Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities. – R. David Lankes
I have a vague memory of my first library card. I think it was made out of thin cardboard! Anyone out there remember that copier machine they used to check out your books? For some reason I loved that thing – and had a young flirtation with the thought of being a librarian just so I could operate it.
As a young adult I recall paying a visit to the library after a long absence. I circled the room, searching for the card catalog – never to be seen again. Oh dear. How old do I sound?
Anyway. . . one of the first things I did when I moved to Long Beach in 2010 was get my library card. As a writer and a reader, I love libraries! So I was delighted when Michael Simon, our new Long Beach Library Director agreed to chat with me for this blog. His enthusiasm for the library tells me it’s in very good hands – with a very bright future.
Bronx born, Albany educated and a resident of Long Beach for nearly 40 years, Michael is on his fourth career. His first was teaching English in upstate New York. After four years he realized he didn’t love it so he moved back to NYC and took a job as a Drug Prevention Specialist. He got a promotion, moved to Long Island, and set up a new life.
When he realized that the only possibility for career advancement would require moving away, Michael started contemplating other possibilities. He was offered an opportunity to buy into a beverage business in Huntington Station – and decided to take a leap of faith.
The hours were long – 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. – plus weekends and holidays, but he liked running his own business and stayed with it for 20 years. The turning point came when the Bottle Bill was enacted. It changed the business. Returns brought in all sorts of problems, like dirt, bugs and storage. The growing intolerance of drunk driving and strict ID enforcement presented the worry that a lax employee would screw up and sell alcohol to a minor. Costo opened and started selling beverages in bulk. Michael recognized it was time to get out. He sold right before 9/11.
Then came the question we all ask – what do I do with my life?
As it turned out, the door to a new opportunity had already cracked opened for him. “One of my customers would ask me about exotic beers, this was at the time that craft beers were gaining popularity, and I would try to find them for him.” With a grin Michael declares, “I say it was my first reference job.”
And it turns out – his customer was a librarian!
Michael met up with him to learn about the profession and found out about a program at Queens College Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Michael says, “I was always a reader and I decided to go for it.” Right from the start he was hooked and felt “right at home.” It was a rigorous program, and while he was still in school, Michael took on trainee positions at both Merrick and Peninsula library. In 2003 he interviewed with George Trepp (retired in 2015) and accepted a position managing the Media Collection at Long Beach Library. He loved it. Michael got active in library associations and became a permanent full-time librarian in 2004.
On September 20, 2012, Michael was promoted to Assistant Director. A month later Superstorm Sandy obliterated the library. “It was maybe seven days before we could get into the building. The carpets were waterlogged. It smelled, and the tables and chairs were damaged.” They hired a restoration company to save whatever they could. Everyone wore masks during the clean-up. Damaged books were tossed and anything salvageable was put into storage. Thinking back to that time he said, “this was when the community needed us the most and we couldn’t be there.”
The main branch re-opened in March 2013. The West End Branch (also destroyed) moved down the street and was re-imagined. “It was really built with input from the community, who wanted an emphasis put on technology and a reading space.”
In addition to the Main and West End Branches, Michael also manages Point Lookout. He says he measures success by the amount of people using the library. And when he travels – he likes to check out other libraries.
In his new role as Director, he’s eager to develop projects that foster strong connections with the community. Some ideas he’s working on include a Storytelling Project (similar to the Moth) and performance nights featuring The Great Courses. He’s also keen to expand the Jazz Festival, which coincidentally started the same year he did.
The most important asset of any library goes home at night. The library staff. – Timothy Healy
The Channels Newsletter has a list of programs currently offered at all branches. Book clubs meet monthly and locals may be especially interested in the on-line Local History Collection which features a gallery of historical Long Beach photographs. The library also has a collection of Long Beach High School yearbooks going back to the 1920’s.
Michael likes to spend his down time teeing off at the The Lido Golf Club and enjoys dinners at LB Social, Sorrento’s and Lost and Found. Fond old memories include evenings spent at Chauncey’s and Timothy Tubs.
Living and working in Long Beach has it’s advantages. His commute takes about four minutes. Excellent for him, because he believes, “To be effective at a library you need to be a part of the community.”
Nearing the end of our chat, I delightedly learn that he has a card catalog in his house! A really old one (with drawers large enough to hold CD’s) from the era when the cards were large and handwritten. Once upon a time, library handwriting was a required course for a diploma.
Today, my library card may be plastic and my research done via computer – but no Kindle for me. Call me old-fashioned but I love a book in my hands!
Polar Wear – nope – hasn’t plunged yet.
Coming up next on Short Stories from Long Beach: Florence and Phil Celella – a couple with a Long Beach story that began in 1960.