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Books

By Tara Mae

The chaos of creation yields the quietude of reflection. 

Newly installed at the Long Island Museum of Art, History, & Carriages (LIM), the Little Free Library came from just such a process. It was assembled by Brownie Troop 1343, which consists of fourteen local 3rd graders from the Three Village School District and horticultural art therapist/mediations instructor Fred Ellman, with troop co-leaders Lisa Unander, Kaethe Cuomo, and Christine Colavito offering practical support.

Cultivated from a sort magical mayhem on a series of manic Mondays as the girls painted their projects and maybe themselves, the Little Free Library is the result of artistic exuberance and pragmatic craftsmanship. Ellman previously worked with Unander on LIM’s In the Moment programs, which are garden activities designed for people with memory loss.

“To my pure delight, he volunteered to help us design and build the project! It was Fred’s idea to use the popcorn wagon [design], inspired by the Popcorn Wagon, 1907, C. Cretors & Company, Chicago, which is prominently featured in our carriage museum collection,” Unander, who is also LIM’s Director of Education, said.

Ellman donated his time, talents, and materials, functioning as artistic advisor, serene supervisor, and pragmatic visionary. He created a digital template and used that as the blueprint for the actual pieces of wood.   

“Lisa told me about this incredible project, and I really enjoy working with her. I wanted this library to be very playful and encourage children to come use books and connect to the  collection. With this installation, we are using a fresh way of looking at a free library, inviting and enticing patrons with its welcoming appearance,” Ellman said. 

This  22”x24” box, made of birch and cedar, is a blend of functional fun, with its bright colors and and unique shape. Installed adjacent to LIM”s aromatic herb garden, visitors will be able to take a book and immerse themselves in the stories as they settle in the tranquility of nature.

This visage belies the Brownies determined diligence in creating and maintaining the free library. A requirement for being formally recognized as an officially chartered member of the nonprofit Little Free Library network is that the girls are stewards of this installation. Each Brownie will be assigned certain weeks of the year to check on the library, including cleaning, maintaining, and restocking it as well as reporting any needs to Troop 1343.  

“To have a long term project that [the troop] could get excited about and work on collaboratively created responsibility and pride in what they accomplished,” Unander said. “Since all the girls live in the Three Village area, we know they will grow up helping keep the library well maintained and bring friends and family to see what they helped create.” 

For the Brownies, its motivations for the Little Free Library are multifaceted. Starting when the girls were Daisies, the Girl Scouts program for kindergarten-first grade, their meetings frequently commenced with a co-leader reading them a story that related to a project on which they were working.

“They always responded in a positive way to each book that was read to them and we felt it created a strong bond between the girls and the badges that they were about to take on,” said Unander. 

Then last year, the group began working on its World of Journey badges, a four part certification that focuses on “girls around the world and how stories can give you ideas for helping others,” according to Girl Scouts USA’s website.

Inspired by a pamphlet that depicted girls traveling the world in a flying bookmobile to learn about different cultures, and having recently read a book about Little Free Libraries’ founder Todd Bol, Troop 1343 decided to create a Little Free Library of its own in pursuit of the badges.

“Many troops do a simpler project to complete this journey, but we felt the girls in our troop were willing and ready to make a true and lasting impact,” Unander added. 

They were not the only ones embarking on a new adventure; it was Ellman’s first time constructing a free library too, though he anticipates it will not be his last. “I definitely want to build another one,” he said.  

As reading invites the imagination to explore, facilitating LIM’s free library has alerted everyone involved in this endeavor to other possibilities: Troop 1343 and its co-leaders are discussing developing a book about this process.  

“Fred had the idea of the girls creating a book that would tell visitors a little bit about them and some of their favorite books; I loved it,” Unander said. “Next year the girls will be Junior level Girl Scouts, and we plan to incorporate this project into our meetings. Ideally, this book would be attached to the Little Free Library onsite for all to read.”

In the meantime, the girls collected and donated their own books to launch the library. Given its location, Unander believes that as the library continues to expand its collection, visitors will be particularly inclined to leave books about art and history; its public accessibility binds the library to the community and encourages any visitor to the museum to indulge in the exchange of ideas. 

“We are grateful to our Co-Executive Directors Sarah Abruzzi and Joshua Ruff for enthusiastically giving us the green light to use this magnificent space to host our Little Free Library. We all feel this small structure will bring a large amount of joy to all who see it,” said Unander. 

To take a book, leave a book, visit the Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook Thursdays to Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. To learn more about the museum’s exhibits and other programs, visit www.longislandmuseum.org. 

Edna Louise Spear Elementary School students in Port Jefferson joined thousands of schools nationwide to celebrate Read Across America Week. School librarian Meg Hoon reimagined and reignited a love of books with Drop Everything and Read, which featured five days of fun and festivities.

The hallway leading to the library showcased student reviews of favorite books. Each student created a flag with title, author, illustrator, favorite character and reasons why they liked the story. The first day featured fifth grade guest readers in younger classes. On day two, students wore pajamas and brought favorite books from home. The third day, students were encouraged to read with a buddy and day four was a time to dress like a favorite character. On day five, Hoon and students took the challenge to Read Across America in a literal sense.

Drop Everything and Read was a motivating and inspiring activity throughout the building. Together, students read for 2,913 minutes. This is the distance from New York to California via Interstate 80. Hoon marked the milestone on a map of the U.S. so that students could see the progress and celebrate their achievement.

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Port Jefferson Station resident Brian Muff shares unique insights into local legends through his writing. Photo from Muff

Long Island’s largest lake, and a place of legend, Lake Ronkonkoma was the perfect setting for Brian Muff’s debut young adult suspense novel, Lady of the Lake. 

“It’s such a mysterious place that really inspired me to write the book,” he said. 

Port Jefferson Station resident Brian Muff shares unique insights into local legends through his writing. Photo from Muff

The 25-year-old Port Jefferson Station man came up with the idea nearly four years ago. While reading up on legends of the lake, he found its stories so intriguing that he decided to write a fictional story around the tales many locals have come to love.

There are several versions of Lake Ronkonkoma and the lady who haunts it.  The most common tale is that of a young Native American princess who fell in love with an English settler. Their relationship was kept secret, and depending on the story, one or both of the lovers gets killed. 

But the common denominator for all of the legends is that for every year on, the princess haunts the lake and drowns a young man in her murky waters – hoping to find her one true love again. 

“I took all of the legends that I’ve heard, and I made my own version of it,” Muff said. In his novel, a teenager named Miley and Braden visit the lake. He’s then dragged underwater by the Lady of the Lake, and with the help of a classmate and his eccentric “mad scientist” father, they devise a plan to reunite the princess with her forbidden lover. 

Muff said the novel took about 16 months to write, all while working part-time and working on his MBA at Stony Brook University. Eventually it was picked up by The Word Verve, Inc. who published it last month.

“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people who have really enjoyed it,” he said. “Older people that have heard the legend for years, they’re excited to read about it.”

Muff’s interest in local legends and all things paranormal are leading him towards writing more novels down the road. He said there might even be a trilogy bringing Miley and Braden back for another spooky adventure. 

“I try to do well-known Long Island landmarks and legends because I feel like people know them,” he said. “They know where the lake is, and it makes it more immediate and impactful for them when they read the book.”

Lady of the Lake can be purchased right now on the publisher’s website. It is also available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Former Yankees professional Dana Cavalea came to the Barnes & Noble in Lake Grove to promote his book to a full crowd. The Mount Sinai native has had a long career in both professional baseball and in books. Photo by David Luces

Dana Cavalea, Mount Sinai native, is passionate about coaching. For 12 years he spent time as the New York Yankees strength and conditioning coach, and along the way got to pick the brains of some all-time
great athletes.  

Former Yankees professional Dana Cavalea came to the Barnes & Noble in Lake Grove to promote his book to a full crowd. The Mount Sinai native has had a long career in both professional baseball and in books. Photo by David Luces

He didn’t think he would eventually become an author, but he views his book, “Habits of a Champion: Nobody Becomes a Champion by Accident,” as an extension of coaching. 

“I never had the intention of writing a book, but I was reading these self-help books and I felt there was a gap from what I was reading and what I was seeing on the baseball field working with these athletes,” he said. “That’s what drove me toward writing this book, I wanted to write a handbook, that people can use as a utility as they navigate life.”

Interactions with Yankees fans also inspired him. 

“It also came about being at the stadium and fans coming up to me asking me questions about their own lives, about how they could improve their performance in a certain area,” Cavalea said. “I’d give them an answer, and then they would come back to another game during the season and they would ask another question.”

The Mount Sinai native pointed to a family friend, coach Billy King as a big reason why he chose to pursue his career path and started his training journey. 

“He was a big influence on me, when I learned what he was doing, he was in the gym training, watching what he eats, and I was like wow that’s pretty cool,” he said. 

Cavalea was 19 years old attending the University of South Florida and working as a strength and conditioning intern for the school’s football team when he was offered an unexpected opportunity. 

A professor at the university told him that the Yankees, who were in the midst of spring training at nearby Legends Field in Tampa, were looking for an intern to help out. 

Cavalea, who just so happened to have visited the ballpark as a fan the previous day, drove over the next day and was put into Yankee gear and was on the same field stretching with pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. The Mount Sinai native worked as an intern for three years, then became an assistant, before becoming a coach at 23 years old. 

“The Bronx is only about 60 to 70 miles away from here but I had to go 1,800 miles away in order to get there,” he said.  

The performance coach said he took those experiences and wanted to write something in his own style, so people could tell it was written by him and it was authentic. 

“[Coach Billy King] was a big influence on me, when I learned what he was doing, he was in the gym training, watching what he eats, and I was like wow that’s pretty cool.”

— Dana Cavalea

“Habits of a Champion” is split into 15 lessons designed to help the reader succeed in different aspects of life. Cavalea shared some of those lessons at a Feb. 8 book-signing event at the Smithaven Mall in Lake Grove. 

Those included: “If someone doesn’t respect your time, they don’t respect you,” something Yankees Hall of Famer Derek Jeter would say, stressing the importance of being on time. Another was “never get too high and never get too low.” Cavalea mentioned that a person’s attitude or mood can determine their daily success. 

“It all comes down to how you control your own emotions,” he said. “Whether you are an Olympic athlete or a high schooler that has a big test or presentation.”  

In addition to writing books, Cavalea now works as a life coach and motivational speaker. Some of the clients he coaches are business executives, athletes and CEOs of companies. He has been asked to speak at a number of big corporations, nonprofit organizations and schools. 

“The messages and lessons are very universal,” he said. “When you’re a coach you are trying to learn as much as you can, and how you can maximize human potential.”

Despite the busy schedule, Cavalea said he enjoys writing books and has plans to release a children’s book sometime in April. He has already written two children’s books: “Champion Kids: Johnny ‘The Jet’ Saves the Day” and “Girls on the Run: Starring
Mighty Melina.” 

“It’s fun for me, It’s great being able to share these lessons with others,” he said. “If the best of the best need help, so does everyone else.” 

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Second-grader Sophie Franck was one of the first children to use the Port Jeff elementary school's new book vending machine. Photo by Kyle Barr

We all know that expectant feeling of a vending machine when the twin arms uncoil around the prize, whether it’s a soda or snack, waiting for it to clang in the bottom of the bin and placate our hunger.

Librarian Selinda Stout shows the tokens used for the book vending machine. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though in the Port Jefferson elementary school, it’s not sugar and salt suffused snacks plopping into the bin, but a copy of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” or “The Baby-sitters Club.”

The Edna Louise Spear Elementary School unveiled the new “Bookworm” vending machine Feb. 11 that stocks more than 300 books, with 20 different books for the separate grade levels, both fiction and nonfiction. Instead of using money, the vending machine receives tokens which students get for going above and beyond in the library or in any of their normal classrooms. Though these book vending devices have popped up in several other states like Florida and in upstate schools like in Buffalo, the new machine is one of the first of its kind in Suffolk County.

Selinda Stout, the school’s librarian, said students could get a token for good behavior, especially if they’re trying to read beyond their grade level or deciding to read a new genre. 

“If there’s a teacher who sees a student working hard all week who deserves a token, they can get it from me, then they can come down and choose a book,” Stout said. “I think this will bridge the gap of reading — I think kids will be very excited to take it home themselves, and I think it will bring really good behavior into the library and into the classroom.”

The first seven children to get a book from the vending machine ranged from pre-K to fifth grade. Their choices ran the gamut, with young second-grader Sophie Franck picking “Molly’s Story,” and third-grader Rahym Khan deciding on “Who Is Derek Jeter?” Fourth-grader Elizabeth Yin, whom Stout said was reading “well above her grade level,” chose “More Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids.” Pre-K student Maggie Masone chose “Pete the Cat,” and was aided by Stout who lifted her up to press the buttons. Each book is for the student to keep. 

Principal Tom Meehan joined librarian Selinda Stout and seven other students from pre-K through fifth-grade to release the new book vending machine. Photo by Kyle Barr

The idea came by elementary principal, Tom Meehan, when he was reading news one morning and came across a school in Florida which had installed one of the vending machines. He contacted the school librarian to discuss it, and shortly thereafter she wrote a grant application to the Port Jefferson Royal Educational Foundation, a nonprofit that uses funds to help out the district with special projects or to supplement its curricula when it doesn’t necessarily have the budget available.

Foundation treasurer, Laura Zimmerman, said the foundation thought the vending machine was a great idea and gathered around $4,100 for purchasing and installing it. Overall it was a 10-month process from inception to delivery, but the school kept the machine covered for several weeks until its official unveiling. 

Meehan said the machine is especially important getting books into kids’ hands for them to keep, adding as students get older, “we find they stop reading as much as they used to.” 

Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said if the vending machine proves successful, they could look into putting such a device in both the middle and high schools.

“The more we can get books into a kid’s hands the better,” she said. “This is a great investment for them.”

The Port Jeff Royal Education Foundation will be hosting its major fundraiser April 25 with the Jill Nees-Russell Family Fun Run and is still accepting participants.

Local authors will read from their new publications and answer questions at an event organized by Councilwoman Joan Cergol. Photos from Councilwoman Cergol’s office

Town of Huntington Councilwoman Joan Cergol is inviting residents to join her July 18 as she places the spotlight on three published authors at a special “Readings Under the Tent” event at Melville’s Arboretum Park.

The three Huntington authors will join Cergol under a tent at the park, read from their recently published works and answer questions. The event begins at 7 p.m., is open to the public and is free.

“This is just another wonderful way to enjoy our parks and spend a summer evening. I look forward to hearing the stories behind the works of our highlighted authors, and hearing them read excerpts from their published works,” Cergol said. “Huntington has a rich literary history, dating back to Walt Whitman. The writers who will be speaking continue that tradition and represent different genres of literature, which should make it very interesting.”

The authors are:

Michael Bobelian, an award-winning author, lawyer and journalist whose works have covered issues ranging from legal affairs to corporate wrongdoing to human rights.  As a contributing writer at Forbes.com, Michael currently covers the Supreme Court, Wall Street reform, white collar crime, regulatory agencies, human rights and high-profile trials. His current book, “Battle for the Marble Palace: Abe Fortas, Earl Warren, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and the Forging of the Modern Supreme Court”,  is a narrative account of the politicization of the court during the 1950s and 1960s and the revolution it sparked in the confirmation process. He lives in Cold Spring Harbor. 

Amy Giles, an award-winning copywriter and young adult author of “Now Is Everything” (a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of 2017) and “That Night” (a Junior Library Guild selection). Published in October 2018, “That Night” explores how two teens, who each lost a brother in a mass shooting, slowly become friends and then something more, learning to heal and move forward together. Amy lives in Huntington with her husband, two daughters and rescue dog.

Jeannie Moon, a USA Today bestselling author of romance and women’s fiction. A lifelong Long Island resident, Jeannie sets her stories in the coastal towns and hamlets that influenced the story of her life. Additionally, Jeannie is a school librarian and an English teacher with more than 30 years of experience in public and private schools. The author of 16 contemporary romances for Tule Publishing and Penguin Random House, her latest novel “All of Me” — the third installment in her Compass Cove series — is  scheduled for August 28 publication. Jeannie is married to her high school sweetheart, and has three grown kids and three lovable dogs.

Cergol is already working on a second session, to be held in August, at a different town park and with a different lineup of authors. “This is a wonderful opportunity for residents of all ages and literary tastes to experience some of the hidden jewels of our town park network and appreciate first-hand why Huntington has been a magnet for authors dating back more than 100 years,” the councilwoman said.

Arboretum Park, home of the town’s Anne Frank Memorial Garden, is on Wilmington Drive, off Bagatelle Road in Melville. For more information, call Cergol’s office at  631-351-3173 or email her at  [email protected]. 

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Rocky Point Little Free Library. Photo by Kyle Barr

One small book club in Rocky Point has shown an outsized dedication to the community, helping to plant a new Little Free Library in only three months from conception to post in the ground.

The box is open to all residents in the local area, who are encouraged to take or share a book.

“We just want to promote a love of literacy in the community.”

— Lisa Dwyer

The 10-member Rocky Point/Sound Beach Women’s Book Club, headed by Rocky Point resident Lisa Dwyer, spearheaded the project with the help of Jeff Davis, the owner of the Rocky Point Funeral Home, who donated front lawn space of his funeral home for the little, box-sized library. 

Dwyer originally had the idea of a free lending library, one she presented to the Rocky Point Civic Association. Earlier this year, she came across the Little Free Library through Facebook.

“I saw it online and loved the idea, so I presented it to our group,” Dwyer said. “They loved the idea as well.”

The box has been up since July 1, starting with a small collection of 30 books, including several small children’s books. So far, Dwyer said she is impressed with just how many local residents have already become interested. She has even enlisted a number of local kids who just happened to come by on their bikes as “guardians of the books.” The library #82854 already has over 130 followers on Facebook.

“These kinds of things can be vandalized, so it’s good to have that kind of positive reinforcement,” she said.

Davis paid for the box part of the Little Free Library. The book club purchased the post and sign. The book club leader estimated it cost approximately $500 overall. 

These Little Free Libraries have been popping up all across the North Shore and well beyond. There are now library boxes in places such as Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson, Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai, in front of the William Miller House in Miller Place and at The Terryville Union. 

Now that the project is complete, Dwyer said she and her small book club are currently bent on reading “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton. The book club, along with the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, will host a ribbon cutting for the new Little Free Library July 25.

“We just want to promote a love of literacy in the community,” she said.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Old school. It’s a phrase that suggests someone, like yours truly, does something one way, even if there might be an easier, more efficient or modern alternative method for doing things.

Take reading a book. My teenage children think nothing of doing their assigned reading for classes on electronic devices.

That just doesn’t work for me. For me, reading has
always been a multisensory experience. I enjoy finishing a page and flipping to the next one, anticipating the next set of words even as I know how many pages are left in the book by the size of the stack to the left and right.

When I was young, I used to figure out the exact middle of a book. I had an understated celebration when I reached the midpoint, even though the prologue, or introduction, often tilted the balance slightly.

Of course, I could do the same thing with an electronic version of a book.

And yet it’s just not the same for me. I also liked to see the names of the people who read the book in school before me. These students had perused the same pages, found the same shocking revelations and associated with the characters as they moved through the same year in their lives.

When I reread a chapter, searched for symbols or literary devices, I could recall exactly where on a page I might have seen something.

In an e-book, every page is the same. None of the pages is slightly darker, has a bent corner where someone might have stopped, or has a slightly larger “e” or a word that’s printed above the others on a line. The virtual pages are indistinct from each other, except for the specific words on the page or the chapter numbers.

I suppose people like me are why a store like Barnes & Noble can still exist, despite the ease and low cost of uploading books. And, yes, I understand when I travel how much lighter my suitcase would be if I uploaded 100 books without lugging the weight of the paper. I also understand that e-books are more environmentally friendly. Once a paper book is produced, however, it no longer requires constant battery recharging.

Passing along books read by earlier generations connects us to our parents and grandparents. We can imagine them holding the book at a distance as their eyes started to change, falling asleep with the book in their laps, or sitting on the couch until late at night, eager to finish a book before going to bed. We can also picture them throwing a book that frustrated them across the room or out the window.

Among the many Titanic stories that sticks out for me is the tale of Harry Elkins Widener, a 27-year-old book collector who boarded the ill-fated ship with his mother and father in Cherbourg, France. Legend has it that he died with a rare 1598 book, “Essays” by Francis Bacon, that he had bought in London. Harry and his father died aboard the ship, while their mother survived the sinking. After her son perished, she donated $2 million — an enormous sum in 1912 — to Harvard to construct a
library which is still on the main campus.

While I’m sure it’s possible to pick a random section of an e-book, I have grabbed books from a shelf and leafed to a random page, trying to figure out where in the story I have landed.

I am delighted to hold children’s books, including many of the Dr. Seuss collection. Also, I remember my children searched each page of “Goodnight Moon,” by Margaret Wise Brown for the mouse. There’s probably a mouse in the virtual version and touching it may even make the mouse grow, scurry across the virtual page or offer lessons about rhyming couplets.

Still, for my reading pleasure, I’m old school: Hand me a book and I’ll carry around a friend.

The 300-book collection, acquired by late Northport resident Marvin Feinstein, contains several first editions

The Feinstein family stands with a Walt Whitman impersonator in front of new Norman and Jeanette Gould Library collection. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The unveiling of a new library collection at the Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site has allowed it to lay claim to having the second largest Whitman-related book collection in the world.

The Walt Whitman Birthplace Association publicly celebrated its acquisition of approximately 300 Whitman-related books collected by late Northport resident Marvin Feinstein April 26.

“This collection will be of tremendous value to Walt Whitman scholars and historians,” said George Gorman, deputy regional director of New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “It’s an amazing treasure.”

“Ever since I knew Marvin, I knew how much he admired the writing of Walt Whitman.”
– Miriam Feinstein

Miriam Feinstein said her husband, Marvin, was a lifelong book collector turned bookseller. Together, the couple ran M&M Books selling out-of-print, rare volumes at large book fairs up and down the East Coast since the early 1980s.

“Ever since I knew Marvin, I knew how much he admired the writing of Walt Whitman,” she said. “It was always his dream to acquire a full collection of Walt Whitman’s books.”

She recalled how almost every day, her husband, would set off and “invariably” come home with a bag of books. Sometimes he would purchase books by Whitman or one of his other favorite writers, Mark Twain.

Upon her husband’s passing, Feinstein and her sons, David and Allen, reached out to the WWBA offering to donate 40 Whitman-related books, according to Executive Director Cynthia Shor — one of which was a volume containing the complete works of Walt Whitman.

The family then offered to donate half of the remaining collection, about 250 books, which had been appraised at $20,000. The collection contains many rare books including 25 first editions, among which are “Leaves of Grass” and “November Boughs.” The association was only able to come up with funding to purchase 10 additional books and sent Shor to the Feinstein’s home to pick them out.

“This collection will be of tremendous value to Walt Whitman scholars and historians.”
– George Gorman

“When I got there I realized there was not a best book, they were all the best books,” Shor said. “I came back and said, ‘We have to do something more than this. We have to secure this for history.’”

WWBA Trustee Jeffrey Gould stepped forward to donate $10,000 through his Jeffrey S. Gould Foundation to acquire the entire collection, which will become known as “The Norman and Jeanette Gould Library” in honor of his parents.

Jeffrey Gould said his parents started up a publishing company in Queens during the 1950s, like Whitman, and ran their own printing presses.

“It’s such an amazing parallel to our own lives,” he said. “We can help spread the word of literacy with Walt’s magnificent writings.”

The collection will be housed and preserved in a bookcase on the birthplace’s premises, among its other exhibits in the main hall. It will be available to the public for scholarly research, historic documentation and those who generally appreciate Whitman’s writing.

Trustee Tom Wysmuller said with this addition, the birthplace’s collection of Whitman-related books is second largest only to the Library of Congress.

“They don’t have to go to Washington D.C. anymore, they can come right here,” Wysmuller said. “You can come here and steep yourself in history.”

Comsewogue Library Director Debbie Engelhardt, third from left, and Port Jefferson Free Library Director Tom Donlon, second left, with others, cut the ribbon on a Free Little Library in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

Steering a community institution as it crosses the half-century mark in its existence is an enormous responsibility. But when the institution has the inherent added degree of difficulty associated with morphing to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world, fulfilling that responsibility likely feels like threading a needle. As the third director in Comsewogue Public Library’s 50-year history, Debbie Engelhardt has gracefully and masterfully threaded that needle.

Engelhardt got her start in the library world as the director of Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton in the early 2000s. She was also the director of the Huntington Public Library from 2009 to 2012, before being selected as just the third director in the history of the Comsewogue Public Library.

The Comsewogue Public Library’s only three directors — Richard Lusak, Debra Engelhardt and Brandon Pantorno — in front of the newly dedicated Richard Lusak Community Room. Photo by Alex Petroski

In October 2017, Engelhardt played a vital role in planning, organizing and conducting a 50th anniversary celebration for the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community staple. The day, according to many of her colleagues, had fingerprints of her enthusiasm, one-track community mindedness, and passion all over it, though that can be said about every day she’s spent at Comsewogue’s helm.

“Very rarely do you find anybody as dedicated to her profession and to her community like Debbie,” said Richard Lusak, Comsewogue Public Library’s first director from 1966 through 2002. The Oct. 14 anniversary celebration included the dedication of the building’s community room in Lusak’s honor, an initiative Engelhardt unsurprisingly also had a hand in.

“Those who come to know her quickly value her leadership ability and her insight into things,” he said. “She never says ‘no,’ she says, ‘Let me figure out how to do it.’”

The director tried to sum up her feelings about the anniversary as it was still ongoing.

“The program says ‘celebrating our past, present and future,’ so that’s what we’re doing all in one day with the community,” she said in October.

The event featured games, a bounce house, farm animals, crafts, giveaways, snacks, face painting, balloon animals, music, a historical society photo gallery and tour, and a new gallery exhibit.

“We thought of it as a community thank you for the ongoing support that we’ve had since day one, across all three administrations,” the library director said.

Engelhardt’s vision has been a valuable resource in efforts to modernize the library and keep it vibrant, as Amazon Kindles and other similar technologies have infringed on what libraries used to be about for generations. As the times have changed, Engelhardt has shown a propensity to keep Comsewogue firmly positioned as a community hub.

“I think she’s done a superb job with respect to coordinating all of the interests of input from the community as to what services are being requested by the public, whether it’s the children’s section, the adult reference and the senior citizens, including all of the activities we offer and the different programs,” said Edward Wendol, vice president of the library’s board of trustees who has been on the board for about 40 years. He was the board’s president when Engelhardt was selected as director.

Wendol credited Engelhardt with spearheading efforts to obtain a Free Little Library not only for Comsewogue, but for several other area libraries. The program features a small, outdoor drop box where readers can take a book to read or leave a book for future visitors.

“Anybody can use it as much as they want and it’s always a mystery when you open that box — you never know what you’ll find,” Engelhardt said during its dedication over the summer. “There are no late fees, no guilt, no stress. If you want to keep a book, you can … we are pleased to partner with the historical society to bring this gem. The books inside will move you and teach you. We say that libraries change lives and, well, little free libraries can too.”

The Little Free Library, a free book exchange, is located near the playground, alongside the shack at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Fred Drewes

Wendol said she also played a huge role in reorganizing the interior structure of the library. Engelhardt has created reading areas on all levels, placed popular selections near the entrance of the building, and taken an overall hands-on approach to the look and feel of the library. He also lauded her role working together with the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, an organization dedicated to serving the 56 public libraries in the county and assisting them in sharing services, website designs, group purchases and other modernization efforts.

“She’s great at what she does and seems to be having a great amount of fun while she’s doing it, and it’s kind of infectious,” said Kevin Verbesey, director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System and a friend of Engelhardt’s for more than 20 years. “She is one of the leaders in the county, not just in Port Jeff Station and Comsewogue, but somebody who other library directors turn to for advice and for leadership.”

Her community leadership efforts cannot be contained by Comsewogue Public Library’s four walls however. Engelhardt is a member and past president of the Port Jefferson Rotary Club; a member of the board of trustees at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital; and vice president of Decision Women in Commerce and Professions, a networking organization dedicated to fostering career aid and support, and generating beneficial community projects.

When she finds time in the day, she participates in events like the cleanup of Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck in Center Moriches, a facility for children with special needs. This past November she helped, among many others, clean up the camp with  husband, John, and son, Scott.