The Heart of Vestal


Nearly every community has a “heart” — a central focal point around and upon which residents build their sense of belonging, weave their memories, and build their lives.  This is not an aspect clearly identified for Vestal, New York.

As someone who grew up in a small college town with a wealth of lovely old buildings clearly establishing the center of town, to me, Vestal seemed amorphous by comparison.  Never actually a village in the traditional sense, Vestal is a broad expanse of former farmland with an unmistakeably linear, east-to-west swatch of “development” along the southern bank of the Susquehanna River.   A stretched-out, commercialized suburb with Binghamton University blurring the lines between itself and the city next-door, Vestal challenges new residents who wish to put down roots.  I spent years in search of the real center of my new home… but I found it.

This is a photo of what I believe to be the “heart” of the Town and community of Vestal, New York:  the Vestal Museum (housed in the relocated old green train station,) the Vestal Public Library, and the Vestal High School (just visible on the hill above and behind the library.)  Together, these are the past, present, and future of this community and everyone who has or will ever call it home.

The Vestal Museum presents, through events, artifacts, and stories, the relationship of our little Town to the State, the nation, and the world, and reminds us of the importance of roots, our past.   Vestal High School is the building where our young people gather the skills they need and find the harbors from which to set sail for the shores of the future.  Between these two stands the Vestal Public Library — our present — where parents bring toddlers to play groups, preschoolers enjoy Story Hours, teens enjoy gaming events, local musicians share songs and tunes, political and educational groups gather for meetings, and Seniors get help each year with taxes… and that barely scratches the surface of what a library offers to a community.

In times of need, the Vestal Library’s career center is a gold mine of information on grants, skill development, educational opportunities, and vocational guidance.  The community has free Internet access, and students have rich resources for research and reports at every grade level.

Our Library has been there for us, and we need it now more than ever, as strong as it can be.  Our Museum holds the key to a firm foundation for the community’s identity.  Our schools, K-12 and beyond, need to be strong with community support to give our young people the best chance at a better future, for Vestal and beyond.  As a community, when we work together to support such institutions, we are all at our best.


New Authors, Listening Readers

In the two years I have been writing on-line, the real benefit has been meeting those who write far better than I ever will, in any style or genre. I don’t yearn for them to achieve Fame or Status or Celebrity, and yet, I do often wish that more people could read their writing.

On one site, we are able to email links to the stories we’ve enjoyed, and thus assist in growing the reading audience. This means we can share with our friends who are also able to connect to the internet. We can also print off a paper copy of a story and share it, but then we get into the murky territory of intellectual property rights and possible copyright infringement.

Libraries have always been treasure troves: books and magazines were joined by new media as they came into existence. Innovative librarians found ways to transform libraries from storehouses to portals, offering Internet access and digital downloads. The limitation to all this, in my opinion, is the dividing line between published and non-published material in the formal, traditional sense.

Enter the new website Sniplits. This innovative on-line service connects new, aspiring, talented — and dedicated — writers the chance to be heard. Yes: writers can be heard, not read. Sniplits offers the literate listener the chance to download smaller works to fill those times when a full novel is too much. Their own description is of stories to fill up a coffee break, a lunch hour, a trip to the dentist, or just a short drive. Certainly, an audiobook would allow listening to a few paragraphs, a page, or a chapter — whatever fits the timeframe — but this would just be a portion of the whole work. Sniplits offers a complete work, and subscribers to their site can browse by length of time for a work as easily as by genre or author.

Best of all, any writer may submit their work. It is the chance for new writers to find their audience, by way of filling the niche in their daily schedule. My poetic friend, who presents herself as a Little Fluffy Cat, has recently been accepted as an author at Sniplits. For a nominal fee listeners can download her original story The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and they are then free to store that story on an iPod, their computer, iPhone, or any other compatible device, and even share the story with up to 10 friends.

Sniplits fills several niches this way: the reader’s need for a story, the author’s need for an audience. I’m wondering if libraries — where authors can sometimes come to read their works, and often come to write them — might someday be able to offer this same service.

Old Dogs, New Tricks?

I work in the library milieu.  The statement still conjures the stereotypical imagery: large rooms, countless books, narrow aisles between the shelves, the soft sounds of turning pages, and the stern warning glares from the bespectacled matron at the huge wooden desk.  Enter, if you dare.

Oh, how welcoming!  And we wonder why it’s so hard to encourage visitors to our dusty halls, do we?  Perhaps we have Hollywood and television to thank for this throwback image; Nic Cage did his best, but it’s Marian the Librarian who leaps to mind when the subject of librarians and/or libraries comes up.

The reality is always so different, but to make this discovery bridges must be built between libraries and schools, between libraries and businesses, between libraries and communities, and — most importantly these days — between libraries and the virtual world.

We’ve been here right along, thanks to online catalogs and databases, but these are passive presences.  We put them up and leave them to be found, explored, used, and forgotten, with the mistaken assumption that a few pretty colors or clever arrangements of words will suffice.  Even adding new and marvelous portals from our sites to other databases of vast knowledge and resources quietly awaits discovery rather than announcing itself.   We’re just too used to being quiet in the library!

So, the new trick is to find a voice, here in the virtually silent virtual reality.  Enter the world, learn the language, and find our new way into the old job of providing information.  Some trick.