For staff members at the Southampton Free Library, there’s a lot to be excited about this year. Not only are they slowly but surely reopening to the public following COVID-19 shutdowns, they’re celebrating a major milestone – the library’s 100th anniversary.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of something that’s been in a community for this long. It’s kind of amazing,” library director Kim Ingram told The Times in a recent Zoom interview. “But it’s also bittersweet.”
Ingram and her team have been brainstorming a large-scale event to mark this achievement for the last two years. However, all of those plans had to pause when the pandemic hit. While pushing it to the fall isn’t out of the question, Ingram stressed that nothing is set in stone just yet.
In the meantime, the library is offering small and safe activities to get residents involved in the festivities. These include 100 Make & Take craft kits available at the front desk each month, a 100 book challenge and a potential virtual 5K, which would be a new initiative.
“We’re trying to make the best of a difficult situation,” said Ingram.
It’s safe to say that the Southampton Free Library’s founder would be proud of the current leadership’s ability to adjust during troubled times.
According to Ingram, the library was launched in a tiny house by Mrs. Brehn (first name is unknown). Brehn’s husband, who operated his own small library, was killed in the catastrophic Bryn Athyn train wreck of 1921. With the help of some friends, Brehn set out to carry on his legacy.
The library transitioned to its current home at 947 Street Road in 1970, which is when it began receiving support from the township. Since then, Ingram said it has undergone “quite a few inceptions,” including the addition of a children’s area and introduction of fresh programming, such as Story Strolls and cooking classes.
In 2018, the library served almost 95,000 visitors and hosted 544 programs, which were attended by over 12,700 people. The overarching mission of the library is to be a “community third place” that brings people together, a space where they can meet and study. This proved to be a challenge throughout the pandemic. But staff pivoted to expand online offerings, reaching a wider range of library lovers.
“People have attended our storytimes from out of state after hearing about it on Facebook,” said Ingram. “That dynamic has been interesting, how we’ve gone beyond our immediate community.”
Now, with warmer weather on the horizon, in-person camps, gardening clubs and more will be added to the calendar. A sense of normalcy seems to be right around the corner.
Until that day comes, Ingram urged the public to not forget about their local library.
“Libraries are really special places. Everybody’s welcome. You have access to all kinds of cool information,” she said. “I just think it’s an institution that’s such a special part of the community. If you haven’t checked out your local library, I highly recommend that you do.”
Visit southamptonfreelibrary.org or call 215-322-1415 for more information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com