CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — Patrons of the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library last week joined staff members, volunteers, retired staff, and first-time visitors in an upbeat celebration to mark the library’s 50th anniversary.
The music-filled event on April 19 marked 50 years to the day that the library, then known as the Shenendehowa Free Library, opened its doors with just 3,660 volumes on the second floor of a Route 9 bank building.
For those who recall the library’s history of struggle, it was a joyful entertaining disconnect to watch the day’s musical guest, Big Fez and the Surfmatics; four men in leopard print sport coats, black slacks, white shirts, black ties and scarlet, cylindrical, fezzes, knock out tunes like “California Sun”, “King of the Surf”, “Pipeline”, “Telstar”, “Tequila”, and “Secret Agent Man."
The group with its repertoire of late 1950s to late 1960s music was selected especially to remind everyone what was in the air when the idea of a library was floated. Their presence synched perfectly with the public remarks from the library Board of Trustees President Russ Wise.
“Fifty years after opening people are still coming to our library; not only for books, CDs, and DVDs, but also for programs, classes, events, and tutoring,” he said. “If you were to come by any afternoon around 3 p.m. or on a rainy day you’d see why we are here. Libraries in general, and certainly ours, have become the equivalent of a town square or a village green where all are welcome and where all ideas can be discussed and debated in a neutral space.”
As examples of the changing nature of libraries, Wise noted that in the past year the library has launched a new website, refashioned its brand and logo, and added a café.
“In the coming year we’ll be adding digital signs for the program room and an events calendar to the website as well as continuing to look at how we use both our inside area and our outside space,” he said.
He expanded on his remarks after the musical set had finished and a huge cake was being cut and distributed.
“We’ve grown and matured in the past 50 years, and we hope to continue for the next 50,” he said. “Libraries becoming community centers is a nationwide trend.”
His position was supported by board of trustees’ member Purushothaman Srinivasan.
“It’s a long-term shift in how the library is viewed,” he said. “It’s not just taking out books and CDs, but a place to share ideas.”
The 12-year-old, $14.4 million, 55,000-square-foot library at 475 Moe Road is a long ways away from the library’s meager beginnings in the rented space above a bank.
Thanks to the persistence and dedication of a number of area residents, the library was able to slowly flourish after a first attempt at forming a tax-supported library was defeated by voters.
With the defeat still fresh in their minds, the group formed the Shenendehowa Free Library Association. It was that group that eventually opened the library’s doors, just twice a week at first, above the bank.
From the bank building, the library moved to an old Shenendehowa Union Free schoolhouse on Cemetery Road. Those who volunteered in the building recalled how there was never enough heat in the building to heat both the upstairs and the basement where the offices were located. When a patron came in, a knock on the pipes let those in the basement know the heat was being switched.
From there the library moved to a newly built building on donated land at 1 Wall Street. The Moe Road building opened on Dec. 11, 2006.
One of the library’s early on volunteers and later a paid staff member, Evelyn (Evie) Petryk attended last week’s anniversary event. Petryk and Nola Reese started the library’s popular Friday-Free-For-All program. On this particular Friday, Petryk sat in the second row of chairs and moved her body to the pulsating music like everyone else in the room as if it were still 1969.
“We started the Friday-Free-For-All because we were getting a lot of older citizens, and they wanted something to do,” Petryk said. “We had events each week right from the start. We had the programs and coffee and donuts, especially chocolate donuts. I was the host until I retired in the late 1990s. I loved it, absolutely loved it. It’s wonderful to see the library grow.”