Friday, 14 August 2009 00:00
Most of Long Island’s public libraries serve the residents of specific school districts, incorporated villages or cities. Herricks and some of the surrounding communities fell through the cracks, and it took a well-organized community campaign dedicated to learning and culture to create Shelter Rock Public Library.
A century ago, there were only five small public libraries in all of Nassau County. By the late 1930s, the Villages of East Williston, Mineola, New Hyde Park and Williston Park had opened public libraries, and neighboring Great Neck, Manhasset and Roslyn had libraries based on school district boundaries. Thousands of new homes in unincorporated neighborhoods were being built along and near Hillside Avenue with no official library service. By 1960, over 9,000 households stretching from New Hyde Park Road to Glen Cove Road had to use libraries in other nearby communities. However, these libraries were also dealing with rapidly increasing populations and some now restricted services to outside residents. The local building boom was still going strong, with much of Manhasset Hills and Searingtown still not completed, and remaining land was becoming scarce.
Small gaps in library service were becoming common on Long Island and other suburbs, as new neighborhoods were being built out of farms and open space. The gap that included most of the Herricks school district and parts of four adjacent districts had become the most populated contiguous gap in downstate New York.
In the summer of 1960, a formal campaign was launched to create a publicly-supported library for the unincorporated portions of the Herricks, Mineola, East Williston and New Hyde Park-Garden City Park school districts. An organizing board of five trustees was chosen to arrange for public support and for the help of elected officials. After several months, New Hyde Park-Garden City Park families chose to form their own library, and opened the Hillside Library in the Manor Oaks School on Hillside Avenue in April 1962 (in 2007, that library was merged with the New Hyde Park village library in the new large facility on Lakeville Road).
Because the area to be served fell between official villages and took in parts of more than one school district, it didn’t fit the models for creating public libraries in existing law. It was decided that the Town of North Hempstead should create a special service district to build and administer the library. The state legislature would have to pass a law authorizing the town government to create this district, and local voters would have to approve of the plan. At the time, there was only one other town library district in the state.
A Friends of the Library Committee was formed to begin raising funds to buy books, even before the new library was approved or had a name. Immediately, support active began building, and numerous organizations made contributions to the new cause, including school Parent-Teacher Associations, homeowners associations, fraternal clubs and at least one volunteer fire department. Scores of residents volunteered to canvass their blocks for contributions and support.
Local state legislators sponsored a bill authorizing the creation of the new library district in the spring of 1961. It was passed by the State Senate and Assembly, and a vote was tentatively scheduled for June, but Governor Rockefeller surprised the library advocates by vetoing the bill because of a wording technicality. The entire process had to start again during the 1962 legislative session. The law was finally adopted and on June 23, 1962, voters approved the creation of Shelter Rock Library District by an overwhelming vote of 1,658 to 438. Only two weeks before, voters in the Herricks district had defeated one of a string of proposals to build additional schools. School construction and expansion was a highly controversial and divisive local topic, but the support for a local tax-supported library had very broad support within the new district.
The state Board of Regents granted the new library a provisional charter on August 24, 1962 (the charter was made permanent in January 1968). An elected board of trustees leased a building on I.U. Willets Road, just east of the railroad tracks, and hired a professional director and legal counsel (Frances Conrad and Herbert Balin, respectively; they would both serve the district for nearly 40 years). After a search of several years, the site on Searingtown Road was acquired in 1967. A library building of 20,000 square feet was completed in 1970 at an initial cost of about $900,000, just over one-third of which was underwritten by the federal government under a special school construction program.
Shelter Rock Library District is technically part of the town government, and some major financial decisions and the annual budget must be approved by the Town Board.
There have been some adjustments to the district borders over the years, the most significant being inclusion of a large portion of the Village of North Hills in 2001. Today, Shelter Rock Public Library houses over 140,000 books and over 20,000 other materials, including videos. More than 16,000 registered borrowers checked out 283,000 materials in 2007