Libraries, big or small, serve multiple needs, act as meeting places

Working at the Town of Ballston Community Library involves a lot more than just deciphering the Dewe
Lead instructor Jodie Fitz shows off a finished "Olaf" marshmallow treat at an activity for kids at the Town of Ballston Library in Burnt Hills. The kids were having a "Frozen" party, based on the animated film.
Lead instructor Jodie Fitz shows off a finished "Olaf" marshmallow treat at an activity for kids at the Town of Ballston Library in Burnt Hills. The kids were having a "Frozen" party, based on the animated film.

Working at the Town of Ballston Community Library involves a lot more than just deciphering the Dewey Decimal System.

“Here we started an initiative to help seniors get comfortable with technology,” said Karen DeAngelo, executive director at the library, located in Burnt Hills. “If they need help with an iPad, a tablet, or if they want to play word games with their friends or learn how to get on Facebook, we’ll help them do that.”

While the three major library groups in this area — the Mohawk Valley, Upper Hudson and Southern Adirondack library systems — are home to some of the biggest and finest libraries in upstate New York, big doesn’t necessarily mean better. According to Sara Dallas, executive director of the Southern Adirondack group, any library, in one very important way, is pretty much like all the others.

“The quality of service you get at the smaller libraries is very similar to what you get at the largest libraries,” said Dallas, whose office is in Saratoga Springs.

“You walk through the door and it’s not just about finding a book. Even at our smaller places, you get access to all the information you need. We serve our communities in a number of ways, and I think the community realizes how important the library is.”

The three regional library systems

Mohawk Valley Library System (22 libraries in Schenectady, Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties)

Largest: Schenectady County Public Library, chartered to serve 154,727

Smallest: Schoharie Village Library, chartered to serve 922

Southern Adirondack Library System (34 libraries in Saratoga, Warren, Hamilton and Washington counties)

Largest: Glens Falls Crandall Library, chartered to serve 57,329

Smallest: Racquette Lake Free Library, chartered to serve 114

Upper Hudson Library System (36 libraries in Albany and Rensselaer counties)

Largest: Albany Public Library, chartered to serve 97839

Smallest: Arvilla E. Diver Memorial Library (Schaghticoke), chartered to serve 592

All libraries serve as meeting places, but in small towns and villages around upstate New York, smaller libraries seem to play an even bigger role in their communities.

“Our goal is to serve the community as best we can and to really be a community center,” said Teresa Pavoldi, a Rotterdam resident who drives 25 miles each day to her job as director of the Middleburgh Library. “I love the drive and I love Middleburgh. I tell people I live in Rotterdam, but I feel right at home in Middleburgh.”

While directors at larger libraries can often remain anonymous in their own community, that’s not so easy in places such as Northville, where Michael Burnett has been around for nearly 25 years.

“We serve the residents of the Northville School District, and in the summer our population increases because we’re right on the Sacandaga Lake,” said Burnett, who grew up in Gloversville.

“I know the people who live here, and I know the people who summer here, and I know the people who used to summer here and then came back to retire.”

Most directors in the 85 libraries that make up the Mohawk Valley, Southern Adirondack and Upper Hudson systems, have master’s degrees in library science. But not all.

“State standards dictate the educational requirements of library directors and that’s based on the ‘population chartered to serve’ numbers” said Eric Trahan, executive director of the Mohawk Valley Library System, located on Route 7 in Rotterdam. “Some of the smaller libraries don’t require a master’s, but most of our directors do have a master’s.”

Tim Burke, executive director of the Upper Hudson Library System, majored in history at Siena College before getting his Master of Library Science degree at the University of Buffalo.

“I worked in the library as a student at Siena and I just fell in love with the place,” said Burke, who was a Scotia-Glenville High School graduate.

“Small libraries, where it might just be one staff person and volunteers, are hugely important to their communities. They became the face of the library, and we tell them to embrace that idea, to be a real part of the community and they do. Those smaller libraries kind of punch above their weight in terms of activities and impact.”

The position of director at the Round Lake-Malta Library is a part-time job, but Jennifer Hurd did get her Master of Library Science degree at the University at Albany.

“I work anywhere between 24 and 28 hours a week, which is fine with me because I have a young family,” she said. “But it can be a challenge for some libraries. Fortunately, they’re small enough so they don’t have to have someone with a master’s.”

The Southern Adirondack Library System includes three very large libraries, the Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, the Saratoga Springs Library and the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library.

The system also has the smallest one in terms of “population chartered to serve:” the Racquette Lake Free Library. The number of people it serves is 114.

“I’m happy to report that even our smallest libraries have directors who we consider to be professional managers,” said Dallas. “They do a great job. They just deal with fewer people than the bigger libraries.”

Local funding

All libraries are funded either through the municipality or school district where they are located.

“You can be funded by using the school district as a boundary, or you can be funded by essentially creating your own taxing area,” said Burke.

“So it’s predominantly all local funding, and if it’s not by school district or maybe two or three municipalities, then like Schenectady, it’s by the county.”

And, along with all the information that comes with libraries, you typically get a smiling face.

“As a rule, librarians are very nice people,” said 94-year-old Elsie Maddaus of Scotia, who got her Master of Library Science degree at UAlbany in 1966 and was director of the Ballston Spa Library. “Sometimes I just go to the library to see what’s going on. There are always lots of things you can get involved in.”

When people ask DeAngelo what the No. 1 priority is at the Town of Ballston Library, she says that John Cotton Dana, a Vermont native who became the first director of the Denver Public Library in 1890, summed it up perfectly.

“The public library is a center of public happiness first, of public education next,” Dana wrote.

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

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