Librarian has tall order to fill with COVID restrictions

Johnstown Public Library Librarian Robert Weatherby. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — Johnstown Public Library officials say Librarian Robert Weatherby couldn’t have come at a better time for the facility — both before and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now the 38 S. Market St. library and its patrons are waiting like everyone for things to get back to normal, but one gets the feeling Weatherby will keep plugging away.

“We love Robert,” says April Meyer, whose two children are part of a Dungeons & Dragons online group run by Weatherby.

The mother adds, “My kids love the library. They always feel welcome there.”

The 33-year-old Weatherby started working in August 2018, filling a new “librarian” position the library created. He has been working tirelessly, everyone says, at trying to improve programming, which has become a challenge in itself with COVID.

Johnstown's library Dungeons & Dragons group. (Photo submitted)

“I miss having the community in the building,” he says. “I think we’re all missing it.”

Library Director Erica Wing says an opportunity a couple years ago presented itself with staff restructuring after the retirements of longtime Johnstown Public Library senior employees. She said that using the Gloversville Public Library’s structure as a model – they had successfully implemented a Librarian position, in addition to their library director a few years prior – the Johnstown library created the librarian position with Fulton County Civil Service in 2017 with a budgeted salary of $35,000 and it was filled in 2018.

Wing said that as the first to ever hold the librarian position, Weatherby was given the general objectives of spearheading programming and outreach.

“From there, he has really made the position his own and become a valued member of our staff,” Wing said. “Robert is animated and engaging with the public, and especially eager to share his passions with others. He is intent upon making library services as accessible as possible. Robert has a special knack with teenagers and has built a successful Dungeons and Dragons program for them from the ground up.”

Weatherby states with enthusiasm, “I have programs I love to get attention on.” He created a newsletter for both library patrons and the general public.

“My primary focus when I came here was to create new programming and try to do community outreach,” he said.

When he first began, Weatherby said he hit the ground running both onsite and offsite. Those locations included the Johnstown Senior Citizens Center and the Greater Johnstown School District.

“I ran computer courses at the senior center,” Weatherby said.

Weatherby grew up in Rensselaer and received his undergraduate degree in history from SUNY Binghamton. He received his master’s degree from SUNY Albany in information science, a library degree. He also has done master’s work in history.

His first important experience, he said was working at the Albany Public Library, working evenings and interning with youth.

“I also taught in Japan,” he said, teaching English to students on an island in the East China Sea.

Weatherby said he interviewed for the Johnstown librarian position by Skype, and had a desire to return home to this region of New York state. Now he is a Johnstown resident. He has relatives from this area.

Weatherby said he had to first establish a rapport with residents of Fulton County, not originally being from here.

“It takes a little time,” he said. “There’s a continual local mentality.”

Since COVID began, he said he has been trying to engage people and meet as many people as he can. He said he had an adult D&D program for awhile, but that was phased out.

“The most rewarding thing is when something has been gained,” Weatherby said. “It’s good for kids to take something away.”

The programming has included making creative things by hand, utilizing things such as slime glue for a little extra fun.

“In some respects I’m learning about myself as I learn more about the community,” Weatherby said.

He said he “skews” toward youth and targeted adults, but is happy to share his ideas with everyone. Along the way, the library has started groups such as an online Science Fiction Book Club, regular Book Club and a Pride Book Club, the latter one in the process of being rebranded.

“Sometimes I make programs and they take off,” he said.

But he said if other programs aren’t working after a few weeks, with poor attendance, something else is tried. For the time being, he is enjoying working with all types of people. He is a people person.

“My job is often an opportunity to encourage them and make them better,” Weatherby said.

A specific program he is excited about is the “Johnstown Create” program targeted toward young people. He said this program for ages approximately 12-15 encourages young people to write creatively, share poetry, get creative. Eventually, he said the library wants to put together a publication of various works.

Weatherby said a lot of what he does is on the library’s Facebook page. People can reach him online at rWeatherby@mvls.info.

But there is a certain humility that comes across with the new librarian, even if others say extraordinary things about him.

“I feel I’m an average [librarian],” he says. “I’m not the cutting edge. I’m trying to do things done across the country.”

Weatherby said he has especially enjoying his ongoing working relationship with Fulton County Historian Samantha Hall-Saladino. The pair have worked on livestreamed events that have become very popular.

Meanwhile, he continues to come up with ideas such as the Cookie Hour social activity he did around the holidays in 2019. The library previously did a videogamming program. He wants to start a chess program at the library.

“I personally love board games,” Weatherby says.

Meyer says the library does an “exemplary job” with programs now, and Weatherby is a big part of the reason.

“Johnstown library has an awesome group of librarians and staff that find unique ways to engage with students, even during the pandemic,” she said. “Last year when kids were shuttered away from activities the library didn’t stop interacting, an amazing librarian Robert, just moved the DnD club virtual. He has engaged and educated these kids for a year now virtually. I’m not sure the library understands that this club has been a lifeline during these isolating times. DnD is about imagination, math and creative solution based socialization. My family is so thankful for everything they do. The library and its staff should be recognized. Also, many local families may not realize the COVID safe offerings there.”


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