Library volunteer steadfast in her job preserving history

06/15/2013 11:55 AM |

CLAIRE LEADEN PHOTO | Anne Arnold catalogs a newspaper at Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport Monday.

If you’ve visited Greenport’s Floyd Memorial Library on a Monday afternoon in the past decade, you might recognize Anne Arnold.

Every Monday from noon to 3 p.m. the 88-year-old volunteer sits at her desk on the bottom floor of the library and catalogs materials to be preserved in its historical archives.

While that may seem a tedious task to some, Ms. Arnold says there’s never a typical Monday for her.

“That’s what makes it exciting,” she said. “It’s my favorite thing to do and there’s a lot to be done.”

Making the task even more challenging is that the lifelong librarian is legally blind and cannot read normal size text. In order to see the materials and documents, she uses the library’s “reader” — a machine that magnifies text up to 75 percent and displays it on a computer screen.

Ms. Arnold says that although the process can slow her down, the reader keeps her from being dependent on other people.

The historic collection at Floyd Memorial Library covers the hamlets of Greenport, East Marion and Orient and, due to space limitations, Ms. Arnold must save only information from the three areas the library serves.

“I look through local stuff, like newspapers, and find what is written about the villages,” she said. “Then I select the things that aren’t going to be found anywhere else 50 to 100 years from now.

“It’s a bit of a gamble. I have to figure out what people will want to know about and what they won’t be able to find anywhere else,” she said.

This past Monday, for example, Ms. Arnold filed a Suffolk Times article about a local synagogue. Other examples of what she’s chosen to file are articles about the history of Greenport Village and photos of Indian carvings that the library recently had on display. She says these things are integral to local history.

“50 years from now, no one will be able to find that anywhere,” she said. “We save the things that are going to be lost.”

Ms. Arnold insists that she isn’t a historian, nor is she competing with local historical societies. Unlike those people and organizations, the library isn’t as worried about saving a physical artifact or piece of artwork.

“We’re preserving the information, that’s what’s important to us,” she explained, “not the original piece itself.”

After Ms. Arnold decides on something to be saved, she places either the original document or a photocopy in an acid-free paper protector and then files the material in the appropriate subject’s folder. This way, the material will last for years to come.

Ms. Arnold has been a librarian since she graduated from Brown University in 1950 and got a job in the college library there.

Coming full circle, her first job at Brown was also as a cataloger, indexing the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays.

After a few other jobs as a librarian, Ms. Arnold married and moved to East Marion in 1957.

She first worked part-time at Mattituck High School and then got a full-time position at Greenport High School, where she remained for 22 years.

After retiring, Ms. Arnold began volunteering at Floyd Memorial Library, where her daughter, Kathleen Richter, also a librarian, was the director. Ms. Richter now holds her mother’s former job as librarian at Greenport High School.

“At my age it’s nice to have a place to go where you’re appreciated,” Ms. Arnold said. “It keeps me mentally alert and busy doing something. It’s nice to get up and have a place to go.

“Next month I turn 89,” she said. “Catalogers are a dying breed nowadays and I’m perfectly content just puttering along here for as long as I still can.”

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