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Port Jeff library's got it all

Educator of the Year provides wealth of programs, materials

Above, high school student Robert Righi provides homework help to Madison Cucciniello from Mount Sinai as part of the Study Buddies program. Below, Director Robert Goykin looks at a slideshow of historical photographs at the library. Photos by Erika Karp

December 27, 2012 | 09:45 AM
Longtime Port Jefferson Village resident Joan Lehtonen walked out of the Port Jefferson Free Library on a brisk December afternoon with a book in her arms. It may have been cold, but Lehtonen didn't hesitate to talk for a few minutes when asked about the library.

"It is a wonderful library," Lehtonen said. "The atmosphere is superb; it is so quiet. It is a throwback to a time people don't remember."

Lehtonen wasn't the only person exiting or entering the old brick building on East Main Street to speak highly of it.

From a forensics program for teens called "CSI: Who Done It?" to a meditation program for adults or a book discussion on the New York Times bestseller "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand," there is something for everyone. In addition, the library has been committed to educating the public on local history and preserving the stories through the "Our Living Heritage" project.

For providing so many opportunities for people to learn — whether you are nine months, nine years or 99 years old — the Port Jefferson Free Library and the people who work there are The Port Times Record's People of the Year in Education.

The library first opened its doors in 1908 with 375 books, but from its humble beginnings on the second floor of the C.F. Robbins Grocery Store on the corner of East Broadway and East Main Street, the library grew quickly, according to "A History of the Port Jefferson Free Library," which the library compiled for its 100th anniversary. By mid-1910, the library had almost 1,000 books.

Today, the library has 11,600 members and offers 130,000 print items, 67,000 electronic items, 375 periodicals and 36,000 downloadable items to visitors from Port Jefferson, Mount Sinai and Miller Place.

Even though some people may question the purpose or need for libraries today, the Port Jefferson Free Library is proving it has a purpose and will continue to serve the public. Director Robert Goykin said the library is still a place that celebrates the community and provides a wide range of information and cultural activities.

"We're kind of doing the same thing we always did except it's not only about books now," he said.

Goykin pointed out the library offers an extensive collection of downloadable eBooks, audio books and articles.

"You don't need to come into the library to do your research and I think people forget about that," Goykin said. "It's so easy to Google, but you don't necessarily know you are getting accurate information when you are Googling."

Port Jefferson Free Library’s Green Teens made stamps for arts and crafts out of soda bottle caps and sponge material for the village’s Go Green Informational Fair in November.
In addition to the library's vast collection of materials, the collection of programs and services stands out.

John Kelsch, a Port Jefferson resident and father, said he encourages his 12-year-old son to participate in library programs.

"It's a safe, clean, caring environment for him," Kelsch said when he stopped by to return a few books.

In 2007, the library opened a Young Adult Center after the Good Times Bookshop, which sold out-of-print and rare books, closed its doors. The center features a used book store and space for teens to read, play games and surf the web.

Monica Williams, a librarian who works at the center, said books in the used book shop can be purchased for a suggested donation of a few dollars.

The library is also dedicated to helping teens in the area complete their community service hours. Teens have opportunities to volunteer with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Island Harvest and Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center, or to become involved in library programs like Green Teens, a group that volunteers at environmental events like the village's annual Go Green Information Fair, and Study Buddies, a homework help program that pairs high school volunteers with younger students.

Jean Lownds, a Mount Sinai resident and mother of two sons, one of whom is autistic, said the librarians in the Children's Department are extremely helpful and always point her in the right direction when she has questions about appropriate books for her son.

"I think it's a fantastic library," she said.

It seems only fitting that the library would be honored for its role in community education — after all, the village is named after former President Thomas Jefferson, as Goykin pointed out.

"He understood the value of an educated population with access to a wide range of information and it's important that people participate in that and have that wide range of access to information — not just what is on cable TV," Goykin said.

It's safe to say the Port Jefferson Free Library is providing just that.

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