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Lifelong love of books reaches twilight for 'library lady'

A love of books and reading turned into a long and fulfilling career for Alice Harford.

The recently retired librarian began her journey as a child when her mother made sure she always had books to read.

"It was the Depression, and books were expensive, but my mother made sure we had books available, and she encouraged me to read," Harford said.

Years later, she took a part-time job at Anderson-Lee Library here as a clerk for the head librarian in a building next to First United Presbyterian Church.

The librarian convinced town leaders that a new building was needed, and it was built in 1964 at its current location on Main Street. When the library was completed, the staff coordinated a "wagon train of books," with local Boy Scouts bringing wagons filled with books for a convoy down Main Street to their new home.

When the youngest of her five children went to school full time, Harford decided to pursue a college degree.

"I couldn't wait until the semesters were over, and I had a little time to read something other than a textbook," she recalled.

She graduated from Fredonia State College and then Buffalo State College with a master's degree in library science.

A chance visit to the Lake Shore Central School District to get a book on Shakespeare's theaters provided the opportunity for her first full-time job. She was hired at Highland Elementary School in the Lake Shore district after an employee there told her of two openings.

"I felt so fortunate because other students I had graduated with said there were just no jobs for librarians anywhere on the East Coast," Harford said.

Her career as a school librarian started and ended at Highland Elementary, where she retired in 1994 after 17 years working with children.

Now that she had free time, new opportunities beckoned. In 2001, Anderson-Lee Library was searching for a new librarian, and Harford returned to work. She was hired as the library director in September and started her second career as a librarian.

Many changes happened at the public library, mainly involving computers. There were adult education classes on computers using software programs. A children's section with its own computers was installed, and the library itself changed over to a completely computerized system.

The long, narrow drawers of card files disappeared, replaced by a scanner and system that tracks books and lets borrowers request books from many libraries within the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System. Added to the collection later were movies on tape and then DVDs, and books on tape and then CDs, along with various multimedia items.

Harford recalls that in the days of the card catalog, some books came with 12 different cards. Books would be cataloged by author, title and several subjects. Librarians had to place all the cards in their proper order before a book could go on the shelf for eager readers to take home and enjoy.

Harford said business at the library is very steady. She said the number of readers often grows in the summer as visitors populate the nearby lakefront areas and come to the local library for their summer novels. "People who are out here visiting and live permanently in Buffalo often marvel at how easy it is to borrow and find the latest novels in our library," she said proudly.

Harford said that one group of summer residents even coordinates a book club with the library and that several copies of the same book are brought in so they can read and discuss the work.

Harford said they had local favorites that readers would request but also had the good fortune of having readers donate popular books.

From September 2001 until last fall, she worked full time as the local library director and promoter of reading. She welcomed groups that use the library for education, training, tutoring and research. She also brought books to the St. Columban's on the Lake Retirement Home, where she read to senior citizens and found them large-print books.

In addition, she started a reading program at the Lake Shore Family Care Program in Irving, where she read books to preschool children and still does that in her "second retirement."

"I look forward to the children saying, 'The library lady is coming to read,' " she said.

So what does a librarian do when she retires? She reads, of course.

"I have been reading a book a week since I retired," she said.

And what does the family of a librarian get her as gifts?

Books, of course.