Helped Youngstown Free Library grow over 25-plus years
By Susan Mikula Campbell
A colorful display of gardening-themed books greets patrons as they enter the Youngstown Free Library this month.
Library director Jan Gilgore might be checking out a few of the books herself. Gardening is one of the retirement projects she is considering at the North Tonawanda home where she moved from the Town of Porter in November.
Gilgore has been tending to the growth of YFL since Nov. 1, 1991. After helping the new director, Sonora Miller, get settled, Gilgore will leave with a wealth of memories. A retirement party will be held later this month.
It's the people, young and old, who help run and support the library, as well as those who merely check out its benefits, she will miss the most.
"I can probably count on one hand the really grouchy people," Gilgore said.
While many jobs mean seeing only a few of the same people every day, "Here, I might see 50 or 100 people inside of a day or two," she said.
And, it's not just local people. Attractions, such as Old Fort Niagara, can bring in the outside world for computer use or just information.
The atmosphere is comfortable and relaxed behind the library door in the Village Center at 240 Lockport St.
"One little girl told me she likes to sleep with her books, I told her, 'Well, sometimes I do, too,' " said Gilgore, who, as a youngster, could be found sitting under a tree at picnics reading the latest Nancy Drew mystery.
The memory of the man who came in and rendered her temporarily gaping when "he asked if we had books" always brings a chuckle. Before she could recover her power of speech, he luckily added, "No, no, I mean do you have this book."
Books have always been readily available in this relatively small library that still fits in the same footprint in the old red brick school. These days, books may come in large print, on CDs, on playaways with ear buds, downloaded, or can be easily ordered from another library in the NIOGA library system. There's also magazines, newspapers, music, movies, puzzles, puppets and even a rocking chair.
While the footprint hasn't expanded, YFL has gotten new shoes, or at least comfy slippers, with little seating/reading nooks created from former storage areas, fresh paint, lighting, rugs and draperies. Remember the old card catalogue area that crowded the entry? Automation totally eliminated it, opening up lots of new space, and leaving only a small computer that quickly searches the entire library system for patrons. More computers are in the nonfiction room for public use, as well as in the library office (Gilgore's screensaver keeps fans updated on granddaughter Olivia, now almost 7). Regular NIOGA classes on computer use topics are offered.
Library patrons have changed over the years, calling for adjustments.
"We have an older clientele, not too many in the middle, and a lot of young mothers and families with kids," Gilgore said.
Both Gilgore and Miller, who officially started work on April 10, grew up in Western New York.
Gilgore grew up in the Buffalo/Cheektowaga area, graduating from Maryvale High School and earning a degree in education at the University at Buffalo before moving out of the area. She returned as a widow with a young son, taking a year to decide on her future. A newspaper ad for a then part-time Youngstown Library position settled the choice.
"It sounded just like what I was doing before (moving back) and I loved that," said Gilgore, who had worked as library manager in Patterson, New York.
"I want to thank all of the trustees and the Friends, and all the volunteers and community members who have supported me and the library through the years," she said.
Miller, who grew up in Medina, has been living in the Ransomville area (the last Town of Lewiston house on the border) for the past two years while serving as director at the Royalton-Hartland Community Library. Prior to that, she was a reference librarian and a children's librarian in New Jersey.
"This library feels like coming home," she said. "I've used it as a patron. I love the community and the people."
The board of trustees and the Friends of Youngstown Free Library are planning a retirement celebration for Gilgore from 2-5 p.m. Sunday, April 23, at the First Presbyterian Church, 100 Church St., Youngstown. This will be an "open house"-style gathering, but a brief program will be held at 3 p.m.