During my working life I put up with a lot of teasing about whether I fit the stereotype of a librarian. If it meant a stern old lady with her hair in a bun and her finger on her lips, it wasn’t me. And it surely wasn’t Sandra Payne – for starters, Sandra wore her hair in dreadlocks.
When I met Sandra years ago she was Director of Young Adult Services at New York Public Library, and I was a high school librarian working in the Bronx. NYPL had a wonderful out-reach program to the schools, including an annual book exhibit called Books for the Teen Age that we school librarians were invited to attend. It was a great day talking books and connecting with library colleagues, and I tried never to miss it.
We’d meet on a Saturday morning, originally at the W 53rd Street Donnell Library that held NYPL’s YA collection, and later when NYPL restructured their collections, the exhibit was moved to the lovely Celeste Bartos Forum behind the Lions in the iconic 42nd St main building.
Sandra’s staff selected the titles for the year’s exhibit and the books were arranged by subject on tables in an area temporarily closed to the public. We’d move from table to table, pen and notebook in hand, nibbling cookies and plowing our way through the collection, noting the titles we’d like to order for our libraries. At some point we’d break for lunch, fanning out to midtown restaurants and coffee shops, and then we’d head back to the books.
The list was well annotated and published every year as a very attractive booklet, always with an artfully designed cover. In fact students in the city high schools were invited to submit their artwork and the winning submission would grace that cover. Sandra herself was an artist and I wouldn’t be surprised if the idea for the cover art contest was hers.
Then the following Saturday we were back at the library to hear Sandra and a panel of her YA librarians each expertly booktalk several titles from the book exhibit.
Throughout her life Sandra was immersed in the library, literary and art worlds, mentoring young librarians, and promoting authors and artists especially African Americans who may not have been well known. And she was an avid collector of books, cards, jewelry, art, and artifacts, and as her Facebook friend I discovered she also loved birds posting the most beautiful, colorful, and unusual avian photos.
After she retired from NYPL Sandra kept her downtown Manhattan apartment, but spent much of her time in St Louis where her mother and extended family lived. Whenever she was back in New York she’d catch the art exhibits in town and lunch with her legions of friends.
Although one would never know it from Sandra’s wonderfully sunny outlook and her voracious appetite for life and art and books, she was plagued with ill health. She had been awaiting a kidney transplant and recently announced joyfully that it had been scheduled, but tragically Sandra died last week from complications of that surgery.
May you rest in peace sweet, unforgettable Sandra, and may your memory be a blessing.
Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!