By LIZ BUTTON
New library director Chris Shoemaker will help kick off the festivities to celebrate the Rye Free Reading Room building’s 100th anniversary since its construction on the village green in 1913.
The celebration will begin this fall with a centennial birthday party on the village green on Sept. 21—which will feature a band, a petting zoo and a picnic—while this month, the library is hosting an art exhibit it calls “From Century One To The Next Chapter.”
Created by managing librarian Maria Lagonia, the centennial exhibit features photographs, artifacts and documents that chronicle the brick and mortar building’s first 100 years, including the original blueprints of the building drawn up in 1911.
Lagonia pulled material from the library’s archives in the attic, including an original copy of the library rules from 1885, which provided prohibitions against gambling and smoking.Debra Julian, head of the library board’s Centennial Committee, also worked with Lagonia to make the exhibit a reality.
“From Century One To The Next Chapter” chronicles the library’s beginnings from its founding, when concerned citizens undertook the creation of the library as a place for young men and boys to escape the undesirable effects of saloons, to its multiple renovations over the years made possible by community support. Over the years, the additions have included a reference wing and basement-level children’s room in 1968 and a new program wing and expanded children’s room in 2003.
The library’s first building was initially located at Purdy Cottage on Purchase Street, but, in 1905, Sarah Parsons, widow of a prominent city benefactor, bequeathed the present site on the village green. The new building opened in 1913, funded entirely by community donations.
But as a community institution, the Rye library has actually been around for close to 130 years. The Rye Free Reading Room Association was formed in 1884 with a six person Board of Trustees, officially establishing Rye’s library system.
Before that, the city’s book collection had multiple homes. In 1870, it was located in Christ’s Church Rectory; in 1880 at Wagner’s Harness Shop, which stood by City Hall on the Boston Post Road; in 1881 at Rye’s Old Post office, and then at Purdy Cottage from 1890 to 1905.
In 1984, the Rye Free Reading Room library system celebrated its 100th birthday by publishing a book called “Century One: From 1884 to 1984” about the library system’s founding and history.
The library’s new executive director began his tenure in June, coming to Rye from the New York City Public Library system, where he was in charge of all teen programs from author visits to computer games to video game design workshops.“I’m excited to get some of that stuff going here,” said Shoemaker.
During centennial week, for example, teens can earn 20 hours of community service by becoming part of the library’s Hometown History Week. Students will use Historypin, an application that allows them to electronically pin historic photos and artifacts to a digital map of Rye, thereby creating an interactive storytelling experience via strategically placed symbols.
This year’s centennial celebration continues through Oct. 27, 2014. From January to October of next year, library staff will set up mini-displays celebrating one decade a month of the library’s existence at 1061 Boston Post Road.
Beginning in January, the library will ask people to submit their favorite books published in or set during that particular decade in the library’s history. Then, in October 2014, the librarians will put together a top 100 list of titles. Shoemaker, 31, said he is “excited to create a crowdsourced reading list.”
When he first came on board this summer, replacing former director Kitty Little, Shoemaker joined the library’s Board of Trustees to go over the library’s five-year strategic plan, which was implemented that summer. The board accepted his input readily, he said, and embraced his vision of the library.
“The community has been really wonderful about welcoming me into the library and giving me the history of it,” he said.Shoemaker said he thinks of libraries as “community spaces and centers for learning,” not just spaces where people can take out books. “People come in for unique experiences,” he said, “and maybe we can teach them something new.”
Shoemaker said he has been at work with the Rye Historical Society to come up with new program ideas. Coming up on Oct. 26 is Rye Author Night, where authors from Rye will meet and greet their patrons and fans. Some of those who have already committed to the event include Lee Woodruff and Abraham Lincoln scholar Howard Hughes.
When it comes to raising money for those programs, the library conducts community fundraising in the form of its annual giving campaign, and the city furnishes the library with roughly $1.1 million a year.
However, cuts in city funding in recent years have contributed to the departure of the last two library directors and has led to the library progressively cutting its hours.
Shoemaker said he is ready and willing to help the library raise funds to implement the elements of its most recent five-year strategic plan. The goal of this plan, which he helped craft with the library trustees this summer, is “to continue to provide outstanding service to residents of Rye; grow children, teens and adults as lifelong library users, and connect them with the best services and programs.”
Shoemaker said he has been doing his due diligence to fully integrate himself in Rye:
attending City Council meetings, meeting with council people formally and informally, and even sitting down with state Sen. George Latimer and former Rye Mayor and current state Assemblyman Steve Otis to talk about the city and the library’s place in its history.