Penn Yan library is changing
PENN YAN—Years ago, public libraries were quiet, staid places filled with shelves of books that seemed to stay the same year after year. Penn Yan Public Library isn’t like that at all, in fact change is almost the a constant in the building on the village’s historic Main Street. Visitors will notice empty shelves and even a nearly empty room, all connected with the progress.
During a conversation last week, library director Lynn Overgaard spoke about the facility and the path that led her to this place. It’s not too surprising that her life would eventually be connected closely to books. She recalled when she was in sixth grade in California, she would stop at the public library on the way home from school and begin reading as she waited for traffic lights to change, commenting mildly, “I was always a big reader.” Despite her love of books, she said, “I never worked in a library. Never. I can’t even remember interacting with any librarian.”
Her major in college was history and she later moved to Denmark with her husband and worked in a Copenhagen bookstore for several years. The first bookstore she worked in was right on the town hall square and specialized in English titles, special orders and sale of “remainders, books that would be bought by the store in large numbers.
Although Overgaard was better at reading Danish than speaking it, she became known to customers for her ability to remember the books. She said, “I thought I was pretty good at organizing things and decided to become a librarian when I came back to this country.”
After taking her degree at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the Overgaards came to Penn Yan. She said, “I totally lucked out. There was no opening, but then one opened up. The only library work I had ever done by that time was as an intern at college.”
That was more than 20 years ago, and reflecting on the passage of time, Overgaard said, “When I started here as a reference librarian about 25 percent of time was spent on administrative stuff and 75 percent on library work. Now it has totally flipped. The world has totally changed. I work with things that have nothing to do with library.” As an example, Overgaard said, “All jobs have things you like more and less. Health insurance and building maintenance are not interests, but I still must know about them. I’ve been lucky. I inherited a new building, or at least large chunks of it are new.”
Turning to the library side of her work, she said, “One strength has been the ability to move with the times.” When she began working in the Penn Yan library the 1982 addition was new, and books and some cassette tapes were the main circulation offerings. Overgaard said, “Now we still have all of those things and audio books, DVDs and downloadable books.” Change has accelerated nearly each year. Computers for public use were unknown when Overgaard first began at the library. Several years ago the old card catalog system was replaced by computer listings. Several areas are now equipped with public computers and there are places to plug in laptops and courses in computer use are scheduled frequently.
Overgaard said, “We have kept up with formats people use a lot, but still have a good collection.” Audio tapes and DVDs are the highest use items currently. As far as turnover, there is a smaller number of books, but this remains a huge, huge part of the collection, according to Overgaard. She said, “I think we have tried different things, such as youth services. You have to keep changing.”
Participation in the programs ebbs and flows. At one time story hours for children ages 3 and 4 were very popular. With increased enrollment in Universal PreK, Lap Sit story hours for tots ages 1 and 2 are more popular now. Teen programs have also experienced shifts in participation. Overgaard said, “You never quite know what will appeal.”
Although an ambitious capital project was not approved by voters earlier this year, plans are going forward for some needed changes inside the building. Overgaard said, “The magazine room will become a programming room. It isn’t cramped and hope to encourage other groups to use it.” Accessibility of the meeting room in the building’s lower level has been a concern for several years due to both its size and location. The new space will solve that issue, according to Overgaard.
One of the many shifts in library use is that, “We’re seeing people coming in and staying; to read, chat or use their laptops. We want to make it a place where people feel comfortable. I think of our library as a community space. There aren’t many community spaces any more. This is something all libraries are finding across the board.” She said more people like to have a quiet place in which to read, but like to have other people around as well. Overgaard said, “We want to make that available and better designed.”
Summing up, Overgaard said, “My goal is to have all the formats people want to use and a place where people can come and stay a while and be comfortable.” She said the library wants to have all types of programs, noting it seems to be hard to get people out at night, commenting, “We don’t know if they are busier or don’t like to drive at night.” Making the public aware of what the library has to offer is a challenge. Overgaard said, “It’s amazing. Even among our regular patrons there are many who don’t know what our services are.”
Next year many changes will be evident. Overgaard hopes the public meeting room will be completed by January 2009. Changes to bathrooms and entry doors will make the library Americans With Disabilities (ADA) compliant, some of the work is being funded through a New York State Public Library construction grant. New carpets and painting are also on the schedule. The library may be forced to close for a few days when these changes are made.
The Penn Yan Public Library has been a fixture on Main Street since 1905 when philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated $10,000 for its construction. Since then it has grown and changed, but always been a free resource for area residents and visitors.