Parents Concerned Over Library Renovations

Photos by Sheri ArbitalJacoby
Photos by Sheri ArbitalJacoby

After last month’s Great Neck Library Board of Trustees meeting, residents have asked that we share the contents of a petition, signed by more that 140 people, highlighting their concerns with the children’s facilities at the library’s main branch.

Parents have expressed their disappointment that after years of renovations costing millions of dollars, “The library, in general, lost its charm as well as its value to the community.”

As for the most recent meeting, they said that since the board of trustees meetings are held at bedtime, along with the fact that the location was changed at the last minute and the meeting started around a half hour late, open discussion seemed to be cut short, which resulted in inadequate open time for the residents to speak.

“If you look on the library website, you will see that there are committees appointed for finance, relocation, even landscaping,” said Maral Yashar, a library patron. “There are no committees dedicated to the children/family department. Once the board of trustees heard that there was buzz and disappointment, this should have been a top priority,” she continued. “There is some ‘customer service’ and damage control that is seriously lacking. Rather, we were met with board meetings that were changed at the last minute, and defensive remarks that only irked patrons more. What is missing here is a listening ear and a can-/will-do-at-any-cost attitude. A few patrons met privately with the directors of the library and children’s department. They asked for our patience, we said, ‘gladly’ if we are given a timeline of when expectations would be met. They were not willing or able to give us concrete answers.”

Photos by Sheri ArbitalJacoby
Photos by Sheri ArbitalJacoby

The parents’ petition outlines concerns about the library’s safety and functionality, promoting literacy and social skills, and staff morale. The biggest safety and functionality concern was the automatic door that opened directly out to the pond and the parking lot each time a child passed it. The other major issue was the lack of an appropriate toddler/preschool space. Parents were also troubled by the limited shelving space, and books and toys for toddlers and preschoolers, as well as excessive access to technology.

“We lost one of our most beloved children’s librarians to another branch, we lost physical space for the children, we have shorter bookshelves with no space to put the unpacked books, iPads that have no enforced time limit and children are no longer as engaged as they once were in all the wonderful things the library once offered,” said Yashar. “There are dozens of families who came once, disliked what they saw and have yet to return. This could not have possibly been the renovation goals of the library. We do not want excuses, requests for patience or condescending comments about our parenting skills (we don’t need to bring our children to the library for babysitting services). We want a concrete plan made in communication with parents with a direct line to the decision makers on the board, we want a timeline of when to expect changes and we want this to be treated seriously.”

Yashar and another reader speak out about their concerns (read their letters here and here). The petition, which can be read in its entirety below, concluded, “The impression the new children’s department gives is that children and families are no longer welcome and valued members of the library. Literacy begins early. The public schools are the crown jewel of Great Neck. The main branch was once a significant contributor to the education of children growing up in Great Neck. The new department is not comparable to what it was before the renovations.”

librarycovercKathy Giotsas, Great Neck Public Library executive director, said that some of the issues have already been addressed. The automatic door in the children’s area now has a push button door opener. To add more space for toddlers, the program room meeting space has been opened up in the morning and afternoon so children can go in and play with toys, and the library has purchased new toys for the children.

While parents find it difficult to keep an eye on both preschoolers and older children in the separate age-appropriate areas, Giotsas said that the older children actually appreciate the separate quieter space for doing homework, reading and writing. She also pointed out that the quieter area is away from doors, so middle schoolers can walk away, but can’t walk outside. Plus, surveillance cameras on the lower level provide security.

In response to the complaint about the shelving being too low for adults, small stools will be added for parents to sit on so they can pull books from low shelves, and to solve the limited shelving concern, more shelving is being added to make room for the books in storage, most of which are in the back and still accessible to librarians when they are requested.

The library is also planning to renovate the Parkville, Station and Lakeville branches to change the atmosphere and make them suit the community. Giotsas said that the library has asked the community for input and will be holding further meetings to learn what’s wanted. Once the new board is reorganized, the board will designate who’s on what committee and will schedule the meetings in February.

Giotsas, who has only been with the Great Neck Library for one year and four months, had requested a meeting of moms with the architects at a time of their choosing prior to the main branch renovation. Unfortunately, few parents showed up.

“We have already addressed some of the issues, and we are still addressing the issues,” said Giotsas. “We want to look at what the issues are and see how we can address each one. I’m more than happy to take care of any issues that we can, and the board is too—so the moms get what they’re looking for in a library.”

Though parents bring their children to the library to nurture a love of books, not electronics, the iPads at the library don’t have access to the content that parents fear. They are loaded with critical-thinking games that have been chosen by an educational game manufacturer, and teach numbers, letters, colors and math.

“Technology is very important,” said Giotsas. “Research has shown that the more we bring technology into the school system, the more children can advance in the workforce. These games provide critical-thinking skills. We want to ensure that our children are competitive in the business world in the future.”

The library’s executive director also explained that anyone going through construction knows that there’s an adjustment period when you go through change. Everything isn’t perfect as soon as the construction is complete.

“We just opened up and need an adjustment period to bring things back,” said Giotsas. “We are here to serve the community, to make it the best library for the community and we are open to suggestions from the community.”

The petition outlines the following concerns.

As a patron, I would like to express my appreciation for the renovations done. Having a children’s department with its own entrance and floor was a nice gesture. There are, however, several grave concerns with the safety, functionality and non-family-friendly nature of the children’s department. Listed below are concerns of urgent priority.

Safety and Functionality

1. The children’s department has an automatic door that opens directly out to the pond and the parking lot. Every time a child passes this door, it opens. Several toddlers have made their way out of the building with parents and caretakers running behind.

2. Lack of appropriate toddler/preschool space. Before renovations, the children’s department had a toddler area with board books and toys. This was a safe space for little ones to play while their older siblings did homework and checked out books. Currently, there is no safe space for toddlers and preschoolers to be read to and play.

3. Unprepared for after-school hours between the hours of 3 and 7 when families come in with all their children. They want to check out books for their elementary-age children to do school assignments. They want a place for their younger ones to play and explore. The current layout is not designed for families with children of several ages.

Promoting literacy and social skills

1. Lack of proper amount of shelving. Several children have asked for books only to be told that they are in storage. With the significantly smaller amount of shelves, we wonder if these books will make their way to the department and if there will be room for them.

2. Toddler and preschool age books. There is a noticeable reduction of board books and preschool-appropriate literature. There no longer exists a place for our youngest readers to read and explore.

3. Access to technology. Before renovations, children were encouraged/required to have a parent/caretaker’s permission to use available technology. The current setup of prominent tablet stations where children may freely consume technology is detracting from the time children should be using to do homework, explore books and play with other children outside of their social circles.

4. Incomplete series of elementary and upper-elementary books. Children have expressed disappointment that certain series of books are incomplete.

5. Toys. Parents and caretakers visit the library with children of all ages. The children used to have an assortment of toys and puzzles available to them at any time of day. This has now been limited to certain hours with librarians unable to accommodate patrons at other more crucial times.

6. Programing. The programming so far seems to only accommodate preschoolers who can make it into the library during school/work hours. Patrons are looking for classes that can also be offered on Sundays and during evening hours.

Staff Morale

1. The staff is clearly frustrated with the functionality of the children’s department and it is now trickling down into how the patrons are being treated. Below are examples of how patrons have been treated since the opening.

a. Being told to put a toddler in front of an iPad to play instead of giving access to toys, once she has tired of reading.

b. Expressing dismay when several books requested by children are in storage, with no answer of when they can be gotten.

c. Frequently reshelving books taken down by toddlers as there is no safe space for them to sit while their older siblings explore.

d. Not allowing strollers in as there is no longer ample space.

The impression the new children’s department gives is that children and families are no longer welcome and valued members of the library. Literacy begins early. The public schools are the crown jewel of Great Neck. The main branch was once a significant contributor to the education of children growing up in Great Neck.

The new department is not comparable to what it was before the renovations and certainly not to other Nassau County libraries. This is really a shame as there was so much potential. Please consider these concerns to be of urgent priority. If solutions are not put in place with an urgency, the library will lose its most important patrons and fail to serve a large portion of the community.

We are looking to address the following issues:

1) Shut down the automatic door to the pond in the middle of the children’s room. Need to make it a push button or a passcode to open.

2) Lack of any children-appropriate decoration.

3) Lack of any toys and moving and crawling areas for smaller kids.

4) More books on display. Also, more nonfiction books for kids.

5) More helpful or more informed librarians. Add staff, since they need to bring books in.

6) Connect playing and reading areas in one big open space for families with kids of different ages.

7) Playroom should be open all day long. Now it is only accessible from 1:30 to 3:30 (end of school and naptime for many babies).

8) Place one security guard.

9) Holiday shows. More and in the main branch since it has a bigger room.

10) Children’s program should be more easily available. Same day registration should be possible. The playroom is too small for all interested. It should be relocated to the community room if demand is big.

11) Exposed outlets in the iPad area. There should be docking stations with electricity underneath; the outlets and plugs are all exposed.

Read “Parents Concerned Over Library Renovations.”


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