Want to learn about beekeeping? How to tap your own maple trees? How to cook for people with dietary restrictions? How to help relatives with Alzheimer’s? Classes on these topics and many more are offered at the Morton Memorial Library in Pine Hill, as programming expands under new library director Tasha Ortloff.
The hamlet of Pine Hill, on the western edge of the town of Shandaken, has a population of 275. Nevertheless, the Morton Library’s March 5 beekeeping workshop drew 20 participants, eager to learn how to set up hives in their own back yards.
“Libraries are more important than ever,” said Ortloff. “People want more than a warehouse of information. They need tools for the use of the commons. They need continuing education, computer skills for elders. When I plan programs, I ask what people want, and I also look for workshops on sustainability, homesteading, permaculture — skills that are inherent to the rural lifestyle.” She’s currently setting up a class on raising chickens, and workshops are already scheduled to teach soap-making and sprouting.
There are challenges involved in running a rural library, where the tiny population limits the funding available. “The needs of the community are currently outpacing the budget we have to serve them with,” said Ortloff. “But rural folks need libraries. It’s isolating when it’s hard to drive to another town to make connections. Libraries bring people together, but that only works if the library as an institution can meet their needs. They need a safe and well-maintained facility to come together in, as well as adequate hours and access to staff to answer questions, provide technical assistance, plan and implement programs.”
Maintenance is an issue for a building constructed in 1903. The splendid woodwork and high ceilings of the Georgian Revival library make for a graceful environment, but the decaying portico recently had to be repaired by the town of Shandaken. The repair process showed the need for a new roof, and the interior could use work as well.
The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and was endowed by Dr. Henry Morton, one of the initial translators of the Rosetta Stone into English. Later a chemistry professor, he became the first president of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. Morton lived in New York City and had a summer home on Birch Creek Road in Pine Hill. In 1897, he bought a local building and established the community’s first library, known as the Birch Creek Club Library. As it grew, he announced plans for a new building to house the library. He died in 1902, the year before it was completed.
The now bricked-up fireplace stands at the center of the structure, its carved wood mantel overlooking the DVD collection. “I’m gradually maneuvering things to take back that space,” said Ortloff. The main room is divided into sections by bookshelves, a children’s area in front, and a round table for gatherings in back, where the knitting class meets twice a month. A side room is flooded with light from almost floor-to-ceiling windows set into a curved wall. Amidst the small building’s grandeur are crowded bookshelves, a few computers and the director’s desk by the front door.
“I grew up in Margaretville,” said Ortloff, who now lives in Bearsville. “I understand what it is to live in a rural area. I really like community-building.” Also a graphic designer, she seeks out clients like Family of Woodstock and Health is a Human Right, organizations focused on supporting community well-being. She teaches some of the library workshops herself, including craft classes — making laminated bookmarks out of family photos, leading children in decorating jars for Mother’s Day and filling them with homemade bath salts.
Ongoing programs include movie nights, story time for kids, a book club, and a series of classes on cooking for health. Ortloff is working on future projects such as wild food foraging walks she will lead in the spring; a genealogy workshop on June 5, part of Headwater History Days; the July 23 library fair, where Arm of the Sea puppet theater will perform; and possibly a repeat of the beekeeping workshop, which generated a waiting list.
“I really like planning operations and improving organizations,” Ortloff said. “And I love the library.”
The Morton Memorial Library is located at 22 Elm Street in Pine Hill, phone (845) 254-4222. For more information and a complete schedule of programs, visit https://morton.pinehill.lib.ny.us.