The key to understanding people and the world around us begins with education. One way to learn about the world is by developing a love of books. Each month, we profile a library. Large, small, urban, rural, post-modern, quaint or neo-classic; do you have a library that you love? Tell us about it. This month William Lulow writes about The Chappaqua Library, located in Chappaqua, New York.
In a country hamlet, about forty minutes north of New York City, lies the Chappaqua Library, an interesting looking building with a modernistic architectural entrance, now festooned with construction materials and a chain-link fence in the front. What is under construction is a brand new children’s wing.
I walked up to the entrance, one that I have used many times as a resident of the town, went through the automatic doors, approached the main desk and was immediately greeted by one of the staff. She returned in a second and said, “Follow me.” I was ushered into a small, private office where I was greeted with “Hello, Bill,” and the smiling face of Pamela Thornton, the library’s director for the past thirteen years.
Ms. Thornton has been a librarian all her life. As a matter of fact, when she was eight-years-old, she saw a librarian at work at the John F. Kennedy School, an elementary school in North Bergen, New Jersey, and somehow knew then, that she wanted to do what that woman was doing. Few of us actually know what we want to do at such an early age, but for Pamela Thornton, her destiny was set. She has held quite a few library posts since graduating from Montclair State College and going on to get her Master’s degree in library science from Indiana University.
I asked her what excited her the most these days about her job. She replied that it was change! She has been particularly energized by the rate at which technology has come to play a large part in most library functions. Patrons want eBooks; they need help with technology for their own research. They rely on the library’s ability to borrow books from anywhere in the world. And some use the library for its powerful Wi-Fi connection, which is free. Ms. Thornton says that the library “facilitates knowledge,” from programs for kids to new moms looking for guidance in child-rearing techniques.
As I looked around the library, with all the construction for the new children’s wing and other “conference rooms” dedicated to the needs of teens as well as others, I was struck by the fact that there isn’t the same kind of physical space for “stacks” of books that we normally associate with libraries. Ms. Thornton agreed. She said that libraries these days are geared to providing “meeting places” and they try to cater more to people’s need for the feeling of community. “Reading print books is not as important as it used to be,” she said. The computer has made research universal. But she did say that when it came to internet research, the library strives to vet most of the sites its patrons use. “There is a lot of unreliable information on the internet,” she said.
Ms. Thornton noted that printing books has become expensive these days. So, due to various restrictions from publishers, even libraries’ access to new books has become problematic. Sometimes it takes a library twelve weeks or more to get a new book from a publishing house. But the library, going forward, will be more than just a repository for books. The Chappaqua Library has many outreach programs for the community from lectures to art exhibitions, movies and musical events as well as a variety of programs for children.
She is most proud of a time, back in the nineties, when she worked with “latch-key” kids who were mostly Haitian. She helped them learn about computers. They all went on to successful lives, largely due to her intervention. That’s always a proud moment for anyone in a position to teach a younger generation about how they can survive in an increasingly technological world. And she said that she is still in touch with these kids, some twenty-four or twenty-five years later, through social media.
The future of library content, according to Ms. Thornton, will be mostly electronic and computer driven because of the lack of physical space to store books. People will continue to download books to their Kindles and other electronic reading devices, though.
As I left the building, I was again taken by the extent to which this library was fulfilling its commitment to the community and how much this town really loves their library!
Article and photographs by William Lulow
The Chappaqua Library
195 S Greeley Ave, Chappaqua, NY 10514
NOTE: While the Chappaqua Library is closed throughout April, 2020, Please check the website for when it will resume regular hours of operation.