Widgets Magazine

Jennifer Fowler, Director Cutchogue-New Suffolk Free Library, on its 100th Anniversary, the Independent Church Folk who Nurtured it, and its Role in our Community Today.

Q: This year is the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Free Library’s 100th Anniversary! You’ve not been Director here that long, though; when did you start? A: I started at the Library about 18 months ago.  I had worked in libraries for over 15 years but this is my first North Fork library.  I moved here from Babylon and as cliché as it may sound, this was always my dream library.

Throughout the years, my extended family would meet on the North Fork and vacation together. Part of my life’s plan was to retire out here and work at the Cutchogue Library. Happily, the dream of working here happened much faster than I anticipated!

Q: What makes the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Free Library your dream library?

A: Aesthetically this Library is breathtaking.  The design, the historical significance of the architecture, the arboretum-quality gardens; it’s all beautiful. And while the physical aesthetic was the initial draw – even more important was the feeling once I entered the building.

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I find this place to be incredibly warm and friendly. I never felt like an outsider, I felt welcome. Libraries are great equalizers, whether you’re living in a mansion on the beach or in a rental over a storefront, we are all the same (and all welcome) in the library. The staff here really practices that philosophy.

Q: How does the library decide what to offer?

A: We try to let the community drive what this library is and what its future holds. The Board of Trustees and staff pay a lot of attention to our patrons and their needs. This community has a lot of pride in this library, but we don’t just want to be known as the beautiful building on the hill.

Especially in the summer, we do a tremendous amount of children’s programs. We collaborate with other North Fork libraries too. And it’s not just traditional activities like book clubs. One day you may find kids out on the lawn creating art with balloons full of paint; yesterday we had an adult drum circle and Friday night we are having a Library Lock In for tweens!

We also offer exercise classes, basic English classes, free museum passes, computers, a state-of-the-art scanning station and an interlibrary loan system that gives patrons access to materials across the county.

We are always open to new ideas and welcome our patrons input on our services.

Q: Sounds fun. I assume you offer the more typical services too?

A: Yes, of course. The Library is still all about books. But in addition to traditional books we have a strong online, digital presence. Through our website you can access our large collection of downloadable eBooks, lots of materials for students—research databases, live online homework help and tutoring services. We are in the development stages of a new website that we’re hoping to unveil in a month or two. In the past year we had 119,000 items circulated, 100,000 visitors, 70,000 ebooks downloaded and approximately 3,200 people attended library programs.

Q: The front of the library looks like a church. Was it?

A: Yes. The building was originally built in 1862 by the Independent Congregational Church and Society.

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They split from the Cutchogue Presbyterian Church that is across the street, a little further up the hill.  By 1913 the group had reconciled, and the building was vacant.

Q: When did it become the library?

A: The Library was granted its first charter on September 16, 1915. It’s interesting to imagine the Library back then. There was no furnace or electricity in the building until 1921, and structure maintained free standing shelving and no permanent furnishings so that it could easily be returned to a place of worship if needed.

In 1927, the Methodist church burned down, and the Independent Congregational Church let them use this building while the Methodists rebuilt, so the library was temporarily homeless. Once new Methodist church was built, the Library returned. Over the years it continued to grow. They added a bathroom and banned smoking.

Not until the 1980s did the Library actually own the building—when the Congregational Society made it possible for the Library to buy it and embark on an extensive renovation project. In I994, the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council provided us with the funds to renovate the choir loft into the Local History Room.  Additionally at that time, the Council donated their ephemera collection to be housed at the Library.

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The Local History Room

The most recent renovation happened in 2008 in response to the community’s need for more space.  The Library doubled its square footage by adding a second story mezzanine; and adding a Community Room to the lower level by excavating the ground beneath the church portion of the building.

Q: Neat history; some independent-minded, community-oriented church-goers nurtured this terrific local institution. How are you marking the 100th Anniversary?

During the course of the year we’ve been doing a lot of things to mark this occasion.  The Youth Services department has worked with children in the community to create a special Centennial vegetable garden behind the Library.  On Friday, July 24 we are planning Zumba “100” event on the Village Green.  Our hope is to have 100 participants dancing in front of the Library! A local photographer is going to film the event with a drone camera.

The main events will happen on August 14 and 15.  On Friday the 14th, the focus is kids, and will take place on the Village Green with a bouncy house, face painting, petting zoo and other fun activities. On Saturday, August 15th we’re having a Centennial Celebration at the Library for adults starting at 7 pm. The tickets are $100, and guests will enjoy entertainment, local wine, local food—we plan on making use of all the amazing spaces in the Library with a variety entertainment throughout – including a duo of talented trombonists in our Upstairs Gallery and an acoustic guitar player/singer; just to mention a few!

People who’d like to support the Library in a more permanent way can buy a brick in our Friendship Walk. The Friendship Walk was started 7 years ago by the Friends of the Library to help raise money for the building expansion. In honor of the Centennial, the Friends are once again offering bricks for $100 each, to be added to the current Walk.

Q: Sounds like a great time. You mentioned the Upstairs Gallery; what’s that about?

A:  Our Upstairs Gallery is a museum-quality exhibit space that rotates art shows every one to two months.  The lighting and space is wonderful and we’ve shown many wonderful North Fork artists.  Currently we are hosting an exhibit entitled “From Then to Now – Over Three Centuries of Cutchogue and New Suffolk History.”

CNSFL_Gallery

The current exhibit is a local history exhibit

Local artists are welcome to submit an application to be considered for exhibition in the Upstairs Gallery.  The Friends of the Library facilitate the art shows and when a piece is sold, a portion of the proceeds goes to the Library.

Q: The Cutchogue-New Suffolk Free Library sounds like such a wonderful institution, this last question may seem silly. But so many people have stereotypes about librarians, I feel I should ask: Why are you a librarian?

A: A library is such a vital community institution. Where else can people find a place to convene with their neighbors, learn a new language, bring their children together for a playdate, take a cooking class – the list is endless.  For me, being a librarian is the perfect profession to pursue if you love helping people.

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While libraries are evolving with the changes that are taking place in our society, at our core we are here to help.  Every day we have the opportunity to guide someone down the right path to what they need.  I can’t think of a more fulfilling career than that.