LEWISTON – The 115-year-old Lewiston Public Library moved into its spacious new home a quarter-century ago – and Jill Palermo remembers that time well.
She had been hired in June 1990 as a 17-year-old page. In November, the library left its historic home at 505 Center St. – built in 1815 as a home for Judge William Hotchkiss – and moved into a new, $1.5 million building at 305 S. Eighth St., that tripled its space.
Today, Palermo, 42, is the library’s director.
She oversees a staff of 12 in a library with a circulation of 89,000, which includes: 60,500 books, 75 magazine titles, seven newspapers and 2,400 compact discs, MP3s and “playaways” – units a little bigger than a Tic Tac container that use earbuds and have replaced books on tape. Patrons also may also download books, movies and music on their own personal devices and may use free WiFi service on six computers – all of which would have been unimagined 25 years ago.
But books still rule the day – both in her professional and personal life, Palermo said.
“I was just looking at our most recent circulation figures and electronics have still not taken over the print material here,” she said.
“I still like to read an actual book, myself, and hold it in my hands,” she said. “I’m on computers all day long and I don’t want to read a book on an e-reader.”
Palermo and her husband, Joseph, a Niagara Falls police officer, have three young children, Max, Emily and Megan.
She said her children still read print books, too.
“That might be because of me,” she said with a chuckle. “They have their devices, but they still read print books.”
Noting Palermo’s “roots in the community,” Linus L. Ormsby, Jr., president of the library’s board of trustees, said, “We’re very fortunate to have Jill as director. She knows what the community wants and likes and she’s able to accommodate those wishes. She’s done a great job for the library – and she’s a very nice person.”
And, JoAnne Lotterio, president of the Friends of the Lewiston Library, noted the library is “the cornerstone of the community.”
“Jill is a ‘hands-on’ director,” Lotterio said. “She will help to haul boxes of donated books to storage as well as volunteering her services during the Friends’ annual book sale.”
Palermo recently took a few minutes to talk about her career, the importance of libraries and what the future might look like.
When you took the job as a page with the Lewiston Public Library in 1990, did you know you’d pursue a career in library science?
No. I graduated from Lewiston-Porter High School and went to Niagara County Community College for liberal arts. Then I went to Buffalo State College for criminal justice, just because it was interesting, but not because I wanted a career in it.
They made me a part-time clerk at the library in 1996 and I think it was Janet Domzella (library director from 1977-2000), who told me about the library school at UB. I graduated in 2001 with my master’s degree in library science and then I became a part-time librarian here.
When did you take over as director?
I stayed a part-time librarian until (Director) Ron Shaw left and then I was named full-time interim director in June 2010 and then appointed director in November 2010.
Has funding been one of your biggest challenges as director?
We’ve been able to maintain just fine with what we’ve been given lately. The amount from the Town of Lewiston has stayed the same and the Village of Lewiston gives us in-kind services. We don’t get a lot of (direct) state aid, but we have a $17,000 grant from Niagara County. The state does give money to NIOGA (Niagara, Orleans and Genesee Library System) and that funnels through to all of us. The Town of Niagara gives us $1,600 a year because they don’t have a library of their own.
Why is it important for communities to have libraries?
They are really the community center for a lot of people. Our community room is booked up most of the time. Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center holds workshops here; the Lewiston Garden Club holds its regular meetings here; and more and more groups are asking about it.
We have patrons who come in all of the time to talk to us – we’ve become their friends. We have a puzzle (in the main room) and some come in every day to work on it – maybe that’s their social hour.
I think even the parents enjoy the children’s story hours because they like to socialize themselves.
And we have some people who come in every day to use the computers. We also get the occasional students and job-seekers who use them.
Tell me about the Friends of the Lewiston Library.
The Friends are amazing. They have a large membership, but it’s actually just a small group that does the fundraising. I have to give them credit because they are all volunteers. They fund pretty much all of the programs in the children’s room, including the summer reading program, as well as contribute to our collections.
And, they make a lot of money at their annual book sale each summer – and that’s proof that people still like books!
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