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Award-winning reference librarian dies at 85

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Loretta Kelleher, an award-winning reference librarian at East Meadow Public Library, died suddenly in her Freeport apartment on July 23 a week before her birthday. She was 85.

Kelleher was born in Glen Falls, NY, and went to Marywood College in Pennsylvania, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Library Science in 1955 and her Master of Science degree in the same field the following year.

She moved to Freeport in 1958, where she was hired at the Freeport Public Library. She became a reference librarian at the East Meadow Public Library in 1963. During her 56-year tenure, she also implemented two projects with the Nassau Library System.

Kelleher launched the Adult Independent Learner Program with the College Entrance Examination Board and was in charge of surveying county agencies to determine their need for library services, which she completed with Muriel Javelin. Kelleher was also on a network of advisors for the Regents College Degree Program.

The New York Times recognized Kelleher’s talents and service in 2003 by awarding her the NY Times Librarian Award. This was one of the many awards and honors she has received throughout her career.

She also earned the Librarian of the Year award from the Nassau County Library System Board of Trustees in 2003 and she was awarded the Librarian of the Year award by the Catholic Library Association in 1996.

In addition to her career as a librarian, Kelleher was also a passionate genealogist. “Her depth of knowledge and intelligence was astonishing,” said Jude Schanzer, the library’s director of programming.

Kelleher was a charter member and four-year board member of the Irish Family History Forum, the largest Irish genealogy association on Long Island.

She attended the Irish Genealogy Congress Conference at Trinity College in Dublin in 1994 and, again, at Maynooth University in County Kildare in 1997. On Long Island, she was a regular attendee of the "Roots" Conferences.

Kelleher was a member of the Catholic Library Association’s Brooklyn unit and Nassau County Library Association. She was also a member of the Irish Cultural Society in Garden City, the Irish Genealogy Society, the Jewish Genealogy Society, the National Archives Northeast Region, the New England Historic Genealogy Society, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and the New York Irish History Roundtable.

Kellher helped a number of library guests create a family tree and regularly mentored people researching their family’s history.

“Whether it be an ancient quote, a long-lost recipe, or the need to find a doctor for a rare disease, Loretta could find it,” Schanzer said. “She was thorough, meticulous and dogged in her efforts. It paid off. There was always a positive result.”

Kelleher became a local celebrity when she caught a book thief who was stealing expensive, sometimes rare, reference books from libraries throughout the Metropolitan Area, and selling them online

The thief tried to steal from the East Meadow Public Library, but Kellher caught him by spotting the books online and matching the content of the descriptions, the types of books and the writing styles promoting various books.

The culprit was arrested and Kelleher had a new accomplishment to add to her already bursting biography.

Kelleher is survived by her sister Barbara Ostrom, of Rochester, NY, and many nieces and nephews.

A memorial mass will be held for Kelleher in September at a to-de-determined date and place on Long Island.