Libraries can often be seen as the heart of a community. A place to gain knowledge, gather and socialize with others right where we live. Over the years, library patrons needs have certainly changed and the community library has changed with them to help provide the best services possible.
Here in the Mount Pleasant area, we are fortunate enough to have two amazing public libraries–the Mount Pleasant Public Library in Pleasantville and its Branch location in Valhalla, and the Briarcliff Manor Public Library. Whether you’re a library regular, new to the area or haven’t been to a library in a long while, I encourage you to get to know these local gems and pay them a visit soon. You won’t be disappointed.
The history of both libraries is rich and varied. Mount Pleasant began serving its community in 1895 as the Pleasantville Library Association. In 1919 it was reincorporated as the Pleasantville Public Library and at one point, contracted with the Town of Mount Pleasant to create a branch library in town. In 1965, the Town and Village agreed to establish the Mount Pleasant Public Library to serve both the Mount Pleasant and Pleasantville communities. Interestingly enough, the charter Mount Pleasant received from the State of New York was signed by none other than Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System.
The Briarcliff Manor Public Library’s first incarnation began in 1914 by the Briarcliff Manor Community Club. In 1924, the Village of Briarcliff Manor began providing financial services for the library. Over the years, the library moved through many locations and in 1958, the Briarcliff Free Library became one of the founding members of the newly created Westchester Library System. The next year, it moved to the former station of the Putnam Division of the New York Central Rail Road. And finally in 2009, the library found its current home–a new, two-story addition to its former home in the former train station.
I had the opportunity to speak with the directors of both the Mount Pleasant and Briarcliff Manor libraries to learn about new projects, programs to come and how both libraries keep up with the evolving needs of its patrons.
In Mount Pleasant: Adapting to Change
John Fearon has been the Director of the Mount Pleasant Public Library for 20 years. In that time, he has seen a lot of evolution. When the current main branch of the library was built in the 1960’s, it was a state-of-the-art library. Its open-plan concept makes it feel bigger than it is. But at the same time, library usage was different 60 years ago. Noise wasn’t an issue since people used the library as a quiet space. Now, patrons are also using it as a gathering place so noise can be a challenge. Fearon says there’s been a general shift in how people use libraries. “When I was growing up, the library was quiet like a church. Now more and more see it as a place to get together and connect with each other. Before the pandemic, there was an informal feeling–people would come in to chat and browse. The noise is part and parcel of that.”
This is part of what will be addressed in the library’s Master Plan that is being created in conjunction with the Town and Village. The goal is to have more meeting rooms and spaces. “People’s needs have changed and more organizations need places to meet. If we had more rooms, we could accommodate more local organizations as well as people working from home who need private rooms to arrange meetings,” says Fearon. “We always want to have a bigger picture, a vision of where we want to go. We hope to work with the town and village in making that happen.” Plans also include the creation of a safe outdoor space for kids.
Books ‘Holding their Own’
Since the pandemic, people are still feeling their way back to normality. Fearon said that he definitely sees life coming back to the library. People are browsing more and not feeling they have to “get in and get out” as much. There is a greater demand for and enjoyment of children’s storytime now, as there is a popular draw!
“Miss Debbie is an institution in Pleasantville,” says Fearon. She has storytimes scheduled throughout the week at both the main and branch library locations.
People are coming back to the library. “It’s slow and steady but it’s happening more and more,” he said.
The library is also seeing a surge in different types of lending as well as program use. “I’ve seen video cassettes go, audio books go, CDs and DVDs come and go. ‘The book’ is hanging in there. But we saw a huge surge in e-Books, our lending more than doubled during the pandemic. eBooks have become about 1/3 of our lending but books are still holding their own.”
The library’s museum pass program has also found a new life, “Suddenly people discovered them and usage blew up. The pass program is funded by The Friends of the Mount Pleasant Public Library and our most popular passes are for MoMA, the Intrepid and the Guggenheim.”
This spring will see many of the library’s recurring adult programs taking place such as the PLY Knitting Circle, jewelry-making classes, craft socials, game nights and more. On March 30, Open Mic at the Library will host talented patrons sharing poetry, songs, artwork and more. Patrons can get ready for their spring gardens with the library’s program Proper Pruning on April 20. There are also many upcoming children’s events including STEM classes, chess workshops, a theater and improve program and jewelry-making classes.
As for its evolution, Fearon sees that as a constant. “We have a really good staff at the moment, some younger librarians and that’s exciting. Adapting the facility to support new demand is a challenge but we will do our best.”
In Briarcliff Manor: A Cherished Routine
Donna Pesce has served as Director of the Briarcliff Manor Public Library since 2018. In her time at the library, she has also seen many changes for how patrons use services. “I read recently that libraries are not buildings, they are communities and that rings true here,” says Pesce.
A weekly visit to the library is part of the routine for so many of Briarcliff’s patrons, whether it is to take out print books or DVD’s, attend family activities or join book groups (geared towards a variety of ages). “While our website and eBook collection are well-used, stopping in to browse, chat with the staff or connect with other patrons at a regular program are essential.
We know most patrons by name and know their reading and other service preferences. Staff often have a patron’s book ‘holds’ in hand before the patron gets through the door.” The library certainly presents itself as a warm and welcoming environment to all who step through.
Library usage runs the gamut. Briarcliff sees an average of 70 visitors per day with 1/3 using its enclosed children’s room where kids are free to select items from a variety of collections as well as seasonal displays. Some patrons prefer to head up to the second floor for its peaceful feel. It attracts those looking for a quiet space to work, read or just look out of the expansive windows onto a relaxing view of Law Memorial Park. Pesce points out that while children’s programs and adult book groups have always been a staple at Briarcliff, the library is adding more community-based programming such as poetry cafes, small performances, and local author visits.
“Having close relationships with our patrons means we get feedback and suggestions that we try our best to incorporate into services”, says Pesce. Library staff stays up-to-date with patron needs by participating in training sessions, attending user meeting and of course, by reading a lot. “Needless to say, we have many ideas.”
The Long-Term Strategy
The library has a state-required strategic plan which it is currently working on called‘The Branching Out Project.’ Residents and patrons will be invited to share their ideas through surveys, activities and committees and the final plan should be completed by May 2023.
The library has a full event schedule for spring including its Cookbook Club (March 21) in which attendees bring a dish to share and a copy of the recipe. Run by Library volunteers Andrea Vladimir and Cindy Healey, the club is always a popular meetup. On March 25 there will be a performance, Trial for Treason, enacting the fateful meeting between Major John Andre and Benedict Arnold. April brings another performance of the Poetry Cafe, featuring readings by area poets, followed by an open mic. Children’s programs will include a graphic novel and a “Who Was” book group. Adult book groups such as the Brown Bag Tuesday lunchtime group continue to flourish.
As for its future, Pesce sees a lot of positive changes for the library as she notes that both patron needs and the library environment have changed over the last few years. “I would like for policies, legislation and funding to support sustaining library services for the future. I see our services becoming even more streamlined and tailored to the specific needs of the local community, while still leveraging the resources of the Westchester Library System.
“We can offer in-house programs in-person and partner on regional programs via Zoom, offer copies of popular books in multiple formats and take advantage of inter-library loans and also look for increased partnerships with local organizations and donors for our programs and special collections.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of the library is one that hopefully never changes. “What I hope will stay the same is the wonderful relationships that we have with both our long-time and new patrons.”
Visit your local libraries. There is something for everyone and everyone is always welcome.