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FLT: LearningExpress Library

10 Dec

Learning Center Menu (click to enlarge)

FLT=Favorite Library Thing

I have the idea that “FLT” could become another recurring feature here at Brooklyn Biblio – a chance for me to highlight my personal favorite ways to utilize library resources.  Share some of your FLTs in the comments – and maybe it can become a future Brooklyn Biblio post!

The inaugural FLT will be about the LearningExpress Library.  I accessed the LearningExpress Library online through a database search at  However, the LearningExpress Library is not proprietary to NYPL as far as I can tell.  I did not need to enter my NYPL membership credentials, but I instead needed to create a username and password.

As you can see, the LearningExpress Library contains a variety of learning centers for varied levels and areas of education.  I found the LearningExpress Library as I was searching for resources to help me prepare for my upcoming New York State Teacher Certification Examinations (NYSTCE).  I purchased a Kaplan NYSTCE book and downloaded free study guides from the NYSTCE website, but I decided to register for a computerized test, and I wanted to have the experience of a computerized practice test.  Well, the “Teaching” section of the  “Jobs and Careers” learning center on LearningExpress Library has one I could take for free.  The free practice test also breaks down your score into the 5 focus areas of the exam and provides detailed explanations for each area after you score yourself.

Browsing through the other learning centers on LearningExpress Library, I see this as a great tool for school, university and public librarians to share with library users as well.

As you can see from the screenshot below, the LearningExpress Library offers test prep guides and practice tests for a number of vocational qualifiers, and includes Teaching Certification exam prep for various states and certification levels, including the PRAXIS, TExES, and even Homeschooling.

What are some of the best free test prep materials you have found on the web or at your local library?

Teaching Learning Center Menu (click to enlarge)

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Dear Mayor Bloomberg

5 Jun
New York Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg.

Image via Wikipedia

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

In a few weeks, you’ll be negotiating the NYC budget for 2012.  I know you’ve got people from all over the city making the case for why various public service budgets need to be stabilized and restored rather than drastically cut, as originally proposed: the firefighters, the public school teachers, the NYPD, and last but not least, the Brooklyn, Queens and New York Public Library systems.  I think the citizens of New York will suffer with drastic cuts to any one of these vital public services, let alone all of them.   Today I am writing to tell you why you are doing a disservice to so many New Yorkers with the library cuts you’ve proposed in particular, and I’m appealing to your rationality and humanity in the hopes you will reconsider.

There are no two neighborhoods in New York that are alike.  From Bay Ridge to Brownsville to Bushwick to Astoria to Rego Park to Flushing to Chelsea to Spanish Harlem to the South Bronx, every niche and nook and cranny of this city serves a unique population, and every one of them is vital to what makes New York – well, New York.  If you can make it here, there is a place for you.  (Making it here gets tougher and tougher, though.)  The diversity of this city and of each special neighborhood highlights the reason every single branch of the New York, Brooklyn and Queens Public Library systems matters, and why every single day, actually every single MOMENT we can afford to keep each branch open and fully staffed with library professionals is so incredibly important.  If my neighborhood branch in Greenpoint closed, where else could its vast Polish-speaking population possibly access a comparable Polish-language print collection or Polish-speaking librarians to help them navigate online job applications?  Where would the students of the six public schools in our neighborhood – at least two of which don’t even have school libraries – go after school for a safe place to do research, find books and graphic novels for pleasure reading, or even just hang out?  How are underemployed or disenfranchised New Yorkers going to find work or assistance if there’s no longer free internet access in walking distance – or at least quick (ha!) public transit distance of their apartment?

Every single neighborhood library branch serves a unique population, and the professionals that work there specialize those libraries’ collections to best serve their communities to the best of their ability – and the city and state budgets certainly haven’t made it easy for them to do so.  Year after year, you’re asking these librarians to do more with less – and these branches to do more with less actual librarians.  When do we reach the point where we realize we can’t squeeze anything more out of the piggy bank, and our communities can’t possibly survive if anything more is taken away?

New Yorkers aren’t the only ones in danger, here.  New York herself is in danger.  She’s losing us.  Every year that goes by that more and more is taken away and our cost of living continues to skyrocket and transportation becomes less and less viable, the more the dream of New York fades for the average American.  Why should we stay?  Why should others come?

You asked for a third term, and we gave it to you.  What are you going to do with it? What will your legacy become?


Brooklyn Biblio

If you are reading this and you are not Mayor Bloomberg, but you want to advocate on behalf of NYC or New York State libraries, the following websites offer information about the budget cuts, information about upcoming advocacy events, and easy-as-pie forms to help you write to City Council, Mayor Bloomberg or New York State officials to voice your concerns: 

Urban Librarians Unite (ULU) / Save  NYC Libraries
New York Public Library
Brooklyn Public Library
Queens Public Library

If you are a New York State resident in or out of NYC, you can learn more about ways to advocate from the New York Library Association.

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Exciting News!

1 May

I was hoping to write a whole lot more here once I get through this semester…and I’m alllllmost there.

In the meantime, I have some exciting news to share!  I am honored to be one of 500 lucky folks selected to attend New York Public Library‘s “Find the Future“/ Write All Night Event on May 20th.  I’ve started to get to know some of the other contenders in the past few days since I received my invitation, and it seems like an accomplished, fun and eclectic group of people who are as excited as I am to spend the night at NYPL’s Stephen A. Schwarzman building, participate in an adventure, and write a book!  In the next couple of weeks I’m going to try to write here and share my preparations, and of course my experiences at the event.  And if you have any questions about the event, please ask them in the comments and I will do my best to answer them all.  Wish me luck!

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Reference: Referrals, Ready Reference

2 Nov

From, photo credit C. Voegel

This blog post was originally written as a class assignment for a Reference and User Services class at Syracuse University during the 2010 Fall Semester.

I was surprised, as was the librarian, that the reference desk was quite slow on this September evening. As I headed home afterward, I learned that there were severe storms in the NYC area that likely kept people away. A couple of days later, we actually learned that there were two tornadoes in Brooklyn and Queens! No wonder it was a slow night. Tonight’s observation was primarily centered on referrals and ready reference.

Only 3 patrons approached the desk, and the library was for the most part empty. The questions I saw in full were simple things – in one case the printer was out of paper, and in the other, a link wasn’t working in the database, which turned out to be a user error.

The first question was the most interesting, but I only arrived halfway through it, but the librarian was kind enough to walk me through the question and her process in serving the information need after she was finished. This patron needed to verify facts in journals. She arrived with citations for articles in Psychology journals, and needed help tracking down the article text. Many of the journals she needed were not available in databases the library subscribed to.

The next step was to instruct the user to look up the articles in Worldcat, but the librarian warned of potential inaccuracies in Worldcat: It is comprehensive to usually include all that a library has. However, when books are weeded from collections, that is often NOT reflected in Worldcat, so sometimes a resource will be listed in Worldcat as being findable at a library branch when it actually is no longer available.

However, NYPL offers patrons in this situation “METRO card referrals”. These are basically passes for a patron to access specific materials at participating “METRO” libraries, including NYPL branches and several academic libraries in New York. This librarian uses a Worldcat search as a first step in filling out a METRO Referral form for a patron to use. If Worldcat indicates that the library at NYU has a resource, she will then call that library to make sure they do actually have it availalble, confirm their hours of operation, and inform them that she is sending a METRO card referral their way.

METRO libraries vary in their cooperativeness and process for honoring METRO referrals. For example, NYPL librarians consider sending a patron to Columbia University a last resort, because they don’t facilitate use of the library by non-university patrons as readily as some of the other METRO members do.

The librarian was happy to maximize time between patrons and walk me through the Ready Reference materials behind the reference desk, and make special note of references she used frequently.

This particular librarian calls herself a “digital migrant” who went through undergraduate school without a computer. So, she admits that they may play a role in her dependency on print materials.

The librarian said the three most useful ready reference print materials are the Statistical Abstract of the United States, Atlases, and the NYC Green Book.

The Statistical Abstract also has an online version that is free, but requires PDFs to be downloaded to view the data, so I can see how a current print version may be faster to use at the reference desk.

The NYC Green book is a directory to City, State and federal offices.

2008-2009 Green Book. (2008). . New York: Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

The 2010 Statistical Abstract. (2009). . Retrieved November 2, 2010, from (n.d.). . Retrieved November 2, 2010, from

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Reference: Understanding the Question, Knowing the Patron

17 Sep

This blog post was originally written as a class assignment for a Reference and User Services class at Syracuse University during the 2010 Fall Semester.

NYC - NYPL Mid-Manhattan Branch

Image by wallyg via Flickr

My first observation session was at the General Reference desk at the Mid-Manhattan branch of New York Public Library. The librarian answered reference questions through two modes: in person and by phone. Most reference transactions happened in person. There is a dedicated NYPL telephone reference line, so calls usually only come into the reference desk at this branch specifically if someone gets impatient while on hold for ASK-NYPL and

then calls the branch directly and asks to be transferred to the reference desk.

The prevailing theme of this session aligned well with a major theme from weeks 1 and 2 of class: asking follow up questions and being absolutely certain to understand the exact information the patron is seeking. Another theme emerged as well, which is knowing (or gauging) the patron. The examples below are just a few of many questions I heard asked and answered while I was at the desk, but I feel they best illustrate the themes that emerged while I was observing on a Saturday afternoon.

In most transactions, the librarian asked for more details or specifics about the information being sought, and before searching repeated the refined question back to the patron to make sure she knew exactly what they needed. For example, one person needed a “spanish dictionary”, so the librarian asked if they wanted a “Spanish-English dictionary” or a dictionary that was completely in Spanish. (They wanted the latter.)

Another patron asked for archives of New York Times Reviews. After some conversation, the librarian  learned that he was looking for theater reviews from a specific time period in the 19th century, but the microfilm collection at the Performing Arts library was shrinking so he couldn’t find what he wanted there. At this moment, the phone began to ring. The librarian asked the patron if he had a library card and pin number, which he did. She directed him to login to a database computer nearby and said that after she answered the phone call, she would show him how to use the New York Times archives database to search for reviews by date. When the librarian joined the patron at the computer after completing the phone interview, she learned that once he found the review, he wanted to be able to see the layout of the entire page that review appeared on. She showed him how to change his search so that he could view PDF files of entire issues of the paper, which he related to as being like using the microfilm method, and he was very happy. On a busy afternoon in the library, I was impressed that the librarian took the time to really understand what this person was looking for and help him learn how to find it himself in the future. She was patient and as the request evolved, she adapted her method and followed up as promised to make sure his question was answered.

Some of the librarian’s transactions were aided by knowing “the regulars” and being able to avoid pitfalls that a new librarian may fall into. One person who was a regular asked her to print something from the Internet for him. It is only because the librarian had seen him printing his quota from internet stations earlier in the day, and her familiarity with him regularly trying to pretend not to know how to print in order to get extra free copies, that she was able to handle this appropriately and instruct him to come back to the library tomorrow to print the extra pages he needed from his daily quota in a professional manner. Another patron stopped and asked for “that call number from yesterday”, which she remembered was a search for a map of meteorite impact sites around the world. She was able to quickly locate the call number and write it for him, and knew already that he would be able to locate the material on his own.

Another method of knowing the patron comes only from experience and intuition. Many patrons asked for help finding a book or type of book, and the librarian felt comfortable providing call numbers for them and letting them know which floor of the library they would be found in. Some patrons, though, she would walk to the stacks and actually continue the interview there, because she instinctively knew they were less certain about what they needed. For example, one patron asked for a “GED study book”. Those books were actually visible from the reference desk, but instead of pointing in that direction, the librarian said, “We have a lot of GED learning aids on this floor. Let’s go see what will work best.” While in the stacks, she learned that he actually needed a math practice book that wasn’t actually in the same row as the books she initially thought he may be looking for.

At the time I was observing, the librarian was the only reference librarian at the desk, and there was a steady stream of transactions. She was able to give each patron her full attention and no one became impatient with her. She also was very approachable, and often asked if she could help patrons before they made it all the way to the desk. I was impressed with her ability to get to everyone that needed help but still thoroughly answer the questions provided to her.

Cassell, K. A., & Hiremath, U. (2009). Determining the Question: In-person, Telephone and Virtual Reference Interviews. In Reference and Information Services in the 21st Century (Second Edition., pp. 15-31). New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

Conducting the Reference Interview. (2004). . Library Video Network. Retrieved from

Reference and User Services Association. (2008, January 14). Definitions of Reference. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from

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