the discussion went on the topic of identity and the idea of “coming out” as Muslim became an idea that described the process of coming to terms with an ostracized identity. They are only their label without any humanizing traits assigned to them by the mainstream visual culture. For example, Arab and Islamic people are seen on TV as entering and building mosques on the news in order to create a sense of fear in people, without any knowledge of what mosques mean as social centers. The fact that Arab and Islamic people are regularly a topic of discussion but are not seen as people is something that does not only reflect political agendas, but also what stereotypes are active in American society. Watched, Marina Budhos’ book, investigates how identity changes in an inner city Iranian boy as he is intimidated by the police and integrates in American life. Her book reflects on how he is labeled, how he attempts to combat that, as well as how he reclaims his identity. Budhos read excerpts from her book that exemplified the boy’s relationship with his community and those outside it. The book reflected a narrative of someone that is connected to his community but is turned against it by an altered view of his reality. Stories like this one are why the archive is important. A well rounded archive can take a narrative like Budhos to frame a collection of visual media resources that contain Anti-Arab or Islamaphobic feelings, making it a positive representation of this historical moment.

The archive has enough power that it does not need to choose a side of the mainstream or the marginalized. The archive can remember everything that society deems important. Acknowledging these issues today is key in making them important for tomorrow. The power of the archive acts as a memory bank. But a hidden power of the archive, is its ability to choose the frame to which the nation remembers something. “Mining the Archive: A Conversation on Anti-Arab and Islamaphobic Visual Culture” created a dialogue about identity and memory which led to larger questions about how these themes effect the archive, and how the archive will use its power to represent or ignore the marginalized.

[1] Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook, “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory,” Archival Science 2 (2002): 1-19.

 

Adrianna Martinez

The Neutrality Illusion and How to Combat it

By amarti68

Robert Jensen brings up an interesting point in his article, “The Myth of the Neutral Professional” from 2004 when he states that an intellectual in any society is not neutral. Intellectual Professionals, such as librarians, serve a function; that function is to solidify the position of the elite. They do this by validating what they choose as important for the masses. Jensen talks about how librarians take on the agenda of the elite through things like acquisitions and programing, but something he does not acknowledge is the tagging system which also confirms the agenda of the elite. Librarians are the gatekeepers of information. Today, patrons have access to sources not kept by librarians for almost any information they like, however, the most valid source of intellectual information is still housed in some form of library. Libraries get their funding from somewhere, which makes them some form of extension of the elite as well. A library may house many voices, but a higher structure chooses those voices. Accessibility has changed how patrons interact with information. Librarians can use this to create a more open library system, and acknowledges its bias.
Intellectuals cannot ignore the interconnectedness of institutions in the United States. Institutional libraries do not stand alone in a web of power structures. A government unit of some kind does fund them. By extension, the rich and powerful elite, to some extent, control said government units. Libraries extend much farther than just career academics and intellectual professionals, especially academic libraries. Today the average millennial has to go to college to be financially secure; therefore the impact of an academic library reaches into more minds than ever before. The impact of so many people having their own perspectives in the social sciences could alter the future of how Americans think. The question is, with so many sources for information accessible, how will the average American react?
Just because there is an option for someone to verse themselves in new ideas, does not mean that, they will not simply narrow their field of view in order to focus on what matters to them. Whether to embrace knowing a little bit about everything, or accept that knowing everything about one thing is impossible seems to be the intellectual conundrum of the 21st century. I feel that in this paradox is where the excuse of neutrality is most dangerous. The idea of neutrality allows for those desiring to narrow their field of view to continue to do so without recognition of the bias they are gaining. By not advocating for new voices, libraries can enable this behavior, “[…] to take no explicit position by claiming to be neutral is also a political choice, particularly when one is given the resources that make it easy to evaluate the consequences of that distribution of power and potentially affect its distribution.” (Jensen, 2004) If you look at the structure of cataloging there is a particular field where this distribution of power is transparent: tagging. In the tags field, the goal is to describe a book in key words, findable to the patron. In a sense the librarian has freedom to tag something as whatever they like, but at the same time that person is limited to the acceptable “neutrality” where they must tag the item with accepted terms recognized by society as associated with the object. Using conventional tags for these materials is good for someone seeking out that information. But it limits the ability for someone to stumble upon this material, exposing them to something new or a new viewpoint on the subject matter. If it became the convention to tag things as related to a field that oppose it, or give a new view on it; less direct tagging, could be a solution to this small scale interest situation. The internalization of people is something that should be acknowledged by the intellectual professional, as well as their own biases. Another solution can be to add a new field to the tagging system recognizing the source’s lens before interacting with the source.
For example, if someone has limited themselves to knowing only about the issue of deforestation of the Amazon, they might limit their keyword search to “Deforestation” and “Amazon” which will educate them on that specific topic. The materials that person gains access to could include animals placed on extinction lists because of the deforestation, active parties causing the deforestation, and what governments might be doing to stop it. On WorldCat there is a field where that person can limit further by ‘Topic’. They can look at their subject of interest through a sociological lens, agricultural, anthropological, and many more. This field is the best solution one can find to the lack of neutrality in the library field. There are still limited available sources about the ‘medicine’ topic as a lens on the subject of the deforestation of the Amazon (one to be exact) but the patron can recognize a different lens on the same subject they have interest in.
The concept of neutrality in a library setting is an excuse for legitimacy at best. It needs to be clear to a patron that there are necessary biases involved when dealing with a body of information, whether that be in a physical library or when accessing an online catalog. As library professionals there are steps we can take to identify our catalog’s limits that will create transparency with patrons. Informing the public that they are exposing themselves to a limited collection of viewpoints at any given time could make that person more open to new voices. It may help that person realize that there will always be another way to view something, which is the true issue of the neutrality illusion; it creates an authority in something that can only honestly claim to be a small collection of intellectual thought.

Jensen, R. (2004). The Myth of the Neutral Librarian. Progressive Librarian, 28-34.

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