Amsterdam Free Library marks 110th year

By REBECCA WEBSTER

Recorder News Staff

Inside a frame in the director's office at the Amsterdam Free Library sits the original library charter. Its details are still present and obvious, but the document shows its age.

"Recorded and took effect 3:20 p.m., May 8, 1902," it reads at the bottom.

Standing across from it on Friday, library director Nicole Hemsley, garbed in white gloves, glanced at another fragile piece of paper showing its age.

"This the original drawing," she said.

In her hands rested the 1902 rendering of the library entrance, the words "The J.L. Mott Iron Works" neatly printed at the bottom, the "Open to all" words above the pencil-drawn door a spitting image of what is shown carved in the library stone now.

That was the year that the 1891-founded Amsterdam Library Association became the Amsterdam Free Library.

In 1903, it opened its doors to Amsterdam.

This year marks the 110th anniversary of the opening of the library, and leaders there know that a lot has happened over the years to keep the building thriving.

Thom Georgia, a library trustee and vice president of the Friends of the Amsterdam Free Library, said the largest change came in 2010.

"The library is able to very effectively adapt to what we know here as a changing library model, as technology and information services have become central," Georgia said.

In 2010, Georgia was brought in to the library to head up the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program, or BTOP.

The BTOP grant was awarded that year to bring new technologies to the library, and, Georgia said, it allowed the library to "keep up with the times" and be a pioneer for other libraries to follow.

Hemsley said it was a building block for Digital Literacy NY, an initiative to "create more e-citizens who are digitally literate and connected to affordable Internet access so they can be full participants in the information age," as the website says.

"I feel like we were really ahead of the curve," Hemsley said.

The program ran until a few months ago, but the library's media center and digital learning continues to grow.

"We're continuing services that we had to develop for that," Hemsley said, adding that they will continue to do classes when the public seeks information and will still do individual scheduled appointments for learning.

The appointments can cover anything from resume and cover letter writing to using a digital camera and an e-reader.

"We're also looking to expand out on digital literacy training for students, too," Hemsley said, by adding information on doing research for papers and writing citations.

Throughout its 110th year, various events and programs will happen to make this year a special one.

"We're going to be making a big deal during National Library Week," Georgia said, with fundraisers and events for the community.

Library Card Month in September will also be a big deal for the library, as they will be hoping to bring in new members by teaming up with businesses to possibly offer perks to owning a library card.

But the biggest celebration will be on Nov. 3.

On Nov. 3, 1903, after the donation of $25,000 from Andrew Carnegie that made the creation of the library possible, the official opening ceremony was held in front of the new Amsterdam Free Library, where the Daughters of the American Revolution presented the library with its first flag and others made presentations to the public, Georgia explained.

He said he hopes to recreate that moment this year at the official 110th anniversary.

And all throughout the year, the library will be holding educational events to the public to bring people in and get them excited about learning and reading.

Parent Teacher Association roundtables, workshops on how to engage families at the library, and other topic-specific events and book-signings will accompany the year.

"It warms my heart to still see our (community) support there and our circulation still growing," Hemsley said. "We've done a lot of reaching out in the past year and it's really paying off."

"We really want to be the heart of the community."

Georgia said that its often normal to hear about nonprofits struggling because they can't be "all things to all people."

"That's not true with libraries," he said. "We are all things to all people. We have a strong relationship with the community.

This is very much a family, both at the staff and board level, and with our patrons."

And the newly re-formed Friends of the Amsterdam Free Library is helping to continue that tradition.

Even with 9,000 registered borrowers and upwards of 70,000 visits a year, greetings at the library come in the form of first names, and various staff members, who have been at the library for decades, watch each day as it molds to the changing times while never losing sight of its purpose.

Sylvia Salerno, a staff member who will turn 91 this month, said she has been working at the library on and off for nearly 20 years.

"There's nothing as nice, as far as I'm concerned," she said just before her shift ended Friday. "I like everything about the library. It's a comfort to a lot of people.

"A book is your best friend."

Each day she works, Salerno takes care of the books to make sure they don't get misplaced because as she says, "A misplaced book is a lost book."

Her job, she said, is one of the most important.

Over her years at the library, Salerno said there have been a lot of changes, most obviously the move to a technological catalogue, but its purpose and heart has stayed the same.

"It's a lovely place," she said. "I think a city without a library is not a city as far as I'm concerned."