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Library

File photo by Giselle Barkley

During a public meeting of the Rocky Point school district board of education on Monday, Aug. 29, Sound Beach resident Bea Ruberto confronted the board over its decision to reverse a longstanding practice regarding book donations.

In June, district parent Allison Villafane donated several books related to Pride Month. In mid-July, the board sparked controversy from the public for its decision to no longer accept book donations from parents. 

During a special meeting on July 28, members of the board justified their decision on the grounds that they lack expertise in children’s literature. For more on this story, “Rocky Point BOE reverses practice on book donations, causes controversy,” see TBR News Media Aug. 11 print and online editions. 

During her remarks, Ruberto contended that the board used shoddy reasoning to arrive at its decision. By reversing its book donation practice, Ruberto suggested that the BOE inadvertently took decision-making authority out of the hands of librarians.

“I remain disappointed with your decision to no longer accept book donations,” Ruberto said. “None of you are experts in deciding which book donations to accept, you said, but there are experts who can do this — the librarians.”

Another point of contention for Ruberto was an argument made on July 28 during the public comments that there are more pressing matters for the board to consider than book donations. 

Pushing back against these charges, Ruberto suggested that access to reading materials lies at the core of any institution of learning.

“Yes, there are many important issues related to our children’s education, but the idea that the books made available to them isn’t one of them is ludicrous,” she said, adding, “As long as a book is age appropriate, I can’t imagine any book that young people should not have access to it.”

While Ruberto acknowledged that parents remain the ultimate arbiters for their children’s reading materials, she added that librarians also perform a vital function. According to her, school libraries are ideally inclusive spaces that should reflect the entire community’s values.

“Some parents may be troubled by what they see in the library, and then they may — and certainly should — monitor what their children are reading,” she said. “But school libraries aren’t just for them. They’re for everyone in the community.”

Jessica Ward, president of the board of education, responded to Ruberto’s public comments. The BOE president argued that the decision empowers the district’s librarians, offering these experts the freedom to stock the libraries with books of their choosing and without sway from the board.

“Our decision, as we explained last time, was made in consensus,” Ward said. “As you said, we’re not the experts on books. We want our librarians to pick the books in their libraries.”

Before the meeting adjourned, Ward and Ruberto debated whether the change of practice on book donations constituted a policy change. In attempting to settle this matter, Ward advised that she and the board would consult with their attorney and get back to Ruberto with a more detailed explanation.

The next meeting of the Rocky Point board of education is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 19.

File photo by Giselle Barkley

Tensions swelled inside the Rocky Point High School auditorium during a special meeting of the Rocky Point school district board of education on Thursday, July 28.

In early July, the board reversed its longstanding practice regarding book donations, deciding to no longer accept books from the public. The controversy centers around a June donation made by district parent Allison Villafane, who donated several books exploring themes dealing with sexuality, gender identity and race during Pride Month.

“This past June, in keeping with my past practice, I have donated books to promote diversity, equity and inclusion,” she told the board. “These books were best sellers, approved by the library here.”

In an interview, Villafane shared the list of the seven titles that were included in the donation, saying these books were intended to be spread out across different schools throughout the district depending upon age appropriateness. The titles are:

  • “Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race” by Margot Lee Shetterly 
  • “All Different and Beautiful: A Children’s Book about Diversity, Kindness, and Friendships” by Belle Belrose 
  • “Our Diversity Makes Us Stronger: Social Emotional Book for Kids about Diversity and Kindness” by Elizabeth Cole 
  • “Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
  • “The 1619 Project: Born on the Water” by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson 
  • “Pink Is for Boys” by Robb Pearlman 
  • “The List of Things That Will Not Change” by Rebecca Stead

Jessica Ward, president of the board of education, defended the decision. She said the board did not take its decision lightly and that all five members of the board had arrived at its determination together.

Ward told the public that the decision was motivated by a basic lack of expertise on how to evaluate children’s literature.

“None of us — the five of us on the board — are experts in children’s literature,” Ward said. “None of us has a master’s degree in library science … so we thought it would be best for all of our schools to allow our librarians, who are the experts in children’s literature, to populate their libraries and their catalogs with books of their choosing.”

Villafane detailed her past practice of donating materials, saying she has made several rounds of donations over the years as each of her four children has moved through the school district. In the past, Villafane has donated materials regarding food allergies. In other years, they would focus on promoting diversity or compassion.

She said this most recent donation is not a significant departure from her past practice. Because the books were already in circulation in various school libraries throughout the district, Villafane believed she was performing a service to the school by making the approved books more accessible.

Villafane suggested the board was applying an arbitrary standard to her donation, asking if the board would apply this same standard to the donations of gifts such as piano keyboards and trumpets.

Responding to these charges, Ward said that the board’s decision “wasn’t necessarily in response to the books that you donated. It was in response to all books.” 

She added, “Our current policy says … that we may accept gifts, grants … as well as other merchandise. If there was something else [such as] a musical instrument or some other educational or instructional item that you or someone wanted to donate, then we would take that on a case-by-case basis, but we are not taking any donations of books.”

Along with Villafane, other members of the public joined in their criticism of the board’s decision. Ernestine Franco, a resident of Sound Beach, said the board did not apply reason to its decision and that it failed to properly consider the consequences.

“If it was just a change of practice, then they did it very badly,” she said in an interview. “That’s what makes me think it was a political move.” She added, “Even if they wanted to do what they did, there had to be some logic to it and there wasn’t.”

Bea Ruberto, also a Sound Beach resident, concurred with this assessment, arguing the decision was a product of hasty decision-making and primarily motivated by the board members’ political preferences.

“I am convinced that it is political,” Ruberto said in an interview. “I am also convinced that for them to do that, they didn’t look at the practice they had in the past on how to deal with and accept book donations.”

Despite criticism from the public, there were others who responded favorably. One such individual, identified as “Ms. Sarlo” in the meeting’s minutes, defended the decision. According to her, it is best for the board not to consider these materials as there is no universal agreement on their content. 

“I think that the decision was the correct one because … not everybody agrees with all of the books,” she said. “There are so many more important things that we need to be talking about that the board could be spending time on instead of book donations.”

Franco disagreed with this assessment, suggesting that it minimizes the issues at stake and offers a convenient excuse for the board to rid itself of accountability.

“I think [Sarlo] was trying to validate what happened by saying it wasn’t important,” Franco said, adding, “But what’s important, at least to me, is not the book but what the book stands for, which is education. … Instead of opening up to a very diverse atmosphere, they’re trying to close up the atmosphere to what kids are going to be exposed to.”

Villafane suggested that the board’s new practice on book donations violates common sense. She believes the board can correct course by adopting a new policy allowing the acceptance of books for titles that are already in circulation.

“It’s not rocket science,” she said. “There is a database of books that have been approved for distribution at various grade levels, so as long as the book you want to donate is within that system, you should feel free to donate it.”

The Rocky Point board of education will reconvene on Monday, Aug. 29, at 7 p.m., where deliberations on book donations are likely to continue.

Librarian. METRO photo

Most professionals have some formal education, specialized knowledge or years of training in their field. Librarians are no different.

So why are librarians across the nation being challenged on their collection choices in public libraries?

A recent article in The New York Times, “With Rising Book Bans, Librarians Have Come Under Attack,” delved into the issues these public servants have faced as more Americans look to ban books, especially those addressing LGBTQ+ rights and racial inequality.

It’s a librarian’s job to choose books and other items that cover a wide variety of topics so that all community members can find materials they can relate to or help them learn and expand their horizons. Librarians have devoted years of study, usually obtaining a master’s degree in library sciences, to properly choose the books on the shelves.

Libraries have written procedures for librarians to follow when choosing collections. They weigh the opinions of critics and reviewers, evaluate the community’s needs and consider age appropriateness, among other criteria.

The books they choose and place on the shelves are sacred. Not all may be award worthy or to everyone’s liking. Still, the authors have taken their time to share their experiences, knowledge, imagination or all of these to let readers know they are not alone. Books transport us, taking us on an adventure, educating us in the process.

It’s for this reason that books are not to be banned or burned. They are meant to be respected. One doesn’t have to like a topic or how it’s written to accept its right to exist and Americans’ rights to read and write about what they desire.

Recently, The Smithtown Library Board of Trustees instructed all of the library’s branches to take down the Pride Month displays, which included books, in the children’s sections. After criticism from residents, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) and the New York Library Association, the board reversed its decision two days later, and returned the displays to the sections.

After the reversal was voted on, board president Brianna Baker-Stines, who voted against removing the displays, said, “We need to trust the staff we hired.”

Some parents and guardians may be troubled by what they see in the young adult and children’s sections based on what they feel comfortable with, but they must remember that public libraries are not just for them — they are for everyone in their community and everyone has different needs and comfort levels.

Everyone must feel acknowledged.

Ultimately, it’s the job of a parent or guardian to monitor what their child or teenager is reading. When it comes to younger children roaming around the library, it’s up to those same adults to monitor them, and they have every right to steer their children away if they feel they may see or grab a book that the particular child may not be ready for. 

Yes, sometimes an image of seeing someone different from them may prompt a little one to ask questions. When an adult welcomes a child into their world, whether they like it or not, answering questions comes with the territory. It’s their job.

As adults, we have an obligation to assimilate our youth into our increasingly diverse, intricate adult world. We do children no favors by shielding them from the realities of 21st-century life. And our public librarians serve a vital function in bringing attention to those realities.

It’s not up to librarians to choose books for you or your child specifically. That happens when you check out a book. It is their job to provide a variety of material to educate and entertain the community as a whole. Let them do the job that they are trained to do.

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket. Photo by Elyse Sutton

By Nancy Marr

I have heard many people remark that libraries have become irrelevant. E-books, Google, and the internet can answer all our questions, saving taxpayers money and freeing up buildings for other uses. But is that true?

In the eighteenth century, the first step toward sharing books came with subscription libraries, which were owned and managed by members who paid an annual subscription fee. The first of these in the United States, still extant and called the Library Company of Philadelphia, was established in 1790 by Benjamin Franklin and his friends, who created the Company by pooling their books to make them available to all the members of the Company. Other subscription libraries continued through the mid-nineteenth century for men who could afford to pay for them, and many are still in existence today.  

Circulating libraries, often started by publishers of books that were more “popular” than those selected by the subscription libraries, made books available to people who could not afford to join a subscription library. The success of the subscription and circulating libraries probably retarded the growth of public libraries as we know them.

The social atmosphere of the subscription libraries satisfied many and others, women, in particular, could obtain the books about romance that they liked that they expected  would not be available in public libraries.  Community libraries grew in number, often starting as collections by wealthy readers. By 1935, libraries served 35 percent of the American people depending on local taxes or donations to maintain them. 

Andrew Carnegie was the spark that spread libraries across the United States with his donations. In 1899 he granted 5.2 million dollars to the New York Public Library to build a network of 67 branch libraries in the five boroughs. The city provided sites for the libraries and enough money to provide staff. Small towns received $10,000 for each library and had to provide $1,000 a year for maintenance. 

Although in principle libraries saw themselves as providing works of history, geography, and technical and scientific books, in the 1890’s libraries reported that 65 to 90 percent of books that were borrowed were works of fiction. The American Library Association (ALA), formed in 1876, offered a series of guides for small libraries.

The ALA, in response to demands to purge books that were anti-American in the Chicago library in 1939, issued a statement affirming the librarians’ right to choose what books should be in their collection. With the onset of Cold War anxieties, demands that librarians sign loyalty oaths split the ALA until the Supreme Court decided that Congress could ban only material “utterly without redeeming social importance.”  

To support the public libraries and help them provide the best in library service, organizations like the Suffolk Cooperative Library System in New York were formed. It expands the services of the 51 member libraries in Suffolk, runs the inter-library loan system, digitizes newspapers and other documents, helps with resource sharing and technical proficiency, and supports services to special client groups. 

Many local libraries have stepped into the role of community centers — providing meeting places for organizations, offering technical assistance to patrons with reference and computer questions, sponsoring book groups and classes in English, gardening, and cooking. Some libraries have hired part-time social workers and financial counselors, providing help to those who request it. Many have assembled useful tools for patrons to borrow, as well as seed collections for home gardens, kits and equipment for bird viewing and sports activities. 

Recently, some taxpayers have asserted that they, and others who agree with them, should have more of a say about what books are available, and what subjects are taught in public schools. They support library and school board members who have the same opinion, and are likely to oppose passing the library and school budgets. Although early librarians, thinking they were protecting readers, chose only those books that they approved of, they now follow the position of the ALA against censorship and line their shelves with books chosen because of their literary value or value to patrons.     

Libraries must rely on funding from taxpayers at an annual vote each spring.  If you haven’t been to your library recently, make a visit and see how much it offers, if not to you, then to job seekers using the computers, to families who cannot afford to buy books or DVD’s, to elderly people relying on the book-delivery service, or to anyone looking for a book to read that will open a new road. Vote to support the budget and the library. 

Nancy Marr is Vice-President of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Comsewogue Public Library honors original research committee during 55th anniversary ceremony

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), at podium, with Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) during the 55th anniversary celebration of Comsewogue Public Library. Photo by Raymond Janis

Surrounded by officials from the Town of Brookhaven, Comsewogue Public Library members honored their founding research committee during a 55th anniversary celebration.

The library research committee was the group of community members formed in 1966 during the library’s embryonic stage. The original committee members were the first to explore ideas and secure permissions to charter a new library that would serve the Port Jefferson Station and Terryville communities. 

Debbie Engelhardt, CPL director, recounted the early history of the library and the important role the committee played in its development.

“Today we’re shining a light on the library research committee, a group of citizens who banded together and worked toward the goal of establishing a library for the community,” she said. “They formed in 1966 with an original committee of six members, plus an advisor, and followed the steps that New York State requires in order for the state to charter a public library.”

‘It was an act of tremendous vision to see a need and to start planning … We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to this research committee.’ — Jonathan Kornreich

While most of the members of the committee have passed, the library’s archives provide enough information to produce a likely narrative of its early history. Records indicate the committee envisioned the library to be a community hub for scholarship and intellectual enrichment. 

“We do have many documents that help us piece together the timeline from back then,” Engelhardt said. “It appears the committee worked swiftly and that the community was supportive to where they did receive a charter.”

The idea to honor the research committee was first pitched by Jan Kielhurn, daughter of Jasper Newcomer, one of the six members on the committee. Kielhurn said she was browsing for a book one day when she decided to look for a plaque with her father’s name on it. Not finding one, she asked Engelhardt to explore ways to formally recognize the library’s earliest leadership.

“I had come up here to get a book and all the sudden I’m looking around and I realized there was nothing stating my father’s contribution to the start of this,” she said. “I had spoken to Debbie and she told me there was going to be a board meeting and she was going to bring it up then. That’s how all this all came about.”

The daughters of Jasper Newcomer, one of the six original members of the library research committee. Pictured: Lee Kucera (left) and Jan Kielhurn (right). Photo by Raymond Janis

Lee Kucera, Kielhurn’s older sister, remembers their father’s time commitment, dedication and collaboration with other committee members during the founding of the library. “They got together and went to wherever they had to go — several different places — to get the okey dokey on it,” Kucera said. 

In 1967, Newcomer sadly died shortly before the library was inaugurated. At the time of his death, Kucera remembers her father’s enthusiasm for the project. 

“He was very excited about it,” she said. “He was very, very interested in education and reading, and he really felt that was something everybody should have a chance to have.”

Knowing their father’s dreams for the institution and the personal sacrifice he and the committee had made for the betterment of the community, Newcomer’s daughters both agreed that he would be elated if he were around to see the library today. 

“He probably would have been very pleased, probably looking for other ways to help it,” Kucera said. “He probably would have been instrumental in making sure that it had computers.” She added, “This would have been one of his babies.”

During a formal dedication ceremony, Engelhardt presented a plaque with the names of the original members of the library research committee. The plaque will forever enshrine these names in the library’s history, honoring the visionary citizens whose aspirations became reality, and whose imprint is left upon the community into the present day. 

Brookhaven officials present two proclamations to the Comsewogue Public Library. Pictured (left to right): Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Jan Kielhurn, CPL Director Debbie Engelhardt, Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) and Town Historian Barbara Russell. Photo by Raymond Janis

Brookhaven officials were also present at the ceremony. Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said events such as these help to remind people of the reasons for serving the community and the important function the public library plays as a repository of information for its members.

“All good ideas usually start with one or two people talking about something and then it grows,” he said. “Today, the town has issued two proclamations, one acknowledging the tremendous influence of this library on this community, the second on that research committee that started this with an idea.”

‘Libraries make us better citizens. Libraries build better communities. We’re here to celebrate libraries.’ — Ed Romaine

Since his time long ago serving on the Long Island Library Resources Council, Romaine said he has cultivated a deep understanding and appreciation for the valuable work that libraries perform every day in making communities wiser and better.

“They are repositories of a lot of information — not only the books, but all types of multimedia,” the town supervisor said, adding, “It’s where we come to learn about things, it’s where we come to educate ourselves about the world around us. Libraries make us better citizens. Libraries build better communities. We’re here to celebrate libraries.”

Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) was also in attendance. He highlighted the strong foundation laid down by the library research committee, a foundation which still supports the library into the present day. 

“It was an act of tremendous vision to see a need and to start planning,” he said. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to this research committee.”

Since the founding of the library, the world has undergone remarkable transformations. These profound changes reshaped the ways in which humans relate to their technologies and to knowledge itself. Kornreich extolled the library’s leadership throughout its 55-year history for its willingness to adapt to changing times in service to the community. 

“Fifty-five years ago when this was built, we wouldn’t have had computers or printers, there was no internet and there was no digital media,” the councilmember said. “They never could have imagined the changes that took place.” He added, “Under the continued wise leadership of our board and our library director, this institution continues to evolve and serve the community.”

‘Modern ideas and a progressive way of thinking I think have always been a part of the vision from back in the 1960s and it remains so today.’

— Debbie Engelhardt

Over a half century after the committee first laid down its foundation, the Comsewogue Public Library continues to exist in a symbiotic arrangement with the community. While men and women like Newcomer foresaw how a public library could foster creative thinking and community enrichment, the library and community members keep that visionary spirit alive today. 

“It’s clear to me that from the research committee to the original library board to the original administration, there was a broad vision for an institution of excellence for this community,” Engelhardt said. “Modern ideas and a progressive way of thinking I think have always been a part of the vision from back in the 1960s and it remains so today.”

The names of the original members of the library research committee: Carol Benkov, Anne Herman, Florence Hughes, Laurence Lamm, Jasper Newcomer, June Tilley, and Gus Basile, advisor.

Photo from MCPL

Amongst the Middle Country Public Library’s many historical artifacts are a few that explain just how far the area has come from its pastoral roots. The picture and story below come courtesy of a collaborative effort among the library staff.

In the 10 years between 1940 and 1950, the population of Selden doubled from 847 to 1743. By 1960, it would more than double again. 

Photo from MCPL

The growth of neighboring Centereach was even more dramatic; from 628 in 1940 to 3100 in 1960 and 6,676 in 1970. For many civic-minded citizens, it was time for a community library. In March of 1957, The Mid Island News announced the forthcoming opening of the “long-awaited library serving the Centereach and Selden communities.” A library board of trustees was formed and board president, Lucille Hough, began a door-to-door canvass to solicit books for the new facility.

The former Nature’s Gardens clubhouse on Middle Country Road in Selden was acquired from area developer, O.L. Schwenke. A local carpenter began renovations and volunteers were requested to help catalog the books. The library was to be open 15 hours per week and managed by part-time librarian, Sadie Hallock, assisted by volunteers. By 1961, the topic of the need for a new branch library appeared in the board minutes. Suggested sites were Jericho School or the former Centereach school — neither proved possible. In 1963, when a new Centereach Post Office was built, the site of the former post office became available for rent. In June of 1963, a lease was signed for 8 Dawn Drive which would be available by year’s end. A “Stack the Shelves” drive suggested by Mr. Jones of Tinker National Bank announced that the bank would contribute $500 plus $2.00 for every new depositor over a stated period. In addition, Bernard Kaplan, Eastwood Village developer, pledged $500 to start the campaign.

Circulation figures for the library increased every year. In 1964, the first year both libraries were in operation, the circulation was 54,570. By 1967, it had risen to 176,145. In 1968, the name changed to Middle Country Public Library reflected the consolidation of the school district. That same year, the board hired Paul John Cirino as the library director.

Photo from MCPL

As the number of school age children surged and the school district became the fastest growing in the nation, the library kept pace to meet the needs of the increasing population. A search was begun for a suitable site of approximately three-acres with a minimum frontage of 150-feet and close to the center of population and not more than a quarter mile from Middle Country Road. In 1971, ground was broken for a new building on the corner of Eastwood Blvd and School Street and the new 19,000-square-foot building was dedicated on Jan. 30, 1972.

By 1981, the number of library cardholders had exceeded 51,000 and the annual circulation topped 500,000. Program attendance continued to rise and space for additional programming was at a premium. When the lease on the Selden Branch expired, the School District offered the unused Selden Elementary School to the library. In 1983, after remodeling the school to provide handicapped access and library furniture and shelving, the Middle Country Cultural Center at Selden was opened to the public.

An auditorium, complete with a stage and seating for almost 200, afforded a venue for community dramatic and musical a. MCPL’s 107,000-square-foot, two-building expansion made it the largest and busiest library on Long Island. 

Photo from MCPL

Dynamic architectural spaces reflect the ever-changing innovative and creative activities taking place within the library, which is always looking forward to draw in new audiences and find ways to make the library an even more responsive heart of the community.

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Photo from library

Amongst the Middle Country Public Library’s many historical artifacts are a few that explain just how far the area has come from its pastoral routes.

The pictures and story below comes courtesy of a collaborative effort among the librarian staff.

Maybelle Still (Walcott) sits at the wheel of this automobile along with three of her colleagues who are out promoting the Work Projects Administration in Selden. 

The WPA was an ambitious employment and infrastructure program created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 during the Great Depression with the goal to put Americans back to work. 

In Brookhaven Town, sidewalk projects were approved at the cost of $63,531 for Lake Ronkonkoma, Mastic Beach and Selden. 

The Federal government contributed $38,512 to those projects. 

The Selden project plans were drafted by Norton Brothers of Patchogue and called for the construction of sidewalks along a strip of land on the south side of Middle Country Road from Evergreen Avenue to Dare Road. 

The materials for these projects were purchased through the Brookhaven Town projects office by purchasing agent and Centereach resident, Arthur W. Murray.

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Port Jefferson Free Library tears down a derelict building at 114 Thompson Street. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Port Jefferson Free Library board and directors have had the difficult task of upgrading facilities while keeping budget neutral. The new plan includes tearing down a condemned structure and seeking means to renovate the Bayles house.

In a release, president of the library board John Grossman said a multi-year planning process called for a building additional with additional parking spaces, though due to the settlement between LIPA and the Village/Town of Brookhaven back in December of the 2018, “the Board determined it would be neither feasible nor fair to the community to pursue that level of funding.”

“We know this is the responsible direction to take so that we can step up to their service needs without incurring significant additional expense,” Grossman added.

Instead, the board voted to demolish the structure at 114 Thompson Street, which the library purchased in 2009. Demolition began Feb. 3.

Thomas Donlon, the library’s executive director, said he wasn’t there when the property was originally purchased, but suspected the library originally had nebulous plans to retrofit the building that never materialized.

The library director said the Thompson property will be regraded and buffered once demolition of the building is fully complete. Costs for that project come in at approximately $60,000.

The LIPA decision has also put a hold on the library’s original designs for a master plan, which Donlon said has been put to the side while the LIPA settlement plays out.

Currently the library rents the building across the street for teenagers and for other meetings.

Donlon said they will now be seeking a permit for renovations to the Bayles house at the corner of East Main Street and Vineyard Place for a designated teen area and additional meeting space. Costs for that project are still largely up in the air while they await that permit and for an architect to draw up designs.

“By moving those activities within the footprint of existing structures, we avoid the growing costs for renting and managing an off-site space,” Donlon said.

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Port Jefferson Free Library's children's section is bursting with books. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Coming Tuesday, April 2, the libraries in Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station will ask their local residents to vote on their budgets, each with marginal increases from last year.

The Comsewogue library. File photo

Comsewogue Public Library

The proposed 2019-20 budget total will be $5,999,878, an increase of close to $280,000 from the previous year. This year the library is proposing a districtwide total tax levy increase of $112,417. With the adoption of the proposed budget the library’s tax rate will increase approximately 56 cents from $12.845 to $13.402 per $100 of a home’s assessed valuation.

The new tax rate will repreent a 3.99 percent tax levy increase, which is below the library’s allowable tax levy increase of 4.64 percent. 

The library has continued to see significant demand for print collections, according to its director Debbie Engelhardt. It also has grown its online, electronic e-book, audiobook and streaming video collections. 

Engelhardt said the library will continue to integrate web and phone platform collections like Hoopla, which offers music, audiobooks, e-books and TV shows; Libby, offering e-books and audiobooks; and Flipster, which provides digital magazines. She said these will offer members convenient access to content from their phones and tablets. The library plans, in the near future, to add Kanopy, a video streaming platform consisting of classics, documentaries and indie films to its online collections.

Services like one-on-one, free tech sessions remain in demand, as well as instruction in using new tech devices and accessing online collections.

The Library’s Green Team, which was formed in late 2018, is looking to achieve a Green Library Certification through the New York Library Association, which presents the certification program in cooperation with the Green Business Partnership of Westchester. 

For the trustee election vote, there is only one candidate on the ballot. John Rossini has been a trustee for the past two years, having been appointed to fill a vacancy. Rossini has been a resident of the Comsewogue School District for the past 19 years and said in a statement that serving as a trustee has been an extraordinary experience. 

Budget/trustee election vote will be April 2 from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Comsewogue Public Library, 170 Terryville Road. 

If you are unable to vote in person, you can apply for an absentee ballot by calling 631-928-1212, ext. 123 or by visiting the library’s website. 

The Port Jefferson Free Library is at the corner of Thompson and East Main streets. File photo

Port Jefferson Free Library

For the 2019-20 year the library has a proposed $4,481,063 budget total, an increase of $62,000 from the previous year. Salaries will increase slightly by $20,000.

For building operations and maintenance, the library is proposing a budget of $276,000. That will cover the cost of equipment to maintain the library buildings. 

An important issue in the community is the status of the library cottage. The library board said it is working with the mayor, the historical society, the Friends of the Library and the village in the process of solidifying a design and weighing cost-benefit analysis.

To make library resources readily available to residents, they have designed a more streamlined website. The library’s “digital portal” has almost 1 million items cataloged, databases of information, discounted travel opportunities, free museum passes as well as access to web streaming services including Flipster, Kanopy and Hoopla. 

This year the library has a 2 percent tax cap, and the proposed tax amounts will come out to an estimated total monthly increase of less than $2.50 per month for the average household. The tax rate will increase 66 cents from $12.91 to $13.57. 

Voting for the proposed budget will be on April 2 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. library is located at 100 Thompson St. If you are unable to come in, absentee ballots are available through April 1 by calling 631-473-0022.  

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.