We are grateful to know great librarians. Recently, we've thoroughly enjoyed working with Ellen Druda, who is doing incredible things for the Coltrane Home Project. We also deeply appreciate Susan Goldberg, who's known to have people who happen to stand next to her smiling, and who has built a library for Elwood. We were privileged to work with Michelle Lauer-Bader on crafting "Community Conversations," and have caught her around town helping out Long Island Cares since her own retirement. Recently, we had the opportunity to nominate one for national recognition through the "I Love My Librarian" award. For that, we chose Helen Crosson, who we find embodies and amplifies the spirit of the American Library.
Helen was, perhaps, the primary force behind the multi-organization effort to launch Long Island's library-hosted "Community Conversations." Prior to that, Helen championed Long Island's second true community visioning process in order to transform a collection without a library into a full-fledged community living room, town square and environmental resource center. Helen is now bringing her second such process from vision into reality for the Half Hollow Hills community.
The Nation is filled with extraordinary librarians. We know we may need to submit this nomination several times before Helen gets the recognition she deserves. Still, we find her more than worthy, thoroughly enjoyed the process of nominating her, and thought you might like to read what we put together, too...
Question 1: Please tell us in 2-3 sentences why your nominee should win this award. What sets them apart?
A librarian once endeavored to inspire me by singing about “that ant that moved a rubber tree plant.” It was helpful, but I was much more deeply moved by another librarian who actually WAS that ant. Helen Crosson guides communities in building their dream libraries, fills them with incredible resources, and dedicates her life to ensuring these keys to the American Dream remain relevant and of great service well beyond her own tenure.
Said Robert C. Hughes, Trustee and former president, Cold Spring Harbor Library: "Helen is a dynamo who devotes every waking hour to the promotion of libraries. Few librarians have a chance to build a brand new library--Helen is working on her second one. We were fortunate to have Helen at the helm when the Cold Spring Harbor Library was faced with the tremendous task of building a new library building--one that was four times larger than our previous home. Helen was the perfect person to lead the effort. Twelve year later we couldn't be happier with the results. And now Helen has taken that unique experience and is helping a neighboring community realize its dreams of a new state of the art library."
Question 2: Please list a few ways in which the nominee has helped you and made your experience of the library a positive one. For instance, did the nominee inspire in you a love for literature; assist you in a project or finding other information?
I met Helen Crosson during my service as Assistant Director of Vision Long Island, Long Island’s premier Smart Growth Organization. Our relationship deepened significantly during my time as Acting Director of Leadership Huntington, Long Island’s premier community leadership program. I mention these two organizations because her outgoing interest in these two groups that focus on bringing diverse interests together to advance the common good is fundamental to Helen’s spirit of advancing libraries boldly into the new millennium.
Make no mistake, Helen is dedicated to libraries in the classic sense, designing, building, and filling them with books and other media. She is deeply focused on understanding and providing the highest quality resources and programs to the communities that she serves. Helen’s outward-looking endeavors are largely intended to find great resources that she can bring home. At the same time, however, Helen maintains a view of libraries that is much broader, as well as a sense of their critical importance and a dedication to doing what she can to best serve that mission that far transcends any one location.
I have always loved and appreciated libraries. Helen made me realize what an extraordinary force for the American dream that they are, their power to overcome social, economic and cultural barriers, and what a critical mission it is to ensure that they continue to thrive for generations to come. She was a primary inspiration for this article.
I have worked very closely with Helen, both in her time as a member of the Leadership Huntington Class of 2013, and as a partner in an endeavor she spearheaded called “Community Conversations.” Throughout, Helen Crosson consistently reinforced the fundamental value of libraries, while at the same time expanding the conception of what they are capable of to whomever was willing to listen.
Helen inspires poetry:
By David Fuchs
Librarians open gates
that lead to wondrous
places and are keepers
of order in their quiet
ways, perhaps like no
others in bringing us
to things that bring
us to others, because the
rewards never cease.
Builder, keeper and
leader, our Helen sets
Question 3: How has the librarian made a difference in the community? Please be specific.
A Community Living Room
In this 2014 video, Helen shares how the Cold Spring Harbor library went from being a collection without a home, to becoming a small castle of a “community living room” on Main Street in Cold Spring Harbor, NY. She also speaks about the “Community Conversations” that she pioneered. Helen brings this spirit to everything she does with her family, her church, and the new libraries she is serving.
Beth Fuchs, President of the Cold Spring Harbor Library Friends Foundation, remembers: “Helen Crosson came to us ten years ago as the new Director of a suddenly defunct Public Library. Housed in an unused portion of our Goose Hill School for the previous twenty years, the library had just been informed that its lease could not be renewed because of an unexpected growth in school registration. Her problem: there was no Library and no place to put one. No existing building was available and no land for new construction. So she set out to solve both problems head on. First, she formed and led a search team.
They uncovered an old N. Y. State Department of Transportation map indicating acreage set aside several decades ago for a major highway that was never built, then worked with our State Senator Carl Marcellino to sponsor a bill in Albany to acquire it. With that in hand, the next job was to raise the money for an entirely new building. That entailed a persuading the School District (who’s boundaries define Library districts in New York State) to submit a $9,000,000 bond issue for voter approval. This would be combined with a $4,000,000 private funding campaign to arrive at an overall $13,000,000 budget. This would cover site clearance, design and construction of a brand new, state-of-the-art edifice that would sit on a hill overlooking beautiful Cold Spring Harbor.”
Helen also brokered a unique agreement with NYS to establish a local environmental resource library and to serve as a terminal point for a Long Island Greenbelt Trail. Following a model that had been recently introduced to Long Island, Helen then led a full-fledged community visioning process. She kept residents abreast through a branding campaign, a redesigned newsletter, website and mobile app, as well as a social media presence.
Said Beth Fuchs, “Outside, a special path leads walkers to our section of the Greenbelt Trail. All this activity revolves in and around a stunning building designed to reflect the architecture of the North Shore’s fabled Gold Coast era.”
Bess recalls that Helen’s studious diligence had lasting value, “Helen led all of these efforts and, when the work began, spent her days carefully tracking every aspect of this complex process, keeping her own detailed notes on the work – notes which later proved to be invaluable in negotiations over insurance claims for the inevitable faults that accompany a task of this order.”
The greatest music to Helen’s ears was people coming through the doors and saying, “You listened to us. This is incredible. Thank you.”
An alum of the Leadership Huntington Class of 2013, Helen made among the most intense use of the program of anyone we have known. She also recruited other local librarians to join the program. Further, she managed to unite all eight independent public libraries in the Town of Huntington, engaged Leadership Huntington, the Huntington League of Women Voters and the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce in a pilot program called “Community Conversations,” engaging diverse local leaders, experts and residents in discussing key topics:
Suburban America: Problems & Promise Part I
Suburban America: Problems & Promise Part II
Growing Community: Who are we? How do we live together?
Suburbs for the Next Generation: What do we value most?
Our Next Generation Speaks Up: Who’s Listening?
Common Core: Uncommon Challenges
Helen and librarian Michele Lauer-Bader, then brought the conversation to the 2014 Public Library Association (PLA) conference. Focusing on the potential of libraries as public squares, they discussed partnering with others and playing leadership roles in civic engagement.
Helen has since moved on to her next great endeavor, rebuilding the Half Hollow Hills Community Library, which encompasses two buildings in Dix Hills and Melville, New York. Helen is also now working with Leadership Huntington on a new round of Community Conversations. We look forward to seeing them develop, too.
Question 4: How has the library, and the nominee, improved the quality of your life?
Helen improves my quality of life primarily by improving the quality of life for every member of the communities she serves. She advances libraries as vehicles for learning and development, not only through books and other media, but as centers for civic engagement. Helen is an antidote to ignorance, and a force for civilized discourse. She does it all in a spirit of partnership, lifelong learning and community development.
Personally, when I want to remember that there are people dedicated to the common good, I think of Helen. When I’m facing a tremendous challenge, I think of Helen and endeavor to transform it into a great opportunity. When I need to be reminded that everyone deserves an opportunity to learn and grow, I think of Helen and her commitment to making that possible.
When I get to actually be in her presence, I invariably come away informed, inspired and grateful. She consistently leads me to think about big ideas and practical solutions, and can always be counted on to help find the information I need. Moreover, it is ever evident that Helen is always coming from something and going somewhere; that she is busily thinking about what her recent experiences mean, and how they may be leveraged into some powerful force for good. She is thinking about how she can infuse this sense of purpose into those she anticipates encountering at her next stop. It’s ever a pleasure to hear how that went, and what it next inspired.
Said fellow Leadership Huntington graduate, Raymond Homburger, “Helen’s expertise goes beyond the walls of the library. She is not only a wealth of information but she also brings an energy level and enthusiasm to all projects that is infectious. She is a true asset to the community. Helen gets things done and involves the community.”
It is a distinct privilege to know her.
Question 5: How does the nominee make the library a better place? Please be specific.
Once conceived, made feasible and built, Helen then equipped the 26,700 square foot modern library that replaced the 7,000 square feet of space they’d previously had in a rented school building, via a measured and timely personnel expansion. She managed to do this while holding the budged stable, and more than doubling both the number of visitors and events. The creative environment that she fostered resulted in teamwork, shared responsibility and low staff turnover.
Beth Fuchs recounts that during Helen’s tenure the library, “developed into a combination library-community center. Every day dozens of our students are seen working at computer consoles, while citizens are scouring the magazine racks and bookshelves, community organizations fill the meeting rooms, new display are mounted on the gallery walls and an entire floor is filled with youngsters reading, listening to story time in our special room surrounded by a hand-painted mural that displays various aspects of our local flora and fauna."
Among numerous multi-media outreach endeavors, Helen commissioned a video that highlights some of what she fostered, with a focus on the connections between the Library and its environment through the eyes of children: Always thinking about the next generation, Helen also provided opportunities for students in Cold Spring Harbor to satisfy their community service requirements by assisting their Children’s librarians in the creation and implementation of programs designed to instill a love of reading and learning in young children.
Throughout, Helen maintained the Library as a leader in the adoption of new technologies to further reach the community. She was a key force in launching the Library’s website and mobile app, facilitating e-book downloads and deploying social media such as Facebook and Twitter pages.
In terms of programming, my closest experience was with Helen and Leadership Huntington. That program involved a 9-month in-depth experience meeting community leaders from throughout the town. Whether it was an expert on the opioid crisis, a legislator who cared about our environment, or someone involved in community development, Helen found a way to incorporate their expertise into library programming. The program on the drug epidemic was a notable example, bringing top expertise into the library to meet a full auditorium and help her community learn how best they could help solve this problem.
When Helen embarked upon her latest library visioning, she invited the community with this message:
Imagine your family enjoying a public library for the 21st century.
Imagine a building with energy efficiency built-in, a place for reading, learning, exercising, music, recording, creating and gathering.
Imagine a space filled with natural light and plenty of spaces for simultaneous meetings, classes and workshops.
Imagine children, parents and grandparents sharing stories and crafts, creating memories to last a lifetime.
Imagine state-of-the-art technology to meet your needs today and tomorrow.
Please attend community meetings and discover how you can get the public libraries you deserve in Dix Hills and Melville.
If you have any questions, suggestions or concerns, please contact me at 631-421-5940 or email me at email@example.com.
Hope to catch you reading,
Helen M. Crosson, Library Director"
You can see her real-time updates here.
Said Diane Lettieri, “I know Helen from my being the PTA President at Half Hollow Hills High School East. We’ve collaborated on several projects, such as the ‘Save a Life’ drug awareness program. Working so closely with Helen, I see her drive and enthusiasm, and just how much she cares about this community. Her latest endeavor is to build a new library in Half Hollow Hills; one that will serve the community for many years to come. Her campaign was called ‘IMAGINE.’ She wanted community members to imagine what they wanted for their new library. She listened to everyone’s suggestions, concerns, wants and needs. I supported and helped her every step of the way. The night the bond passed in favor of building a new library, she cried tears of joy. Her commitment to our community has never faltered. Plain and simple, she cares, and the Half Hollow Hills community is so lucky to have her.”
The winner of the 2018 I Love My Librarian Award will be announced in December, 2018. Best of luck to all involved! Want to nominate your favorite librarian? Sign up here to be notified when the 2019 nomination process opens. Want to learn more about libraries and how you can help support them? Visit www.ilovelibraries.org
"I resolved to stop accumulating and begin the infinitely more serious and difficult task of wise distribution."
~ Andrew Carnegie
The efforts of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates to encourage fellow billionaires to make a substantial “Giving Pledge” bring to mind another very fortunate man who saw value in giving: Andrew Carnegie.
PBS offers a detailed timeline of the life of the notorious robber baron and his rise in steel, transportation, communications and other business to become the richest man in the world. It also covers his devotion to philanthropy and human rights. Like Buffet and Gates’ recent pledges, Carnegie wrote himself a letter in 1868. At the time, he was determined to resign from business at age 35 and live on an income of $50,000 per year, devoting the remainder of his money to philanthropic causes and most of his time to education.
Carnegie was not very successful at giving up his interest in the business of the world, but he excelled at giving away his spoils. Wikipedia states that he actively gave away $350,695,653 (approximately $4.3 billion, adjusted to 2005 figures) of his wealth. A final $30,000,000 was bequeathed to foundations, charities and pensioners. All totaled, it represented 90% of the income of the richest man in the world.
How a Self-Made Man Gives Back
Of his many works, the most famous gift might be Carnegie Hall.
”How do you get there? Practice, practice, practice….”
Indeed, Carnegie specifically promoted the type of giving one might hope even Ayn Rand would approve of: Giving to the “industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefited by help from others."
Carnegie, himself, is heralded as a quintessential self-made man. However, he never forgot the chance at self-education that he was granted by Colonel James Anderson, who gave young working boys like him a rare opportunity -- access to his library. His philanthropy reflected this, such that there is an entire Wikipedia article dedicated to the Carnegie Library. By 1919, nearly half of the United States’ 3,500 public libraries were financed by Carnegie construction grants.
While Carnegie Hall is reserved for those who have achieved the top of their class, libraries were intended to be available to all. For free. True to his principles, however, the gift was far more about teaching to fish than providing a free lunch, and about gifts that keep on giving so long as the recipient keeps up its end of the bargain.
Communities were always given great responsibility. The above mentioned Wikipedia article is quick to link to post Civil War housewives who formed the women’s clubs that, in turn, worked very hard to found 75-80% of US libraries. Many of these were Carnegie libraries. To receive his donation, Carnegie insisted that communities provide the site and be willing to raise taxes to cover at least 10% of construction costs, maintain operations and provide free service to all. Today, it is still up to communities working hand in hand with generous patrons to foot the bill. Budgets face close public scrutiny. Winning support is critical.
“We try to talk to communities about the value they get out of a library. I don’t think people realize how much libraries provide…every library service is free,” explains Todd Harvey, Partner at Beatty, Harvey, Coco Architects, which completed over 100 library projects in 20 years, “For the [taxpayer] cost of a couple best sellers or once a month blockbuster rentals, you can expand and get better library services. You can expand. It’s a tremendous bargain.”
The Perfect Gift: Information, Innovation and American Dreams
What could be more valuable to those chasing the American Dream? At essence, public libraries granted individuals freedom and access to self-directed education. In fact, a major design innovation that Carnegie spurred was the advent of open stacks. For the first time, people could wander the shelves on their own rather than be at the mercy of a librarian’s selection.
Of course, times have changed and technology has exploded. First, volumes were supplemented with microfilm and photocopiers. Later, space was made for VHS tapes, then DVDs. Now architects design for computer centers, building-wide wireless access, and…people….
“Libraries are much different than they were 10-20 years ago,” explains Harvey, “They used to be for the storage and access of information. Now, they’re places people go to create and exchange information.”
It isn’t all about print seeming somehow passé in a wireless world, though. Libraries are still relied upon heavily for their original primary service. Despite all the technology, library use and circulation is rising. Fast. “We’re not getting rid of books,” says Harvey, “but creating places that are much more.” Now, in a world where the volume of information is increasing exponentially, “Libraries are becoming the source to access that information and a place where you can come to understand it.”
“Libraries are amazing,” says Roger Smith, Principal of BBS Architecture, which worked on the four-branch Smithtown Library system on Long Island, NY, “When you’re shopping, you’re shopping. In a movie theater, you go see a movie. A library is different. You can do many things.”
A Place of Our Own: Evolution by Community Design
Community rooms are now just as important as the book shelves. “They’re not just community rooms,” explains Harvey, “One evening you can hold a concert, lecture or film. The next you use the same room for computer classes or other programs. In the past you’d design a room just for one function. Now we’re designing a room that serves half a dozen.”
“There’s a tremendous demand for community and library programs from a wide range of groups: Cub Scouts, art classes, driver’s ed., seniors,” says Danny Tanzi, Senior Project Architect for H2M Group, which provides integrated architecture and engineering services, “No other public buildings have facilities open to everyone. Schools are limited in their use. Fire houses and others are limited to their membership.”
Libraries have now transcended their prestigious role as repositories to actively filling the void that was once the public square. “Quite honestly, there’s a fundamental social vacuum and libraries are one of the only secular facilities to fill it,” says attorney John Caravella, “There’s really nothing else addressed to all members of the community. Religious institutions can do a good job of offering public education, but that’s not necessarily on their agenda and the broader community might not be so quick to take advantage of it.”
Smith agrees, “The public becomes broader, so much broader. You can look at the bulletin board and see the great things taking place. This is not what libraries were originally intended for. Yes, it was always a community building, but now…” Smith reflects on evolving roles, “Architects typically used to design structures without community input. I mean, you got input, but nothing like today. Now it’s community with a big ‘C’”
Libraries themselves are deeply involved in their own evolution. "I make many presentations and spend a lot of time talking about the 'Human-Centered Library,'” says librarian Helen Crosson, “It's not just books anymore." Crosson worked closely with trustees, locals and Beatty Harvey Coco Architects (then Beatty Harvey and Associates) to spearhead a new building when she was the Director of the Cold Spring Harbor Library in NY. She became immersed in needs assessments, usage demand studies, blueprints and other technical documents you might expect a librarian to find, but not to design, "We spent a lot of time talking about lighting, cooling, heating and doors."
An Opportunity; A Responsibility
New libraries model green design, emphasizing natural lighting and energy efficiency. “They’re the center of the community and they have an opportunity to set an example,” says Harvey, “I don’t know of a library we’re working on that’s not green or LEED certifiable.”
“Architects have an opportunity to do wonderful things and maybe have a responsibility.” says Smith, “I‘d hate to think the community was upset with a library I designed; that it wasn’t theirs. They’re a reflection of the community.”
Carnegie libraries, too, often became focal points for the community, and he encouraged communities to make them their own. Embracing symbolism in design, they were often the most formidable structures in town, featuring stairways representing the rising force of education and lampposts signifying enlightenment. Today’s architecture focuses more on accessibility, but history remains important, “We’re trying to keep within the sense and character of the town; a sense of the vernacular,” notes Smith. For the Smithtown NY Library System, his firm designed the adaptive reuse of the Nesconset Armory. The community broke ground March 22, 2010.
“It’s not necessarily the quantity of space” says Harvey, “We don’t need warehouses for books. It‘s the quality.”
“When I walk inside, do I go to the Museum of Modern Art, The Louvre or the Mall?” asks Smith, “I want someplace I can sit quietly and believe I belong.”…and maybe even wander the stacks for a good book.
A Lasting Legacy
As a whole, the legacies of Carnegie libraries are like well-planted seeds that are good for the ecosystem and continue to bear fruit long after the gardener has gone. They remain an incentive and a focal point for community substance, gifts to be carefully tended, keys to doors leading toward American Dreams.
It’s a lasting gift to community, to freedom, and to a very individual experience. It is a gift that, generations later, still empowers us to take responsibility -- both individually and communally -- to achieve our own greatest potential.
Imagine the possibilities if today’s billionaires were to dig deep, and to carefully sow such seeds of their own? Imagine if we all were to rise to such a cause?
BTW....You don't have to be a billionaire to get involved in the Giving Pledge. Warren Buffet's sister, Dorothy, is seeking volunteers to help her give her brother's money away.