Billy Parrott: Library Manager for the New York City Public Library, Battery City Park

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By Penny Grey

Battery Park becomes an increasingly vibrant neighborhood every day. Billy Parrott, library manager of the Battery Park City Library, discusses the importance of the library to the community and the joys of being a librarian.

How long has the Battery Park branch been open?

We opened on March 15, 2010, so just about a year and a half ago now.

This is a green LEED-certified building; is it the first such branch in the New York City Public Library system?

It's the first green library in Manhattan. In 2007, the Bronx library center was built, and that's a LEED silver building. But this is a great facility. We've got 26 desktop computers and 10 laptop computers for patron use. When we first opened, I thought we might have more supply than demand, but these days, everything is occupied. We have really become a destination branch. Some people will come from across town just to work and enjoy the space. One patron wrote an entire book upstairs.

Being a green library, is there an effort to move to more electronic publications rather than paper?

Regardless of being green, the world is moving that way in general. With e-books and the ease of access to electronic material, a lot of what we do here at the library has nothing to do with paper. But going green doesn't hurt.

Does being green affect the mood and atmosphere of the space?

A lot of thought went into the design of the building. We wanted to create a bright, big, open space. The light here is beautiful, particularly in the upstairs reading area. Often people have an idea of green architecture and how that might translate visually, but [the library] doesn't scream "recycled" by any means.

Who has made the most use of the library since its opening last March?

It's definitely the community using the library, no doubt about it. This is a residential neighborhood, so we have families in here all day long. But we're also a business neighborhood, so we get the World Financial Center crowd, and lots of people use the space from noon to two on their lunch breaks. Stuyvesant High School is just up the street, so we get lots of students and young people. And Hallmark Assisted Living is just around the corner, so we also attract the senior population.

What sort of programming have you generated to meet the needs of such a diverse group of patrons?

Our children's programming is definitely the most popular. Baby Story Time for newborns to 18-month-olds is such a hit that we continue to add new days and times. We also have Toddler Story Time for 18-month-olds to 3-year-olds and Regular Story Time for 5- to 12-year-olds, as well as crafts, puppet shows and other outside programming. We've also got a Teen Advisory Program, which gives teens a chance to provide input and generate programming. And then we offer adult programming as well, most notably computer classes and author readings. Recently, we hosted a talk on journalism in the world post-9/11. So we stay pretty busy.

What's the best thing about your job?

Probably the teaching moments, when you can really guide someone to something they'll love and remember. It's not that people aren't expecting to get answers, but when you can really help them in that way, it's incredibly rewarding.

And the worst thing about your job?

There's nothing bad about libraries! I really can't think of anything I don't love about my job. After all, people love to read-and anyone who comes to the library is sort of self-selecting, aren't they? They're here because they love the idea of a place where reading and learning is possible.

What's the difference between being a librarian now and being a librarian in, say, 1950?

The ease of access to information, most definitely. It used to be that there were three encyclopedias to search, but now a good librarian really needs to be aware of all the possible sources, and of those sources, the best possible resources.

That must be pretty overwhelming.

It's not overwhelming at all, actually. The Internet has changed the way people think and the way people read, but librarians still help people to get to the bottom of it and find what they need.

The New York City Public Library system has been a cornerstone of New York City culture for such a long time. How do you see yourself shaping that cornerstone in the Downtown area with the Battery Park branch?

First, I don't really do anything individually. It's really a team effort. There are seven full-time and two part-time staff members here at the branch, and I encourage everyone to come up with ideas. When there's one idea, we all work to implement it.

Just to give you an example, in the last four months we've been working on a paper crane project. Every Friday, we held workshops to teach kids how to make origami peace cranes in honor of September 11. The community participation was so positive; kids would bring the supplies home and teach their neighbors, the security guards, you name it. So this project that started out just for kids turned into something for our entire community. The paper cranes started out as a display for September 11, but I think we'll keep them up. Having those paper cranes suspended from the ceilings is a great reminder of what we're doing in the community.

Photos by Penny Grey

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