This is part two of a series highlighting North Shore librarians. You can find part one here.
Although her first career was spent within the shelves of a Barnes and Noble, it never occurred to Kathie Flynn that she could be a real librarian.
“For 20 years I had never been in a library,” Flynn said from her director’s desk at the Glen Cove Public Library. “I was in a bookstore everyday, I had all the books I wanted to read.”
At Barnes and Nobel, Flynn likened the big box retailing with that of a librarian’s referencing. “You have kids coming into the store doing their homework, and instead of asking you to recommended a book to read, they’re asking you for books about dinosaurs,” she said. “The idea of knowing what was in the books instead of just the title and author, I really enjoyed doing that.”
And so she started her second career.
Flynn began library school in her mid-40s at Queens College. On her first day of class, she walked into the room to see a deconstructed computer laid to waste on top of a desk. She looked at the mangled machine and wondered, “I thought this had something to do with books.”
“It was rather intimidating to see that, and I knew there was going to be a learning curve,” Flynn said. “I only had exposure to basic computer programs before that.” But she learned much from that lesson, and many others after it, and even picked up field experience working at NYIT as a library clerk.
After graduation she stayed within the college track. Her first job was at NYIT’s Central Islip campus, the site of a former psychiatric hospital. Flynn took pleasure in extracurricular activities during her time there. “That was fun,” she said, “Exploring the grounds and finding things from hundreds of years ago that they used in the hospital.” Once the campus closed, she moved to SUNY Old Westbury for five years, helping co-eds as a reference librarian. “I learned as much as I taught,” she said.
In 2012 she switched gears and interviewed for her current job, even though she had no prior experience working in a public library. Despite this, Flynn was a force in fostering engaging programming that she felt “would serve the needs of the community.”
“For me that kind of goes to the top of the list as far as what our purpose is here, that was the reason we started the first Spanish program,” Flynn said. Having lived in Glen Cove before her tenure as director, she did some census research about the city’s Hispanic community, and found that 30 percent of the people in Glen Cove speak Spanish at home.
Five years ago, she enlisted the help of a part-time librarian who was bilingual. Together they developed the program “Story Time in Spanish,” in which Spanish-speaking children and adults can learn to read together, and improve their English skills. “It provides different ways to help encourage their education,” Flynn said. Since its inception, the class is consistently attended.
In addition, the library offers a Spanish book reading club, a Spanish film review club, and 22 hands-on volunteers who aid with literacy in both English and Spanish. “We’ve helped eight people train to take the citizenship test, and every one of them has passed so far,” Flynn said.
The director has also brought other unique programming to the library, including a special twist on book amnesty week called “Food for Fines.” “We started this three years ago where you can exchange a non-perishable food item for a fine on a book,” Flynn said. The donations are given to the city’s food pantries.
Another heartfelt program is a book discussion group for special needs adults, which is run in coordination with Nassau Literacy. “There is never an empty chair,” Flynn said.
“Kathie has helped to enrich the Glen Cove community by bringing information, ideas and people together,” said the library’s assistant director, Joanna Cabo. “She is always busy doing something to improve the library, and is determined to stay in step with the rapidly changing times. Her innovative style of management has helped make the library a vital and valuable resource for our community.”
Flynn calls the response from local readers “tremendous.” “A resident sent an editorial into the paper about the library, and how it has so much more than just books,” she said.
Flynn added that one of the library’s volunteers, a retired North Shore High School teacher, shared his excitement in an editorial outlining his enjoyment and excitement for his work, specifically watching adults learn. Flynn finds a similar pleasure in this. “Seeing adults learn is a little different than seeing kids learn, and to see the results of it is just phenomenal.”
This year, Glen Cove will celebrate its 350th anniversary, as well as 100 years since the incorporation of the city. Flynn sits on the advisory committee for the celebration, acting as gatekeeper to the library’s history room.
Committee member Dave Nieri said that when they were pulling people together for the board, Flynn was one of his first picks. “She has brought ideas to the committee based on her knowledge of the history room’s resources and all it has to offer,” he said. “She’s a big asset to the committee.”
“We’ve had a lot of people coming over to do research so they can prepare for the celebration,” she said. “Being able to be involved in the celebration has been wonderful as far as bringing the history room to light.”
As the city returns to its roots through research, Flynn continues to revel in the joys of her second career. “I absolutely love it, it’s something different every day,” she said.