Change Maker: Angel Falcon, Outreach Librarian, Bronx Community College
Launched in January 2015, IDNYC is now the nation’s largest municipal ID program, with more than 863,464 cardholders in the five boroughs of NYC. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYC City Council envisioned the program as a way for New Yorkers “living in the shadows” (e.g., the homeless, immigrants, the elderly) to receive identification allowing for easier access to city services, city buildings, and cultural institutions.
Enrolling all New Yorkers, including the most vulnerable, has been a large strategic effort. In addition to permanent enrollment centers, the city partnered with other organizations to host more than 87 “pop-up” enrollment centers.
The Equality Indicators got a chance to talk to Bronx Community College Outreach Librarian, Angel Falcon, about his work in bringing a pop-up enrollment center to the Bronx Community College campus.
Why was BCC selected as an enrollment center?
Bringing IDNYC on our campus was the brain child of our Learning Services Librarian, LaRoi Lawton. He saw that his branch of Queens Public Library had a pop-up enrollment center and thought that bringing this to Bronx Community College was going to serve the students well. This was around December 2015.
What were your initial thoughts on coordinating this effort?
This was really my first venture into community outreach for the Bronx Community College Library. There has not been a blueprint to follow with regards to a library reaching out to a government agency to collaborate on a program—at least that I know of here at Bronx CC Library. I came into it very green with a high level of naivete. I thought it was as simple as “get them a room, throw up some flyers, done!” In reality, it was a labor intensive coordination of various stakeholders and a high level of horsetrading to make sure things worked smoothly in order to accomplish the common goal of allowing a place for people in the community and the students access to the IDNYC program.
What do you believe the value of IDNYC is?
There are a couple of benefits—the primary being that there is a large part of the community that has no ID, which we know creates problems when dealing with law enforcement. In particular, when there is a police stop, not having any ID at all could lead to being taken into custody when, otherwise, they would not for lacking ID. Another primary benefit is one is allowed—through participating institutions—to engage in the private banking system. This allows individuals to access financial service products they otherwise would not be able to due to various regulatory requirements that force people to have an ID. Beyond financial service institutions, there are so many services out there that require ID, and for many people—be it because of homelessness, inability to access a motor vehicle office, immigration status, or disability—cannot go out to get one. In the case of IDNYC, there are standalone pop-ups and resource centers that are dedicated to servicing just that need. Funny enough, as I type this, I just fielded a phone call asking for IDNYC.
The secondary benefits are all of these cultural tie-ins with the card that create a wide appeal. The first great one is that it ties in with the various public libraries and allows access to the various big public libraries—Brooklyn, Queens, and New York Public Libraries. This really streamlines access across the boroughs. There are multiple year-long memberships to 40 museum and cultural institutions, including the American Museum of Natural History, MoMA, PS1, The Met Opera. There are discounts attached to Barclay’s Center events, fitness and health benefits, and other entertainment discounts. Quite frankly, the secondary benefits alone are worth getting it.
Were BCC students interested in enrolling? How easy was it to get non-BCC students to enroll? Did you do any advertising or contact any community groups?
There was a lot of interest. As I said, I just got a call saying “I have a couple of students wondering about IDNYC.” So the need and desire is there. In total, we got almost 600 sign-ups during the first pop-up.
Many students brought their families to get the ID. This really sped up the process of getting them on campus because they had—in essence—a sponsor to get them on campus. I don’t know the break out of BCC students to members of the community, but I remember there being a large public turnout.
We coordinated with the Community Board which, in turn, publicized with the greater community. They were great in getting the word out.
This effort is very indicative of the expanding role of librarians into public outreach. Your background is very much that of an academic librarian. Were you always comfortable with outreach, or is this something you had to learn and develop? What advice would you give other librarians who may hesitate to take on this kind of role?
I’m comfortable speaking to people and building bridges. However, I didn’t have a sense of how you maneuver up and down a college campus, how you loop in all of the stakeholders and make sure everyone is informed and giving relevant input. I’m still very much flying by the seat of my pants. My general rule is if it’s student centered, just do it, and if you break something, take responsibility and apologize later. To be fair, that may seem cavalier, but I have a great chief librarian, Michael Miller, who knows when to reel me in.
I would tell other librarians that the key thing is to loop in all the stakeholders on day one. Be in contact with college administration, including their marketing and outreach departments—I didn’t realize how deeply rooted the college was in the community until I spoke to administration who had important contacts outside the campus on their personal phones. Also loop in your public safety department and figure out all of the logistics of bringing the community on campus and how to ensure that they can get back and forth smoothly since our campuses can be confusing.
What do you love most about working on the BCC campus?
I grew up on 174th and Monroe Ave. So BCC is 1 mile away from where I kicked around and learned a little something. It’s really a homecoming for me. When I see and speak to the students, I’m hearing the sounds of home. It brings me tremendous joy to serve them.
What inspired the work you do? Where does your service-to-others orientation come from?
I think my first impulse to become a librarian came from studying under Robert Farris Thompson and Hugh Flick at Yale. For a variety of reasons, much of what I was working on in undergrad required a lot of independent research, which had me in the library a great deal. And I remember learning best from independent research, and it kindled a fire to give that empowerment to other students.
I would be remiss if I didn’t look to my Catholicism as a source of inspiration. I strive to have a charitable outlook on the world that encompasses not only financial charity, but being open to others in heart and mind. I fail miserably, but I’m trying. There is a quote that has really informed me lately, from St. Maximilian Kolbe, the martyr priest of Auschwitz: “Hatred is not a creative force. Love alone creates. Suffering will not prevail over us, it will only melt us down and strengthen us.”
Angel Falcon is a former tax lawyer and former head of reference and instruction at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. He also spent time as a reference librarian at Hostos Community College, CUNY. He holds a B.A. in religious studies from Yale, an M.A. in theological studies from Harvard, a J.D. and an M.L.I.S. from Rutgers. Angel enjoys combat sports and martial arts.