Gloversville Public Library Director Barbara Madonna spent a good part of her Wednesday answering phone calls after The New York Times ran a story about Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo’s support of the library’s fundraising campaign.
‘It’s wonderful,” she said.
By noon, she said, she had received about 10 calls from people asking about the campaign, including one foundation potentially interested in contributing, as well as a handful of new donations to the online fundraiser.
The library kicked off its capital campaign in October, aiming to raise $4.3 million for the first-ever comprehensive renovation of the 111-year-old building, one of more than 2,000 libraries built through the philanthropy of steel baron Andrew Carnegie.
“Basically, we have a 111-year-old Carnegie building that has never had a major renovation,” said Madonna. “The boiler itself and all the infrastructure associated with it is also 111 years old. We were praying every day this winter that it was going to start.”
The capital campaign aims to replace that boiler with a forced-air system that would also support air conditioning — Madonna said temperatures hit the high 90s in the summer — as well as upgrading the plumbing, electrical and lighting systems, installing an elevator for access to all three floors (only one floor is currently used) and making the building handicapped accessible.
The campaign was kicked off with a speech by Russo, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Empire Falls” and other novels that often draw on his hometown for inspiration. Russo was named honorary chairman of the fundraising committee.
“In America, we love stories of self-made men,” he said at the time, “but I am a product of public education and government-backed student loans and publicly funded institutions like the Gloversville library.”
Even though Russo’s role has been largely symbolic — he lives in Maine and has been busy writing his next novel — Madonna said his involvement has been “fantastic.”
“I think he’s really raised the profile of our project and of the library and the importance of libraries to a community,” she said.
So far, Madonna said, the campaign has raised about $2.4 million.
When the renovations are complete, she said, at least another year and a half from now, she hopes to be able to expand the library’s role in the community with three times the amount of space now available, including five public meeting rooms.
This is the library’s fourth attempt at a capital campaign for major renovations, with the first three deemed unsuccessful. There was one in the 1970s “that just didn’t go anywhere,” said Madonna, another in 1995 and another in 2003.
“The economics of the community just couldn’t support it,” she said.
Since that last attempt, the library has undergone some important structural changes. It used to be owned by the city, but became independent in 2011. It also shifted its funding stream from the city budget to a direct tax approved by voters each year along with the Gloversville Enlarged School District budget. Those changes put the library on firm financial footing to pursue a capital campaign on its own, said Madonna.
For that campaign, though, they knew they would have to reach beyond the immediate Gloversville community. “We recognized that there probably isn’t enough money in Gloversville to get this project done,” said Bob Galinsky, who serves on the alumni committee for the campaign. “And the logical people to reach out to are people who grew up in Gloversville, who have fond memories of going to that library.”
Galinsky graduated from Gloversville High School in 1964. He said he remembers his mother taking him to the library as a child for “Saturday morning story time,” and he remembers the name of the children’s librarian. When he heard Russo speak in February, he said, he decided to get on board with the campaign.
“Some of the things that he said really resonated with me,” said Galinsky. “He talked about how he probably wouldn’t be a writer today if it wasn’t for the Gloversville library. And I’m not a writer, but I am a reader, and I probably wouldn’t be the reader I am today if it hadn’t been for my experiences as a child with the library.”