While Jonathan Pryer, head of Outreach Services at the Sayville Library, was recently honored with a New York State Outstanding Librarian Award, in everyday life he’s also eligible for another citation: total enthusiasm.
Sunny, interested, helpful. His aura just bolts out.
The local native, who started his career as a high school page at the Sayville Library when it was located on Collins Avenue, is modest.
“I was shocked, surprised and humbled, because I am aware of the good work librarians do and I want this award to be theirs as well,” he said.
“My primary love is people and the relationships we develop with them.”
No wonder he is one of 11 librarians statewide who received the honor.
Islip outreach librarian Adriana LoDolce submitted Pryer’s name.
“I had no idea she did this,” Pryer said. “We have collaborated together and have participated in many meetings.”
“He’s very humble, so I didn’t let him know about the nomination,” said LoDolce. “He found out after he won the award.” LoDolce chairs the Suffolk County Library Association RASD Outreach Committee. “I host meetings with other outreach librarians in Suffolk County and decided to create an award because of all the initiatives Jonathan has inspired.
Most outreach librarians have a team; he’s doing this himself, and I see what he’s getting accomplished throughout COVID. He helps anyone—people needing citizenship, veterans, those needing food. It just doesn’t end.”
So is his work a kind of bridge, identifying and connecting community needs the library can help with?
“Yes. My job has two focuses,” he said. “To help bring library services to those who don’t use them and to bring services to those who cannot conventionally use them.”
He gave examples. “I helped a woman in her late 90s download a National Library Service audiobook,” he said. “She wasn’t getting any audiobooks at all during COVID, and she lives for them. The daughter asked, ‘Can you help with BARD?’” (BARD is the Braille and Audio Reading Download of the National Library Service.) “I taught this patron’s daughter how to download the audiobook to a flash drive to plug into her player.”
Then, there’s the social services aspect.
“We brought Craig Milch, our social services intern, on board in August, 2020,” Pryer said. “He’s just about finishing up his master’s degree program at SUNY Stony Brook School of Social Work.” (Social work master’s candidates are required to intern.) Milch, he said, started a Smart Recovery program online Thursday evenings from 7:30 to 9 p.m., which people can visit via the library website. “We’re hoping to get another intern once Craig leaves us.”
Pryer got his Master’s in Library and Information Science at LIU Post. Did he forgo sports and other activities as a kid to just stick his nose in books?
“No,” he said. “But I did enjoy reading subjects that interested me. I fell in love with aviation. Stephanie Ruben, a librarian, helped me pick out my first non-fiction book on aviation. ‘Jumbo Jets.’”
(Pryer’s dad built jets for Fairchild Republic and also at Grumman in Calverton, an aviation impetus. Pryer himself got his pilot’s license in 2013. He rents a Cessna 172 from Mid Island Air Service and flies from Long Island MacArthur, Brookhaven Calabro and sometimes Republic airports.
Last year, he planned a Healthy Libraries Program with SUNY Stony Brook to help ease concerns regarding classes opening up in September.
“We created a Back to School Physical and Mental Health Program for Kids on Zoom,” he said. “Stony Brook provided nursing interns, public health interns, and nursing supervisors. That program provided information for parents and kids on how to return to school safely during COVID.”
There was also attention on special education. “I collaborated with Sayville Special Education Parent Teacher Association, the Sayville Elementary School - Eastern Suffolk BOCES next door, and Dr. James Bertsch from Western Suffolk BOCES on [the program] Starting the Special Education School Year Successfully. We knew students, especially those with autism, have very unique needs and parents have very unique concerns.”
Did we mention he speaks Spanish, Russian, French and Italian? He does, and not surprisingly, is also a travel buff.
One trip took him to Calabria, Italy, 10 years ago on a Rotary Friendship Exchange program, an international exchange program for members and friends that allows participants to take turns hosting one another in their homes and clubs. He is now a Sayville Rotarian.
“We interviewed him,” said Fred Notter, a former Rotary district governor. “He was full of personality and that’s one of the things about the Friendship Exchange, we want to send those who aren’t afraid to talk to people. The exchange group makes a special effort to take them around, and the year before that, the same Italy group came to us.”(Pryer was also an exchange student to Russia in 1988 when Gorbachev was President of the Soviet Union under the United States Information Agency.)
Some people celebrate their achievements, but Pryer said he hadn’t thought about his recent notch yet.
“I’ll probably have a nice dinner with family,” he said. “And then go up in a plane.”