Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 16 July 2010 00:00
While many other little girls were playing princesses and ballerinas, future Syosset Library director Judith Lockman and her friends dedicated their time to decidedly more literary pursuits: they played library on her front steps.
“We made up our own library cards, we’d discuss what we were reading- if you read more books, you got to sit on a higher step,” Lockman said fondly. Considering that many library patrons remain under the impression that Lockman has read every single book contained in the Syosset collection (despite her assurances to the contrary), on the eve of her July 30 retirement- after a 38-year career in libraries- Lockman must be sitting on a high step indeed.
Currently, Syosset Public Library is the biggest library in Nassau County (although Great Neck, with three facilities, has the most books.) The library provides services to between 1,000 and 1,400 people every day, and is the only library in the county with a whole floor dedicated to readers’ services, or matching readers with books they would like to read. Furthermore, Lockman said that the library is so well supported by the community that they can purchase newer technologies, like Blu-Ray discs, without having difficulty purchasing plenty of books and magazine subscriptions.
“The public library presents a cost-effective option for people to borrow movies, books, music…it’s a very economic use of taxpayer dollars…and our public has come to depend on us for the latest materials, knowing they can come here and we’ll have multiple copies,” said Lockman.
The director’s daily tasks at the library generally consisted of supervising a team of 82 staffers, and coordinating with Assistant Library Director Karen Liebman and Adult Services Librarian Lisa Caputo, both of whom Lockman credits with much of the library’s current success. The trio met on a regular basis to decide what directions to pursue in regard to purchasing for the library’s many collections.
Always a voracious reader, Lockman started her library career at a young age by reading her way through the then-meager children’s department. “In those days, a long time ago, there was not an abundance of children’s literature- actually Maurice Sendak, who wrote in the 1960s, was a breakthrough children’s author. I grew up in the 1950s, so after I’d read every Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Cherry Ames, I went through the biography section in the children’s room.”
In her early professional life, Lockman became a licensed English teacher for grades 7-12 and taught for one year in Dix Hills before deciding that teaching was not her preferred career. “Then I decided what I really wanted, instead of instructing young people, I wanted to encourage literacy in a more recreational setting,” said Lockman. The director commented that she had difficulty with the disciplinary aspects of teaching. However, despite moving away from schools and into the warm environs of South Huntington Public Library, the experience left Lockman with an informed perspective on teaching.
“I have tremendous admiration for teachers; I think it’s a very difficult job,” the director said.
Lockman then spent 16 years as a children’s librarian before moving on to the teen section, where she spent two years. While she eventually moved on to the adult reference department, she still sees the children’s department as, in many respects, the most important. “As a former children’s librarian, I think it’s important for people to understand that that’s really the heart of the building. A lot of people that don’t visit a public library after they finish high school or college…they don’t come back until they have a child,” she said. She also noted the joy of the intergenerational experience of the children’s department, which draws in everyone from newborn babies to parents, teachers, and grandparents.
Just when Lockman was saying her goodbyes to the children’s department in the 1980s, something exciting was happening in libraries everywhere: The arrival of computers. While Lockman said that she misses the card catalogue, the need to adapt to new technologies has been a constant in her career. When she made the move to administration, becoming the director of the Seaford Public Library in 1995, one of the first things Lockman did was set up one of the first public access computers, with access to the Internet, in the county.
“It was a little frightening to put out a computer with open Internet access,” she said.
In 2001, Lockman became the director of the Syosset Public Library. While she relished working in a community that supported the library so strongly, there was a problem: the design of the building, erected in 1969, was now antiquated. Furthermore, the library was getting too much use for the amount of floor space available. From the approval of funds for the new building in 2003 to the opening of the new library in January, 2007, Lockman oversaw the major reconstruction project.
“I was very fortunate, I worked 38 years in public libraries, and to have the opportunity to create a new building is the ultimate gift,” said Lockman. She went on to characterize the creation of the new and improved Syosset Library as the highlight of her career.
However, with the new building came several major changes, some of which were controversial. Hand in hand with the physical reconstruction went a conceptual re-imagining of the library, which had made the transition from a storehouse of knowledge to a community meeting place. Many additions, such as a theater and a café where patrons can bring their own food to eat and even buy coffee, were added.
While food is still not allowed in most areas of the library, Lockman stressed the importance of allowing people to bring food in terms of making the library a comfortable place for people to stay. She said that while she has no desire to take business away from the service station across the street, watching kids and teens run across busy South Oyster Bay Road for a snack had always been a source of concern for her. Now, with the café, not only are residents able to stay longer without having to leave, but a serious safety risk has been minimized.
Furthermore, the director personally saw to it that the coffee machine was high-quality; a coffee-drinker herself, she would not accept a machine that could not produce coffee up to residents’ standards. Now, the service has become very popular. “For $1.25, you get a fabulous cup of coffee,” she said with a smile.
The café also interfaces well with the theater; Lockman said that she often sees patrons head from the theater to the café for coffee and discussion after attending one of the library’s frequent programs.
However, despite the fact that her library is now a very comfortable place, with a cornucopia of multi-media and delicious coffee readily available, with nearly four decades of service behind her, not to mention grandchildren, Lockman feels it’s time to move on. “It’s been an honor to work in Syosset and I’m proud of what we accomplished, making the library a popular destination spot for community residents,” she said.
For those curious what the director will be reading now that books will once again be a hobby rather than an occupation, Lockman enjoys humorous authors like Janet Evanovich when listening to audio books, but prefers denser prose, like that of Empire Falls by author Richard Russo, when she sits down to read in the traditional manner. Her favorite book is J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, which she rereads once every five or six years. “…I feel that all the wisdom in the world is in that book,” she said.
Later, as befits a true librarian, she concluded “It’s time for me to have another chapter in my life.”