Much like the famed cinematic archeologist Indiana Jones, uncovering the past—in this case, the past of Syosset—is a passion for two local individuals, and they’re asking for your help in uncovering some of it’s more elusive secrets.
Barney Levantino is a librarian at the Syosset Public Library. Among his duties is the stewardship of the library’s Local History Collection, which is quickly becoming an impressive resource for local residents interested in delving into the area’s past.
“We have a lot of photographs of old buildings in Syosset, and that’s what people want to see. People want to know how Syosset looked 50 years ago. Unlike some other Long Island communities, Syosset has an agricultural background, and because of that it looked much different back then,” he said. “We also have maps, newspapers, history journals, school yearbooks and a wide variety of other items.”
As for how they procure the contents of their collection, librarian Brenda Cherry said that a great deal of it comes from the very community whose history they are working so hard to archive.
“People donate a great deal of it,” she said. “We have some boxes of stuff sitting in the back that we still have to go through. We also get a lot of scrapbooks, school yearbooks and we have a wonderful diary that dates back to the 1933. It’s a foxhunting journal, and it’s filled with hand-drawn sketches and notes about all the different fox hunts in one season of the Meadowbrook Hunt Club.”
Levantino notes that the Local History Collection has existed for quite some time, but really started coming to the forefront of the library’s efforts after the building was expanded in 2007, when the library administration felt that they should be doing more with the potentially important artifacts of Syosset’s bygone age.
“We have tried, over the last couple of years, to get some more use out of the Local History Collection than we have, and we found that one way of doing that is by creating programming,” he said. “Typically, what we’ll do is find a subject matter, such as the school district or the agricultural history of the community, and pull materials from the collection and create a Powerpoint presentation. We try and do around three or four a year, and we get a really good response to them.”
However, their most recent historical program came with a little twist. According to Cherry, the purpose was to shed light on some of more mysterious pieces of their collection.
“Over the years, we have inherited many, many photographs, and most of them don’t have any identification as far as who the people are or where the pictures were taken or even who the photographer is,” she said. “So, we decided we would put the pictures out, and hope that people would come in and recognize either a person or a place, help us identify them and make the photograph useful for someone who might be doing research on local history.”
Patrons interested in tapping into the vast array of historical items housed in the Local History Collection need to contact the library beforehand to schedule an appointment. While the archival materials can only be viewed on the premises, Levantino said that certain books and journals, depending on their condition, may be temporarily lent out under certain circumstances.
The Syosset Library is making a request of the community that they serve- they are always looking for historical materials of a local nature, and if anyone has photos or memorabilia that they would like to donate, they would love to have it. Photos can be scanned and returned if the owner does not wish to part with them, Cherry said.
“That’s the wonderful thing about technology…all these old photos are becoming new again,” she said. “But with the public’s help, we can not only expand our collection, but identify and catalog it so we can have a comprehensive and useful historical record of our community.”
Recognize any of the people or locations in the pictures accompanying this article? Contact the Syosset Public Library at 516-921-7161.