It takes the four years of running through small spaces in the hallways and memorizing your classroom schedule to become truly familiar with all the inner workings of the grand Stuyvesant building. Despite the 1-2-5 floor regulations, or perhaps because of them, students eventually find their secret coves and hideaways in various parts of the school, secluded from the hustle and bustle of high school. There is one place that is designed specifically for students, and from day one of freshman year, you quickly become acquainted with it– the library.
In 1992 Stuyvesant High School was moved from its original home on East 15th street to the current location that we know so well on Chambers Street. One of the reasons that prompted its oncoming renovation is the fact that it was designed in 1988, when computer space was not taken into consideration. Since then, the arrangement of space has changed over the years to accommodate technology. The place that we know as the writing center used to be crammed with microfiche, small slides of old newspapers that had to be read on large microscopes designed for them. The microfiche was highly flammable and rather dangerous. In addition, the machines rarely worked and the location was not a very good resource for students.
Reflecting on what the library was like when he was a student, Stuyvesant alumnus Ronald Rapatalo (’93) said that it was “more of a place to think you would do some studying, but ended hanging out and figuring out where you’d hang out after school,” indicating that some aspects of student attitude has stayed the same. However, he doesn’t “recall a lot of shushing in the library. Like a lot of Stuyvesant spaces, we were given a large amount of latitude on how we used the space,” he said. With the number of students increasing each year, we cannot say the same for our school today.
The English classroom 615E was formerly the back of the library and a notorious hangout spot. Until the construction of the classroom, the area was stacked with shelves and served as a place for students to use their cell phones, play hacky sack, or engage in some other unsanctioned activities. At one point, there was a sofa in the very back that gave rise to what librarian DeLisa Brown discreetly mentioned as the “apocryphal sofa stories.” Assistant Principal English Eric Grossman confirmed that the hideout was difficult to supervise, especially with some students who abused their privileges by mooning the elementary school kids across the street. Due to the pressing need for more classroom space in the English department, the back area was transformed into a classroom in 2009. Included in future renovation plans is a separate entryway to the classroom to reduce traffic at the main library entrance
Controlling students during their free and lunch periods has gotten even stricter since then. This is partially a response to the growing numbers of students admitted each year. For many, the library is a place to spend time with friends, but Brown takes measures for this to ensure that it does not get out of hand. She explains that there should be somewhere people can go to not only joke around with their friends, but also have some time for silent study. “A lot of people don’t have quiet in their lives. There aren’t really many places you can go. You can’t be in the stairwell, you can’t be in the floors that are quiet […] It’s just an effort to provide one moderately quiet place in people’s lives,” she said.
Earlier this year, the library launched its New York Public Library (NYPL) pilot program, which allows the Stuyvesant library to connect with NYPL, so that students can check out or request any book that is available in the NYPL system. The NYPL program has been a success so far, causing a rise in student use of the library’s resources. “You can be sure that if you request something or put a hold on something, it’s going to happen,” Brown said of the new system. More people are using databases, like JSTOR or GALE, provided by our school, and returning or ordering books from the NYPL through their student accounts. However, textbooks still remain the most popular resources of the library, with 24,000 checked out since September. Librarian Christopher Bowlin spoke of the possibility of introducing electronic textbooks and mentioned Apple’s alliance with major textbook companies. He said, “we would probably have to move in the direction of iPads, although that’s not immediate. It’s down the road but it’s something we’re projecting.”
There are rumors flying that the library will be closed for all of next year due to the renovation, but the Librarians insist that the library should be ready for students by 2013. “We’ll pack up in June, store the books in what is now 615E. Construction would start by July, and most likely we’re looking at Halloween or November first [as a completion date.] We still have to put all of the hardware in, the computers, and put the books back on the shelves,” Bowlin said.
The rearrangement of space is intended to make room for about 30 more computers. The writing center will be where the circulation desk currently is, and circulation will move to where the computers are now. The computers will extend to where the English offices are behind the writing center, and the English offices will move back to the area near 615A. Furthermore, shelves will be placed along the perimeter of the library.
The library is a place that must remain flexible over the years, whether that means increasing or reducing supervision, checking IDs, and housing events such as Open Mic and author visits. It is “the place in the building that has to accommodate the most diverse uses and functions,” Grossman said. “Designing it in such a way that all those things can coexist harmoniously, and supervising in such a way that ensures that everyone is both respectful of the other things that are going on, and yet doesn’t make the library feel like a police state, requires delicacy and sensitivity and constant judgment calls,” Grossman said. Shelves may get moved around, but the intention of the administration is to keep the library what it is and what is has always been – a sanctuary.