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Strong Libraries, Strong Communities

Updated: May 6

By Mary Carpenter • Photos by Jessica McCafferty

Ben Carman, the new Director of the Plattsburgh Public Library, is a man in his element. On my walk and talk with him during our recent SB interview, his enthusiasm was contagious. Come along with me now and I will share my inside look at the city’s historic library.

Tall windows on all sides of the first-floor flood the space with light. The book stacks are positioned to make browsing easy and seating arrangement and tables invite visitors to stay a while. Looking for a current book? You’ll find it here. A newspaper or magazine? Of course! Videos to check out and view at home? The library offers an amazing selection — both current and vintage.

In an open area to left of the main entrance you will find computers ready to provide internet access. Interested in research? The library is a great place to start.

At the north end of the first floor is a colorful space designed for teens which provides age-appropriate books, magazines and music.

Restrictions imposed by the COVID pandemic motivated library staff to devise a new service that has proven so popular it continues. Reserve a book on line, be notified by email and stop by to pick it up from an easily accessible bookshelf just inside the main door.

Something else you will find when you visit the library is the warm and welcoming staff, many of them long time employees who are on a first name basis with regular visitors.

Next, walk down the broad staircase leading to the lower-level children’s room or take the elevator. Step through the doorway and you are immediately drawn into the excitement of the space. Dozens of books displayed on top of child sized book shelves. Toys and stuffed animals everywhere. There is a popular Lego wall sponsored by the Rotary Club, a chess board table and chairs set up and ready for play and a story hour corner complete with a tent.

Look up and you will see an assortment of larger toys displayed on taller bookcases, ready to be checked out, taken home and then returned and swapped out for a new favorite. In an area especially designed for toddlers and young children you will find a play kitchen, a train table, a play house, gear set, marble run, lots of cars and trucks, puppets, building sets, and more.

Manipulative toys, games and puzzles have their own area. The variety for all age groups is impressive and borrowing is encouraged.

Now that I have taken you on a vicarious visit of the library, let me acquaint you with the man of the hour.

Originally from Watertown, Ben Carman earned his undergraduate degree at SUNY Potsdam, a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Rutgers and a second Master’s degree in Secondary Education and Teaching at the University of Binghamton. His first career experience was as a high school English teacher. Ten years ago, he found his way to the North Country, working first at the University of Vermont, then at SUNY Plattsburgh’s Feinberg Library. When the position of Youth Services Director at the Plattsburgh Library opened in 2015, he made his move.

While Carman never thought of himself as a child centered individual, he quickly realized he had found his calling. Step by step he created a special world for the children of the community. He became so beloved, the children who visited his special domain called him Mr. Ben and vied to spend time interacting with him.

As we made our way through the amazing space, I asked Carman about the room’s transformation. He explained, “I am a long-time furniture rearranger. As a child I loved to try new layouts in my room and that has carried over into how I approached this space. I set out to create defined play areas that would draw the children in. I want there to be something new around every corner to entice them to explore.”

When the longtime Library Director announced her retirement last year, the search was on for her successor. After careful consideration, Carman was chosen. He assumed his post on February first. “Was I ready,” he asked rhetorically. “I gave it a lot of thought and decided this was as good a time as any to move to the next chapter of my life.”

If you are wondering what will happen to children’s services with Carman’s move upstairs, do not worry. Jenny Lavigne, a former director of community libraries in both Mooers and Willsboro has stepped in and is eager to meet and work with children and families.

I asked Carman about his priorities. “We need to be an inclusive space for all types of people – all abilities, all ages, all interests, all incomes. We have the room to provide safe spaces that welcome everyone. The North Country’s climate creates pressures on people — cold winters, hot summers. We can help our people cope with those pressures. During the COVID pandemic, we stepped up and were there for everyone.”

He continued, “I am also focused internally to be sure staff has what they need to do their jobs. We have to be sure what we do is sustainable.”

And for the future? Carman is planning ahead. “I’d like to expand services to seniors, likely in a cooperative effort with the Clinton Essex Franklin Library System. We should do more for our vulnerable populations that may lack mobility and/or transportation.”

Another idea that Carman is considering is a speaker program that would bring experts with specific skill sets in to share their expertise. And maybe the popular Lego classes of a prior time, will be revived.

In an issue of Strictly Business that focuses on personal spaces, Ben Carman may have the largest one of all. It is not just his office, but rather a building that showcases a myriad of opportunities for us all. If you haven’t done so lately, it is time to visit our community’s wonderful library.

Plattsburgh Public Library

19 Oak Street

Plattsburgh, NY 12901

518 563-0921

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