Nichols Randall starts new chapter

GUILDERLAND — A lifetime of loving books will continue for Barbara Nichols Randall after she steps down in August from a dozen years as the director of the Guilderland Public Library.

She will work part-time as the librarian at the school in Colonie her children attended, at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church where she’s a congregant.

“I will miss the programs and the people that come to them,” said Nichols Randall of leaving the Guilderland library. “And I will miss seeing the kids who take out piles of books and love to read…I will miss the people who understand the importance of a free library.”

The Guilderland library suffered a resounding defeat at the polls last year as voters turned down an expansion plan that had been in planning stages for a decade.

Asked if the defeat had anything to do with her departure, Nichols Randall, who will turn 62 on Aug. 9, said her leaving had more to do with the post at the Lutheran school opening. She went on, “It’s hard. There are people in the community who just see the library as a tax burden and don’t understand what a library can offer.”

She concluded, “I’m just sort of tired — a lot of it is my age. Some of it was the defeat.”

The library’s assistant director, Margaret Garrett, will serve as interim director while the board searches for a new director.

Library lover

Nichols Randall has loved libraries for as long as she can remember.

She vividly recalls getting her first library card when she was a kindergartner in Canastota, N.Y.  The only reason she doesn’t have it still, like her other library cards, is the custom was to leave it at the library.

Her father, a pilot, managed a small airport there and her mother ran the lunch counter.

The Nichols family moved a lot as her father managed a series of small airports in central New York. Everywhere they went, she got a library card.

“My parents could never have afforded all the books I wanted to read,” she said. “My mother would buy me one little Golden Book when we went to the grocery store.”

Her appetite for reading was more voracious than that.

After graduating from high school in Liverpool, Nichols Randall went on to major in English at Brockport State. “You can read anything,” she said, explaining her choice of a major. “You can inform your interests in everything going on around you, from history to current events.”

Her best semester wasn’t the one abroad in Ireland; it was the one where she took five literature courses although some friends thought the workload was “insane.” Her favorite period was the Victorian and she particularly liked reading Louisa May Alcott.

After trying student teaching, Nichols Randall settled on the masters program in library science at the University at Albany. Then, on the wings of an internship with the SUNY central administration, she was offered a job. She helped move the office from Syracuse to Albany where her then-boyfriend, now-husband, James Randall, was.

Ground floor of library automation

Her work consisted of creating a list of periodicals that all the different SUNY colleges had, and converting that early computer list to microfiche.

It was 1976, the nation’s bicentennial year, and computer science was a new and growing field.

“I got in on the ground floor of library automation,” said Nichols Randall. “I was the new, young librarian who wasn’t afraid of these things called computers.”

She went on to work for the New York State Library as part of a national project to get periodicals online, so every library didn’t have to type up a catalogue card.

“A bunch of large academies got together and started sharing online,” she said of the genesis of the OCLC — the Online Computer Library Center.

“This year marked their billionth catalogue record,” said Nichols Randall, noting, “At the Guilderland Public Library, we create catalogue records so anyone in the world can use ours.”

In her 13 years as an associate librarian at the State Library, Nichols Randall headed many projects, including the New York State Newspaper Project.

“We were finding the location of all the paper files of historical newspapers,” she said, explaining this included publishers of still extant papers as well as historical societies and private collections.

“We put together a list and then started microfilming…We tried to do the longest run of a newspaper in each community in the state for historians to study…Now they’re trying to digitize the papers,” she said, “but the money has dried up.”

One of her proudest accomplishments at the Guilderland library, she said, was getting the microfilm copies of over a century of The Enterprise digitized and available through the library’s website.

“I’m committed to genealogy and local history,” said Nichols Randall.

“Great staff”

As she raised her family, Nichols Randall worked at jobs that would allow her to spend time with her children.

In the 1980s, Nichols Randall and her husband adopted two Korean children through the Parsons Child and Family Center — Holly Kim Randall is now 29, and Gil Adam Randall is now 26.

Nichols Randall worked at Siena College four days a week, with summers off, helping faculty find and apply for grants. And then she worked for the Board of Cooperative Educational Services out of Saratoga, cataloguing records for the BOCES libraries. She later worked at the University at Albany for a little over a year before a new post as assistant director at the Guilderland library opened up.

“I knew I could create a job,” said Nichols Randall, having done so at the State Library, Siena, and BOCES. Starting in March 1999, she enjoyed working with the director, Carol Hamblin, and quipped, “Finally, my family understood what I did for a library.”

Hamblin retired in September 2001 and Nichols Randall became the director after a month in an interim post.

“I’m putting together my Ph.D. thesis on how to be the director of the Guilderland Public Library,” she said of the elaborate instructions she is writing for her successor.

Summarizing her instructions, she said, “I’ve got a great staff. My advice would be to listen to their suggestions. They all care about the library and they all care about their jobs. They won’t steer you wrong.”

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