GLOVERSVILLE – When the Gloversville Public Library reopened in 2018 following a $9.1 million renovation, the contents of the Local History Room still sat in boxes.
To prepare for the construction phase of the renovation, the contents of the room had to be packed away, and once the library reopened, the staff had to get used to operating a facility with three times the public space, said Christine Pesses, a Gloversville Public Library Board Trustee.
“We were understaffed and just trying to figure out this much larger facility. When you go from one floor with public access to three and a half floors, it’s a big change,” Pesses said. “The Local History Room really had to wait.”
On Saturday, the wait is over. The new Local History Room is now open after volunteers–guided by professional state archivists–spent the last six months organizing the extensive collection to get it ready once again for public use.
The opening of the Local History Room marks one of the final chapters in the decade-long renovation project, which was paid for through a combination of grants and private donations.
On Friday, library leaders, community members, politicians, state officials and others celebrated the opening of the Local History Room as well as the library’s prestigious 2021 New York State Preservation Award. One of just 10 recipients to be bestowed with the honor last year, the award recognizes the library for excellence in historic rehabilitation for the recently completed work transforming the 1904 Carnegie library.
“One hundred and eighteen years after construction, this library and your diligent and long-serving efforts are being recognized for an excellence in historic rehabilitation–work that has rehabilitated, transformed and modernized this library with full respect for its historic character,” said Daniel Mackay, New York State deputy commissioner for Historic Preservation.
The renovation included everything from the addition of an elevator, structural supports and air conditioning to finishing the once dank basement to outfitting the Carnegie Room with tools for those with hearing differences.
“That’s a big task. You have honored this building. You have stewarded this building as well as the library mission so effectively, and I think the agency recognized the effort and the obligation that you felt to honor and recommit to the 1904 gift from Andrew Carnegie,” Mackay said during Friday’s ceremony.
Of the nearly 1,700 libraries that Carnegie funded in the U.S. between 1883 and 1929, 106 were in New York state, including the libraries in Gloversville and Johnstown, Mackay said.
The Gloversville library’s Local History Room, which can be visited on Saturdays and by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays–is a treasure trove of materials pertinent to the history of Gloversville, Fulton County, the Mohawk Valley and the Capital District. It contains documents ranging from Fulton County cemetery records, Gloversville High School yearbooks and local newspapers on microfilm to old atlases of the Mohawk Valley and genealogy resources.
The room is of personal importance to Thomas Ruller, State Archivist at the New York State Department of Education.
A Gloversville native, Ruller first visited the Gloversville library as a first grader in 1970. He still remembers the book he checked out – Katy and the Big Snow.
Throughout his life, the library played a central role, with the former Local History Room taking on added significance. Even as a teenager looking at old documents in the room, it was not lost on him that if, say, the writing on a tombstone had eroded, the only records of someone’s life were in files he could find inside the Local History Room. He said his time spent in that room and in the library itself paved the way toward his career as an archivist.
So when he found out that members of the state archivist team that he now leads would be helping advise the reopening of Gloversville’s Local History Room, he was tickled–even after his team texted a photo of him that they found in his old high school yearbook.
“It’s making the connection from where you were to where you are,” Ruller said.
The opening of the new Local History Room helps ensure the story continues, Ruller said.
“Having the Local History Room reopened means that researchers will now be able to explore these resources, add to them and make sure that the story of Gloversville can continue to be told,” Ruller said.
Several speakers and audience members spoke generally about the importance of libraries and specifically about the importance of the Gloversville library.
Gloversville Mayor Vincent DeSantis said he’s been coming to the library since he was a kid, when the tradition was to spend Saturdays picking out books before heading to the YMCA.
But the mayor said it’s only been within the past few years that he’s recognized the full scope of what the library means to other people. That’s because DeSantis said a lot of new faces have moved to Gloversville over that period, and part of the introductory process is that the mayor hand delivers welcome packets and chats with new residents.
“I ask, ‘What brought you to Gloversville?’” DeSantis said during Friday’s ceremony. “And a significant number say, ‘I saw the beautiful library, and I knew this was a place where I wanted to live.’”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.