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Q&A With Library Board Member Laura Hill Timpanaro

A chat reveals why libraries are more than meets the eye and what a board member does at the Port Jefferson Free Library.

Port Jefferson Library Board member Laura Hill Timpanaro spoke with us recently about her role in the library and why libraries are more than just books.

What does a library board member do, briefly?

In brief, it is the responsibility of the board member to provide oversight and guidance to the library director in order to ensure that funds raised by taxes reflect the promises made to the community. It is also our responsibility to help the library grow and evolve to meet the changing needs of the community.

The board meets once a month and members with expertise or special interest can volunteer to lead initiatives such as planning, policy or finance.

What motivates you to be a library board member?

I ran for a spot on the board because I am an active user of the library. When the adjoining property was purchased I realized this might be the library's last big expansion. I felt it was important to bring my expertise in marketing, finance and building to the library at this time. As it turns out my skills have been a compliment to this project. It gives me a sense of pride that my neighbors, friends and community leaders have placed such faith in my judgment, and of course it's a huge perk with my kids who think its great to have a mom who is part of the library.

Why should Port Jeff residents care who runs for the library board?

Port Jeff residents, as well as contract district residents in Mount Sinai and Miller Place, should care about the library and who is making decisions about the type of library it will be. Residents who are regular users provide invaluable information about what works and what does not. Non-users create outreach to underserved members of the community. If you don't get involved you lose touch with all diversified things the library has to offer including books, programs, trips, technology, heritage; and you lose the opportunity to help shape the library, help it grow in its vitality and usefulness to the community it serves.

What do you think the library fits into the community of the 21st century and the Internet age? Are libraries still important?

This is an interesting question. If you look at the history of libraries in America what you find is that they were not always the book repositories we see today. In fact, the books were set up around the periphery for use by those working collaboratively in open meeting spaces. Today, with the advent of online book procurement and the reduction of free public gathering space, we are seeing a shift in which libraries are taking on an increasingly important role in bringing people together. Libraries are creating collaborative spaces utilizing science and technology, comfortable browsing parlors, and open and beautiful program and meeting spaces for small and large groups. I recently talked to a librarian in NC who had set up 3D printers to help her constituents create instantly usable replacement parts for farm equipment. A library in Europe created a prejudice library in which you could freely ask questions of people of different race and lifestyle to overcome prejudice. At Brooklyn Public Library an art explosion of local famous book illustrators drew huge crowds of children and adults to a month of diversified programming.

The library of today is a free community space in a world where community and free has lost its place. It's serves the public interest and can be a beautiful place of learning, exploration and opportunity for those who choose to use it, and those who strive to develop it.

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