Interview: Farmingdale Public Library
When the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent this past March, the Farmingdale Public Library in Nassau County rapidly adjusted its programs, services, and initiatives to the changing needs of its community. Recognizing the historical significance of the moment, the Library’s Local History Department responded by involving the community in several projects to ensure the COVID-19 experience of 2020 is not one that is forgotten by future generations.
For the latest chat in our ongoing Q&A series, we talked with Natalie Korsavidis and Toniann Contarino, Local History Librarians at the Farmingdale Public Library, about the Library and its COVID-19 response—including how they were able to quickly adapt to the changing circumstances, why they think it’s essential to document our current experience, and advice for institutions interested in creating their own COVID-19 documentation projects.
Tell us a little about the Farmingdale Public Library. Where is it located and what is its mission?
The Farmingdale Public Library is located on Long Island, New York. It Is a public library in Nassau County, right on the border of Nassau and Suffolk Counties with a diverse population and a rich history. The Farmingdale Public Library’s primary missions are:
- Enhancing the cultural, recreational and educational needs of all the community by serving as a center for print and non print materials;
- Facilitating access to information and knowledge through cooperation with other libraries and educational institutions;
- Providing meeting space for local groups and organizations interest in the cultural, recreational and education development of the citizens of the community.
The Farmingdale Public Library’s first part of the mission statement allowed for the creation of the Local History Department. The Local History Department collects, maintains, and preserves materials on local history for the benefit of historians and library patrons. The history collection also collects and maintains archival material pertaining to the history of the Farmingdale Public Library. The main purpose is to ensure the maintenance of history for the Farmingdale area, with the surrounding areas of lesser priority.
What is the size and scope of its archival collections?
The Local History Department has just begun collecting and organizing materials for preservation of the history of Farmingdale and the library itself. The true size of our archival collection is still yet to be determined, as we have just started a true archive for the library itself. The Local History Collection and Archive’s primary areas of collecting include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Materials that record the history, development, and the current state of affairs of the Town and Village of Farmingdale.
- Images of Farmingdale sites and individual residents are an important part of this collection.
- Personal manuscripts and other materials that record the history, experiences, and ancestry of Westborough individuals and families.
- Records that chronicle the history of Farmingdale organizations and institutions.
- Materials that record the social and cultural heritage of past and present ethnic, immigrant, and religious groups in the community.
- Materials that contribute to a better understanding of the area’s geography, demographics, and architecture.
- Materials that record and provide context for understanding the lives of historically significant figures associated with the Town and Village of Farmingdale.
- Materials that provide instruction in the practice of genealogy, local history, preservation, oral history, and similar topics.
- Acquisitions from any time period and in any language may be considered. The geographic scope of the collection focuses specifically on Farmingdale and its environs.
The Farmingdale Public Library also houses Farmingdale-Bethpage Historical Society’s collection.
By the end of March this year, it became clear that cultural organizations in New York would not be able to be open to the public for some time. Can you describe some of the ways the Library responded and adapted?
The library was very quick to respond and adapt to the necessary changes. We went completely virtual very quickly with the creation of virtual displays and recommendations through Pinterest, as well as programs, recorded tutorials, book chats, and more. For the Local History Department, we were able to move forward with pushing many of our already in place programs and use them more frequently to reach our patrons. We continued with blog posts on local places or topics and we continued working heavily on our LibGuide which includes a local encyclopedia that we created filled with information on the people, places and history of Farmingdale.
We also decided to create three programs that allow patrons and other staff members to become involved, as well as documenting the current state of the town and what people have been facing during this pandemic. The first program was the COVID Stories, which is a form available on our blog that can be filled out by patrons telling us about their lives, the changes to their lives and what they have been doing or feeling during this pause to their normal daily lives. The second program was a continuation of that which was the COVID Time Capsule, which will document all aspects of lives being affected. This will be documented through the collection of newspaper articles, both online and print, Facebook posts, school postings, Chamber of Commerce postings, business postings, and much more. Lastly, our third program which has not started yet, but will soon, will be a podcast/oral history type program where we will interview employees and eventually patrons to document their stories through their verbal retelling of their daily lives and changes
Can you tell us a little more about the Farmingdale COVID Stories project? What prompted you to start it and how will the collection be used?
As previously stated, the COVID Stories project was a form to allow people to tell their stories and then developed further to be the COVID Time Capsule project which added more ways to collect all forms of information on the effects of COVID to our town. We quickly began to notice that it was going to be a major part of our history, and it was essential that during the pandemic was the best time to gather as much information as we could. We saw the information was quickly changing and people may one day want to see all of that information and what responses were taken by the town to adapt to these hard times.
The collection will be used online through our LibGuide where we will create an additional section called the COVID Time Capsule and we will organize it based on what type of information it is, for example if it is about business or schools, etc. Also, we will keep everything in digital copies on the library’s server to ensure we always have a digital copy, as well as print copies in our archive and photocopies in our vertical files for patron access.
Why do you think it is important to collect materials at this time?
We feel it is essential to collect materials at this time because it will be a major piece of our history and our future generations may one day need to know of this time and what effect it had on everyone’s lives. It is also essential to document this to preserve the history of Farmingdale’s citizens, whether it be a good story or bad. Preserving this piece of history may also help the future, if a similar state pause situation comes up. They have a history of the situation and any actions taken to better the lives of everyone in the town.
How do individuals from the Farmingdale community contribute to the project?
Farmingdale community members are urged to answer any questions posted to local Farmingdale Facebook pages, as well as fill out the COVID Stories form. We will also urge patrons to take part in the interviews that will be upcoming to tell their stories, so we can document the effects on all walks of life.
What kinds of materials have you been receiving? Have you come across any stories or images you find particularly representative of the present or that offer a unique perspective?
We have been receiving great answers to the questions posted to local Facebook pages. Staff members are also in the process of collecting articles which show stories of people in the town doing many different things to better the community. Some staff members are also taking photographs across the town to document what has been going on around town, like store closure signs or store offering signs. One great article that was sent to us was about the Farmingdale High School Robotics team using their 3D Printers to build plastic face masks that were donated to a local hospital system. The students and teacher used their own revenue from a tournament and community sponsors to fund their project and came to the needs of local first responders. The article is from Patch and can be viewed here.
Do you have any advice for institutions interested in creating their own COVID-19 documentation project?
The advice would be to organize your ideas and what information and types of resources would best document your town, its stories, and COVID’s effects on the town. Also, do not hesitate to ask for help. This project would be impossible for just one or even two people, so we involved other staff members to help. This ensures that we can gather as much information as possible, and it also helps document all sides of the story. Everyone has a different view of what should be documented and we have received a variety of materials from different staff members. Also, if you are unsure if you should save something, just save it. You can always remove it before properly accessioning your collection, if adding to an archive. You can also just remove additional or unnecessary links or screenshots later. If you do not collect them when you see them, you may miss it.
Do you have any additional projects or plans you’d like to mention?
Our LibGuide. It covers general Farmingdale history, as well as the encyclopedia. We have definitely invested a decent amount of time creating this history and encyclopedia. The LibGuide was able to help us organize this information properly and made it easy for patrons to access the information they would like. It also allows us to link to our digital photograph collection through NY Heritage, allowing us to also promote the Farmingdale-Bethpage Historical Society’s collection.
Image coutesy of the Farmingdale Public Library Local History Department. Learn more at www.farmingdalelibrary.org/local-history.