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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.

Meet Big Bill Tory at the Sherwood Jayne House during Culper Spy Day. Photo from Preservation Long Island

UPDATED! This article was updated on 9/17/21 to reflect a change to the schedule of events (in bold).

By Heidi Sutton

On Saturday, Sept. 18 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Three Village Historical Society, Tri-Spy Tours and the Long Island Museum will host a day of spy-related tours and activities for the 7th annual Culper Spy Day, named for the Culper Spy Ring founded by Benjamin Tallmadge, George Washington’s chief intelligence officer during the Revolutionary War.

The annual event is the brainchild of Margo Arceri, who first heard about George 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.

Diane Schwindt of Stirring Up History, pictured with Margo Arceri, will offer colonial cooking demonstrations during Culper Spy Day. Photo from Mari Irizarry

“Kate W. Strong, Anna Smith Strong’s great-great-granddaughter, originally told me about the Culper Spy Ring when I used to visit her with my neighbor and Strong descendant Raymond Brewster Strong III. One of her stories was about Nancy (Anna Smith Strong’s nickname) and her magic clothesline. My love of history grew from there,” she said in an interview in 2015.

Seven years ago Arceri approached the Three Village Historical Society’s President Steve Hintze and the board about conducting walking, biking and kayaking tours while sharing her knowledge of George Washington’s Long Island intelligence during the American Revolution.

Today, Arceri runs the popular Tri-Spy Tours in the Three Village area, which follows in the actual footsteps of the Culper Spy Ring. “I have to thank AMC’s miniseries Turn because 80 percent of the people who sign up for the tour do so because of that show. And now that Turn has come to Netflix it has taken this community to an entirely other level,” she said. 

It was during one of those tours that Arceri came up with the idea of having a Culper Spy Day, a day to honor the members of Long Island’s brave Patriot spy ring who helped change the course of history and helped Washington win the Revolutionary War. After a successful five-year run, last year’s event was sideswiped by COVID-19 and was presented virtually on Facebook Live. 

Meet costumed docents from Oyster Bay’s Raynham Hall on the grounds of the Three Village Historical Society. Photo by TVHS

This year the family-friendly event returns but on a smaller, more intimate scale as participants will have the opportunity to visit eight locations in Setauket, Stony Brook and Port Jefferson to learn about the patriots who risked their lives through tours, spy stories, colonial cooking demonstrations, historic letters, musical performances, and many children activities. 

Escorted by Arceri, Mrs. Q of Karen Q. Patriot Tours of NYC will be on location live on social media and in costume visiting many of the locations. With the exception of the Sherwood Jayne House, all events are free.

While the Three Village Historical Society has remained closed since last January, it will reopen for the one-day event. Mari Irizarry, Outreach and Communications Manager at the Society, is ready to welcome visitors. “We miss our community. There is so much rich history, heritage and culture that is part of the Three Villages and beyond and we are excited to share it on Culper Spy Day,” she said.

Arceri’s favorite part of the day is “seeing all these organizations coming together as a whole. It really is our Revolutionary story,” she said. “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.”

Schedule of Events:
View Revolutionary War artifacts from the collection of Art Billadello at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library on Culper Spy Day.

1. THREE VILLAGE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. Located in the circa 1800 Bayles-Swezey House. Here you can take part in oudoor events including an invisible ink demonstration; Spy Stories on the TVHS Porch from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.; view a patriotic quilt display and demonstration and take part in colonial crafts with the Daughters of the American Revolution Anna Smith Strong Chapter; Author’s Row: come meet authors Beverly C. Tyler, Selene Castrovilla and, Claire Bellerjeau, available for book signings; view Revolutionary War letters from Stony Brook University’s Special Collections; take part in spy games and meet costumed docents who will talk about Raynham Hall, Culper Jr. and their Culper Spy connections; and enjoy a live colonial cooking demonstration and samples with Diane Schwindt of Stirring Up History. 631-751-3730.

2. THE STUDIO AT GALLERY NORTH, 84 North Country Road, Setauket. Visit The Studio to enjoy free Revolutionary War era arts and crafts for children throughout the day. Guests will have an opportunity to create a Tin Punch ornament or a chance to create a decoder & color a quilt square. Activities will occur on the patio, just outside the Studio. 631-751-2676. 

3. EMMA S. CLARK MEMORIAL LIBRARY, 120 Main St., Setauket. The library (circa 1892) will present a concert featuring 18th century songs the trio Rose Tree from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on the Library lawn. View Revolutionary military paraphernalia from the collection of Art Billadello in the Library’s lobby. Kids can enjoy a craft from noon to 3 p.m. 631-941-4080. Please note the previously scheduled bubble and comedy show on the lawn from 11 a.m. to noon has been canceled.

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. View the inside of the church from the vestibule and tour the cemetery with docents from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Just added! Setauket Presbyterian church next door will be offering tours of their cemetery from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. 631-941-4245.   

5. 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 noon 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.

6. 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 and see LIMarts Collaborative Art Group doing a plein air painting / sketching on the grounds that day. 631-751-0066.

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! Program runs continuously from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Masks must be worn inside. $5 per person, children under 5 free. Pre-registration is recommended at www.preservationlongisland.org.

8. 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 cottage between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and attend an unveiling with Mayor Margot Garant at 11 a.m.


Participating organizations for the 7th annual Culper Spy Day include Tri-Spy Tours, Three Village Historical Society, Stony Brook University Special Collections, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, The Long Island Museum, Raynham Hall, Drowned Meadow Cottage, Preservation Long Island, Gallery North, Karen Q’s Patriot Tours NYC, Anna Smith Strong Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Stirring Up History, Three Village Community Trust, and Caroline Church of Brookhaven

For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org


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Town Councilman Jonathan Kornreich presents Ted Gutmann, library director, with a proclamation. Photo y Rita J. Egan

Once again, beachgoers can grab a book to go when they visit West Meadow Beach or leave one behind for someone else to enjoy.

Children check out the books at the Little Free Library at West Meadow Beach. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Little Free Library was returned to the beach June 22 under hazy skies. Built by volunteers from the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in 2016, the unit, located under the pavilion, was not available last year due to COVID-19.

Town of Brookhaven Councilman Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) and environmental educator Nicole Pocchiare joined library employees for the first day of “take a book, leave a book” at the beach.

“The Little Free Library at West Meadow Beach is just a great opportunity to put books into peoples’ hands,” Kornreich said. “I love the community spirit embodied in those little structures and knowing that favorite books can be shared among neighbors in this way. By the way, when you’re there check out the bottom [of the little library case] — it was constructed from an old wooden library chair.”

The little library is maintained by teen volunteers. On the first day, beachgoers had a few shelves of books to choose from, including classics such as “The Hardy Boy” mysteries and “Harry Potter.”

To borrow a book from the little library, a card is not needed, according to Emma Clark officials. Also, readers do not need to return the books they borrow — if the books are returned, they go back to the unit and not Emma Clark library. Anyone who visits West Meadow Beach can take part in taking or giving a book.

The return of the little library to the beach after COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted is just one change library employees have witnessed.

“Now that most restrictions have been lifted, it’s wonderful to see more and more of our patrons coming in and using the library in person again,” said library director Ted Gutmann. “Since it opened in 1892, the library has seen good times and bad, but through it all it has remained a rock, and this past year and a half showed us that it’s as solid as ever. The return of our Little Free Library at West Meadow Beach is just one example of the growing sense of optimism and normalcy in our community, and highlights our commitment to the importance of books and reading.”

The Emma S. Clark Memorial Library is located at 120 Main St., Setauket.

Stock photo

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, 120 Main St., Setauket hosts a Community Shred Day in its parking lot on Saturday, Oct. 17 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Protect your privacy and get rid of clutter. A shredding truck from A Shred Away, Inc., will be in the library’s parking lot for on-site shredding of personal documents.  Please NO plastic, carbon paper, hanging files, red well folders, cardboard, newspapers or magazines will be accepted. Clips and staples are fine to put through the shredder. NO wet papers, and please take any boxes, bags, etc., back home with you. All paper collected will be recycled at a certified paper mill. Please wear a mask. No registration required. For more information, call 631-941-4080.

Three Village Historical Society’s Director of Education Donna Smith and historian Beverly C. Tyler. Photo from TVHS

Margo Arceri first heard about George Washington’s Setauket spies from her Strong’s Neck neighbor and local historian, Kate W. Strong, in the early 1970s. Arceri lights up when talking about her favorite spy, Anna Smith Strong.

“Kate W. Strong, Anna Smith Strong’s great-great-granddaughter, originally told me about the Culper Spy Ring when I used to visit her with my neighbor and Strong descendant Raymond Brewster Strong III. One of her stories was about Nancy (Anna Smith Strong’s nickname) and her magic clothesline. My love of history grew from there,” she said.

Seven years ago Arceri approached the Three Village Historical Society’s President Steve Hintze and the board about conducting walking, biking and kayaking tours while sharing her knowledge of George Washington’s Long Island intelligence during the American Revolution.

Today, Arceri runs Tri-Spy Tours in the Three Village area, which follows in the actual footsteps of the Culper Spy Ring. “I wanted to target that 20- to 60-year-old active person,” she said.  “I have to thank AMC’s miniseries ‘Turn’ because 80 percent of the people who sign up for the tour do so because of that show,” she laughs.

It was during one of those tours that Arceri came up with the idea of having a Culper Spy Day, a day to honor the members of Long Island’s brave Patriot spy ring who helped change the course of history and helped Washington win the Revolutionary War.

“Visiting places like the Brewster House, which is owned by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the grave site of genre artist William Sidney Mount at the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery (whose paintings are at The Long Island Museum) and the Country House, which was built in the 1700s,” Arceri thought “there has to be a day designated to celebrating all these organizations in the Three Villages and surrounding areas; where each of us can give our little piece of the story and that’s how Culper Spy Day developed.”

After a successful five-year run, plans were underway for the sixth annual Culper Spy Day when the pandemic hit. At first the event was canceled out an abundance of caution but now has been reinvented and will be presented virtually on Facebook Live on Sept. 12 and 13 to be enjoyed from the comfort of your home.

The Three Village area is full of hidden intrigue and stories of how America’s first spy ring came together secretly to provide General George Washington the information he needed to turn the tide of the American Revolution.

Over the course of the weekend, you will have the chance to visit many of the cultural organizations from years past who will share their story, including the Three Village Historical Society, Tri-Spy Tours, Ward Melville Heritage Organization, Special Collections and University Archives at Stony Brook University, Preservation Long Island, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, Drowned Meadow Cottage, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, Ketcham Inn Foundation and more in a virtual format.

Join Margo Arceri from Tri-Spy Tours live from the Village Green on Saturday at 9 a.m.

Meet Big Bill the Tory live at the Sherwood-Jayne House.

Take a Virtual Spies! exhibit tour with TVHS historian Bev Tyler.

Visit the famous Brewster House with Ward Melville Heritage Organization Education Director Deborah Boudreau.

View a resource guide to everything Culper Spy Day courtesy of Emma Clark Library.

Watch a short film on Long Island’s South Shore from the Ketcham Inn Foundation.

Make your very own periscope with Gallery North.

Read up on the Revolutionary War History from the Caroline Church of Brookhaven.

Look back at the festivities from 2016 Culper Spy Day.

Don’t miss the five part virtual spy tour series with historian Bev Tyler.

Listen to the lecture “Spies in the Archive: A history of two George Washington Culper Spy Ring letters presented by Kristen Nyitray Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries.

Learn about SBU’s two Culper Spy Ring letters and access images and transcripts Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries

Dive into George Washington & the Culper Spy Ring A comprehensive research and study guide Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries

Find out who Agent 355 was from historian Bev Tyler.

Listen to the story of Nancy’s Magic Clothesline, written by Kate Wheeler Strong, and told by Margo Arceri.

No registration is necessary. For more information, visit www.tvhs.org/virtualculperday.

By Melissa Arnold

After a long, eerily quiet spring that forced the majority of public places to close, life is getting back to normal on Long Island. Slowly but surely, area libraries are opening their doors to patrons eager to browse and borrow.

“At 10 a.m. on July 6 when the first person walked through our doors and said, ‘It’s good to be back,’ I felt wonderful,” said Carol Albano, director of the Harborfields Library in Greenlawn. “One of our regular patrons walked over to our new book area and put her arms out and said, ‘I just want to hug all the books.’”

It’s a sigh of relief shared by librarians around the Island, especially given that when they closed their doors in March, there was no telling how or when they’d be able to open them again.

“Closing the building during the New York State shutdown felt surreal; it was new territory for everyone involved,” recalled Debbie Engelhardt, director of the Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station. “The staff and I immediately set about establishing work-from-home stations so we could maintain strong services, programs, and communication with the public and with each other in our day-to-day operations.”

Throughout history, libraries have continually needed to broaden the scope of their services to keep up with the community’s habits and interests. For example, in addition to books and periodicals, libraries offer community programs, tutoring, music, movies, video games, museum passes, audiovisual equipment and much more.

During quarantine, many libraries made their first foray into the world of livestreaming and video conferencing. From read-alongs and book discussions to cooking demos, yoga hours and gardening lessons, library staff continued to bring people together in socially distant ways.

And while this technology will remain a part of the new normal — e-book borrowing numbers are higher than they’ve ever been in Suffolk County, and many events remain virtual for now — the libraries are thrilled to welcome patrons back to their brick-and-mortar homes.

Of course, things are going to look a little different, and local libraries have new rules and policies in place to keep everyone safe. Here’s a breakdown:

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket is the oldest library in Suffolk County to provide service from its original location. Managing a collection of more than 200,000 items isn’t easy, and director Ted Gutmann said they started planning for reopening almost immediately after the shutdown.

“It was quite an interesting time,” Gutmann said. “It was all I thought about for weeks — how we were going to reopen safely and what it might look like. The state had certain parameters that all public places had to follow, so we used that as a guide as we planned.”

So far, they’ve opted for a conservative approach, allowing patrons to browse and check out materials, but limit activities that promote lingering. Patrons are asked to limit their visit to under 30 minutes. Public seating, some of the computers and all toys in the children’s library have been temporarily removed. Visitors can move throughout the aisles between the book shelves, but should follow directional arrows on the floor similar to those in use at grocery stores. Staff will offer assistance from behind plastic shields.

“Right now, we don’t want to encourage people to spend an extended time here for their own safety,” Gutmann explained. “They are welcome to browse and borrow, then bring their things home to enjoy.”

At the Comsewogue Public Library, reopening has occurred in phases with extensive planning throughout. It’s all been worth it, Engelhardt said,

“Opening the doors again felt like great progress. It was exciting, a big step toward more normalcy,” she said. “Our experience in reopening the building was overwhelmingly positive. We worked hard on our reopening plan, which met all state safety requirements and was approved by the county.”

Curbside pickup of borrowed materials will continue, as it’s a convenient, preferred option for some, but Engelhardt noted the number of in-person visitors has grown in recent weeks.

“Most come in to pick up items they’ve requested, and many are excited to once again enjoy browsing the shelves. Other popular draws are our computers, copiers, and fax services,” she explained.

Some changes: The lounge and study area furniture isn’t available right now, and clear plastic dividers are in place at service desks.

“Other than that, we have the same great circulating collections in print and online, from the traditional (think hot summer bestsellers and movies) to the more innovative (hotspots, Take and Make crafts, Borrow and Bake cake pans),” Engelhardt added.

At Harborfields Public Library, reopening plans began back in April as the staff met for regular Zoom meetings with other area libraries. “Step one was to develop a building safety plan — we met with our head of maintenance and went over each aspect of the building, from the mechanical systems to the physical layout of the furniture and library materials, to ordering personal protective equipment for the staff,” Albano said.

At this time, there is only one chair at each table, every other computer has been removed, and toys and games were temporarily taken out of the children’s area. 

You’ll also find plastic shields at the service desks, and that public restrooms have been installed with automatic faucets and automatic flushing toilets, Albano said.

“All areas of the library are open to the public, including all library materials. The only exception is the public meeting rooms are closed, because at this time we are not holding any in-house programming or meetings,” she added. “Computers are still available in the adult, teen and children’s departments, and soft seating and tables are in each department as well.”

As for borrowed materials, there’s no need to worry about catching COVID-19 from a library book, DVD or CD. Once materials are returned, they are kept quarantined for 72 hours.  Research from the global scientific organization Battelle has shown the virus is undetectable on books and similar items after just one day.

So rejoice, bookworms, and browse to your heart’s content. Your local librarians are ready to welcome you back — masked up, of course.

Individual library policies, event schedules and hours of operation vary and are subject to change — contact your local branch for the most current information. For contact information, database access, and to borrow electronic media including ebooks and audiobooks, visit www.livebrary.com. Please remember to wear a mask and practice social distancing while visiting any library.

All photos by Heidi Sutton