“Virginia Woolf famously stated that a room of one’s own is necessary for writing fiction — a physical space is necessary to embody ideas,” Katherine Zito, the president of the Friends of the Baldwin Public Library, told a room packed with people at the Baldwin Public Library’s Centennial Gala last Saturday. “In that vein, this library has long provided me and our community with not just a room, but a veritable palace.”
Surrounded by gold decorations and glowing fairy lights, more than 125 people gathered in the Reference Area of the library, at 2385 Grand Ave., to offer hearty “cheers” to 100 years and reflect on the role that the community space has played in their lives.
“This interaction between the physical world and the world of ideas is something I think about a lot here at our library,” Zito said, “as I pause between pages and clicks to look around at my fellow patrons, individuals from all walks of life, sometimes strangers but temporarily friends and comrades, as we accomplish whatever task brought us here — to learn and to express, to introspect and to commune, to work and to play, and to escape and to arrive.”
Library employees, board members, elected officials, community leaders and residents alike celebrated a century with a night of food, dancing and fun.
“I’ve spent many hours here on my own, with my kids,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Baldwinite, before presenting the library with a citation. “I love having an afternoon off when I can just come and read any magazine I want. But it’s not just that. You guys are evolving into the 21st century, with all the technology and streaming, evolving like the rest of the world. Libraries are more and more becoming community centers — a place where people come together — there’s tutoring, there’s meetings. It’s the real heartbeat of the community. Let’s raise a glass to the next 100 years.”
Co-hosted by the library and the Friends of the Baldwin Public Library, the 100th anniversary celebration featured catering by a local business, Delicious Moments, raffles and a cash bar that benefitted the Friends group.
“You can see and feel the joy and pride in the people who are here tonight — it’s palpable,” Library Director Elizabeth Olesh said. “It’s wonderful to experience this tangible show of love and support for the library. The night was successful beyond anything we could have imagined.”
The celebration required months of planning to pull it together and transform the vision into reality, Olesh said, and she thanked her staff for their hard work, particularly Debra Kelly, Bianca Roberto, Kaysha Watson-Phillips, Colleen Hughes, Cynthia Gonzalez, Paula Lariosa, the Board of Trustees, the Friends group and the custodial staff.
“And, of course, there is no way we could have come this far without you — the community,” she continued. “It is our privilege and honor to serve you every day. To all of you, thank you. You have been there for us over the past 100 years, and we can’t wait to see how far we can go together during the next hundred.”
Guests enjoyed slices of a cake adorned with flowers and the library’s logo before dancing the night away on the temporary dance floor in the middle of the room. The patio was open as well, covered by a tent, and the Atrium held a step-and-repeat for photos.
“It honestly just feels really surreal and magical because this physical space, this building, has been a landmark in my life for so long,” Zito said.
Arlene Rapinat, who has lived in Baldwin for 31 years and attended the gala as a guest, said the library has long been a part of her life. She used to bring her children to the programs and often visits to borrow books and DVDs.
“The library is one of the most important parts of a town, I would say, and I think it’s lovely that we’re having this celebration,” Rapinat said. “I’m very happy to be here. I think everyone should support their local library.”
“As the world has transformed over the past hundred years, so has the Baldwin Public Library,” Library Board President Ethell Smith said. “As we enter our next century, we will continue to transform to serve the community. Tonight is a night to celebrate, a night to dance, and most definitely a night when no one will shush you or ask you to be quiet.”
In 1919, the members of the Woman’s Advance Club cobbled together a modest budget of donations to rent a small storefront, Smith explained. Three years later, the library was open for two hours, three days a week, offering a collection of 1,000 books and staffed primarily by volunteers.
“Fast forward to 2019 — in addition to having one of the larger collections of physical materials in Nassau County, we offer a wide range of online services, from e-books to streaming video, and that’s just the beginning,” Smith said. “Whether you want to learn about craft brewing, take a yoga class, find your next great read or build a LEGO castle with your kids, we’ve got you covered. We are the only community agency that serves everyone, from birth through seniors, and this is all accomplished by our staff of trained professionals.”
But the celebration isn’t over. The library will cut a cake at 3 p.m. on the library’s official birthday on Oct. 24. The library will also host Family Fun Day on Oct. 19 in collaboration with the Grand Baldwin Festival hosted by the Community Coalition of Baldwin. Family Fun Day will feature a variety of activities for children and adults, and the festival will be held in the municipal parking lot behind the library.