When you mention the Cazenovia Public Library, two names will likely come to mind.
Hen. . . the mummy: and Betsy Kennedy. . . long-time director of the library. But not necessarily in that order.
On March 4, 2022, after 42 years in the library, Kennedy will hand over the baton to a new director who has yet to be appointed. This successor will have great footsteps to fill.
Kennedy’s leadership has left an indelible mark on the library. In 1979, the year she joined the bar, the collection was crammed into the lower rooms of the original 1830 Williams house. Today the stacks fill the 1996 extension and beg for more space. The budget back then was $ 20,000 a year; today it’s over $ 500,000. The workforce consisted of three part-time employees; today there are four full-time and 10 part-time employees. We can’t overlook the myriad of programs that have been added for adults and children over the years, and the advances the library has made in the world of technology. When asked how she stayed in the same job for more than four decades, Kennedy says it was easy.
“It’s not the same job,” claims Kennedy. âWe are constantly adapting, changing and turning. Learning is a lifelong journey. “
Kennedy’s roots in Cazenovia and the library go back generations. She grew up here. Your parents and grandparents grew up here. Her great grandparents came from Ireland in the 1850s and settled in Cazenovia. Kennedy says she remembered standing at the circulation desk in elementary school, which was in the original section of the library from 1830, and got her first library card.
âI was probably six,â she recalls. âI was with my father. I could write my own name on the card. “
Eventually Kennedy left Cazenovia to attend college at SUNY-Oswego, which graduated with a degree in Education in 1973, but returned to Cazenovia in 1976. She was an assistant primary school teacher for several years, volunteered for CAVAC and worked at EW Edwards in Shoppingtown Mall and finally got a part-time position in the library in 1979. She says these interim jobs prepared them two things to prepare them for their positions in the library.
âWorking at CAVAC gave me so much confidence,â she recalls. “When I worked at EW Edwards, I learned customer service.”
Kennedy was one of three part-time employees at the time, and worked under the direction of Jeanette Sullivan, a qualified librarian. When Sullivan retired in 1983, Kennedy was promoted to the top job.
She does not have a library degree, but New York state does not require that if the library serves a community of fewer than 7,500 people. But there was a stigma attached to it.
“Dick and Harriet Davis asked our board chairwoman, Ellen Chamberlin, if she would ask me if I would like to go back to school and get my degree (library science),” says Kennedy. âI could go to Syracuse University and it would be paid! I said, “Really? Bet on it! âThe Davises financed it anonymously for years. They also paid for a computer. That was in the mid-90s. “
Kennedy says that on the first day she took the leadership role, she had a very clear idea of ââwhat she wanted to do in the library.
âThe first thing I wanted to do,â she says, âwas an extension. But we had to deal with delayed maintenance first. The foundation, the chimneys. “
But she also wanted the library to be more welcoming, welcoming, and practical.
âWe just smiled at people,â she laughs when asked what that means. âI wanted to make it easy for you to find the things you’re looking for. We wanted consistency at the desk (loan) so people would feel at home. We wanted to treat them as partners. “
They were simple changes that had a big impact and continue to this day.
It finally happened when the doors opened to the community in 1996, after two years of intensive fundraising championed by the Friends of the Cazenovia Public Library.
An important addition to the plans was the small art gallery that connects the new building to the main building. It provides another much-needed place to showcase their work for local artists. Kennedy considers the building her number one achievement and the one she is most proud of, but she quickly pays tribute to the friends and the hundreds of parishioners who helped make it a reality.
“The second proud thing I can say is meet Hen (the mummy),” she says.
Hen the Mummy was the jewel in the Egyptian collection brought back by Robert Hubbard from his Grand Tour of Europe and North Africa in the mid-1890s, but little was known about the 2,000-year-old artifact. Kennedy decided it was time to change that.
It was important to her that Hen had a personal story; that he was more than just a mummy, but a living, breathing human being.
âOur goal is to make sure Henne is respected,â she explains. “He’s a person who lived.”
Kennedy embarked on a journey of discovery that began with science and medicine, but she had a problem. To do the CAT scans, x-rays, and biopsies that would determine the nature of Hen’s life and death, they needed a rather ironic piece of paper.
“We needed a death certificate to move him across the county boundaries,” she says. “With the help of Dr. (Mark) Levinsohn, who spoke to forensic medicine, we did it. “
The coroner’s “car” arrived at the library, ready to transport Henne to Crouse Hospital for tests. He was placed on a stretcher with a sheet over him, and Kennedy jumped into the back of the car with Henne.
âHe’s my oldest friend,â she claims.
Halfway down Albany Street, a Cazenovia Police Department officer stopped by the car, got out of his car, and asked Kennedy, “Betsy, do I need to know something?” he had seen Hen being loaded into the car on the stretcher.
The results of the scans, X-rays, and biopsies, of which there have been several over the years, indicated that Henne likely had a cancerous tumor on his left leg and that he had a neurological abnormality in his feet that caused him to walk with stiff legs. He may have had lung cancer or tuberculosis. These results are inconclusive, but they do provide information about the life of the oldest resident of Cazenovia.
Finally, the third and most recent thing Kennedy is proud of is the recent launch of Carriage Barn Books.
The bookstore sells used books, is located in the historic barn next to the library and is run by the Friends of the Cazenovia Public Library.
âIt (the bookstore) was built on voluntary donations and grants. It was built on our community, âshe says.
Carriage Barn Books is a result of the Friends’ annual summer book sale, which has been an integral part of Cazenovia’s summer events program since 1978. Previously, the barn served as a book store all year round. But in 2018 it underwent a skillful restoration that kept the integrity of the original structure but updated it for today’s purposes.
As Kennedy nears the goal of her tenure in the library, she ponders some of the changes she has seen over the years. The most important of these is the impact technology has had on how people interact with library resources. From digitized catalogs, books and magazines to providing internet access to the wider public, technology has revolutionized the role of the library.
“The core values ââare still there,” she says, “but how we convey the message or the learning is changing.”
She has also observed the social impact a library can have on a ward by providing meeting places, meeting options, program options, and more for its members. The library can act as a catalyst for the community.
âIt’s a place where people gather,â she comments. âYou can play Scrabble, Mahjong or Bridge with your friends. We bring people together, but we also support people’s passions. “
“I’m looking forward to not having a meeting,” she chuckles. âBut I really think it’s time for fresh eyes. I think it’s time for someone with new ideas. “
Kennedy is looking forward to retirement but has no plans to fade into the airwaves. She wants to keep her toe in the water, be reachable, but not fully present. She says it is time to think about expanding the library further and she would love to be a part of that effort, but she feels it is time to move on.
Written by Katherine Rushworth and originally reprinted in the November CazArts newsletter. Rushworth, of Cazenovia, is a freelance writer and former director of the Michael C. Rockefeller Arts Center (State University College in Fredonia) and the Central New York Institute for the Arts in Education.
Awards (individual, library and building) to Betsy Kennedy
1990 – The Unsung Hero Award from the Cazenovia Parents’ Council for responsive and effective education
1992 – Award for the Woman of the Award of the Lincklaen Service Unit of Girl Scouts
1993 – L. Marion Moshier / Asa Wynkoop Award for Distinguished Librarianship from the New York Library Association
1994 – Bill Magee presents a quote from the State Assemblyman recognizing Kennedy’s library work
2016 – All-Star of the Year AND Public Library of the Year (* first recipient) of the Public Library Staff Council of the Central Library Resource Council
2017 – Non-Profit Executive of the Year (M&T Bank Non-Profit Awards)
2018 – Cazenovia Public Library was a co-finalist for Library Journal’s Best Small Library in America
– The Preservation Association of Central NY’s CNY Preservation Award is presented to Kennedy for renovating the Carriage Barn Books
– Commercial Restoration Award from the Cazenovia Preservation Foundation: Cazenovia Public Library (historic building facade and book barn)
2021 – Award of the Chamber of Commerce for the greater Cazenovia area as individual member of the year