By Danny Bennaton
Published: May 2nd, 2018
Whether you find yourself in the Brooklyn College Library Café or the main library, you’ll surely be taken aback by both atmospheres as well as their provided services. With a $1.6 million grant from City Council, the Library Café was built in 1997 with a purpose to give students who commute a feeling of community with the aesthetic of a café.
“It gives them a sense of ‘We’re all at Brooklyn College together,’” said Vernon E. Lattin, the college president in 1999. Originally, its goal was to be an alternative to cyber cafés, as noted by Barbara Buckner Higginbotham, the college’s chief librarian at the time of its construction.
In a New York Times article about our library Café, Melissa Mercado, a sophomore in 1999 said, “it’s nice…I like the atmosphere,” and the article does an apt job at describing the atmosphere at the time of her interview: “…she viewed an encyclopedia on a café computer to study for an exam, others around her sent emails, read sports news and played online backgammon.”
But much has changed in policy and in the student opinions of the café since then. Not only are students drinking coffee next to their computers as well as bringing outside food – which was once prohibited more than a decade ago; they feel that many improvements can be made. One college student who chooses to remain anonymous says, “It can be too noisy at times; it’s hard for me to focus on my studies.”
Johnny Gonzalez, a junior faculty member at the Café, has an idea to help his fellow students study and also relax: “We might be thinking of implementing instrumental music here as background music…thought provoking music…to help people because–you know–this is a café, it’s not like the library. If you want to work with no interruptions, go to the library. This a café….it’s a place where people come to hang out, have a cup a coffee, take their breaks…”
BC student Hashim Walters has an idea to improve it as well, “I like the fact that they integrated that you can eat and you can study in one area, opposed to the library where it’s just strictly studying…but the smell – sometimes it could throw me off…what I could suggest that they do–just like how they have a silent area over there, if they could have a section where we can eat within a closed environment and ventilation…”
Sabrina Vozikis has nothing but nice things to say about the Café: “If I need to use the computer on campus, I’d rather come to the Library Café because I feel like there is more light in the room, so I don’t feel more depressed or whatever, you know what I mean?” When asked about the new computer log-in system just that was implemented, she noted: ”I like that they changed the system of how we get onto the computer [and] you don’t have to give your ID. I didn’t like before how you had to give your ID and then you’d get that little paper.”
But what about the main library? Originally built in 1937, and after an expansion in 1959 and a $72 million dollar renovation and further expansion that started in 1999, the library now boasts over 500 computers and 1.5 million volumes of works, all in 280,000 square feet of space. One faculty member of the library said, “There’s a lot of help from both the staff and–there’s signs everywhere, so you can never get lost. And if you really need something and you don’t want to ask somebody, you can kind of figure it out yourself.”
But the library is not without its problems. Recently, all of CUNY has had its budget cuts which directly affects the library. “We had to cut journal subscriptions,” said Mariana Regalado, associate professor and Head of Reference and Instructions. “We have librarians leave and their positions haven’t been filled again so now we’re short staff… But the thing I would really like to see improved is that Brooklyn College get Microsoft 365, because…we have 500 public computers here, and we do our best to maintain the systems well, but students sometimes lose their data, you know, because a computer crashes, so this is a system that CUNY has, but for reasons that I’m not clear on hasn’t been deployed here at Brooklyn College. So that would make a big difference.”
Most students appreciate the quiet and comfort of the massive dimly lit library. “If I need to do homework, or read, or study I always go to the library, because at the Library Café you can’t study that much because people talk,” says Sabrina Vozikis.
So if you choose to study at the Café for its communal feeling or the library for its monastic quietude just know these buildings were designed for your comfort and pleasure, and your suggestions on how they can be improved are always welcomed, and, undoubtedly, needed.