My Snowy Year in Buffalo by
100
(165 Stories)

Prompted By Interviews

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In the mid-60s I was newly married and heading up to Buffalo, NY for a year while my husband completed med school.  I had just gotten my graduate library degree and applied to the Buffalo Dept of Ed for a school librarian’s job.

I was interviewed at the school superintendent’s office by Mrs D who coordinated all the school libraries in the city.   She told me that for years school budgets had been woefully small in Buffalo and funds for school libraries were a low priority.  I’d find the library collection sadly lacking new books and books reflecting the Black student body in the inner-city K-8 where I was hoping to work.

But,  Mrs D said,  the time was now opportune for an ambitious young librarian to turn things around.   Lyndon Johnson had just signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into law.  Under ESEA,  grants were offered to school districts serving low-income students,  with funding for classroom texts and also library books.   It was a windfall for Buffalo,  and very exciting.   I convinced Mrs D that I was that ambitious young librarian,  and I got the job.

I can’t remember what my budget was that year,  but it was enough to revamp that library and put my stamp on it.  I had free rein to weed the collection and order what I wished.   As the book cartons would arrive and I’d put new books out on the shelves,  I’d see the kids’ faces light up.  It seemed they couldn’t get enough and I ordered more of what they liked –  fiction,  non-fiction,  biographies,  lots of poetry,  and books by Black authors.

l went home every day exhausted but happy.  Then one night on the news we heard that heavy blizzards were forecast for the following few days – my first taste of Buffalo winter weather.  I told my husband I assumed the schools would close and I’d have a welcome ‘snow day’ off.

My husband disabused me.  In Buffalo, he explained,   even 12 inches of snow is no big deal,  the plows hit the streets and life goes on.

And so it did,  but in all my years working in libraries since then,  none has been as rewarding as bringing books to those eager kids that snowy year in Buffalo!

Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman 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!
www.WorldThruBrownEyes.com

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Tags: Schools, Libraries, Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    Wow Dana, your featured image looks cold and bleak! But it sounds like you had a great year in Buffalo. I like your one-sentence summary of your interview: “I convinced Mrs D that I was that ambitious young librarian.” You were the perfect person for the job, and how great to see the kids’ faces light up at the books you ordered.

  2. Marian says:

    I’m so glad, for everyone’s sake, that your interview worked out, Dana. You brought the kids gifts of reading, experience, and intellect that could never be taken away. I didn’t know about the ESEA act, but I’m glad you could take advantage of it at the time.

  3. Thanx Marian it was great timing for my first library job.

    Unfortunately ESEA and other entitlement programs didn’t last under subsequent administrations. Hopefully Biden will prioritize public education reform.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Your passion for your work shines through, Dana. You WERE the right person at the right time. I love how you describe your students’s faces lighting up as the cartons of books arrived and you brought out new books for them. Wish we had such enlightened people in the schools now! LBJ did so much for the underclasses in this country. I think some of that legacy is forgotten, but you were the recipient of it and used it wisely and well.

  5. Risa Nye says:

    What a wonderful story, and a great first job opportunity. Books + kids: always a winner!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Brava, Dana! They were lucky to have you to revamp their school library, and you were lucky the funding became available. But I don’t blame you for not staying there. One winter when my cousin was living there, the snow covered his doors and all of his windows save one on the second floor of his house. That’s how he got out to get provisions for his family. After that winter, he moved to Boston. Only a bit better!

    • Thanx Laurie!
      The Buffalo winters are tough but the natives are used to it!

      I did learn to ski that year, we’d go at nite after work, the slopes were flood-lit and beautiful, and we crossed the Friendship Bridge to Canada a few times.

      And altho I’m not a big football fan, for sentiment’s sake I still root for the Bills!

  7. Dana, I’m sure among your purchases must have been Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats–a book from that era that still draws fans. Although the author-illustrator was European-American, the characters are African-American, and I had two different Black students (two different semesters) tell me in my Children’s Lit class how they still loved that book that their parents read to them growing up. Good for you for nailing the interview and for reminding those of us from the antiwar movement that LBJ made some positive contributions on our side of the Pacific Ocean.

    • Yes Dale!
      Altho I went on to be a YA librarian and thereafter worked in high schools, for that year in the K-8 of course I had Ezra Jack Keats’ books.

      As I’m sure you know he was a pioneer in writing multicultural children’s books, himself a New York kid born of Polish-Jewish immigrant parents.

      But do you know that the PO (your PO!) has published Snowy Day forever stamps?
      They’re lovely with four different wonderful plates from the book!

  8. Joe Lowry says:

    Nice story about how your efforts made students happy to read and use the library. I am sure some of them still remember you. I hope that the future has more ESEA funds. Its cost would be low for the value it would add to America.

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