December 08, 2008
Library vital part of McGraw
Lamont Memorial Library will have a tree lighting ceremony Saturday
McGRAW — When Brian Thomas and his wife, Abby, moved from Cortland to McGraw last summer, they were not sure what to expect.
What they found was a friendly village where they knew their neighbors two weeks before even moving into their new house on Elm Street. Then they discovered the Lamont Memorial Free Library at 5 Main St.
“We were pleasantly surprised when we walked in the front door (the first time),” said Brian Thomas, who teaches design at SUNY Cortland. “It’s cute, just a gem. We said yeah, we’re going to spend time here.”
The Thomas family has been taking advantage of Lamont’s programs for children, which attract families not just from the library’s funding municipalities — the village of McGraw and towns of Solon and Cortlandville — but from around Cortland County.
The library, a former homestead with white pillars on the front and several rooms added on back, has not just a handsome ambience but three children’s reading and story programs which have led to increased circulation.
Thomas had brought his sons Owen, 3, and Drew, 1, to the library’s Books and Babies program for children Saturday morning. The trio joined five other children, three mothers and two grandmothers in hearing about trains traveling through the countryside, which was this week’s theme.
The library is named after Daniel Lamont, whose mother, Juliet Kinney Lamont, began offering books for lending in the house’s front parlor. A large portrait of her hangs in the room.
Daniel Lamont was private secretary to President Grover Cleveland from 1885 to 1889 and served as secretary of war (now defense) from 1893 to 1897, Cleveland’s second term.
The current library was founded in 1906 by Daniel’s sister, Elizabeth Lamont, said librarian Julie Widger.
The first floor holds fiction, videos, DVDs, five computers and the story room where the children’s programs take place. The McGraw Historical Society room is on the back. The second floor holds classic fiction and nonfiction, plus the library office.
The front door opens onto the parlor on the left and a white bench long enough to hold six people on the right, with the stairwell leading up past a framed portrait of Lamont. The hallway opens onto a larger room, believed to date to 1813, before the parlor was added, containing new fiction, science fiction and the computers and then onto a room for juvenile and young adult fiction.
On the second floor, the stairway ends in a vestibule with an armchair, table and lamp, and shelves of classic fiction and McGraw High School yearbooks. Beyond are two rooms of nonfiction, one of them named after Florence Walter, the librarian from 1923 until 1963.
Widger, the librarian since 1998, said the library has 14,000 volumes. Three of the computers were purchased recently through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the other two will be replaced next year with a similar grant.
The library receives funding from the village, the towns of Solon and Cortlandville, and the McGraw school district. There is no “friends of the library” program, where people donate books to be sold for the library’s benefit, but there is a book sale in June.
This week, the village’s Christmas tree will be put up on the library’s front lawn. Village residents will decorate it next Saturday, starting at 3 p.m. Hayrides, hot chocolate, cookies and caroling will be part of the event.
The library attracts people from all over Cortland County with its popular children’s programs, directed by part-time employee Tammy Sickmon.
It sponsors story time for preschool children every Friday morning, and the Star Bright Story Night for preschoolers and their families on the second Thursday of each month. Saturday morning means Books and Babies, a program designed for children up to 24 months old, which Sickmon brought from her work as a librarian in Charlotte, N.C.
“I try to do 20 to 30 minutes of story, then 15 minutes of playtime for the children, then we have snacks and the parents can chat,” she said. “I give them book lists, suggestions for how to read to children.”
Sickmon, who grew up in Cooperstown, said she worked at a library in Charlotte for 13 years. She and her husband, John, a Cortland native, moved from the South to Scott a few years ago with their two children, to be closer to family. She approached Lamont Memorial Free Library about hiring her to start children’s programs.
Widger said the programs have led to an increase in circulation for the library’s books, DVDs and videos, though she did not have specific figures.
Sickmon read stories Saturday about trains, punctuated by train whistle sounds she made with a wooden device and music. The children shook bells and then purple rattles, at one point dancing around the room in a circle with the adults.
The group sang “Here We Go ’Round the Mulberry Bush,” among other songs, but the focus remained on stories.
“This is where reading begins,” said Sally Phillips of Virgil, who had brought her children, 2-year-old Shaelin and 3-month-old Rogan. “It’s nice to have dancing and music, not just books. It’s good for Shaelin because she spends time with other kids and sees how to get along with them.”
She indicated Rogan, who was squirming in his baby carrier.
“He loves it here. He’s been coming since he was 2 weeks old.”
A Binghamton native, Phillips said she has come to libraries since she was a child, with her six siblings. She works as a guidance counselor at Johnson City High School. Her husband, Brandon, owns a landscaping business in Dryden.
“This gets us out of the house,” she said, referring to Books and Babies.
“We average 35 to 40 people at our Friday preschool program, including parents,” Sickmon said as her daughter Rianna played with Nancy Sickmon, her mother-in-law. “We’ve had them come from Tully.”
Tammy Sickmon said she would like to add more children’s programs, maybe one focused on walkers and pre-walkers.
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