Tom Lynch can distinctly remember the day he saw a photo of one of NASA’s Gemini capsules on the front page of a newspaper, when he was just 10. He’s now 66, and that moment, he said, sparked his interest in outer space.
Since 2015, Lynch has been sharing that passion with Nassau County libraries, helping them purchase and maintain simple and easy-to-use telescopes that are lent out to cardholders just like books.
A self-described amateur astronomer, Lynch is a retired accountant from Lynbrook, and works with the International Library Telescope Program. The program started small, he said, after it was founded in 2008 by Marc Stowbridge and the New Hampshire Astronomical Society. Its popularity spread, however, and caught on in other states and countries.
Lynch, who’s a member of some local astronomical organizations, decided to join the initiative, and help libraries in Nassau obtain telescopes.
“I thought, wow, what a great idea, to put a telescope in the hands of somebody who’s never used a telescope before,” he said, “or to a family, you know, where the parents are going to show their kids stuff. All that — it just sounded like a great idea.”
In 2015, Lynch helped the Lynbrook Public Library buy a telescope, the first one in any library on Long Island. Over the past eight years, he has helped 15 more county libraries obtain telescopes — including the Bellmore Memorial Library and the North Bellmore Public Library.
Lynch’s telescope of choice is the Orion StarBlast, which he said is easy to operate and perfect for beginners. Depending on a library’s preference and budget, additional attachments are available, to enhance a user’s experience.
“It’s a very good, relatively inexpensive, beginner telescope — it’s very sturdy,” Lynch said. “There’s a lot of telescopes that are out there, that you can buy for less money than this, or even more money than this, that are very unstable.”
Once a library purchases the telescope with Lynch’s help, he makes modifications to it to ensure that pieces don’t detach.
“The whole concept of this telescope is that it’s a single piece — everything is attached,” he explained. “There’s no adding things or taking things off. You can’t lose anything.”
Lynch also hosts staff training, so those dealing with the telescope can become familiar with it, and understand how it works and how to maintain it. He often runs astronomy-themed classes for the children and families at the libraries he works with.
Lynch said he gets a lot of joy from teaching kids how to use a telescope, and it’s something he wishes every child had a chance to do. “I tell people, I can teach a motivated 10-year-old how to use this telescope in 10 minutes,” he said. “These kids that are into it — they really get into it.
“And it’s really just amazing to see sometimes,” he added. “When they get it, their faces just light up.”
At the Bellmore Memorial Library, adults in good standing can sign out a telescope for up to two weeks at a time. The facility’s children’s librarian, Pam Pagones, said the library has two telescopes, and each comes with an instruction manual, a planisphere — a type of star chart — and some additional guides.
“Tom Lynch has been incredibly helpful and supportive in ensuring that the library telescope program at the Bellmore Memorial Library is successful,” Pagones said, “by providing telescope maintenance, facilitating programs to patrons, and offering to conduct staff trainings.”
She added that the program had become so popular that the library now offers other unique items that can be borrowed, including a cake pop maker, a metal detector and a Cricut Joy, a crafting machine.
Those interested in borrowing a telescope from Bellmore Memorial can do so online, by visiting the library’s catalog at BellmoreLibrary.org, or by calling the reference desk at (516) 785-2990.
In North Bellmore, one telescope circulates for a week at a time, and comes with a kit including several guides and a planisphere as well. Similar to Bellmore Memorial, the North Bellmore library has other items that can be reserved, including American Girl dolls, multi-use charging cords and portable Wi-Fi hotspots. To borrow the telescope, visit NorthBellmoreLibrary.org/libraryofthings.
Rosemary DeFrancisci, North Bellmore’s media librarian, said Lynch was a wonderful friend of the library. “The telescope has been thoughtfully customized by volunteer Tom Lynch,” she said, “whose enthusiasm, knowledge and devotion are a true lifeline for this program.”
Lynch said his goal is to get telescopes into as many libraries as possible across Long Island, and he’s part of a Library Telescope Taskforce that is dedicated to doing just that.
And as of now, he has no plans to introduce any harder-to-use equipment. “The more complicated it is, the more problems you’re going to have,” Lynch said. “The beauty of this (telescope) is the simplicity of it, the ease of transportation and the ease of use. And that’s what makes it really a unique experience.”