Alma D. Custead (1878.1963), was an extremely important figure in our community’s history, serving as the Head Librarian for the Patchogue (Carnegie) Library from 1914 until 1945.
She was responsible for developing, expanding, promoting and establishing the library as one of the finest and most admired in all of Suffolk County and Long Island. She began planning the Library’s growth while World War I was still raging, and when it ended she secured public and private funding for new acquisitions, additional shelving and personnel to build, curate and grow the collections. She aggressively promoted the Library and its holdings, including publishing the contents of the entire catalogue in the Patchogue Advance. Library usership and circulation surged under Ms. Custead, and she also reached out to all the district schools, helping librarians to classify and catalogue their own collections.
She visited students in their classrooms and hosted them at events at the Library. She also broadened the Library’s holdings by including media other than literature. These included a vast collection of printed music manuscripts, including popular songs as well as classical and operatic works. A new charging system made it easier for borrowers to find and borrow works, and at the same time enable better control of the Library’s inventory.
Ms. Custead also created Suffolk’s first countywide Union catalogue system, making it possible for any visitor to any library to have access to all collections throughout the county. In the 1930s and ’40s, she won approval from the Village of Patchogue to set up a public meeting room in which community organizations and citizens could hold meetings and other functions. She also secured funds to bring to Patchogue many professional performers, singers, musicians, poets, artists and lecturers to broaden and enhance cultural activities in the community.
As Patchogue was welcoming many European immigrants and their families to work in businesses and factories in town, Ms. Custead further enhanced the value and reputation of the library by acquiring from Albany a large collection of foreign-language literature. During and between the two world wars, Ms. Custead led used-book donation drives to benefit the thousands of soldiers mustered at Yaphank’s Camp Upton and those headed overseas.
Thanks to Alma D. Custead’s 31 years of dedicated service, the Patchogue Library became the envy of libraries throughout Long Island, and it thrived as the very beating heart of the Patchogue-Medford community itself