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Thursday, January 15, 2009 Press of Atlantic City story on the
Dr. Rita C. Schiavo Memorial Library in
Strathmere

By MICHAEL MILLER Staff Writer, 609-463-6712

UPPER TOWNSHIP – A new nonprofit group is opening a privately funded library in Strathmere. The library, named for its benefactor, will serve residents and second-homeowners in this island hamlet. The late Rita C. Schiavo, a Philadelphian who spent 83 summers in Strathmere, dedicated her island estate to establish the library when she died in 2005, board President Bruce Riordan said.

“She had a dream for a number of years to found the library. Her estate is going toward it,” he said. Cape May County loves its libraries. It has 10 scattered among its 16 municipalities. A librarian at Ocean City Intermediate School, Katherine Bassett, was named New Jersey teacher of the year in 1999. The new library -- on the site of the family’s former summer home -- is nearly finished, he said. The library is expected to open in the spring. Schiavo graduated from Temple University with a master’s in education before earning a law degree. She worked as director of the Franklin School for Technology and Science and was a hospital administrator. In Philadelphia, she helped establish a new public library at the former Seventh Street Police Station.

“Her endowment will help,” said Carol C. Bruno, the library’s new part-time librarian. “At this point we haven’t even put up any bookshelves yet. This is being created from the ground up.” Since the library is privately funded, it can tailor its collection to residents’ tastes rather than general interest. The island is home to just a few children among its fewer than 100 year-round residents. Bruno mailed surveys to Strathmere property owners asking what they would like their library to provide. The response was what one might expect from a shore resort. Residents asked for lots of fiction and plenty of family movies for rainy summer days.

“I wasn’t really anticipating people would want to have resources to write their doctoral thesis,” she said. “A lot of people are requesting novels and beach reads.” Bruno said she also plans to stock the shelves with books about local history and natural history.

Upper Township and neighboring Sea Isle City already have branches of the Cape May County library. The county is building a new $5 million branch in Sea Isle.

Bruno said the new library will not compete with them – or the larger public library in neighboring Ocean City. It will offer paid memberships to its patrons. “There’s no way we can duplicate the effort of the number of books available. But this will be more than just a library. It will be an extension of the community and a gathering place,” she said. The library will have a meeting room for Strathmere clubs.

Strathmere residents are making a bid to secede from the mainland. But Riordan said the new library is not an attempt by Strathmere to assert its independence over the mainland, he said. “This was in the works well before any of that. It has nothing do with that,” he said.

And in keeping with Schiavo’s wishes, the library will provide a place to display old photographs and Strathmere’s historical memorabilia as a museum. In the meantime, Bruno is getting ready to stock the new library. The board has not yet determined what its collection budget can afford. But the charity is soliciting donations, both financial and hardcover. “For someone who loves books, this is a dream,” Bruno said. “Through the lens of what people want, I get to select things. I hope to say to people, if you like this genre or that author, maybe you would like to try this. Give them a reason to try something new.”

 

      


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