Gloversville Library Gets Pulitzer Prize winner’s support

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An extensive article in the New York Times about Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo’s support of the Gloversville Free Library is boosting the historic institution’s efforts at renovation and reinvention.

Russo, who grew up in Fulton County, has used Gloversville and his impressions of it for such novels as “Empire Falls,” “Nobody’s Fool” and “Mohawk,” even when the books were ostensibly set in a different fictional location.

He grew up going to the Gloversville library, he told the New York Times; “I have such fond memories of the place, going there Saturday mornings with my grandfather or mother, who would wait forever for me to pick books. I just have this feeling that if it weren’t for the Gloversville Free Library that I probably would not be a writer.”

$2.4 Million Raised So Far

Local fundraising efforts have so far raised $2.4 million of the $7 million needed for the first-ever renovation of the 111-year-old Beaux Arts building. Town leaders have started fund drives for capital repairs to the library three times in recent decades – in the 1970s, 1995 and 2003, but the efforts did not produce enough donations for the job.

“This time we’re not giving up,” Barbara Madonna, the library’s executive director, told NYT reporter Steven Greenhouse. “We need to do this renovation for the kids. A library is so important for them. And we need to do this as a catalyst to lift the whole town.”


“I just have this feeling that if it weren’t for the Gloversville Free Library that I probably would not be a writer.” — Pulitzer Prize Winning Novelist Richard Russo


Since the last fundraising effort, the library became an independent entity, rather than a department of the city government. It shifted its funding stream from the city budget to a direct tax approved by voters each year along with the Gloversville Enlarged School District budget. Those changes made the library’s funding more stable, allowing it the breathing space to pursue a new capital campaign.

The library’s boiler is 100 years old, the wood shelving is decrepit, and the library has neither a wheelchair ramp nor air-conditioning. But architecturally, it is a shining jewel smack dab in the center of Gloversville’s downtown. It was built with a $50,000 donation by steel baron Andrew Carnegie in 1904. Its soaring 35-foot-tall lobby is the focal point of a vibrant community haven that already attracts about 9,000 visitors a month for library transactions, toddler story times, reading and knitting groups and “unplugged” activities for teenagers.

In addition to replacing the century-old boiler with forced air HVAC, the restoration project includes upgrades to plumbing, electrical and lighting systems, installing an elevator for access to all three floors (only one floor is currently used) and making the building handicapped accessible.  A cozy reading room, a children’s section with atrium windows, five public meeting rooms and a concert space are envisioned.

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“One reason Mr. Russo is so interested in the renovation is there’s very little place for children these days outside of school,” said Elizabeth Batchelor, a chairwoman of the fund-raising campaign, told the NYT.  “For many kids, a library can be a ladder out of poverty.”

According to a story in The Daily Gazette of Schenectady, the New York Times article sparked a renewed interest in the fundraising campaign from individuals and potentially, from a foundation.

Russo’s role as honorary chairman is largely symbolic – he lives in Maine and is working on his next novel. But his involvement has raised the project’s profile beyond the 15,000 residents of Gloversville to a national audience that may be willing to support the library’s mission and the preservation of the historic building.