The Small but Mighty East Canton Branch

“This is where it all begins. Everything starts here, TODAY.” – David Nichols

Children craving their favorite librarian’s weekly activity, adults bridging the digital divide, and an older adult seeking escape from the sweltering heat walk past this quote every time they enter their neighborhood library in the Village of East Canton. It may be the smallest of Stark Library’s ten branches, but the impact on this rural community is “awesome,” according to retired nurse Sue Ritzert.

Twice a week, Sue emerges fresh-faced from a fitness class inside the Foltz Community Center (which houses our East Canton Branch) to find her favorite books or CDs, with the help of staff who have become friends. “It is such a valuable resource. The staff is kind to everybody.”

Sunlight streams through the windows, falling on bookshelves, assorted technology devices, and walls bearing inspirational quotes. In the children’s section, paper plate fish swim across a blue paper background with brightly colored pool-noodle seaweed and crepe paper jellyfish dangling above. Eight-year-old Natalie and five-year-old Jonathan search an “Under the Sea Fairy Garden,” created inside an aquarium. Natalie, Jonathan, and their little brother James are participating in Summer Break – our summer learning program.

“Can you find something that begins with the letter ‘F’ besides a fish?” asks their mom, Emily Luke.
“Fin!” cries Jonathan excitedly.
“Ok. What about something that rhymes with bell?”
“Shell!” says Natalie, proudly printing her answer on a paper.     

The siblings look forward to what the children’s librarian will create for them each week. Their little brother, James, joins them at a digital table where they shout, “Go! Go!” as they steer different-colored cars around a track, hoping to be the first to reach the checkered flag.

A different sort of technology draws John McDonald. With no internet access at home, the retiree happily finds a seat at a computer to do his personal banking and research his passion for old church hymns. He finds songs from as far back as the 1800s, which he then records at home, singing and strumming with his acoustic guitar.

Meanwhile, Chuck Nudo pulls out his iPad, sitting in a comfortable chair at a table equipped with USB ports and electrical outlets. He puts on headphones to listen to music. Lacking both the internet and air conditioning at home, the Library is his oasis. He also checks out movies on DVD to enjoy, like his latest drama about Billy the Kid.

Ann Pukansky, who has been the branch manager at this location for seven years, says the library is as comfortable as a living room for the hundreds of people who visit each week. With an enthusiastic smile, she contradicts the old library stereotype of “shushing” people. She enjoys talking with patrons as they visit. “I love the noise! We see everyone from families with little kids to older adults. For some people, we may be their only interaction all day.”

Ann says the branch is especially vital in this community, where many families lack internet access, and kids sometimes complain about having nothing to do. With the Osnaburg Local School complex a short walk away, the library staff collaborates to help students with projects during the school year. It is also convenient for young people to hang out after school.

Three-year-old Ava’s face lights up as she walks inside with her grandmother. After playing in the children’s section, she leads the way out the door and down the hall to “Jump! Jump!” – her name for storytime. The branch strategically partners with the community center to use its meeting rooms for programs that need extra space.

The younger set will return later to check out picture books, which is how 11-year-old Jessica Nelson began her reading career. A little over a month into the summer, Jessica has already read 30 to 40 books. Once or twice a week, she checks out a stack. She and her mom say they would “go crazy without the library.”

However, even for folks who are not into books, patrons like Sue Ritzert say there is much to gain.

“Not everyone’s a reader, but there are CDs, movies, computers, and so much more.” For those who do not come, Sue says, “They have no idea what they are missing!”