Seymour Library’s Director Carl Gouveia: Living out a destiny to become the champion of a public library

By on May 14, 2018
Carl Gouveia is very much at home in Seymour Library where he is Director. His T-shirt message conveys his lifelong passion for libraries. Photo by Dianne Hickerson

Carl Gouveia is very much at home in Seymour Library where he is Director. His T-shirt message conveys his lifelong passion for libraries. Photo by Dianne Hickerson

I have admired the Seymour Library at a distance for many years. Its low profile in an open field off East Avenue is impressive in an understated way. Yet, inside it is quite spectacular, spread out with a myriad of spaces, from child to teen to adult themes, all overflowing with “mind candy” to inform and entertain. Not a frequent visitor over the years, I recently have been going to Seymour to update my display of articles.  I have rediscovered this fine facility which has been there since 1996.  A sure sign of its impact on the community is the number of people enjoying its offerings. When I am entering or leaving there is always busy traffic flowing in and out at the door — adults, teens, and moms with kids in tow.

I was moved to sit with Director Carl Gouveia and learn the story behind this facility and what it takes to run it.

Duties of the Library Director — “I wear many hats.”

I asked Carl what the difference is between his role as “director” and that of a “librarian.” Librarians are out on the floor helping patrons more than a director, he said.  Seymour’s Adult Librarian, Children’s Librarian, and the Teen Librarian each plan programs and purchase materials for their department. As Library Director, “I wear many hats, including running the building, planning a budget, being part of committees, hiring, doing outreach, and working two shifts as reference librarian.” His work is very hands-on, as he has unclogged toilets, done minor repairs and replaced light switches. With new air conditioners, the HVAC controls are not compatible, so he needs to work controls manually, sometimes turning boilers and the pump on and off.

Looking to the future, to really complete the new HVAC system, new compatible controls have to be installed. That will relieve Carl from working the system manually.  Other improvements will be retrofitting the lighting with LED fixtures to save money.

Also, Carl’s mission is growth-oriented with a grant application to build four study rooms for tutors and their students. They now meet in the open area which limits how loudly they can talk and allows other voices to distract during the intense tutoring sessions.  Each room will be closed with windows and a white board on the wall.

Serving the community: A budget on the brink.

A hopeful collaboration of leaders

Asked how well he thinks Seymour Library is serving the community, Carl responded, “Very well. Four-hundred people come through our doors daily and they are checking out 375 items each day.  I think we can do better, but a lot comes to finances.”

Funding comes from three municipalities (Clarkson, Sweden, and Brockport), which is unusual for public libraries, Carl said. Seeking funding is “the most difficult and probably most stressful part of my job.”  Because requests for increased funds have been regularly denied by the municipalities, “Ultimately, our budget has become tight; we exist with a budget gap every year.” It ended up in a $50,000 deficit in 2017.  That resulted in a cut back in open hours and in the amount of materials purchased (books, videos, music), Carl said. “I also cut back salaries, including my own.” With reduced expenditures and Jerry Underwood, Clarkson Town Supervisor, generously donating his salary ($18,000 after taxes), the open hours increased and the budget gap was closed to about $4,000.

An additional financial hardship is found in capital expenses and repairs for Seymour Library.  The three municipalities own the buildings and the grounds. “But, we are on our own if the roof leaks or the furnace breaks,” Carl said. He gave an example of replacing the air conditioning units recently for $122,000 which had to come from the endowment fund. “Now, those monies are virtually gone.”

There is hope for more adequate funding.  “We three municipalities are trying to come together to figure a way forward for Carl and the Seymour Library,” Jerry Underwood said. “We are planning a joint meeting in the next couple of weeks among the three municipalities and the Library board where we all can work together to figure a way out going forward.” (See side bar.)

What energizes Carl: “The magnitude of how libraries effect people”

Asked about cutting his own salary, “It’s because I love libraries. And I love libraries because as a child I was greatly impacted by my public library,” Carl said.  “I told this quick story to the board, about the magnitude of how libraries effect people, so they would know why I am so passionate and why I took a pay cut last year.”

I was born and raised in the Town of Gates two blocks away from a public library.  My mother, father, and sister immigrated to America from Portugal, escaping the turbulence of a recently fallen dictatorship there.  My father had a 4th grade education, could speak no English, and arrived with $20 in his pocket. He started working in a Rochester slaughter house. My mother, also with a 4th grade education, came 7 months later with my sister. Two years later I was born in 1978. There were no books in our home, except my father’s Portuguese to English Dictionary.   

The public library was a lifeline for me. I went there virtually every day after school.  I borrowed books and would read voraciously.   It was a safe place after school and through the summers.  I would do everything I could do that the library offered:  Borrow books, read, sit at the old DOS computers and make computer games with my friends, sit at typewriter (I wanted to be a writer), and participate in the summer reading program.  I would sit at home on the phone and listen to stories on the library’s hot line. They had so many fantastic services. I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for my public library, to have unlimited access to everything it offered. 

A winding career path leads back to the library

Out of high school Carl tried studies in electronic engineering and then factory work where he advanced into supervisory positions. “I started fishing for what I wanted to do and decided I really loved learning, loved education. I am still a very curious individual.”  He completed his BS degree and secondary education degree at The College at Brockport in 2003 by age 25. But, teaching positions were not available.

Failing to find teaching positions, he discovered the Rochester City School district needed librarians. “I loved libraries and thought I should get into this.”  He completed his Master of Library Science (MLS) at UB in one and a half years.

In 2007, while starting his MLS degree, Carl took a seven-week internship with the New York City department of education. Called “Summer in the City,” he worked with a teacher developing lessons and taught English in the summer school classroom. A sign of being “curious,” he expressed his wanderlust in his new environment. “I LOVED my time there,” he said emphatically.  “It was beautiful. I took full advantage of all the opportunities I had in the city. After teaching three hours each day, I walked everywhere, including across the Brooklyn Bridge, through the projects with no fear, through Central Park, and toured all the museums, each one for two days or more.”

Half way through his internship, Rochester City School District announced two high school media specialist positions opened.  He was hired as a school library media specialist.  In this time period Carl and his wife Tina had Clementine born 2008 and Imogen in 2010.  To supplement the income of their growing family, Carl also worked 20 hours a week at Gates Public Library as a reference librarian.  He was attracted to the position open at Seymour Library and became Director on November 4, 2013.

Carl and his family live in Gates, the town where he first entered the public library as a four-year old. At 40-years old, with energy and passion that started in his boyhood, he runs Seymour Library, treating patrons to the same sense of excitement and adventure he has known with “unlimited access to everything his library offers.”

Carl’s journey has included extensive professional education. Here are his degrees and requirements for continuing in-service training while he is a full-time director:

•Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in English with a concentration in Literature. Teaching certificate in English 7 through 12. No continuing education needed.

•Master of Library Science (MLS) and certified as a media library specialist K through 12. Also certified as a New York State Public Librarian. Both certificates require continuing education.

•Advanced Certificate in Public Library Administration from Long Island University. Currently studying for this.

(Note:  A future issue of this newspaper will focus on the Friends of Seymour Library.  The energetic volunteer auxiliary group raises funds to support a wide array of library activities, programs, and equipment.)

Clarkson Town Supervisor Jerry Underwood: Advocate for Seymour Library

Jerry Underwood has lived in Clarkson for 33 years. He has been retired for five years as general manager of a commercial lumber yard.  In a phone interview, he was asked about the reasons for the donation of his salary, $18,000 after taxes, to Seymour Library. The following is his statement, edited for length.

I have been going to libraries ever since I was very small.  My mother, my grandmother, always took me to the public library.  My wife takes our grandchildren to Seymour Library all the time for the different programs. For the Town of Clarkson, it’s like our centerpiece where people gravitate.  

I think Carl Gouveia and his staff do an excellent job.  The library is very impressive in everything they do, all their different programs. They are constantly striving to find new ways to get people involved.  Libraries’ services have expanded from the past. It’s not just about borrowing a book anymore, it’s about all the programs they have for reading, social programs, and using the computers. And, many people say the library is a safe haven for kids. 

A library funded by three different municipalities is part of the budget problem.  We all want to help.  Unfortunately, with the tax cap that is imposed, it is very difficult to give more than the approximate 2% tax cap. If you do that there are other things that have to be cut. 

What drew my attention first (to donate) is when they had to cut the hours last year because of budget cuts.  I would like to see the library open more hours.  

We are planning a joint meeting in next couple of weeks among the three municipalities and the Library board where we all can work together to figure a way out going forward. 

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