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.

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