Residents donate more than $20,000 to library

MIFFLINTOWN – For Ellen Robinson Chack, books are magic. They give her solace, inspiration, amusement, knowledge, comfort and whole new worlds to enjoy.

Her lifetime of working in libraries and loving children’s literature are now acknowledged at the Juniata County Library in Mifflintown, with the installation of a plaque that bears not only her name and her years of service as that library’s director, but also a quote she and her husband, Alan, chose for the occasion: “Open a book and let the magic begin.”

The plaque placed in the children’s room designates it “The Ellen Robinson Chack Children’s Collection,” in gratitude for a large donation her husband, Alan, made during the library’s spring fundraising campaign.

In fact, Library Director Brady Clemens said there has been an overwhelming response from the entire community to the fundraising campaign needed to sustain services at the local facility.

The library has received more than $20,300 from local individuals, businesses and municipalities responding to a mailing that went out in early May. The appeal stated that the library sought to raise $6,000 to fund the library’s children’s programs, new purchases of books and computer equipment and improvements to the community room this year.

“We’ve really been overwhelmed by the generosity we’ve seen during this fund drive,” Clemens said. “These donations show how much people value having a library in their community, and we appreciate each and every one.”

Among the donations was $10,000 from Chack. Many people who made donations did so in memory of or in honor of a loved one, and that’s exactly what Chack did, too.

“I’ve wanted to do this for my wife for a long time,” Chack said.

His wife, Ellen, was the local library’s first full-time director, serving in that position from 1970 to 1974. Ellen’s mother, Evelyn Robinson, was a children’s librarian and also served as librarian at Lewistown High School for many years. Ellen followed her mother’s footsteps into libraries, earning a master’s degree in library science from Drexel University, as well as a post master’s Certificate of Advanced Study, concentrating on medical librarianship and law librarianship, also from Drexel.

Before her tenure at the Juniata County Library, Ellen worked at the Washington, D.C. Public Library, at both the Takoma Park and Georgetown branches, then went to Philadelphia to do private research for a British architect scholar working in the U.S.

From there, she joined the New York Public Library System, serving as a reference librarian in the Donnell Public Library and in the Municipal Reference Library.

After her time at the Juniata library, Ellen worked as section chief and head librarian in the Office of the Attorney General of Pennsylvania until 2002.

While her career may have led her out of the children’s room, children’s books have always had a special place in Ellen’s life.

“I’ve always been crazy about children’s books,” she said

“She’s been collecting children’s books ever since I met her,” Alan said.

“When I’m down and out, I look to children’s books, to fairy tales like ‘The steadfast Tin Soldier,'” Ellen said. Those stories make her feel good.

Another favorite is Mary Poppins, Ellen said.

“I like her for her tartness and the whimsy the children experience,” she said.

Ellen smiles as she remembers the day she recognized P.L. Travers, the author of the eight-book Mary Poppins series, at the Washington, D.C. library where she worked.

“I guessed who she was,” Ellen said, explaining that the author was in town and came into the library for a book. Her boss, a strict woman, as Ellen puts it, was out of town that day, so Ellen made the decision to allow Travers to take the book.

“If you can’t trust P.L. Travers to return a book, who can you trust?'” she said.

“The book was returned,” she added.

It was Ellen’s love for children’s books that led Alan to react when he learned the library needed money – especially for the children’s program – this year due to continued funding cuts at the state level.

The Chack donation has already made a difference, facilitating an adjustment to the 2014 budget increasing allocations for children’s book purchases, as well as audio-visual materials and program supplies for the children’s room. The funds will be used to update the children’s book collection and to purchase supplies needed to provide meaningful programs for children for many years.

Alan said he could have made the donation anonymously, but “I’m hoping it will shake a few trees and prompt others to make similar donations.”