The Daily Catch

Red Hook Library, and Its Board, Slowly Stabilizing Following Spring Director Turmoil; Two New Board Members Named



The turmoil has slowly abated at the Red Hook Public Library with a full complement of board members now in place and programming growing (photo by Emily Sachar).

It’s been four months since a new librarian was named to run the Red Hook Public Library. And signs are emerging that, after a tumultuous spring and three board resignations this year, governance and operations at the institution are stabilizing.

Two new board members, librarian and entrepreneur Leigh Bahnatka and cultural anthropologist Martha Tepepa, were approved by the Red Hook Village Board of Trustees last week. And this week, an assistant manager started work at the beloved institution.

The two will fill seats vacated by the departure of Sally Dwyer-McNulty, who resigned for an opportunity in Italy, and Joshua Bardfield, who runs a Pine Plains farm and left the board after fulfilling his five-year term. Earlier this year, Trish Dantzic had also resigned for personal reasons.

Both Tepepa and Bahnatka said they are ready to jump in to serve an institution each has known for years. The board is now at its full complement of seven members, according to Don O’Shea, chair of the library board.

“I feel terrific about both of them,” O’Shea told The Daily Catch last week. “I’m confident in their abilities and their desire to serve our community. They’re going to be strong additions to the board.”

Bahnatka and Tepepa will join a board that seeks assistance in key governance tasks such as budgeting, marketing, fundraising, and advocacy, according to O’Shea. 

Leigh Bahnatka has been appointed to join the Red Hook Library Board of Trustees (photo by Emily Sachar).

The board, he added, also now looks to address several continuing issues at the 4,800-square-feet, 19th-century octagonal structure on South Broadway, among them ongoing building maintenance, stucco deterioration, a reevaluation of third-floor office space, and interior painting. “There’s always something with maintenance,” O’Shea said.

He praised the early work of the new director-manager, Alex Geller, who follows director Dawn Jardine, who resigned in February.

On Monday, the new assistant manager, Lori Burns, started work. And two other individuals have been identified for key roles, one as library assistant and the other as library clerk. The appointments are expected to be approved by the board Thursday night. One of these appointees, Geller said, will focus on youth services.

Until the arrival of these new staff members, O’Shea said, the library “still felt a bit too much like a one-man show.”

Amy Smith, the former head of programming and youth services, resigned in mid-March after she was not named to the directorship. Since her departure, preschool nature walks, home-school meetups, Minecraft club, and one book club have not returned to the programming lineup.

O’Shea said part of this is due to a shift in focus with new priorities from a new director. Also, he said, staffing to support more ambitious programming takes time.

Geller has continued such staples as storytelling, Spanish as a second language, knitting, and chair yoga. He said he has also conducted surveys asking library users to describe the programming they would like. Gardening and nature programs, as well as language classes, are in demand, Geller told The Daily Catch. The library hosted four nature programs for kids in August, he added, and plans are underway for a birding program, too. American Sign Language and Spanish are projected to return in October.

Here are short bios of the new board members:

Leigh Bahnatka of Upper Red Hook is a local realtor at Berkshire-Hathaway in Rhinebeck and chief operations officer at Record Storage Solutions in Rhinebeck. The company offers shredding services to the Village of Red Hook, the Red Hook Police Department, and Fire Department. 

Bahnatka, who has a master of library science degree from Wayne State University in Detroit and worked as an assistant branch manager at the Brooklyn Public Library, was initially approached to join the library board in January by departing board member Trish Dantzic. She was caring for her ailing father but in August, after he died, O’Shea and Dwyer Mc-Nulty surfaced the idea anew.

Martha Tepepa, who has been active in the community for years, hopes her bilingual background will be an asset on the board (photo by Emily Sachar).

Bahnatka said she was ready. “The library gives access to reading to so many people in Red Hook,” Bahnatka said. Joining the board, she expects, will allow her to be more engaged with an institution she appreciates. “I see that it brings everyone together, it’s a place where people can have a voice,” she said.

Bahnatka, who grew up in Rhinebeck, said she has been a weekly visitor to the library since 2001. Finding large-print books for her mother is a special joy today, she said, and the two use online search tools from home to locate non-fiction books that will have appeal.

The Red Hook library, Bahnatka said, is an institution that has distinguished itself by serving the needs of the community through programming and materials. She added that she has been especially appreciative of programs that lend materials other than books, such as laptop computers and WiFi hotspots. These programs, she said, “allow users to take in information that’s not just on social media.” 

She cited the crochet club, and the touch-a-truck event for children as recent examples of outreach the board should support. “We have to do as much as we can within limited budget constraints,” Bahnatka said.

She said a major goal is interesting kids and teenagers in the library. “Teenagers like to do their own thing,” she said. “They’re the hardest demographic to reach.”

Martha Tepepa was born and raised in Mexico City, where she says she saw first-hand the effect of bilingual education on her own career trajectory.

“I was not the brightest student,” Tepepa told the Village Board last week at its regular meeting. “But I knew English, which allowed me to translate my textbooks.” Being bilingual gave Tepepa access to work and school opportunities beyond Mexico, she said. Now, in Red Hook, she has made a mission of working with bilingual education groups and said she wants to direct her understanding of the community to her role on the Red Hook library board. 

“Diversity is an asset to connect with the community,” Tepapa told village trustees last week. “With knowledge comes power, and access,” she said.

Just this week, an assistant manager started at the library under Library Director Alex Geller (photo courtesy Alex Geller).

Tepepa said the library has been a beloved resource for her family since she moved to Red Hook with her husband and daughter in 2012. In a statement to the library board, she said she believes in “the power of public institutions and their potential to improve people’s lives.”

Tepepa holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology from El Colegio de México and also holds a master’s degree in cultural anthropology from Columbia University. She is an adjunct professor at Western Connecticut State University and is currently leading, for the second year, preparations for Red Hook’s second annual Día de Muertos Day of the Dead celebration in late October (read our stories in English and Spanish).

Tepepa said her daughter, has used the Red Hook Library since preschool. 

Yet it was while organizing the 2022 Day of the Dead altars and festivities that Tepepa said she saw the library’s potential to increase its impact in the community. The library, she said, “also must continue to serve as a safe space for families, teens, seniors, young children, and people of all abilities.” 

From 2020 to 2023, Tepepa was a member of the board of the bilingual education support organization CultureConnect, based in Rhinebeck. This year Tepepa also joined the board of the Red Hook Community Center. 

After a summer in which programming dropped following the turnover of the two most senior leadership positions, the Red Hook library’s path to recovery depends on management’s ability to provide events and materials to the community, Tepepa said.

Tepepa noted that many immigrants, especially those who are undocumented, are not comfortable using U.S. institutions, such as libraries. And having studied the effects of poverty in urban settlements in academic settings, she said she is “aware of social, political and economic traits that are not evident at first sight.” 

The library has a crucial role to play, in Tepepa’s view. “The library, through its programming and participation in village events, is already an essential part of this effort. I’d like to be part of the action,” she said.

Tepepa will serve out the end of Joshua Bardfield’s term.

Don O’Shea is the director of the library’s board of trustees and has presided over the tumultuous year (photo by Victor Feldman).

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