Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
It was more than four months after I moved into Scarsdale that I stepped foot into the Scarsdale Library. With almost childish glee, I got the green card that allowed me to borrow a good number of books and dvds . As the months got colder, the library became my second home. Every morning I would carry my laptop , coffee and a nutrition bar and sit there for hours.
I wrote, edited, read and observed. There was plenty I found fascinating about the Library.
You see, I did not grow up in a place that had a public library. Back home in India, the only libraries I had ever frequented were the ones in my school and college . The other libraries I knew in India were the British Council and American Libraries where I paid quite a sum for annual memberships. And that was two decades ago, when the internet was as yet, unheard of.
The Scarsdale Library was always busy. Something was always happening there – book reading sessions, movies, Mandarin and other coaching classes, to name a few. Toddlers and children coming in with their caretakers – to pick up books and movies, or to attend sing along guitar sessions. Older people sitting around, reading newspapers and magazines and borrowing the large print books.
What really got my attention though was the library’s response to the exams at High School. They extended the hours so students could come and study in peace, and also offered snacks and coffee, free of charge, to them.
That was cute I thought.
For me, the library was a physical space for cataloguing and loaning out materials. A place I went to look for reference materials for a project . Or some peace and quiet when I wanted to think and study. The all-knowledgeable librarian was not a person to be messed with and I was (and am) always a little scared of the person behind the desk.
As an outsider perhaps, but I was intrigued by the public library system in the US. So I met up with Elizabeth Bermel, the Director of the Scarsdale Library. She gave me a whole new perspective on libraries, and why, despite brick and mortar bookstores shutting shop because of the digital onslaught, and ebooks becoming more popular in many genres, libraries are emerging stronger than before. I never thought words like kids and adult programming, digital assets acquisitions, training and customer service could refer to libraries, but they actually do!!
Libraries are quite an insight into changing with the times, and adapting to cater to the needs of the customer.
Embracing multiculturalism – Scarsdale is a multicultural community and the library tries to accommodate diverse expectations. It started bi-lingual storytelling sessions for its little patrons of Chinese origin. It also lends out its space to the Chinese Association that conducts Tai-Chi and other community classes. Every year, the library has a Diwali celebration where they eat traditional Indian snacks! The library hosts international movies for its patrons too.
Engaging the Young – The young ones are one of the biggest patrons of the Library, and they are indulged with great affection. Guitar sing alongs, story times, a separate space and lots of interesting books for the children are just some of the offerings.
Investing in new media – Libraries have invested heavily in digital assets and pay hefty license fees for them. At Scarsdale for instance, with your library card, you can download ebooks and audiobooks from Overdrive, Hoopla, Zinio, Comics Plus and many others and listen to music from Freegal. You can take online tutorial lessons from tutor.com, learn a language on Mango or Muzzy, and even sign language on Signing Savvy. You can even look for a job online! There are a whole bunch of online assets for research – for a book or a project.
Learning Customer orientation – To help patrons navigate the offerings, the libraries have invested in training their staff to become more tech-savvy. In the Westchester County, Scarsdale is ranked high on the number of books borrowed and the number of reference inquiries executed – both online and the traditional way. The library staff has ‘learnt’ to assist people in their searches. The staff at the libraries has also learnt to evolve with the changing expectations . Now they are learning to be more pro-active in engaging with the customer a huge paradigm shift from a few years ago when they had to be approached with caution. At the front desk, they are practicing a different set of rules of engagement with the customer.
Elizabeth shared with me how libraries are the cornerstone of US democracy. By providing free access to assets and materials, libraries are instrumental in reducing the gaps because of income, linguistic, physical and educational limitations. They are ardent defenders of the First Amendment and the right to receive and consider ideas, information and images.
All that might sound like macro level talk, but the truth is, the Library holds a community together. It provides a safe place where people may come together for a variety of reasons – for quiet study or research, for community based activities like counseling and story times, for book and movie discussions, or just to be part of the larger social fabric.
After all, as Elizabeth told me, where else could you have gone during Hurricane Sandy, when there was no power anywhere in Scarsdale? On those cold bitter days, the Library was the only one with power, and it opened its doors, with hot beverages, for one and all. People bundled into the library – to charge their phones , to read and chat and to listen to the Mayor give her updates.
That fierce pride is the reason why so many communities actively support their library. Apart from village funding, the Scarsdale Library receives funds from individuals, and is supported by the Friends of the Scarsdale Library that conducts a book sale and the spelling bee contest to raise additional funds for its beloved library.
For a book lover like me, there is no better place I could be at!! As the winter months set in, I will be back at the Library with its warm lighting, perfect temperature and hot coffee!
And surrounded by peace that only books bring to me, I will begin work on my next novel!