Past NYLA Presidents Reflect on Their Presidencies
As part of NYLA 125th Anniversary we reached out to past presidents and asked for a memory from their presidency and a wish for the future. We will be sharing them between this and the October e-Bulletin, so please enjoy and stay tuned for more!
Stan Ransom - 1972
My NYLA presidency of 1972-1973 was a time of great turmoil in the nation and state and in NYLA itself. We had little money but great ideas. Number one was the Patriot Act, which threatened to invade the privacy of patrons by requiring librarians to release information on the reading habits of patrons. With Steve Oppenheim, our stalwart attorney, I journeyed from Atlantic City, where we were having the Middle Atlantic States Library Conference (instead of our usual NYS Conference) to go to New York City to testify before the NYS Legislative Committee to the deleterious effects this would have on our basic freedoms and to our fierce determination to prevent any information about reading choices of our patrons to become public knowledge. We developed plans for libraries to erase this information from their usual records as soon as books were returned. We finally also approved a plan that would protect patron information, but which would require a subpoena from a judge for us to release any information we had on a patron’s reading choices. This is now the law.
When I was installed as President in the Fall of 1972, NYLA met in Rochester. Our program speaker was Isaac Asimov, with whom I took great pleasure in speaking, since I was a science fiction fan of his. I quizzed him on his (and Ray Bradbury’s) avoidance of flying. He said he could take the train and write a saleable short story on the way, which he did while traveling to our conference.
I was constantly in Albany, visiting legislators and promoting our legislative agenda. I became the Vice-Chair of the Legislative Committee after my presidency was finished. I was invited to be the Chair, but my directorship of Huntington Public Library kept me too busy. I enjoyed speaking at NYLA meetings and explaining our position on legislative matters and explaining how our librarians could improve their legislative activities.
Our Council and I were meeting in New York City at the time, with Margaret Martignoni as our Executive Director. We met in the Blue Cross building above a delicatessen. We would order sandwiches for lunch, enough to cover our 20 attendees. We always found that we were two short! Come to find out, the delicatessen persons who delivered them were helping themselves to two sandwiches! We put a stop to that.
My theme for my year was “Progress and Poverty”, or “Progress and Paucity,” I can’t remember which. We were short of money all the time. Come to find out (again) our accountant was embezzling money to help him build his new house! Again, we put a stop to this, and I think he went to jail.
Guenther Jansen, Director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, was the vice-president of NYLA. He was President the next year, when he discovered that Margaret Martignoni had died of a heart attack in her Manhattan apartment. We held a special service for her. We also set up a committee to interview candidates for our Executive Director. As a member of that committee, I was pleased to support Dadie Perlov for the position. She did an outstanding job for many years for us.
Lucille Thomas – 1978
One of the highlights of my NYLA Presidency was the presentation of an Honorary Life Membership Card and Council Award to Governor Hugh Carey during the Governor's Conference on Libraries on June 7, 1978.
My anniversary wish for NYLA: I urge NYLA to continue its activist role for all types of libraries. Our librarians possess power and influence of unique scope and potential.
Janet Steiner – 1989
While I had a strategic plan for NYLA in mind when I became President, it was quickly abandoned when our long term Executive Director Nancy Lian called me at home to tell me she was resigning. Not only were we facing the recruitment process of a new director, Council finally made the decision to move from New York City to Albany. We hired an interim director in Albany, began looking for space in Albany and appointed Susan Keitel to be the next Executive Director. We were also making plans for our Centennial Year. I was fortunate to have a terrific group of NYLA leaders to help guide the process and will be forever thankful for their trust and support as we made two significant changes in less than nine months.
Best wishes to all of you who remain dedicated to an outstanding organization.
Carolyn Giambra - 2002
During Sheryl Eggers’ term as President(1999), I was Conference Chair. It was a joint conference with the Ontario Library Association, which had already created many challenges for NYLA. Then First Lady Hillary Clinton requested to be a keynote speaker at our conference, to announce that copies of the health care proposal that she had been working on would be placed in every public library in the USA. She chose NYLA because of the Canadian connection, with their single payer plan, and also because the Niagara Falls location was in the district of her good friend and strong supporter, Congressman John LaFalce (D). So we arrived at the conference site along with the White House advance team and many Secret Service agents, who vetted our list of NYLA members who would be onstage or in close proximity to the First Lady. We provided her staff with our list of talking points, which were incorporated into the speech that she delivered. What impressed me at the time is that she had it all memorized, including our talking points, and never turned a page of her notebook during the delivery. Her appearance at our event resulted in an additional $10,000 in conference revenue, so all’s well that ends well! The Clinton health care initiative didn’t fare as well.
The purchase of the NYLA Albany headquarters at 252 Hudson was a memorable event that spanned my terms as NYLA Treasurer, President Elect and President (2002). It was a decision forced on us by our land lord, an urban renewal agency that had decided to sell the building. Past President Andrew Geddes led a small committee to research whether we should rent a different location, buy a different location, or buy 252 Hudson Avenue. His recommendation was to buy the building, which set into motion a multi-year effort to raise the funds. Ultimately, a small committee raised $250,000, which afforded us the ability to purchase the building and also make some renovations to the space. We had purchased a home in the heart of Albany.
Rocco Staino – 2005
During my presidency I worked with Mike Borges, the then Executive Director of the organization and the theme of my presidential year was “Libraries, the Cornerstone of the Empire State”. There were several memorable moments during my term but one that I remember fondly was the issuance of the “I Love My Library” license plate. I still enjoy going into the parking lot at NYLA Conferences to take note of the number of cars with that plate.
It is an honor to have been part of the many great New York librarians who have served as this organization.