So how’s your local North Country library doing…and do you care?

Wells Memorial Library

The Wells Memorial Library in Upper Jay was heavily damaged by Irene flooding. Fully refurbished with community support, it reopens Saturday with a reception from 1-3 pm. Photo: Jeri Wright

I’m a huge library fan.  They sit on my mental map as one of those too often unacknowledged pillars of everything good about American society.

As I’ve written before, I’ve lived in countries that don’t have the tradition of public or “free” libraries.  Books and ideas were kept at one more big remove from average people.

NCPR’s Sarah Harris has a very nice exploration this morning of how North Country libraries are faring in these complicated times, as budgets shrink and technologies shift.

Even in an age of Kindles and Ipads, libraries feel essential to me.  But maybe I’m old-fashioned?  Maybe my book-wired brain is trapped in the 1970s or the 1870s?

What’s your experience of libraries these days?  Do you use yours?  Do you support it?  Do you see the need for them?  How do you think yours is faring?  (Librarians — chime in:  How do things look from behind the card catalogue?)

Tags: , ,

36 Comments on “So how’s your local North Country library doing…and do you care?”

Leave a Comment
  1. Crandall Library (in Glens Falls) is a fantastic institution, the cultural heart of the city.

    I know a lot of old school folks don’t pooh pooh it but the presence of Internet terminals in public libraries is hugely important. The Internet is like the regular library on steroids, giving you access to all kinds of information available. It’s key for students doing research. It’s even more key for the unemployed trying to find jobs.

  2. Paul says:

    What’s your experience of libraries these days? Do you use yours? Do you support it? Do you see the need for them? How do you think yours is faring?

    Very positive.Yes, very much.Yes.Yes.

    Our small library here in the Finger Lakes is doing very well. We have the same debates and fights over how to pay for it like anywhere but so far so good.

  3. Walker says:

    Libraries are wonderful institutions, and the Saranac Lake Free Library is a wonderful institution in particular, especially to anyone with an interest in Adirondack history, because the Adirondack Research Room is an incredible resource.

  4. ADKrealist says:

    Libraries in the North Country have made a mission of providing internet terminals in their space, and sometimes wifi during open hours. When there were large areas w/o cell service or net access, this was vital.

    Home access to broadband is getting built and a very high portion of homes buy the service including nearly every home with school age children. Cell service is being extended almost everywhere and it will satisfy most visitors.

    So what is the next act for libraries when I can use their systems to find and order almost any book. Maybe I just pick up and return to the library? Seems like the net was their salvation at one time but may weaken them in the future. No?

  5. Jim Bullard says:

    I have to confess that I don’t use the library much in recent years. We are both avid readers and have built a large collection of our own books over the years. At one point, early in our marriage, my in-laws told another relative that the reason we didn’t have much was because we spent too much on books. At this point we have a backlog of reading and our own Internet connection so the library several miles down the road holds little for us that we don’t have at home. OTOH we are great believers in public libraries. It was the libraries that fed our passion for reading and learning before we amassed our own collection and we know that there are many starting out in life now that are in the same situation we were in when we were young. Of all the things our taxes support, libraries are among the best.

  6. Pete Klein says:

    The Indian Lake Public Library is doing great and was just recognized as a Star Library by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) , making it one of only 262 Star libraries granted the award among the 7,513 public libraries rated.
    The Indian Lake Public Library was among the select group with a 4 Star rating. It was among 39 libraries in NYS receiving the award. The nearest library to Indian Lake receiving the award was The Bolton Free Library who earned 3 Stars.
    Way to go the Town of Indian Lake and its Librarian Nancy Berkowitz.

  7. Denise Beaudet says:

    Before everything got computerized, I could just walk in the Town of Johnsburg library and I wouldn’t even have to have my card. Mary Lou knew everyone and would just check people out. I miss her. TofJ is the best.

  8. Ben Hamelin says:

    Excellent, yes, yes – well I think. I frequent both the Lake Placid and Saranac Lake libraries, and can say that they are an integral part of my life. I think they have adapted well and continue to provide a much needed service. There are elements that haven’t been brought up yet. Great public meeting places, access to other publications (NY Times, WSJ, etc.) – movie rentals (my wife and I once borrowed every best picture winner from the 70s on from the Potsdam Public library when we were going to school out there), audio tapes, plus used book donation/purchase. I hope these institutions continue to adapt and serve their communities.

  9. Jane Williams says:

    There isn’t much left in the little town of Hermon but the Hepburn Library and the post office (which may soon disappear). It is a lifeline for the community and most of the town meetings and gatherings are held there. I especially like the computerized catalog which allows me to get books from the North Country Library System since the offerings here are limited. As a fairly new resident my hat is off to all the townspeople who support it in such a difficult economic time.

  10. dave says:

    I love the idea of a community supporting public access to knowledge.

    I am just not sure I see small community libraries as the only pillar of this effort like they once were.

    And certainly not at the density that was once necessary. From my house, I can access (at least) 4 small community libraries with a quick 15 minute drive. That strikes me as a lot. If I extend that out to 30 minutes I bet I’d have access to close to a dozen. Heck, I can’t access 4 places to buy groceries! Each of these libraries are being supported by their respective communities, each always in need of money.

    I have to wonder if that is really the best utilization of funds and effort.

    And I don’t mean that in a “we need to shrink government” sort of way. I mean that in an Opportunity Cost sort of way. What other programs or services could exist in my area if instead of 4 small libraries around me… we supported only 2? Could we extend broadband to that one neighborhood up on the hill that doesn’t yet have it? Could we put computers in the homes who can’t afford them?

  11. stillin says:

    Sadly our little library in the town I don’t want to mention, has become grand central station for noise. People talk in street tones, everybody is heard all over, it’s like walking through a busy living room. I used to like the library when it was quiet. The library here is now like a live community center. I only come down to use the computer, quietly, and go. If this is the wave of the future for libraries I will not be participating. Also, the computer room is usually teens, thugs and the worst language you can imagine, all at full throttler. I’ll pass.

  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Libraries are great places and I love to pop into the local library when I travel because I think it really gives a sense of the community.

    I have to say that the library in Keene Valley is one of my favorites. Not just because it is really cute in a Craftsman sort of way, or because I have ever borrowed a book, but because they loaned me a metal coat hanger to tie my muffler up under my car once. I later brought them a couple of replacements and gave them 20 bucks.

  13. Ronald Schofell says:

    Frankly i don’t use the library in Potsdam because i have no need for it, so when the village residents say we should pay for what we use, i’m all for it . so don’t charge me for the library,

  14. Iris Anable says:

    I grew up in Massena and spent a lot of time in the library. One of the first things I’ve done when moving to a different town is get a library card. I’m now in Potsdam and visit the library at least twice a week. Reading is one of my favorite pastimes and, since I’m retired & living in a relatively smaill apartment, I’m not able to buy books as I once did. If it weren’t for the library I’d be climbing the walls.
    So hurrah for libraries and may they always be with us.
    ( I really don’t like Mr. Schofell’s comments but didn’t have my glasses on & hit the wrong button)

  15. Sis says:

    Our Library (Massena) is used by many organizations for meeting and displays along with books, audio books, DVDs, computers. It has something for everyone. Most of the librarys in the north belong to the North Country Library System. You can borrow or dowload from libraries all through the north from your home computer, Material will be delivered and returned to your local library. A great system. Our library is a very important part of our community.

  16. dave says:

    Nice blog post about the reopening of the library in Jay (one of the several small libraries that happen to be a short ride from me):

    Donations to reopen this library poured in from “around the globe”. And I know that is not hyperbole, I saw the list of early donators.

    So clearly people have an affinity for these institutions. I don’t know how much money was eventually poured into reopening this one small library – but I suspect it was not peanuts. I can’t help but think what else could have been done in that community to better expand public access to information and knowledge… or meet other community needs (given that there are 3 or 4 similar libraries just a town over)

  17. Claire says:

    I have loved the libraries in Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, and now Potsdam. I grew up loving libraries and would go for hours at time in South Carolina. Now as a North Country resident, I appreciate them for their story hours for my two young children, and as a place to take them when it is too cold to do much outside! My son loves being able to check out books, and I love that we can do all of that without paying every time!

  18. Rick Tomlinson says:

    The Potsdam Library has been an amazing source of reading pleasure for me. If they don’t have the book I want they find it and give me a call when it is in. One of the librarians even keeps an eye out for books she thinks I may like – I am a regular !

  19. TomL says:

    I support my local library, and my family is a heavy user of its services, as are most of our Canton friends and neighbors. Whenever there is a public comment thread on libraries, there are lots of comments by people who ‘never use the service’, but if the library data are accurate (and I think they pretty much are), most households in the town of Canton use the library on an annual basis.

    One of the overlooked services of libraries is the computer access for job training and job search. Most jobs post online, and require applications be submitted online (even McDonalds!). Licensing exams are also online.
    This wouldn’t be a problem, if everyone had access to computers with online connections, but the reality in St. Lawrence County is that many, many people don’t. The people who don’t are the working poor and out-of-work, those most in need of access to job information and training. We don’t have commercial ‘internet cafes’ that people can use. The local libraries have taken up the service. Librarians that I know tell me that one of their tasks, now, is to serve as official proctors for people taking online exams!

  20. Kat C. says:

    As a mom the Massena Library is a corner stone to my weekly routine. The Story Time and the play area there is motivation to get out of the house and socialize with other moms and kids especially in the winter. We’re in the military and every time we move the library is the first place I acquaint myself with. They have always been great places to meet people through the various programs and activities they offer.

  21. Michele Whalen says:

    With all but one business in Morristown closed, our public library is the focal point of our community. I hope that the residents continue their support of this vital part of our lives in this small town.

  22. Sandee Sanford says:

    The Potsdam Public Library is an amazing place and a true community resource. In addition to traditional library fare, we have access to computers, classes,programs for children and youths. The on-line resources include resources for professional testing prep.

  23. As the Director of Central Square Library (and an avid reader!), I am thankful everyday for the resources available to our patrons. All of the libraries in the North Country Library System are succeeding in these financially burdened times in providing free books, movies, children’s and adult programs, as well as services for the unemployed and families struggling to give their children enriching activities on limited budgets.

  24. WayneMiller says:

    Thank you, Brian Mann and NCPR for starting this conversation. I find all the comments, both pro and con, of interest. If I took Brian’s invitation to librarians literally, I would have to go in the attic to get ‘behind the card catalog.’ From here what we see is increasing financial pressures from all directions. Those libraries that are faring the best have gone directly to the voters for their budgets. In most communities most of the time, the voters support their library.
    The other big challenge, as it’s always been, is to intelligently embrace new technologies while continuing to support existing ones. We will continue to buy books and magazines while also adding eBooks, as the 65 members of the North Country Library System did last year. With limited funds, we try our best to use our resources to fairly meet all kinds of demands from our customers, while avoiding the Beta-max’s and digital video disks of the moment.
    I’d like to read more comments about what else you want us to provide, in addition to books, public access computers, quiet reading space, children’s programs, support job seeking, instilling a love of learning, and (I’ll add one) tax forms?

  25. John Acton says:

    As President of the Massena Public Library Board of Trustees, I want to thank Brian for raising the visibility level of libraries and our current issues. As others have stated eloquently, public libraries are the best value for our tax dollar and the center of learning activities for many North Country communities.
    In Massena, we have just started a new Employment and Learning Center in conjunction with St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES. A portion of our lower level is now dedicated for use as a modern classroom which BOCES is using to provide career, employment and general education opportunities to our local residents. We hope that activities like this will justify the continued support we receive from the Board, patrons and taxpayers of the Town of Massena.

  26. Bridget Whalen-Nevin says:

    Hello. My name is Bridget and I am the director of the Morristown Public Library. It is my fourth year with this job, and I still look forward to each and every day.

    Morristown is a small but progressive township; our library has been chartered and in the same historically registered building since 1894. Our TOTAL (and I do mean everything) annual budget is $38,000. We do a great deal with that money in our one-room library, such as:

    * a collection of books, audio books, e-books and DVDs totalling almost 9,000
    *15 new books and 4 new DVDs added each month
    *24/7 wifi
    * 65 annual adult programs
    *40 annual youth programs
    *a six-week summer reading program
    *a knitting club
    *live performances
    *We copy. We fax. We tutor. We proctor. We teach. We encourage.

    During 2011:

    *our six public access computers were used 2,464 times.
    *There were 4,815 library visits.
    *Program attendance was 1,822.
    Each of these interesting statistics represents a 15 – 39% increase over the 2010 numbers. Our patrons have increased in the last year from 506 to 667.

    Any of these statistics alone would demonstrate that library usage is up. Together they shout that libraries are ESSENTIAL!

    The reason I still LOVE my job is because libraries represent knowledge. There are intriguing questions all day long and not a single one goes unanswered. And even though technology has changed our culture’s approach to the pursuit of knowledge libraries have done an outstanding job keeping up. Check it out!

    Continue to support your local library even if you don’t use it. It’s a big deal and makes a huge difference to many.

  27. Anne Garbarino says:

    We have a terrific librarian in Old Forge, Izzy Worthen. She is a gem. She not only does the regular library stuff but she arranges (writes grants) for exhibits, events, books groups. Yeah, Izzy. I hope you see this. Our library is one of the most vibrant places in Old Forge.

  28. Desirus Burrows says:

    I really enjoy My library . I go everyday. I login and plug my headphones and listen to my music and let my fingers do the walking (all over cyberspace). The librarian is nice. I take out books for forever. Depauville is a great place. So are the people who come here. I LOVE IT HERE!

  29. Elaine says:

    There is more than just books and information at any library. It is part of the community, shows, town meetings, lectures, informational meetings, local group meetings, computer access and WiFi (which I cannot afford at home), interaction with others, sharing of not just time but conversations, memories, an open safe place to be or allow your child to go to without fears, training classes of all kinds and types, different genres opening before your eyes and had no idea of their existence, like the local post office, it is a hub of activities and events and should not be considered as consolidation. People can walk to most, or be given a short ride, taking classes on line to improve and advance, printing out informational reports, class papers, assignments from school age kids with no access to this system, they are a NECESSITY that must be preserved instead of being viewed as archaic, benign and addressed as a commodity to be consolidated or closed due to budget concerns. We, as Americans have lost the sense of unity, responsibility to and for others, respect for all with an engrained moral sense which seems to have grown so faint it is almost impossible to see, and an understanding of accountability for our action or inaction. “It’s not my problem, wake up, it’s everybody’s problem.” A economic indicator cannot be produced to weigh the variables for ignorance and bias that is a tremendous cost factor for each and every tax payer. Educational cuts and class size increases force many children to the local librarian for assistance and guidance for their advancement. Why, because you know them, trust them, and have confidence you will not be looked down upon for needing assistance.

  30. Pam Yurgartis says:

    Many posts have talked about what our libraries do for our communities. I wholeheartedly agree that they are often the best places in town. We can also help our libraries to help others. I broke my “Amazon habit” several years ago. When there is a new book I would like to read I adopt it for the library. New fiction books usually cost about $15 for the library to get. I can read it first, save on the cost, and then many others can read it too.

  31. David Murray says:

    I’m a trustee for the Morristown Public Library. Go back up and read what the Director, Bridget Whalen wrote. What she said would be echoed by all our patrons should you ask them. Our community wholeheartedly embraces, uses and participates in the cultural and educational whirlwind that is our library! Libraries have always reflected the needs of their patrons and the society around them. Our library changes constantly and it’s thanks to our generous patrons and hardworking staff that we can keep up with the demands of technology, government and our library users. Way to go, Morristown Public Library!

  32. WrenHawk says:

    Wells Memorial Library is not just a wonderful library – good little collection but with access to interlibrary loans for technical or academic needs – with an awesome set of volunteers and a superlative librarian, it is an essential piece of our community in Upper Jay. There have to be at least 3 maybe more book groups among our community…feeding and benefitting from Keene, Keene Valley (another awesome place) and other local libraries. To your questions: use it, contribute to it, essential to our community, and while struggling a bit like every non-profit in the region, holding up pretty well I think.

  33. Melissa says:

    I use our public library everyday it is open. Lucky for me I am next door to it. But that is not the only reason the librarians at Lyme Free Library get to know the patron. To the point that if a book comes in in the genre you like they make sure you know it is there. We also use the library to borrow DVDs and such. I asked if there was ever a class on Geneology and the librarian helped me get many useful books and then added a class. There are so many classes offered and the staff participates in alot of the community activities. During the school Halloween parade the kids stop their to get candy and visit with the librarians. I do not know what we would do with out the Lyme Library.

  34. I use the Potsdam, Canton, and Gouverneur Libraries on a weekly basis, and in that order of frequency. There are limitations to my computer, so I do certain things on the library computers. I need to gain computer skills, so I take classes there. I regularly rent DVD’s there in Winter when the nights are long. Occasionally, I even get a chance to read a book!

    Most importantly. my new-ish non-profit organization doesn’t have an office, so we meet regularly at one of these. I can’t tell you how much this means to us, and hopefully to the community through the work we accomplish there.

    In all three libraries the sense of community is wonderful — I always see someone I know. Sometimes I wonder about those poor folks who miss out on what a vibrant place it can be — if you don’t go you’d never guess how much was going on!

    One downer note — like someone mentioned above, I don’t care for the loud conversations that are now allowed to go on — I don’t know why or when that changed exactly, but I don’t really appreciate that element so much. There CAN be one place in the world where we have to be quiet and respectful of others, no? Well, apparently not. But I still love my local libraries!

  35. Mickie of Madrid says:

    My husband & I were recently invited to join the Madrid Hepburn Library Board, which we adamantly accepted. We had no idea there was such a need for more board members in our local community, and perhaps even in other towns (hint, hint). My family has lived in Madrid for 14 years and have always enjoyed our little library, from Story Hour when our children were small, to Girl Scout meetings, Movie night and dance lessons in the basement. We have come to have an even closer connection with it through such fun programs as Battle of the Books for elementary school students, Summer Reading Program and the new Teen Reads Tournament for older kids. Living within walking distance of our local library has been one of the most positive influences our children could have while they are growing up. We love the atmosphere of our small town library as well as the way inter-library loans and Wi-Fi have turned it into a world of information instead of just a room full of books. Having the opportunity to give back by becoming board members has made my husband and I feel even more like we are a part of something very important. Does your library need more board members? Find out, you won’t regret it!

  36. stillin says:

    Like I posted earlier, no, my library is pretty bad. When I send a fax, which is about legal and personal business, no, I don’t expect the subject matter to be blabbed about out loud at the front desk. “Wow, what is THIS about?” “What’s going on here?”…and on the same note, when I am sending my husband’s paycheck amount to a child support collections unit, I don’t want that blabbed about either, out loud. “Wow, does he ever make A LOT of money.” I do not like my library, sorry. I am done using their fax services, their xerox machine and everything else. Come on people, it’s a small town but MY business is not yours.

Leave a Reply