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Emma S. Clark Memorial Library

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library

By Serena Carpino

Recently, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket has made many changes. From their new café to their outdoor patio, the library has undergone several renovations in the past few years. Combined with the creation of new programs, these additions reflect efforts to incorporate modern technology into Emma Clark. 

The library originally decided to add the outdoor patio space after the pandemic. The patio, which is fully wheelchair accessible, has added 800 square feet for patrons to sit and enjoy reading books in nice weather. The architect in charge was John Cunniffe, a Stony Brook resident who has done many projects for the Three Village Historical Society, Frank Melville Memorial Park, The Long Island Museums, and various other local organizations.

In addition to the outdoor patio, the library also installed a new café, which is run by Level Up Kitchen. The kitchen is owned and operated by Chelsea Gomez, a local chef. In her cooking, Gomez prioritizes sustainability, using high quality ingredients, and working with Long Island farmers. 

According to Lisa DeVerna, a spokesperson from Emma Clark, the café has been successful so far. “We’ve been very pleased with how the café is going so far. We’ve seen people of all ages, from senior citizens to teens, utilizing the café, an extended service of the library.”

Other changes include adding a Main Reading Room, where the café is located. This section is now separated by glass doors to allow more social activities in the front, while the back is reserved for reading and quiet activities. 

The library is also planning on adding an environmentally friendly HVAC unit in the near future. It will be energy efficient and not use fossil fuels.

Aside from construction, Emma Clark has also continued to add new programs and projects for visitors. This March, the library is offering Seed Library and Seed Swap Box to celebrate the first day of spring. This addition goes along with the gardening classes, which have been very popular both in-person and online. 

The library is also working to expand programming opportunities for teens. “Since the establishment of Teen Services as a new and separate department just last year, programming has more than doubled,” DeVerna said. “We hope to continue to grow this department.” 

To do this, the library plans on providing more programming opportunities both in and outside of the library. For example, they have been offering more technology classes, including a course on advanced Excel, the first non-beginner course at Emma Clark. Also, they have placed a greater emphasis on the Cricut machine. While it may seem that most of the improvements have been for teens and adults, the children’s library is continuing to see changes as well. “In our Children’s Library, we have added new imaginative play toys, and looking ahead, we’re hoping to continue rearranging the flow and usage of that area to make it a more welcoming space,” DeVerna explained.

The recent years have seen many technological updates for Emma Clark. While some may worry that such additions can distort the original intent of a library, DeVerna clarified the benefits of these changes. “As the world has evolved, libraries have evolved with it.” She explained that the library offers printed, eBooks, and audiobooks in order to cater to all of their patrons’ needs. In addition, they supply both movies and music and have databases for people to “learn anything from history to finance to genealogy to how to fix your car.”

“We recognize that technology now plays a large part in obtaining information, so we help people learn how to use their computers and mobile devices through computer classes, tech clinics [where adults learn from teen volunteers], and even one-on-one appointments with a tech-savvy librarian,” DeVerna said. “We have classes and events for all ages. The library connects people and is a community and information center, both in our building and beyond its walls.”

Chelsea Gomez, a Three Village native and chef, is ready to serve patrons at the newly unveiled Level Up Kitchen Library Café at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. Photo courtesy Emma S. Clark Memorial Library

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library has unveiled its new café, the much-anticipated final phase in a construction project announced in 2021. It includes the café, a new outdoor terrace and better flow for the library’s main reading room.

This two-year undertaking is helping to make the library even more of a community center than before, inviting those to come and stay while meeting the various needs of the library’s constituents.

The café, now open to the public, is run by Level Up Kitchen, a local business selected from a pool of candidates to be the food and beverage vendor, as was publicized by the library in May.

Owned and operated by Three Village native and chef Chelsea Gomez, Level Up Kitchen Library Café promises fresh coffee and healthy, handcrafted fare that meets various dietary needs. The menu includes nut-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan items, avoiding cross-contamination with allergens. 

Gomez places importance on sustainability, working with local farms and purveyors where possible to stimulate the local economy and provide the freshest, highest-quality ingredients. Gomez possesses extensive food safety knowledge, and all her employees are Suffolk County Department of Health-certified food managers.

In addition to the outdoor terrace, which opened last summer, a new indoor seating area was added adjacent to the café. Architect John Cunniffe, a Stony Brook resident with experience in preserving historical accuracy, ensured that the café and seating area showed architectural sensitivity to the historic section with the same refined feel.

Urban Village Contracting, a local company, executed the construction. The library completed the entire construction project without closing for its patrons.

A café is a very popular addition among today’s libraries. It allows for more flexibility and options for the public to visit the library more often and extend their stay.

The library is not solely a building full of books but a place where individuals or groups may leisurely enjoy the beautiful space. Those studying or working may now take a break for a quick snack or meal without having to leave the library.

Before or after a library program, attendees may have something to eat or drink. Those who live or work in the neighborhood may stop in to grab a coffee or a bite to eat. Friends may meet at the library for coffee or a meal and browse books together. The café enhances that welcoming feel and accommodates those who want to stay longer.

This “new” Emma Clark Library is not so much a transformation as a rejuvenation of the library, staying true to its historic roots while accommodating its 21st-century constituency. The library’s Board of Trustees and staff are thrilled to offer these improvements to the community here in Three Village.

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The Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. File photo by Elyse Sutton

By Nasrin Zahed

The Emma S. Clark Memorial Library held its annual budget vote on Wednesday, Sept. 20, with the Three Village community overwhelmingly supporting the measure, 437-74.

The proposed budget plan outlines continued expenses, such as employee salaries and mandated benefits, while highlighting the library’s plans to expand resources to the community and become a more central local hub.

The proposed $5,726,582 fiscal year budget is $88,526 more than the previous years, with a 1.57% tax levy increase.

Lisa DeVerna, the library’s marketing communications manager, expressed the library’s delight at the public support. “We were very pleased with the outcome,” she said in an email. “Eighty-six percent of voters supported the budget, which is comparable to years past.”

DeVerna outlined some of the big projects the library brought to fruition this year, such as the completed construction project to improve the flow of the main reading room.

“We now have a better delineation between the quiet and lively areas,” DeVerna said, offering more structure to the layout of the space and allowing patrons to enjoy public events and activities without infringing on the sanctity of the popular study spot.

The communications manager expanded on the library’s current café project, which is still under construction, giving assurances that the space would be open to the public soon.

The library is also revamping the Children’s Department by adding new toys and play sets. “These projects are helping make the library even more of a community center than it was before, inviting those to come and stay for a while and meeting the different needs of our various constituents,” DeVerna said.

The library will also go beyond Setauket residence by purchasing museum passes for patrons to borrow out through their unique Library of Things collection.

Passes to the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog in Manhattan, as well as the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame, are currently available. The Library of Things also lets patrons sign out many items such as cameras, telescopes, projectors and more.

DeVerna shared how library staff are working toward catering to community youth by developing a separate Teen Services Department. The separation has “allowed us to build more robust programming, particularly year-round volunteer opportunities for teens, who are always looking for more community service hours,” DeVerna said.

With hopes of redesigning the layout and flow of the Children’s Library and increasing investments into existing programs, DeVerna outlined that “in general, we are concentrating on programming next year and have increased the budget of the program by $15,000.” Yet, the budget keeps flowing as DeVerna emphasized that the library is also looking to widen adult opportunities.

“For adults, we’re expanding the scope of our technology classes in 2024, including an advanced Excel class and more of an emphasis on the Cricut cutting machine due to the demand for such programming,” she said. 

As the library has typically catered to classes at the beginner level, this allows patrons to refine and expand on the basics that they have already learned.

With the budget’s passage, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library leaders aim for the library to remain a staple of the Three Village area through its new programs, spaces and interests for its neighbors.

The Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. File photo by Elyse Sutton

Emma Clark Library and Stony Brook University’s School of Social Welfare have partnered to offer free social work services to the Three Village community. Emma Clark patrons may visit the Library each week during designated hours to have their questions answered, get help with filling out forms, or seek referrals from a graduate student who is furthering their studies in the field.

Inquiries that the social work graduate student may assist with include, but are not limited to, employment/job search, housing, paying utility bills, applying for benefits, education, medical assistance, mental health issues, bullying, domestic abuse, substance use, LGBTQIA+ topics, care coordination, and voting pre-registration.

Starting this month, graduate student Erin Vespoli will be on-site at the Library on Tuesdays from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. and Wednesdays from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Ms. Vespoli is a mother of three who is training to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and will be at Emma Clark through the end of the school year (May 2024).

There is no pre-registration, and this service is open to all ages. In fact, afternoon/evening hours were chosen to accommodate afterschool hours for teenagers or adults who work during the day. The Wednesday hours coincide with the Library’s “Senior Bus” (transportation for those who can no longer drive so that they may take out library materials and attend events, offered on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of every month). While Ms. Vespoli will be located in the Library’s lobby to ensure that all patrons are aware of this new service, a private room can be made available as well. Conversations will be kept confidential; this is a safe and welcoming environment.

Libraries are information centers where the community goes to get answers to their questions, and at times help to solve their problems.  Some of the challenges patrons are dealing with are at times beyond the scope of what most librarians are trained to handle.  Here on Long Island, many libraries including Emma Clark, have recognized the value of adding social work assistance as a resource offering to their patrons.

Ms. Vespoli is at Emma Clark Library to answer questions but is not a therapist; referrals will be given to people looking for clinical therapy. Ms. Vespoli is a mandated reporter for cases of neglect, abuse, or harm.


The Stony Brook University’s School of Social Welfare provides a learning environment for individuals who wish to deepen and extend their knowledge and experience in bringing about social change. The School provides a place for the development of committed, analytical, and knowledgeable students who wish to undertake the difficult task of improving service delivery systems by attention to institutional structures. The graduate program prepares students for advanced social work practice and is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


The Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, located at 120 Main Street in Setauket and on the web at www.emmaclark.org, provides public library service to all residents of the Three Village Central School District. “The Heart of the Three Village Community.”

Culper Spy Day. Photo by North Island Photography

By Heidi Sutton

Mark your calendars! Culper Spy Day returns on Saturday, Sept. 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  (rain date is Sept. 10). Presented by the Three Village Historical Society (TVHS) and Tri-Spy Tours in collaboration with more than 30 local historical and cultural organizations, the day will feature activities related to the Culper Spy Ring which was founded by Benjamin Tallmadge, George Washington’s chief intelligence officer during the Revolutionary War.

Now in its 9th year, the annual event is the brainchild of Margo Arceri, who first heard about Washington’s Setauket spies (including her favorite spy Anna Smith Strong) from her Strong’s Neck neighbor and local historian, Kate W. Strong, in the early 1970s. 

“My love of history grew from there,” said Arceri who today runs Tri-Spy Tours offering walking, bike and kayak tours of the Setauket area. “Everywhere you turn in the Three Villages you are looking at an artifact, and as the historical society believes, the community is our museum and I would really love to put that on the forefront of people’s minds. History is constantly evolving and new information is being discovered everyday. We don’t know what is waiting to be unearthed next and that fills me with excitement.”

Participants will have the opportunity to visit 9 locations in Setauket, Stony Brook and Port Jefferson (see list below) to learn about Long Island’s brave Patriot spy ring. Admission to all locations, with the exception of the Sherwood-Jayne House tour and the Spies! exhibit tour at the TVHS, is free.

“Guests at Culper Spy Day can expect to learn about American Revolutionary history in their own backyard. The hometown heroes who risked their lives and turned the tide of the war lived here on Long Island, working with George Washington right under the noses of their British neighbors. Through re-enactors, storytellers, demonstrations, and self-guided and docent-led tours, visitors at Culper Spy Day will enjoy information and inspiration at all of our historic sites,” said Mari Irizarry, Director at the TVHS.

According to Irizarry, several new exciting events have been added to the roster this year. “We’re proud to host George Washington, Martha Washington and their Squire in his field tent / oval office on the grounds of the historical society; we have partnered with Preservation Long Island to create a deluxe scavenger hunt across all sites for excited clue seekers to learn along the way; and Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum will present their new exhibit, Privateers: Pirates with Permission with guided tours, privateers re-enacting the plundering of the Roe family and colonial-themed storytelling for children.” 

Colonial cooking demonstrations by Diane Schwindt from the Ketcham Inn will feature an authentic recipe from Mary Floyd Tallmadge, who was the wife of Benjamin Tallmadge and daughter to William Floyd, signer of the Declaration of Independence. Visitors may sample the food and take home the recipe.

In addition, The Long Island Museum will have the recently discovered Culper Spy letter on display throughout the day. “The handwritten letter dated November 8, 1779 from Benjamin Tallmadge (using his alias, John Bolton) to Robert Townsend (alias, Samuel Culper Jr.) is the only known surviving letter between the two,” said Arceri.

The event also marks the launch of the Three Village Historical Society’s brand new 1776 Augmented Reality app through the generous donation of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

If you don’t have time to visit all the locations, Arceri recommends visiting the Sherwood Jayne Farm and the Drowned Meadow Cottage as they are not open to the public very frequently “so it is a treat to step back in time and visit these sites” as well as the Caroline Church of Brookhaven and the Setauket Presbyterian Church and their historical cemeteries.

Arceri is looking forward to welcoming new visitors to Culper Spy Day. “Last year was such a huge success — we had over 1100 people visit ‘Culper Country’ and we expect to have those numbers grow as more and more of the mainstream are getting Culper fever,” she said. “Setauket has really become a tourist destination and Culper Spy Day is certainly a highlight for these visitors as they are able to see many of the sites and visit with many of the organizations that make up our Revolutionary story.”

Irizarry agrees and is committed to continuing this event for years to come.

“At the Three Village Historical Society, our mission is to preserve our shared history. The Culper Spy Ring is an essential part of how we won the Revolutionary War and became a country — that’s a history we can ALL share! Culper Spy Day is a celebration like no other, and we love seeing history come to life year after year. As more sites and organizations get involved, this incredible event gets better and better.”

The 9th annual Culper Spy Day is made possible by the generous support of Heritage Spy Ring Golf Club. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.culperspyday.com

Visit the grave of Culper Spy Abraham Woodhull in the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery. Photo by Heidi Sutton

1. THREE VILLAGE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. Located in the circa 1800 Bayles-Swezey House. Here you can take part in outdoor events from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. including “building” a timber frame house with Abraham Woodhull; children’s story hour; colonial crafts; an invisible ink demonstration;; Culper Spy-themed authors and book signings; Anna Smith Strong’s famed clothesline, a colonial cooking demonstration; 23rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Welch Fusiliers in America) and Huntington Militia encampment; and much more. Docent led tours of the Spies! exhibit will be held every 30 minutes at $10 per person. Food trucks will be on site. 631-751-3730.

2. SETAUKET NEIGHBORHOOD HOUSE, 95 Main St., Setauket. The original part of the house, where the central chimney is located, was built in the early 1700s. In 1820 it was moved to its present location from its original site on Setauket (Conscience) Bay by Dr. John Elderkin. The building has served as an inn, and has housed a general store, post office, bank and a Franklin Library. Docents will give tours of the historic home from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 631-751-6208.

3. PATRIOTS ROCK HISTORIC SITE, Main Street, Setauket (across from the Setauket Post Office). This glacial erratic boulder is said to be the location of the Battle of Setauket on Aug. 22, 1777. Stop here between 10 a.m. and  2 p.m. to meet representatives from the Three Village Community Trust who will discuss the importance of Patriots Rock and its local and environmental history. 631-689-0225.

4. CAROLINE CHURCH AND CEMETERY, 1 Dyke Road, Setauket. Built in 1729, this timber frame building has maintained its Colonial appearance. Now an Episcopal church, during the Revolutionary War the Caroline Church was Anglican and a Colonial extension of the Church of England. The graveyard contains the remains of six Patriot soldiers as well as soldiers from World War I and II. The inside of the church will be open for guided tours from noon to 4 p.m. and tour the cemetery your leisure with a docent present for questions.  631-941-4245. 

5. SETAUKET PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AND CEMETERY, 5 Caroline Ave., Setauket. The previous church (1714–1811) was a part of British fortifications during 1777. The fort was under the command of Loyalist commander Col. Richard Hewlett. The present building dates from 1812. Come tour the interior of the church from 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and then tour the cemetery with the grave of Abraham Woodhull of  Washington’s spy ring at your leisure. 631-941-4271

6. EMMA S. CLARK MEMORIAL LIBRARY, 120 Main St., Setauket. The library (circa 1892) will display Revolutionary War soldiers’ equipment in the lobby, enjoy live music from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and kids can enjoy an outdoor craft from noon to 3 p.m. 631-941-4080 

7. SHERWOOD-JAYNE HOUSE, 55 Old Post Road, East Setauket. Originally built around 1730 as a lean-to saltbox dwelling, the house and farm were maintained as an operational farmstead for over 150 years by members of the Jayne family. Visit with Big Bill the Tory aka William Jayne III, who will explain the noble intentions and virtuosities of King George III and tells you the TRUTH about Washington’s pesky band of renegade spies! Tours run continuously from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. $5 per person. 631-692-4664

8. THE LONG ISLAND MUSEUM, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. The museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate with permanent and changing exhibitions on American history and art, along with the finest collection of horse-drawn carriages in the country, some of which belonged to Revolutionary War heroes. Visit the History Museum between noon and 5 p.m. to view the newly uncovered Culper Spy Ring letter by Benjamin Tallmadge to Robert Townsend. Tour the museum’s galleries and grounds for free. 631-751-0066

9. DROWNED MEADOW COTTAGE MUSEUM, corner of West Broadway and Barnum Avenue, Port Jefferson. The Revolutionary War-era Roe House was originally constructed circa 1755 and Phillips Roe, a member of the Culper Spy Ring along with his brother Nathaniel and cousin Austin, was known to have lived there. Visit the Revolutionary War-era Roe House between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. with a new exhibit, Privateers: Pirates with Permission, tours, privateers re-enacting the plundering of the Roe family and colonial-themed storytelling for children. 631-473-4724

* Please note: Public restrooms are located in the Setauket Neighborhood House and Emma S. Clark Memorial Library.


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Left, library Director Ted Gutmann with first place winners (10-12th grade category) Anna and Amelia Grant receiving their big checks. Photo from Emma S. Clark Memorial Library

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library is hosting its ninth

Gutmann with first place winner (7-9th grade category) Matthew Blumenthal. Photo from Emma S. Clark Memorial Library

for junior high and high school students. The annual competition began this month.

Three Village students in grades 7–12 are asked to create a picture book for children. The winning teens receive a substantial monetary prize, are recognized at a special ceremony, and have the honor of their original books added to the library’s Local Focus Collection. 

Students in grades 7–12 who live in Three Village are invited to showcase their creative artistic and writing talents, whether it be individually or collaboratively with a friend, in creating a children’s picture book by the contest deadline in January. Once the artwork and text are judged, winners are announced in March, and there is a ceremony in the spring honoring the winners and their original books. In addition to library trustees and staff, in the past, teachers and top school district administrators, as well as representatives and elected officials from New York State, Suffolk County and Town of Brookhaven, have all been in attendance at the event.

Last year’s Grand Prize winners were Matthew Blumenthal (Grades 7–9 category) and Amelia Grant and Anna Grant (Grades 10–12 category).  The public may view previous year’s winning entries at emmaclark.org/picturebookaward.

Contest details: The contest is divided into two grade categories, grades 7 through 9 and grades 10 through 12, with one first prize winner and one second prize winner selected from each group.  Each entry can be the work of a single author/illustrator or can be a joint effort between an author and an illustrator.  The picture book entries must be their own original work (both artwork and text).

How to enter: Those in grades 7–12 may obtain an official entry form in-person in the library’s lobby or online at emmaclark.org/picturebookaward. Included with the form are the contest procedures and guidelines. They should bring their completed picture book, along with a completed official entry form, to the Children’s Department by the contest deadline, Jan. 31, 2023.

Prizes and winner information: Each of the first prize award recipients will receive $400, and each of the second prize award recipients will receive $100 (in the event that a winning entry is a collaboration, the prize will be shared). Winning entries are bound, made into a hardcover book, and added to the library’s shelves. Additional copies of the winning books will also be available for purchase by family and friends. Winners and their families will be invited to an awards ceremony on Monday, April 24, 2023. All entrants will receive a certificate of participation.

The Helen Stein Shack Picture Book Award is given in memory of Helen Stein Shack by her family. As a teacher, Shack was committed to the education of children, and she especially loved literature written for them. She was a frequent visitor to the library where, even in retirement, she kept current with the latest children’s books.

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Emily Ostrander when she was first promoted to Teen Services librarian. Photo from Emma Clark library

For many people, a library with all its books and materials transports them on a journey of learning or fantasy. In the case of one 27-year-old Three Village resident, her love of libraries, especially one in particular, led to her career path.

Emily Ostrander, Emma Clark’s Teen Services librarian, above, recently found her first reading prize from the library, above left inset. Right inset, Ostrander as a child.

Emily Ostrander has been visiting Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket regularly since she moved to Stony Brook from Massapequa when she was 7 years old. Today she is the Teen Services librarian who patrons meet when they enter Emma Clark’s Adult Services department. She had wanted to be a librarian since she was 12 when she began volunteering at the library. Ostrander said it was then working with the librarians that she realized it was “a cool career.”

A few years after volunteering, she began working as a library page and went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in English from Stony Brook University and master’s in Library Science from Queens College. After graduating, she became a part-time children’s librarian.

She landed her current full-time position  as Teen Services librarian and working at the Adult Reference Desk in 2019, a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down libraries for a few months.

Despite dealing with a complex age group and shutdowns, library officials said teen programming has flourished under Ostrander’s care. In 2021, the number of hours teenagers volunteered had increased over 2019 and 2020. Participation in the Teen Summer Reading Club also continues to increase with readers using a new online platform.

Library director, Ted Gutmann, said Ostrander has developed a rapport with the teenage patrons and their parents. He added she has a good mix of librarian skills and enterprise.

“She’s constantly coming up with new and creative ideas to engage the teens, and really to help instill the value of libraries in general in their lives, which I think is an important thing,” he said.

Ostrander said she tries to think outside of the box, but it can be difficult coming up with ideas for teens as she describes them as “over scheduled and under slept.”

“They have so many other things that they’re doing that you have to have something that is worth it for them to come to the library,” the librarian said.

Recently, the library introduced a Dungeons & Dragons group, which she said has brought in more young people.

For Ostrander, once she and her sister could read, their mother would take them to the library at least once a week, sometimes every other day. Being homeschooled, Ostrander said the library was for educational purposes and socializing. Through the years she participated in the library’s Summer Reading Club and Battle of the Books team.

“I would meet friends there as well as make friends there,” she said. “I went to as many library programs as I could go to.”

“She’s constantly coming up with new and creative ideas to engage the teens, and really to help instill the value of libraries in general in their lives, which I think is an important thing.”

— Ted Gutmann

She remembered being 9 years old and discovering the stickers on the children’s books.

“I read every single one that had the historical-fiction sticker on it from A to Z,” Ostrander said.

In addition to enjoying a physical book, she also has an appreciation for audiobooks because, as a child, there were many books she wanted to read such as “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and the “Harry Potter” series which were above her reading level when she was interested in them. She continues to use audiobooks exclusively on the library’s reading app when she doesn’t have time to sit and read a book.

As for the challenge of a new job, Ostrander said she was ready. After she worked in the children’s department, former Teen Services librarian Nanette Feder, now Adult Programming librarian, trained her and planned out programs for the first few months, which Ostrander said was a big help.

She has known Feder since she was a teen going to the library.

“I think she probably had a formative effect on my decision to go into the library and everybody in children’s,” she said.

Ostrander started to prepare her own programs when the library was shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions. She and other librarians found themselves starting from scratch, and she found she was up to the challenge.

“It was freeing in a way because no one has ever done this,” she said.

She found programs via Zoom weren’t successful with teens, which she said was understandable because they were learning virtually during school hours. She said craft kits where people would pick up materials at the building and then make something at home turned out to be successful with all age groups. The craft program continues due to demand.

Ostrander said the job has lived up to her expectations, and it has been interesting working with teens.

“They’re all coming into their own,” she said. “They’re really starting to build their own personalities and it’s so much fun to watch.”

Suffolk County libraries such as Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, above, have encountered less controversy over books than many other libraries in the nation, according to local library professionals. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Despite Americans across the nation challenging librarians for their material choices, Suffolk County libraries have dealt with few issues.

According to the recent The New York Times article, “With Rising Book Bans, Librarians Have Come Under Attack,” librarians across the U.S. have found themselves on the front lines of book banning movements, often criticized publicly or on social media. Some have even quit their jobs or have been fired over debates about removing books from a library’s shelves.

A controversy involving a library on the North Shore of Suffolk County recently revolved around a Pride Month display, which included books, in the children’s sections in The Smithtown Library branches. On June 21, the library board trustees voted 4-2, with one member absent, to remove pride displays, which included signs and books, in the children’s sections in its Smithtown, Commack, Kings Park and Nesconset branches. According to a couple of trustees, they voted to remove the displays due to patrons coming to them complaining about particular items. Two days later, the board held an emergency meeting and reversed its decision, again 4-2, with one board member abstaining.

The reversal came after criticism on social media from the community, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) and the New York Library Association. The board also received hundreds of emails after their initial decision.

The Suffolk Cooperative Library System is an association that helps public libraries in the county provide traditional and innovative service to their patrons.

Derek Ivie, SCLS youth services coordinator, said to his knowledge the libraries which are part of the local system have not received as many challenges about books as many in the nation have faced, especially regarding LGBTQ+ and social justice materials.

“Nationally it’s definitely a different story, and I would even say in other parts of New York state, it’s a different story,” Ivie said. “I have colleagues in other systems in New York who have shared stories where they are having patrons come in and complain about specific books. So, while it’s not happening locally, it is something that is happening in places around our county.”

Ted Gutmann said in his more than 10 years as library director of Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket, he is only aware of a handful of complaints about books or other materials during his tenure. He said the reasons and topics of the material vary. The director said the most recent criticism he can remember was about a video in the adult section. 

Debra Engelhardt, Comsewogue Public Library director, said during her decade as director, she has not had a patron fill out the paperwork needed to place a complaint about library material or displays. Like many other libraries, a form can be found on the library’s website. She said people sometimes comment or ask employees questions face to face about different displays featured during the year.

“Some of them are a little more negative and some of them are more positive, but with every one, we have the opportunity to have a conversation with a community member and help them to better understand why we’re here and what we do,” Engelhardt said.

Training and choosing

Ivie said while patrons may find library pages, clerks or employees training to be a librarian who don’t currently hold a specific degree, for the most part, when a staff member holds the title of librarian, they have earned a master’s of library sciences.

He said most libraries have selection or collection policies that outline how books should be chosen. These policies can be found on most libraries’ websites. He said librarians also take into consideration reviews and patrons’ requests. Ivie added the reviews are by peers throughout the world.

“Trust the experts that are sitting in your libraries,” he said. “They have done training. They’re reading the literature itself. They’re reading the reviews. They know what they’re doing. They know the needs of a community and the people who are walking through their doors.”

Engelhardt said she feels that librarians should be celebrated, and that a library’s impact on a community is immeasurable. She described a library as a safety net as it provides an opportunity for community members to learn about whatever they wish, and many in a community may feel seen because of a book or library display.

“Our job as a public library is that we present an all-inclusive service program,” Engelhardt said. “We’re always touting the fact that everyone is welcome, and everyone is respected. It’s a safe space to learn to grow.”

Gutmann applauded librarians.

“We serve everybody from children to adults, and there’s a wide range, a multitude of subjects and viewpoints historically and otherwise represented in the collections,” he said. “That’s what our public libraries are for. I think our librarians do a great job at maintaining those collections.”

The winners, sitting, take a photo with elected and school officials who attended the April 12 event. Photo from Emma S. Clark Memorial Library

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library board members and staff, the family of the late Helen Stein Shack, local elected officials, representatives from the Three Village Central School District, and guests from the community gathered on April 12 to honor the winners of the eighth annual Helen Stein Shack Picture Book Award:

First Prize (Grades 7 – 9 category): “Pete the Penguin Goes to the Library” by Matthew Blumenthal (9th grader at Murphy Junior High School)

First Prize (Grades 10 – 12 category): “The Raccoon Jug-Band” written by Amelia Grant and illustrated by Anna Grant (homeschooled 10th and 11th graders)

Second Prize (Grades 7 – 9 category): “The Big Carrot” by Julia Hou (8th grader at Gelinas Junior High School)

Second Prize (Grades 10 – 12 category): “Mareld” by Ammella Een (homeschooled 12th grader)

Library Director Ted Gutmann, along with the family of the late Helen Stein Shack, presented all of the winners’ books — bound and added to the library’s Local Focus Collection — along with $400 checks to first prize winners Matthew Blumenthal and Amelia Grant and Anna Grant and $100 checks for second prize winners Julia Hou and Ammella Een.

State Sen. Mario Mattera, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright, county Legislator Kara Hahn, Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich were all in attendance to present certificates to the winners from New York State, Suffolk County and Brookhaven Town, respectively.

Many of the speakers discussed the wonderful talent and bright futures of these winners. Englebright said, “We get a preview here, actually, of the future. And because young people who dare to dream, and in this case, put those dreams to paper and make it into art and literature, that is the future and it is reassuring.”

Romaine said, “We have some authors here this evening who are young in age, but wise in experience.” 

Library Board President Deborah Blair, Vice President Christopher Fletcher, Treasurer Carol Leister, Secretary Dave Douglas, and trustees Orlando Maione and Suzanne Shane were there to congratulate the winners.  Three Village Central School District Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Kevin Scanlon, Murphy Junior High Principal Brian Biscari, Murphy Junior High English Chair Jessica Metrio, and Murphy Junior High School Librarian Betsy Knox, and Ward Melville High School Librarian April Hatcher were all in attendance. 

Treats were donated by The Bite Size Bake Shop, a local Three Village-owned business. Ward Melville High School teen volunteer Raymond Lang photographed the event.

The Helen Stein Shack Book Contest called for teens in grades 7 through 12 who live in the Three Village Central School District to create a children’s picture book.  Each entry could be the work of a single author/illustrator or a collaborative effort between an author and an illustrator.

“You accomplished something so incredible, and I just want to say congratulations to all the winners,” Mattera said.

The children of the late Shack established a substantial endowment with the library to cover the cost of the awards as a tribute to their mother and her commitment to passing along the importance and joy of reading for generations to come. Kornreich said that Shack not only created a legacy of her family members, but also the legacy of the books that come out of this contest.

Shack’s son, Ed Taylor, spoke about a milestone in their family this past year — the birth of the first great grandchild of the late Helen Stein Shack.

“She’s going to be sitting on our laps, and we’ll be reading her the books that were inspired by this competition that’s in the name of this little girl’s great grandmother, who she didn’t get a chance to meet, but who she’ll have that connection through these books … we thought we were giving a gift to the library, but the library really gave us a gift.”

Pixabay photo

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, 120 Main St., Setauket will host a Health and Hygiene Drive from Saturday, Feb. 26 to Sunday, March 13.

Many of us take basic personal care items for granted, but they are essential for day-to-day health. The cost of these necessities can add up and may be inaccessible to some individuals. Thus, to support the community, the library will be collecting new toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, shampoo, mouthwash, razors, shaving cream, feminine hygiene products, baby wipes, diapers, and more.

These personal care items will be distributed to various local organizations that help those in need of supplies. A box will be located in the Library lobby and all (residents or nonresidents) are welcome to donate. Call 631-941-4080 for more information.