A career at the Huntington Memorial Library will be coming to an end Sept. 6 for library director Marie Bruni.
“I have loved every minute of my 30 years here,” she said. “It’s been the best job anybody could ever have. I’ve loved the community — everything.” With all the technological changes, “It’s a wonderful time to be a librarian.”
Bruni started her career in the Chautauqua County town of Ripley. She was attracted to the Oneonta position because it was a two college town and both “vibrant and alive,” she recalled Tuesday.
“There were so many cultural attractions, there was something to do every day of the week.” She will be on staff for about two weeks available to help her replacement, Christina “Tina” Winstead, make the transition. She hoped her successor enjoys Oneonta and the library “even half as much as I do.”
“When I was young I used to dream about being locked in a library and never being allowed to leave until she read all the books,” she said. She described it as a happy feeling. “I was supplied with all the apples (still a favorite food) I could eat.” When she looks back on her career, she said, “I have definitely lived that dream.”
Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller said he only has a four year perspective as mayor, but he has been using the library since he came to Oneonta in 2003.
“She runs an incredibly tight and progressive ship,” he said of Bruni’s tenure. “The community has benefited greatly.”
Bruni said one of the needs she addressed when she started in Oneonta was initiating children’s programing.
“Children need to get hooked on books and reading from an early age,” she said. “If you do, they will become lifelong library users.”
They have been phenomenally successful, she said, adding she loves when children come back as adults with their children or grandchildren. “There’s nothing more thrilling than that.”
She also started a catalog development program that included adding science fiction and other fiction and nonfiction material people wanted. Her early goals centered around the mission of every library — to provide services and information the community needs. This included making such things as computers, Polaroid cameras and books-on-tape available.
“That is an ongoing process,” which requires constantly evaluating services and responding to community needs. “That is why we are (currently) doing a burgeoning DVD business,” she said.
When she started, the collection had 79,890 items, including outdated items. The total number of cardholders was not available. In 2013, the library collection had 65,092 books and magazines, and more than 9,000 cardholders.
When she started, the facility had a librarian and three part-time employees. Today the library has 12 employees, including two librarians and seven other full-time employees and three part-timers.
Besides Bruni, Sarah Livingston is a librarian at the Chestnut Street building. She started in 2004. It was her first professional job in that role, she said. Bruni has been “a good example of a professional librarian,” Livingston said. “She has always been very encouraging as far as my own professional goals.” After thirty years, “when you think of the library, you think of Marie.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of her job, Bruni said, has been keeping the library updated. This includes the physical structure and meeting the community’s needs, she said. This can be seen in having available books-on-CD and public-access computers. It also led to switching from a card catalog with 135 drawers to computer automation in 1989. The staff prepared five years for that, she said.
One of the most disturbing moments was in 1983, when a death threat against President Ronald Reagan was found in a library book. Bruni refused to give investigating Secret Service agents the name of the borrower until they produced a subpoena. “You have to protect the borrower’s right to the utmost. It’s always been a challenge.”
The profession changes constantly. A library director has to keep up with issues such as technology “every day of the week,” she said. “It’s absolutely critical.” But, it certainly has been beneficial.
It used to be there were so many reference books needed but they are expensive and could quickly go out of date. Today she can look up much of that information on the Internet, sometimes in seconds, what could have taken days.
One of the best things about being automated is that the catalog is up to date with what every library has on its its shelf, she said. Today cardholders can search from home.
People will always need a physical structure to get such things as books, children’s material or use a computer, she said. Although she said she’s an avid reader, “I don’t want to buy a book I will use once. That’s the beauty of America’s libraries.”
Vivian Weaver was a library clerk who retired in 2010 after a 20-year career after working closely with Bruni.
“She’s an intelligent, generous and hardworking person” who brought the library up to date, she said. She said she was impressed that although Bruni did the “work of three people,” if someone wanted to talk with her, when possible, she would make herself available.
“Oneonta is very fortunate she came in the 1980s and stayed,” Weaver said, and from what she’s seen of her successor, “I am very encouraged about the future.
As a columnist, Bruni was a paid contributor to The Daily Star.
Dolores Noonan is president of the Friends of Huntington Memorial Library, which provides assistance to organization.
“Marie has really brought the library into the 21st century,” Noonan said, and has been an advocate for all sorts of projects and programs.
“She has made this library a gem,” she said. “She will be sorely missed.”