NYLA Library Tour 2015
Commitments for NYLA often take me to far flung corners of New York State, and many times I have observed beautiful libraries along the way and lamented that my schedule prevented me from stopping to visit and explore. As some of you know, I am the overly proud owner of a 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia Camper Van. In order to make the most of my tween son’s waning agreeability, and the take the time to explore all those enticing libraries I have driven past, we planned a ten day barnstorming tour of the great state of New York, with him riding shotgun.
A call for invitations was put out to the library community and in under two weeks we were overwhelmed with nearly one hundred requests to stop by. In a thinly veiled lesson in cartography, Jack constructed a route that would string together as many of the invitations as we thought we could handle.
On Monday, July 20, with the van loaded for adventure, we began our trek at our hometown library, the Bethlehem Public Library. The library’s director Geoff Kirkpatrick also happens to be this year’s NYLA Council President. After some photos and a quick interview with the local paper, we were on our way. During our first day we visited seven libraries and reached the southern edge of the Adirondack Park.
Mechanical troubles (a faulty battery and the need for a starter relay) forced us to backtrack toward home and seek repairs, which bled into the morning of day three. With much thanks to Marc’s VW, we were back on track and managed to visit five libraries and travel all the way to Cranberry Lake by the end of the day. We crossed out of the Adirondacks, reached the Canadian border, and traveled the banks of the St. Lawrence River, all while visiting another eight libraries on day four. We also got some hometown press - check out the Times Union story about our trip!
The morning of day five found us at the Flower Memorial Library in Watertown and ended with us traveling South, circumventing Syracuse and reaching the Finger Lakes. It proved to be our busiest day yet with nine libraries visited. We continued through the Finger Lakes and skirted Rochester on day six – it was Saturday, and many of the libraries within Rochester that we had hoped to visit were closed.
Knowing that many libraries are closed on Sundays during the summer, we took advantage of a ‘down day’ to play tourist at Niagara Falls, take care of our laundry, and get a much need rest in a real hotel room. We spent the better part of day eight in the city of Buffalo, touring the Convention Center (as a potential future NYLA Conference site) and the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Central Downtown Branch. It was 2PM before we left the city and we still managed to visit another three sites. The night of day eight was spent camping out in the parking lot of the Collins Public Library, and thankfully not all of their parking lot lights came on that night.
With our western most points now behind us, we zig-zagged eastward across the Southern Tier. It was after 6PM when we arrived at the Tompkins County Public Library in Ithaca – our last stop for day nine.
Day ten took us to the Moore Memorial Library in Greene, NY, a library I had passed many times and had always wanted to see. The inside did not disappoint, boasting a marriage between a historic building and a new addition, as well as a local history museum on the second floor. Our trek back East led us through the heart of the Catskill State Park, and meandered all the way to the town of Florida in Orange County. The Florida Public Library was the second library parking lot that we called home for a night.
All told we visited 65 libraries and traveled over 1600 miles; we ate only five meals ‘out’, spent one night in a hotel, and our top recorded speed was 58 miles per hour. Our pace averaged six library visits per day, with a high of nine and a low of two. There were libraries with several dozen employees and many with fewer than five. As Jack said before we had even set off ‘each library has its own special magic’, and we found that to be absolutely true.
A standardized questionnaire used at each site ensured that we had some consistent data points. One question asked ‘what is the most unique item in your collection?’ Most answers referred to the local history collection, but some stand outs included a circulating CPR dummy (Cohocton Public Library), a circulating spinning wheel (Canton Free Library – and it was currently out), a cake pan collection (Fairview Public Library, Margaretville), a seed library (Ogdensburg Public Library), and a library supported and run community farm (Northern Onondaga Public Library, Cicero).
On the whole, we found that, regardless of the size of the collection or condition of the building, the passion and the commitment of the staff are what make each library a special place. In every library there are staff dedicated to connecting their patrons with the materials and services they are seeking, whether for education, entertainment, or enrichment. It’s the people that make the libraries magical places.
I feel truly blessed to have had the time and freedom to undertake this adventure, to spend these eleven days with my son, and to engage with so many members of New York’s library community. Thank you to the NYLA Council for supporting the Tour, to everyone who welcomed us into their libraries and made time to show us around, to everyone who invited us to visit (even if we weren’t able to get there), and to everyone who followed along on social media. I would say it was a trip of a lifetime, but we hope to do it again!
Day One – July 20
1. Bethlehem Public Library, Bethlehem, NY
Day Two – July 21
Day Three – July 22
10. Round Lake Library, Round Lake, NY
Day Four – July 23
15. St. Lawrence-Lewis School Library System, Canton, NY
Day Five – July 24
23. Flower Memorial Library, Watertown, NY
Day Six – July 25
32. Geneva Public Library, Geneva, NY
Day Seven – July 26
37. The Wilson Free Library, Wilson, NY
Day Eight – July 27
40. Buffalo & Erie County Library – Downtown Library, Buffalo, NY
Day Nine – July 28
44. Hulbert Library, Springville, NY
Day Ten – July 29
52. Mary Wilcox Memorial Library, Whitney Point, NY
Day Eleven – July 30
59. Finkelstein Memorial Library, Spring Valley, NY